I Always Wanted To Be a Vet, But . . .

I get a lot of clients, and scattered acquaintances or friends, who tell me they always wanted to be a vet, except for they never did well at school, or they are afraid of needles, or they can’t handle blood . . . and, well, there’s no helping that. The schooling is hard, there are a lot of needles, and there is a lot of blood.

However, there is one ‘excuse’ that always gives me pause: when someone says “I always wanted to be a vet, but I could never bear the thought of euthanasia”.

This thought is one I’m told often. Sometimes people bring in an animal for euthanasia and comment on how they don’t know how I can do it, put animals to sleep. Or a client witnesses sad faces in the waiting room and guesses at what happened and makes a comment to me in their appointment about how they could “never do that”.

I get it. I get why the idea of having the euthanize cats and dogs could be horrifying to people. And certainly, if you don’t think you’d be able to cope with that, do not go into veterinary medicine.

But the truth is . . . euthanasia is WHY I’m a veterinarian.

Now, don’t misunderstand me: I don’t like it. It’s definitely far from my favourite thing about my job, and I will happily go weeks between euthanasia appointments.

I like science. I like medicine. I enjoy blood and guts and gore. I like problem solving. I like a high paced workplace. So why veterinary medicine instead of human medicine? It’s more than just a love for cats and dogs. It’s more than just the added challenge of having patients that can’t speak. I could probably ramble on for pages about why I’d rather be a DVM versus an MD.

Euthanasia is at the top of that list.

Why? Because when my patient is suffering, with no possible end in sight except death, I can quickly and painlessly help them along.

I have known of too many people, who are on the brink of death, that have been kept alive by the miracle of modern medicine but now there is nothing more that can be done but keep them comfortable, who linger on that edge for days. For weeks. Not really living, not quite yet dead, but just waiting. And I know that when it happens to someone close to me, it will kill me inside to watch them fade away slowly and painfully.

I hate euthanizing healthy animals. I hate euthanizing a young healthy dog just because no one wants him. I hate euthanizing an entire litter of kittens because no one wants them. I hate euthanizing an animal with a very fixable problem that the owners just can’t afford to fix.

But for every euthanasia I hate doing, I have at least one I’m thankful for.

The dog with the oral tumour that has gotten so foul his people don’t want him near because of the smell and so large he can barely eat. The cat that is wasting away to nothingness, in kidney failure, who gets all his fluids and nutrients through various tubes. The dog who was hit by a car and sustained injuries so severe it’s only a matter of a few painful hours before he dies on his own. The cat that has an incurable viral disease causing his chest to fill with fluid, who is literally drowning on dry land. The rabbit with a broken face that wouldn’t heal. The rat riddled with tumours.

I could go on.

Yes, euthanasia is hard. No, I don’t like doing it. It breaks my heart to kill a beloved pet while the ones that love it are crying in front of me. But it breaks my heart even more when I have to stand by and watch a creature, any creature, die slowly and painfully, knowing they won’t get any better and they’re just waiting for the end.

I’m a veterinarian because while I will do my best to heal my patients, I want to be able to end their suffering when there’s nothing more I can do.

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About dottiemaggie

A veterinarian living and working in St John's, Newfoundland. I love my job, and I love my home. Professionally I am passionate about critical care and client education. Away from work I am passionate about enjoying life, spending time with friends, enjoying hobbies of all sorts, and exploring this wonderful province I call home.
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32 Responses to I Always Wanted To Be a Vet, But . . .

  1. Jill Farrell says:

    God Bless you! I have had to make the choice numerous times with my beloved animals and although it is hard the one thing that gets me through is knowing they are no longer in pain.
    How i wish we could treat our own family members to this…I have watch far to many linger for weeks for the lack of a piece of paper stating their wish not to be kept alive. I work in the medical field, not a doctor, but still if people would just put down their wishes about being kept alive with no hope of recovery, it would make it better for everyone… Hugs to you and bless you again for caring so much for our animals.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Thank you. I definitely agree – people need to be clear, and have in writting, their wishes. . . even if some of your family don’t agree with your decision, it makes it easier if it’s taken out of their hands.

  2. JaniceP says:

    I’ve long thought of euthanasia as a final gift that we can give, when done responsibly. It’s when it’s used as an easy out that I have a problem with it. We should thank you. You provide a service that many of us wouldn’t have the strength to do.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Yes, I definitely have a problem with euthanasia being thought of as an ‘easy out’. A pet is not an accessory to be tossed out when you’re done with it, it’s a living creature and a responsibility.

  3. Dawn in DC says:

    Of the many jobs I have had, working in a small, one-man, veterinary hospital was my absolute favorite. I was only the front desk gal, but I tell you, not one animal went through the doors without a hug and a kiss from me. The appointments for euthanasia were hard for me, but I understand every single word you said. I was glad I could be there to say good bye and also to help the families.

