Euthanasia is an extremely emotional experience for pet owners, and I have always seen it as the job of the veterinarian to provide as much support and comfort during this procedure as possible. As a young doctor, I regularly found myself wrestling with a feeling of awkwardness as I sat with the pet owner in between giving a sedative to the patient and administering the euthanasia injection.
During this time, I wanted to be present when the pet owner was ready to move forward, but I didn’t want them to feel rushed. I could tell that sedation was setting in quickly, but I felt the procedure would go more smoothly if I waited just a few minutes longer. In some cases, I could tell that the pet owner needed some support, but I struggled to know what to say to this person who I had only just met. Sitting still and quiet in times like this and just not knowing what to say made me feel awful.
Over the years, I’ve come up with three questions I use during euthanasia whenever I want to fill time and/or do something special for the pet owners. I ask them one or more of my “montage questions” (I call them montage questions because if this were a movie, I’m certain a montage of the best memories of this pet would play right here).
My three questions are:
- How long has ____________ lived with you? [Note: if I get a very short answer here, I assume the pet owner doesn’t want to talk a lot and I leave it there to respect that wish].
- How did ___________ come to be part of your family?
- What is your favorite memory of ___________? [If there are multiple people in the room, I will often go around and gently prod them to get the whole family to tell stories].
So, those are my three favorite questions. I have seen weeping pet owners laugh and laugh as they recount their favorite memories, and I have genuinely enjoyed hearing these tales. Pets are amazing, and so are the people who love them. If you don’t believe me, just softly and gently ask these questions during your next euthanasia.
When I was working as a vet assistant, there was always that awkwardness where I did not know what to say to the grieving owners especially since I really had no relationship with them. Thank you for sharing this simple method to help remind owners of what a great life they had with their pets.
I used to work as an oncology assistant prior to starting vet school. I was always very torn on whether to console a grieving owner, just stay in the room, or give them space. Thank you for sharing the questions that have worked for you!