In-home euthanasia for pets provides comfort and dignity


Helping a client make the decision to end their pet’s life involves a thorough discussion about the pet and family’s lifestyle, and what is important to do or not do during euthanasia. Photos: 123rf

Several years ago, Skye Morrison knew it was time to end the suffering of her ageing cat, Smokey, but she couldn’t bear the thought of taking him into a sterile veterinary clinic to lie on a metal table in the final moments of his life.

Smokey was the first cat Morrison had rescued from the streets after moving to Hawaii in 1999, and she loved him as much as any member of her human family.

“It was very, very hard for me when he was dying, and it was a long process because he had kidney failure, “ she said of her 20-year-old pet.

The retired social worker and self-described “total cat woman” said she wanted to make Smokey feel comfortable and secure up until he was euthanised. It gave her peace to have Dr Carolyn Naun of Arms of Aloha veterinary come to her Waimanalo home and put Smokey to sleep in 2018.

Euthanasia is an option when nothing else can be done to improve a pet’s medical issues or quality of life, Naun said.

She started her mobile company in 2015, the first vet on Oahu to specialise solely in “compassionate end-of-life care, “including palliative (comfort) and hospice care, and home euthanasia services. (Other mobile vets on the island perform in-home euthanasia, but that is in addition to a full range of veterinary services.)

Morrison said from her experience as a volunteer hospice worker: “(Naun) and her team were so wonderful to me and Smokey, and so attentive to what I was going through emotionally.

“After Smokey died, I kept him with me for the day so I could sit with his body and his spirit and just say goodbye to him. And she came back and picked him up later for the cremation, which I thought was incredibly generous of her to make another trip over,” she said.

Naun euthanised another rescue cat, Hunter, six months after Smokey died, in a garden in his favourite place, Morrison said. The veterinarian is now giving palliative care to Morrison’s 18-year-old cat, Jazzy, who has been in hospice care for a year after having a leg amputated.

Naun, a general-practice vet, decided to change her focus almost 10 years ago as she realised, “I was helping people the most was when I was helping a senior pet with the transition at the end of their life and giving them as much comfort and dignity as we could.”

Counselling for the bereaved

Naun also realised no one was offering people support at such a vulnerable time, nor were they being helped through the grieving period that followed their pet’s death.

A member of Naun’s team is chaplain Marianne Schultz, a deacon at First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu at Ko’olau. Naun calls her “a very unique asset”. As a devoted animal lover who became certified in pet loss and bereavement, Schultz runs Arms of Aloha’s weekly grief support group and offers individual counselling.

Requests for palliative care average four to 10 a month, and treatment typically extends from four to six weeks. But palliative care also has lasted as little as two days, and as long as two years, when, for instance, an animal has arthritis and needs pain management, Naun said. Helping a client make the decision to end their pet’s life involves a thorough discussion about the pet’s and family’s lifestyle, and what is important to do or not do during the euthanasia procedure.

Jaime Kurosawa and Carol Wong have had three rescue dogs under Naun’s care since Arms of Aloha was new to the business. They had Jackie, a large female hound dog, euthanised last November, and have two remaining dogs, including Papi, who is 18 years old – “We love dogs!”

Trinity, their 15-year-old female German Shepherd who suffered from cancer and debilitating arthritis, was euthanised at home in 2015 after receiving hospice care for about two weeks. Wong, a retired sales executive, had Trinity put to sleep in her home office where the pet would always lie down. She said she wanted to provide Trinity a more familiar, comfortable setting than a cold clinic. Trinity was bright and would instinctively become wary when she was outside a veterinarian’s office, Wong said, and she didn’t want Trinity to feel that trepidation before her death.

Kurosawa, also a sales executive, said that before they heard about Naun’s house calls from a friend, they didn’t know such a service existed. It’s common for people to second-guess themselves about putting their pets to sleep, Kurosawa said, but the vet “gives her professional opinion in the kindest, most sincere and compassionate way that it helps you through it”.

When the time comes, Kurosawa said, Naun gives the animals an initial shot that makes them go to sleep. But first, she said, “While they’re still awake, we say our goodbyes, we hug ‘em and kiss ‘em. Then when they fall off to sleep, she puts in the other drug that stops their heart. They basically go from sleeping to passing away; they don’t even know it.”

Someone once told Kurosawa, “It’s the most unselfish thing you can do for your pet. You have the power to stop any suffering.... Put your feelings aside; as hard as it is, you do it,” she said, her voice breaking.

When the time comes, the vet gives the animal an initial shot that makes it go to sleep, after which the other drug is injected that stops its heart. The pet basically goes from sleeping to passing away without even knowing it.When the time comes, the vet gives the animal an initial shot that makes it go to sleep, after which the other drug is injected that stops its heart. The pet basically goes from sleeping to passing away without even knowing it.

At US$575 to US$800 (RM2,725 to RM3,790), euthanasia is not inexpensive, but “it’s worth every penny,” said Wong. Costs depend on a pet’s weight and the time of the appointment (office hours versus after-hours and weekends). After the procedure, Naun takes the pet to be cremated and returns with its ashes. There is no charge for cremation, but ashes can be hand-delivered in a mahogany box for an additional US$300 (RM1,422).

Kurosawa believes in Naun’s work to the extent that she has donated to a company fund to help those who can’t afford the service.

Not only is Naun highly compassionate, her staff of four “seem like they really care about what was done and had to be done,” Wong said.

Kurosawa added that Schultz, the chaplain, recently sent a one-year anniversary card with a personal note, and when another dog was under hospice care, the staff would text quite often to check on its well-being.

On the day of euthanasia, people run the gamut of emotions, from being stoic to openly grieving. They often apologise for crying. But Naun said, “When people let me see them at their most vulnerable moment, it’s a privilege.”

Naun acknowledges that putting pets to sleep (about two to four a day) on a regular basis is “emotional heavy-lifting, but it’s well worth doing”.

“I think it’s really beautiful and sacred work. I get so much gratitude and aloha, it’s such an honour to be able to provide such a needed service to the community,” she said. – Tribune News Service/The Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Pat Gee

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