    And what Janice said, so very, very true.
    Twisted Susan sent me over. Nice to meet you!

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Thank you very much 🙂 And as someone who used to take her pets to a small, one-man veterinary hospital, I always appreciated the front desk gals who would give my pets some love 🙂

  4. I’ve held two of my (old!) dogs in my arms as they left me here on earth. I am not religious and I don’t believe in heaven but for some reason I believe both my dogs are still around in spirit looking after me because I had the strength to look after them even when it meant making the choice that broke my heart. Thank you for your beautiful post. It made me know for sure that I was wise when I recognized my selfishness in wanting to hold on and not let them go.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      THank you for the comment. No matter how old or how sick, it’s never an easy decision to let go. . . We have a wonderful poem at work about how a dog is never gone, he’s just in the next room 🙂 Also one about how the best place to bury a dog is in the heart of his people. 🙂

  5. Abby says:

    I love animals more than I like most people, which might be why I like you so much. This was a great post and one I think more people should take the time to read. My mom used to be a vet tech and I volunteered at the Humane Society for years, so it’s a subject close to my heart. And while the unnecessary deaths that result from the negligence and ignorance of people absolutely breaks my heart, everything you said above is so touching and true.

    Being able to give a peaceful resolution to those in pain is the greatest gift that one could give, in my estimation. They can’t speak for themselves, so as difficult as that choice may be for us, it’s often one we have to make. Don’t get me started on irresponsible owners, but for the majority of us…thank you 😉

    • dottiemaggie says:

      I also love animals more than I like most people, it was one of the reasons I was attracted to veterinary medicine 🙂
      The unnecessary deaths break my heart as well. . . but I think even more so are the deaths I facilitate out of desperation. . . when the animal can’t possibly go on in their condition, but the owner can’t possibly afford to do anything else about it 😦 I get that a lot this time of year, unfortunately. . . and I don’t think that will ever get easier.

  6. Nikki B says:

    I used to volunteer at a local horse rescue. The people who ran it (read: not the people in the actual barn) thought of the horses as pets more than anything else. Now, normally, given the state of some of them, that was ok. Their work days were over, and all they needed was a comfy pasture and a roof over their heads in winter.

    There was one old guy, named (of all things) Lucky. He was an ex-cart racer, and his owners would give him drugs so he could keep racing, long after his actual body would’ve allowed it. His legs were so bad, he could barely stand still, let alone lie down. He paced his stall constantly, barely able to sleep with the pain. His spine was arching up, out of his back, in an attempt to pull weight from his feet.

    A barn manager was fired for requesting he be put down. I wrote e-mails, made phone calls. Every. single. person. I spoke to was HORRIFIED that I would even CONSIDER killing Lucky! Killing him! How dare I!

    I had to quit volunteering. Lucky wasn’t the only ish (another guy was on bute, and had been on bute, for.ev.er. Bute is NOT a chronic pain med) and I couldn’t in my right mind support it any more. I just couldn’t.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Thank you for the comment. I always find it a bit refreshing to have people who do care about animals speak out about the practices of some rescue organisations. I think some people, while they mean well, take the idea that they all deserve a chance at life a little too far… They forget about the part where we want them to have a COMFORTABLE life with good life quality. I can’t get into how frustrated I have been with a some rescue organisations I’ve worked with when it comes to their decisions on who to keep alive and who to euthanise…. Sometimes I think it becomes a bit more about who ‘saves’ the most ‘hopeless’ cases, and less about what is actually best for the animals.

  7. Amy says:

    I wanted to be a vet in grade school, and then I realized they made you take math courses, and that was the end of that. I am TOTALLY with you on this. Death is fine. Death is inevitable. SUFFERING can be avoided. Whether dogs or people.

  8. Kate says:

    This is such a powerful piece. I couldn’t agree with it any more. I am an animal person, always have been. I have held 2 pets that were moments, hours, and days away from dying, suffering, as the vet put them out of their misery. Both times I was incredibly touched by the kindness of the vet that made the process as peaceful and compassionate as possible.

    One was for my dog who I got for my 6th birthday and her kidneys started to fail her and we put her down 16 years later. Our regular vet wasn’t open and she was struggling to breathe. I wrapped her up in my lap and pet her and told her what a great dog she was as my mom drove us to the vet. She stopped breathing in my arms, but I insisted they euthanize her, just in case. I was so touched when I received a sympathy card from the vet a couple days later.

    The other animal was our cat we had growing up and he had a tumor in his brain, but he was quite old as well. I sat there crying as the vet euthanized him and when my mom tried to pay him, he refused to take payment as he provides the care for all our animals for the past 25 years.

