My Most Difficult Euthanasia Ever

One of the responsibilities of being a veterinarian is to euthanize pets. No veterinarian takes this responsibility lightly. For me, it is usually bittersweet. The “sweet” part is in knowing that I am humanely ending the pet’s pain or suffering. I am doing the right thing for the pet. The “bitter” parts are seeing how much emotional pain the family is going through and my own attachment to a pet that I have been taking care of for years. Every euthanasia is painful not only for the pet’s family, but for my staff and me as well. Today, I performed the most painful euthanasia of my life.

I first met Bodie, a little border terrier, when he was seven weeks old and I have been his veterinarian since that time. Over the years, I took care of his routine preventative care including vaccinations, testing for heart worm and intestinal parasites, completing dental prophylaxis, etc. He was always a happy, healthy little guy when examined.

The only problem we ever had was trimming his nails. I dreaded it when Bodie came into the hospital for a nail trim. The hospital staff dreaded it even more since they were the ones who had to trim his nails! He wasn’t mean or anything. He just didn’t like having his nails trimmed and would do a “crocodile roll” to try to get away.

Then, in March 2007, his owners noticed a change in their beloved pet. He started vomiting, became inappetent, and didn’t want to go for walks anymore. Anyone who knew Bodie knows that he NEVER turned down a meal or a walk!

Bodie came into the hospital. Initial tests including bloodwork, urinalysis, tests for intestinal parasites, survey radiographs, a barium series, etc revealed no cause for Bodie’s illness. He was hospitaized with supportive care while ECGs, ultrasounds, and further tests were done with no definitive diagnosis.

The owners were committed to doing everything possible. An abdominal exploratory with biopsies of various organs was performed. The biopsies revealed that Bodie had an uncommon and serious disease. The overall long-term prognosis was poor with a median survival time of 10 to 22 months. There is no cure for the disease. Instead, it is carefully medically managed.

The owners had a hard time understanding how their pet which was less than five years old could have such a serious disease. They became experts on this rare disease and reiterated their commitment to providing the best care possible. Specific treatment was begun and Bodie remained hospitalized until he was well enough to go home. That was 39 months ago. Over the months and years, his medications were carefully administered, his well-being closely monitored, and diagnostic labwork completed every three to six months. Bodie did well. He was back to his old self.

And then his owners noticed a recurrence of the vomiting, inappetence, and lack of energy. He wouldn’t eat anything, even the tasty chicken breast hand-fed to him. He didn’t want to play with the other pets or family. He wanted to be left alone. Despite their best efforts, the disease was progressing.

Yesterday afternoon, as Bodie sat on his owner’s lap, Bodie was looking into his owner’s eyes and seemed to be saying, “It’s okay. We fought the good fight. Remember, I was only supposed to live another 10 – 22 months! We made it 39 months! But I’m tired now and it’s time. When you first got me, you promised to do what was best for me. That means now letting me go.”

So Bodie came into the hospital this afternoon. As has been done with countless other pets, Bodie was taken into the treatment area. Toni and I placed an IV catheter, the whole time talking soothingly and lovingly to Bodie. Telling him that his suffering would soon end and how much he would be missed. In turn, he looked at us with his gentle brown eyes and tried to reassure us that, yes, everything would be okay.

With most clients, I try to be strong. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. I knew that I would shed more tears than during any other euthanasia. You see, not only was I Bodie’s veterinarian, but I was also his owner. Bodie was my family’s much loved terrier. We hope that we were as faithful to him as he was to us.

Bodie Hammes

May 7, 2002 – June 5, 2010

Truly this family’s best friend

We hope that we brought as much joy to your life as you brought to ours