Letter to the editor

Dear veterinary professionals and pet parents, 


 I am a longtime dedicated and knowledgeable dog owner with relations with many veterinarians practicing traditional, specialty, and holistic vet care. I am very appreciative of the great care resources we have locally for our animal family members.

Even with the most trusted animal care professionals, I have learned that communication can make a real difference in the outcome of a painful situation.

 I had a Lhasa Apso, Rusty, who had numerous health challenges. I loved him dearly. I was detailed, informed, and committed to his care and quality of life, and had a great team of vets. I took early retirement two years ago to devote my time to enjoy him.

I knew we were not long together as he was just over 16 and in failing health. One bad weekend in May I called the ER a few times with no resolve. Monday morning I rushed Rusty to our specialist, whose team I embraced as family. I directly stated that I did not want Rusty to suffer and that I was relying on the doctor’s guidance. 

Rusty had a high respiratory rate and diagnostics found fluid in his lungs; the doctor administered an injection and said we would know in a few hours. My wish was to say goodbye at home, but I decided to leave Rusty there for his best comfort in an oxygen pen with observation. 

Checking back as directed, I was told it was his time. I arrived, then waited through a two-hour staff meeting and an additional half-hour before seeing Rusty. Finally brought to me in a private euthanasia room, he was in a horribly stressed state and his chest rattled. He was not this way when I left him — I would never have let him get to this point. I asked if he needed to be let go immediately, if he was suffering, and was told it was best for both of us to spend additional time together. I was distressed, alone, and confused over Rusty’s agitation and rattling chest.

I played mental tug of war between Rusty’s potential suffering vs acting too quickly. As he gradually relaxed I felt he was okay to stay for a bit. At 5:30 pm, we said farewell, Rusty in my lap. He received one injection, stopping his heart. I quickly said goodbye as his head came to rest with mine. 

A copy of Rusty’s last day medical report arrived later, adding new questions and concerns as to why he had been so stressed.  Some were answered later, when I learned that Rusty, blind and with congestive heart failure, had had a BM in his pen. That he’d been taken off oxygen and bathed explained the additional wait and Rusty’s horribly stressed state when presented to me. As a caring reader you can imagine my emotions. I was tormented by guilt, which eventually affected my health, as I had chosen to leave him with trust.

I felt my request that Rusty not suffer was not honored out of concern for my ease. So I would not see him soiled, Rusty was removed him from oxygen and bathed, a known stressor for him.

I wish they had informed me and given me a choice. In their effort to “make it easier on me” Rusty suffered. His last day could and should have been one of gentle ease. Had his needs been placed first, his passage could have been peaceful — for him and for me.

My hope in sharing our story is to spark thought and discussion, and ultimately, to advocate improved communication between our outstanding Veterinary professionals and the guardians of our beloved animal companions. It is my hope that we can raise the bar, striving always to first do what is best for the animal.

—Rick Miller, Portland Oregon