Death at Home: Is Veterinary Euthanasia Better?

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I came home on Sunday evening and played the messages on my answering machine. I instantly recognized my sister’s voice. She was sobbing. Though I could barely understand her words, I knew what had caused her such pain.

For weeks, she had been tending to Sophie, her 15-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. We’d had a number of conversations about what to do when it became clear that it was Sophie’s time to go. Sophie had taken a turn for the worse a few days ago; she stopped eating anything, barely drank water, and mostly just followed my sister around, wanting to be held. The vet agreed there wasn’t much she could do for Sophie, except provide for a humane euthanasia.

Sophie had always been scared and shaky at the vet, and my sister was determined that the little dog would have an opportunity to die at home, if at all possible; she couldn’t bear the idea that Sophie would die at the vet’s office. But she didn’t want Sophie to die in any discomfort, either.

Because I knew my sister would do whatever she needed to do to keep Sophie comfortable, I was not worried that Sophie would suffer. I was more concerned that my tender-hearted sister would be able to handle it if things got gritty toward the end.

From what I could understand, Sophie did die at home. My sister indicated that she was going to bed and I shouldn’t call her until tomorrow.

I’ve been at the deathbed of a beloved (human) family member who passed away at home and one who died in the hospital. If I had a choice, I know I would choose to pass at home instead of a hospital. But it’s a lot to ask of whomever is in attendance. The very end of a life can be rough to witness. The canine deaths by veterinary euthanasia that I’ve witnessed, in contrast, were very quick and seemingly peaceful, but each time I’ve arranged for and been present for one, I’ve worried that I’ve hastened the animal’s death before his or her spirit was ready for the transition.

We discussed these issues in detail in “Canine Hospice Care Options” (March 2010) and “How to Prepare for a Dog’s Death” (May 2010).

I haven’t personally been through a dog’s death at home, unassisted by a veterinarian, and although it seems like this would be ideal for the dog, I’m not sure I could do it.

What do you think? What have you done when faced with this sad situation?

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