We have a guest blog post this week from Aubrey Bowen. You can read more of her work by going to her blog For the Love of Dogs. If you would like to submit your own guest blog post, you can do it by clicking here! We would be happy to link back to your website.
I teched my own dog down today. Our “firstborn”, the founding member of our “3 Brown Dogs”, our first rescue, my husband’s first dog, his “heart dog”, our Bunkin boy. He lived eleven years with us - our whole married life plus a bit before that. I’m sure I’m not the only tech ever to do this; I’m sure others share my experience, but I doubt it’s the majority. In any case, I’ll write my thoughts, both positive and negative, the whole emotional process. Maybe this will help those who have also gone through this or might in the future. One thing’s for sure: writing it out helps heal my heart.
We discovered a tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma a week ago; I knew it would move fast, but I didn’t realize how soon we’d be letting him go. This is a very aggressive cancer and we knew our approach would be to simply keep him comfortable for as long as we could. We just didn't know we'd only have a week. The balancing point for managing Bunkin's comfort proved too elusive: too much prednisone and his IBD went crazy, but too little and his coughing fits returned; a smidge of tramadol to help ease the pain of his sore throat, but much more and he was barely present at all. Bunkin became a ghost of the dog he was just a month ago, a week ago even. I hadn’t planned to personally tech his euthanasia. My husband asked me about my thoughts on being his technician and I decided I didn’t stand to gain anything from it. Still fairly new at my clinic, I trusted my fellow technicians and my DVM to take excellent care of our old guy. I also knew I’d be too emotional to stay at work afterward and would need at least the next day off, so I scheduled him accordingly. You know what they say about best laid plans…Bunkin deteriorated so drastically over the weekend that we decided to change his appointment to Monday, five days earlier than we’d originally planned. Monday is a workday for me, but I arranged to leave after his procedure. I asked one of the techs if she’d mind assisting my DVM during the euthanasia so I could be there solely for my husband and our dog, just as a pet parent. I’d clock out right before our appointment and spend some final moments with my boys, then make a quick exit afterward. The plan, so seemingly simple, went straight to hell.
The morning exploded into the chaos of backsliding appointments running far past their time slots. We were short-staffed, of course. Lunch hour loomed closer and I stressed about making sure a room opened up in time for my husband’s arrival with Bunkin. I watched the clock in a panic, realizing that every minute ticking by meant one fewer minute I had to spend with my guys. I needed to finish my rooms and clock the eff out. I realized this wasn’t going to happen – we didn’t have the staff to carry out the original plan. Suddenly, in a moment of clarity amidst the emotional tsunami that swelled in my throat, I knew what I had to do. My coworker assumed the rest of my rooms and I took my own case.
As I walked into the room, I briefly told my husband that I’d be Bunkin’s technician due to staffing and scheduling issues. I assured him I’d be ok – I’m strong enough for this. He seemed calm, though clearly trying to hold himself together. I asked him if he remembered everything we talked about in prep for these final moments: about how the body’s systems shut down independently, how Bunkin may lose his bowels and bladder or make what sounds to be one last gasp, how my DVM will listen for his heart to stop and how this may take two seconds or two minutes, how it will feel like forever in an instant, how your heart will pause for a beat and then shatter to pieces, how it’s ok to cry – we have tissues here for you, how you can pet him or touch him however and wherever you like during the procedure, how I will hold his head and ease him down as he passes, how we will be strong together for him, and then how we will be strong for each other afterward. I had two jobs in those moments: technician and family member. With determination, strength, and professionalism, I carried out both roles simultaneously in a way that makes me proud.
Bunkin passed quickly, easily, and peacefully; he was ready. He was always terrible for veterinary procedures over the years, so we were afraid that his last moments would be stressful and full of fear. Amazingly, he formed a seemingly knowing connection with my DVM, despite only having met her two months earlier. With her, Bunkin didn't need a muzzle. He didn't freak out or fight our efforts. We placed his catheter with no fuss. He just seemed to be at ease and somehow knew he could trust my doctor and her gentle spirit. She will forever hold a special place in my heart for helping Bunkin’s journey end so smoothly.
What seemed a surefire disaster became my most profound moment as a veterinary assistant thus far. My husband told me afterward that he felt a huge sense of relief and gratitude when I told him I’d be assisting with the euthanasia myself. We’d talked about it beforehand, as I said, and neither of us felt any certain way about it until the moment arrived. We have an extra sense of comfort and peace surrounding Bunkin’s death because of it. I had the privilege of being there for my boys in a unique way that most people either don’t have the opportunity to do or would choose not to do. We held each other after he passed and both broke down for a few minutes in the room. My job wasn’t quite over: I bagged him, tagged him, and we drove him straight to another dear coworker at the crematory ourselves. Now I have a couple days to help my husband navigate the grief of saying goodbye to his best friend, his first dog, his first life lost. I will be ok. Horrific sadness is part of our job in the veterinary field. It doesn’t hurt any less when it’s our personal pets, but I found my years in rescue and vet med helped me compartmentalize in a healthy way, a way that allowed me to help someone else through the pain. That’s what we do.
I teched my own dog down today – and I’m a better vet assistant, a better wife, and a better dog mom for it.