Letters: Illustrations of closure for housemates after a pet's euthanasia
If I might be permitted to weigh in on the question "Should housemates be present during a pet's euthanasia?" (Just Ask the Expert, March 2012), I would like to share a couple of personal experiences.
Early in my practice years, a husband and wife asked if they might bring their cocker spaniel along when their elderly husky was euthanized. It was an unusual request, but as we had a good working relationship with the clients, we agreed and all went well. At the time, I had two dogs that, while not related, were as close as if they had been littermates. They would cry for each other if they were so much as placed in separate cages for boarding or grooming. Several years later, when one needed to be put to sleep, I remembered the occasion and allowed my remaining dogs to examine the body of the one I had euthanized. It definitely minimized the activities that in a dog we would associate with separation and grief.
I also had mother and son horses that were together all their lives until the mare had to be put down at age 32. Needless to say, separating this pair was always associated with a lot of drama. But after the mare was euthanized, we allowed her son to go out to the pasture to examine her body. The reaction was quite minimal—he spooked a little and then sniffed around her and walked away to begin grazing—and I only heard him neigh twice in the 24 hours after her death. He remained calm and relaxed—a completely different demeanor than the "left behind colt" act he exhibited whenever we took her away for shows, trail rides, etc.Since then, I have always counseled owners who have animals with a close bond to allow the surviving pet to at least see and smell the body of the deceased pet if at all possible. Although it isn't always possible to do so, I truly believe this action helps, and on some level the animals seem to "get it."
Stephanie A. Burk, DVM