It was my first day at the low-cost community clinic, and I was feeling so overwhelmed I had to keep blinking back prickling tears of frustration. An unfamiliar clinic, unfamiliar computer system, and the stresses of acting as a combination of technician and doctor caused my first wellness appointment to last over two hours. After saying goodbye to the young family with the friendly orange tabby, I headed back to the treatment area to pick up the next case.
Luna was a 13-year-old pit bull mix, who had been hit by a car about 2 years ago. She had suffered a complicated fracture of her right hock, which had healed crookedly and allowed marked arthritis to develop. Before putting her on a long-term course of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), the clinic had performed some basic blood work which revealed severe liver disease. Due to the owner’s financial situation, a full workup to discover and treat the underlying cause was not an option. Instead, we decided to help keep Luna as comfortable as possible for as long as possible, although the medications available for pain control were limited due to Luna’s liver disease.
When I met Luna that afternoon, she was clearly very painful in her right hind leg and had the dazed mentation of an animal who wasn’t feeling well. As I learned from the medical record and discussion with the owner, Luna’s appetite and energy were declining, and she was becoming more reluctant to move around. Our conversation was long and varied, as many end-of-life conversations are. Deciding to end the life of one of your best friends is heartbreaking, but it can be a beautiful act of mercy. Many people believe that death is one of the worst things in this world, something to be avoided at all costs. In my mind, unabated suffering is far crueler a fate.
My first euthanasia went smoothly, both from an emotional and technical standpoint. I had spent time enough with Luna and her owner to get to know them both and feel confident that euthanasia was a good decision for them. It didn’t feel as odd as I had expected to be the one putting a beloved pet to sleep, and confirming the time of death. It was something I had witnessed many times, but Luna was the first animal to die by my hand. It sounds so final and bleak in these written words, but I felt privileged to give the gift of a merciful, pain-free passing from this world. It was clear to me how powerful euthanasia can be, and I know that Luna and her owner will stay in my thoughts for a long time to come.