Seasons Greetings Brings Christmas Endings
Why do we get this surge in requests for euthanasia around this time? Maybe it is because it is a time of year for family to gather and think about new beginnings; maybe the elderly pet, who may have been slowly ageing, pretty much unnoticed, becomes more of a focus when the practicalities of Christmas - with an incontinent pet, who can no longer move quickly enough to get outside to toilet and out of the way of visitors - is considered. Or maybe it’s the opportunity given by having the whole family at home, including adults who live far away, to say goodbye to the dear old family pet. At Christmas, our appointments seem to be more end-of-life stuff than beginnings. Whatever the reason, many veterinary practices find themselves in this cycle of sadness around this time. It’s fairly predictable. But that also gives us an opportunity to prepare.
Reading this, you might think that preparation is difficult: there are pets that we might not have seen for years, or maybe never seen, and then there are those that the whole practice knows, and loves – so how can we prepare?
Well, the use of our systems and client records might help us to identify elderly pets you may not have seen for years. They may appreciate some contact from the practice, giving them information about how to manage the practicalities of Christmas with an older, mobility-impaired pet. Giving them information and advice about coping, may help to prevent a premature euthanasia.
Or even simply directing your owners to the Compassion Understood website where they can find supportive information about end of life. While this might seem a scary thing to do, and of course we need to sensitively handle this communication, we should remember that owners want to have more information provided to them: they want to be prepared ahead of time. Providing the information doesn’t force them into a decision, but if it’s in their mind already, you can make things a lot less stressful for them. Consider this comment from our pet owner research,
“My dog was elderly. My vet told me time was getting near but at an emergency out of hours practice, I suddenly had to have her put to sleep. This was just awful and I think an objective guidance would have made me realise sooner and in time for the vet to come to the house and put her to sleep.”
When a life comes to a peaceful end in your care, and you think about the owner returning home, there are always concerns about how they will cope. At Christmas, this concern is intensified. It’s important to reach out with information and advice on grief and support to every pet owner losing a pet: not just the ones you think will need it. It’s often those that seem the most stoic that will struggle. Be generous with your compassion and support.
And what of your team? Do you talk to your colleagues about how they are feeling about the third euthanasia that day/week? What about the new team members who haven’t worked a Christmas before – how will they feel and more importantly, have you ever had a conversation with them about how they feel in general about the euthanasia appointment? Ensure that there is the space to ask these questions, and for people to unburden themselves. Some practices will schedule this in, as an ‘EE’ (End of life experiences) meeting, which acknowledges that it is important, and that their practice is supportive.
Whatever your thoughts after reading this, and whatever your intention around coping with your busy Christmas period, try to give some time to think it through now, at the begining of December, so you have time to prepare your colleagues and your clients.