Leaving Vet's Office
It’s universally true that the worst moments of any pet owner’s animal-loving life will inevitably coincide with the final moments of a pet’s life.

But not everyone experiences last rites in the same way: Some owners choose to be with their pets, while others feel compelled to not be present for the procedure.

As a veterinarian, I’m routinely treated to a fly-on-the-wall point of view on this phenomenon — whether I like it or not. Uncomfortable though it may be to observe, it’s undeniably interesting to me, because this is one issue in which there’s not always a right or a wrong answer.

When it comes to being present at euthanasia, two equally loving, responsible pet owners may reasonably disagree. And most vets I know have come to the conclusion that there are plenty of good reasons to decide in either direction.

Don’t believe me? Here’s my presentation of the pros and cons behind staying versus going:

Why You Might Choose to Stay . . .

1. For plenty of owners, watching a pet’s passing can actually offer some level of comfort.

2. The knowledge that your pet is with his preferred people can be a powerful driver. A common sentiment that I hear: “I want mine to be the last face he sees here on Earth."

3. Absolute certainty about how your pet spent his last moments is a huge plus for most owners, because doubt sometimes has a way of getting between an owner and the ability to grieve.

4. “Closure” means something different to different people, but it’s one reason that many owners cite for remaining with a pet until the last breath.

5. Even if you don’t want to be present, because you know how difficult it will be, sacrificing your preferences for what you perceive to be the best for your pet can offer tangible emotional benefits for some individuals.

6. Avoiding regret is a big deal, which partly explains why some people force themselves to be present. After all, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you let your pet down by not being able to make yourself stay.

Why You Might Choose to Go . . .

Most owners in my practice tend to remain with their pets during euthanasia. When they don’t, however, it’s usually for one or more of these perfectly acceptable reasons:

1. Some owners believe that their inevitably explosive emotional reaction to the procedure will mar a pet’s final moments by heaping loads of angst onto an already stressful situation.

2. They’re scared of watching death happen. It’s my impression that certain owners are even superstitious about it.

3. They don’t want their last memories of a pet to be colored by a clinical procedure. These tend to be owners who are scared of needles or blood, but also those who have a fundamental distaste for anything medical.

4. If they’re honest with themselves, some people say that the primary reason for being present during a pet’s last moments is so that they don’t feel bad about not being there. (Reference No. 6 above.) It’s my take that these highly rational owners aren’t being cold or callous — they’re just a different breed of people than most.

I’ll readily confess that I’d always want to be with my pets in their final moments. But I’d never judge anyone who elected to hand over that carrier or leash, as long as they absolutely trust a veterinarian to tend to those last conscious seconds as if the animal were her own pet.

And this is as it should always be.

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