    Both of those experiences were really hard, as we had to say goodbye to a member of our family. However, it was the kindness and compassion that made a very difficult situation into something I felt like we had done the best by our pets. Both the cat and dog were part of my family for over half of my life and especially my dog took such good care of me, it was the last way I could take care of them at the end.

    I never wanted to be a vet for all the reasons you listed and I imagine ending the life of the cats and dogs that can’t find home are some of the hardest days of work for you, I will be forever grateful for the vets that are like you and give not only the animals, but also their parents some peace and peace of mind. Thank you for all you do, especially the hardest part-helping to care for those that need to say goodbye.

    I thought about the drive on the way to put my dog down and it reminded me so much of the drive to pick her up. I had been begging FOREVER for a dog and mom didn’t tell me where I was going for my birthday, but there was going to be a surprise. When we stopped and I saw I got to pick out a puppy from a litter of mutts, I was beside myself. I found my puppy nearly instantly and I remember how tiny she was as we drove her back home. She then proceeded to puke all over me (a whole lot for a little puppy) and all I could see was her sparkling eyes through all the vomit. I named her Sparkle. It’s just funny the circle of life–the experience of bringing her home and taking her to go to a different “home”–so much the same and so much different all at the same time!

    She was the best dog ever-and I know Finn will feel this way about Hazel and Tanner and if we have to make the choice to put them out of their misery, I feel blessed to have a great vet I can trust to take care of 3 of the members of our family!

    And now I will stop writing a book! Thanks for all you do. I’m done now. Promise. 😉

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Thank you for the wonderfully long comment 🙂
      I recently received flowers form a client in thanks for the job I did when they decided to euthanise their rabbit. Nothing touches me more than those moments – to have impressed someone in such a difficult time I think is the ultimate achievement in my profession. The fancy surgeries and difficult cases are rewarding. . . but if I can make someone’s difficult end of life decision a more positive experience, that is when I truly feel I’ve done a good job at being a good vet.

  9. nursemyra says:

    I’ll always be grateful to the lovely vet who helped me say goodbye to my old cat. and she sent me a hand written card afterwards too. some people have a gift for that sort of thing, sounds like you’re one of them

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Thank you 🙂 I am a big fan of the hand written card. I want my clients to know I’m not just blindly signing my name to a sympathy card – I am taking a moment to show respect for the hard time they are going through.

  10. u know. i never thought of it this way my dear. probably cus i’m not smart enough to be a doc or a vet so it doesn’t matter. BUT that’s pretty true. and awesome of you. i’m glad you love what you do and can help those little guys out when they need it.

    xoxoxo

  11. linlah says:

    When we had Maggie, our red bone coon hound mix, put down the vet offered to save her ashes and we declined and quite quickly regretted that, when Rocky, our terrier mix, who we’d had for many many years had to be put down we did get his ashes and spread them down the trail to the creek and in the creek he visited on a weekly basis. It’s so important to honor theirs lives and what they bring to us on a daily basis.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Having a Very Very Old Cat who I’ve had for 2/3 of my life, I often think about whether I’d have his ashes saved… I didn’t with my Charlie cat, but Fluff has been such a constant in my life for so long. . .
      We do clay paw prints for owners if they’d like them, and a lot of them do. We usually have gravestones to remember our family members by, it’s nice to have that same kind of remembrance for our furry family members. . .

  12. Kate says:

    Giving credit where credit is due…cause I love you…look…I rhyme! 🙂

  13. Kate says:

    http://www.recommendeddailydose.com/?p=9213

    oops, that should have been on the last comment!

  14. Society depresses me says:

    So, if your father had a terminal illness you’d have him ‘put down’. ‘Cause he’d just suffer anyway, right?
    “Sorry, kids. Gotta put grandpa down.”

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Once he was at the stage where he was suffering, yes. I don’t euthanise animals just because I’ve diagnosed cancer, I euthanise them because the cancer is not treatable and causing them great discomfort. You’ve missed my point if you think I would chose to euthanise just because of the diagnosis. I chose to euthanise in the face of suffering with no other end in sight.
      Would you like to live laying prone in a bed, too weak to move your own limbs, fed through a tube, urinating out a tube, defecating through a tube? All you’re doing is waiting to die. What kind of life is that? If that was my father, yes I would chose euthanasia if it were an option. I don’t like watching people die slow painful deaths any more than I like watching animals do it.

  15. Suzanne says:

    Hi, this is my first time here.. I can’t even remember how I got here, but I will surely bookmark this blog! Some of the biiggest fights I have gotten in with my (soon to be Ex) husband, were about euthanasia. He would prefer all animals to pass from this life on their own -even with suffering. I believe he’s a coward and just can’t face his own pain. I just can’t let a creature that has been part of my life and love go through the suffering that sometimes comes with aging, or illness. It’s terribly hard to do, but looking into the eyes of my dog or cat and even a raccoon that had been hit by a car, you know that it’s the right thing to do. His argument was that if it was such a good thing, then we should be able euthanise people. He is an idiot. Sorry… but true. Having been at the bedside of family members as they die, I have heard more than once that it’s a shame we can help animals pass on, but not people.
    I have a dog right now that isn’t even five years old and has Renal Lymphoma. She’s on her second protocol of Chemo (MOMP I think it’s called) because she couldn’t handle the first protocol. I know that her prognosis is poor, but right now she’s doing well – still playful and eating – no pain. But as I held her in my lap last night I looked into her eyes and there was something. Can’t explain it and I have never seen it before. Maybe she was just tired. But I know that I will be faced with a decision down the road and my heart is breaking. But it’s good to know that there is a Vet out there that I can take her to release her from pain.
    Thank you for your compassion. It means the world to a suffering animal and human.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Thank you for this comment, and welcome 🙂
      I certainly have some clients who feel like your husband do – and I find it very frustrating, but my hands are generally tied in these situations. 😦 I had a client once, who’s husband refused to euthanise, and everytime she brought the cat in for treatments she asked me what she could say to change his mind. . . but some people will not listen.
      I’m sorry about your dog, renal lymphoma is not fun 😦 Lymphoma, period, is not a good time, but renal failure is such a complicating factor once the kidneys are involved. I have had to watch a couple of dearly loved dogs go throught chemo protocols this past year, and I know the owners were greatful for the extra time they got, but it never seems like enough. . . and as my own dog gets older, it is one of my biggest fears that I will find myself one day having to make these decisions for him.

      • Suzanne says:

        Hi again.. I just wanted to tell you that we lost our girl Monday. She had a few episodes, but rallied each time, almost back to her old self, but she got bad Sunday night and for the first time seemed painful. Luckily my husband was there to see it and he agreed that it was time. We spent the day with her waiting for our appointment with the Vet, just being in the moment, saying goodbye.. She was on pain meds so not really super alert, but she knew we were there which is what mattered. It was six months almost to the day from her diagnosis, which from what I read seems to be pretty common with chemo. She was a good girl and I miss her quirky ways, but at least I know that she’s not suffereing. Thanks again for your blog and for listening.

  16. Jesintajesinta@yahoo.com says:

    I can understand your enthusiasm for euthanising dieing animals. However, as a vet myself, I get by with my clinic never euthanizing a single healthy animal. We do, however, offer low cost or even free if nessecary, spay and neuters.

    It’s one thing to save an animal from suffering than to kill a perfectly healthy animal. That blood is on your hands. Justify it any way you want.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      That’s great that your clinic offers low cost or free spays & neuters, and that will definitely help with the overpopulation of unwanted pets… But it doesn’t do anything to find homes for the unwanted pets that have already been brought into this world.
      I have never claimed to be happy about euthanising a perfectly healthy animal – but I have accepted it as a reality. It is something I fortunately very rarely have to do, but it is something I will do when the situation calls for it. If someone no longer wants or can keep their pet, whether it be for personal or behavioural reasons, I will give that animal a humane death. I would rather have that blood on my hand than turn away a person who has decided they no longer want their pet who may believe their only option is to get rid of that pet. If we say no, do they keep the pet? Do they make renewed efforts to find a new home? No. They either dump the pet somewhere – leaving it die from starvation or trauma – or they kill it themselves, likely in an inhumane way such as tieing it in a bag and dumping it in the river. That is reality. That is what happens. I don’t want THAT blood on my hands. And when my local shelter has over 150 cats without homes and absolutely no room for more, what would you have us do with the healthy cats that continue to be brought in by people? What do you do with cats who are urinating all over the house for behavioural reasons? The healthy dog who is aggressive? Nobody wants to make the decision “who is adoptable and who isn’t”, but when someone brings us an animal who for whatever reason they cannot or will not keep, who are we to tell them no? What if they have tried to find a new home? What if the local shelter has no more room, the local rescue group has no more foster homes, and they are running out of options and time?

      Yes, there is healthy blood on my hands. But it was humanely done. And I have accepted that as part of my responsibility.

  17. Oneofakindresumes@gmail.com says:

    We have a non profit charity which supports the housing and rehoming of cats. No cat is turned away. We also have a network of foster homes ready for placement of healthy cats. I spend money from my own pocket just feeding and paying the hydro bills. There is no need to euthanize healthy cats. Prevention is better than cure so we put our energy and resources into subsidized and often free spays and neuters.

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