Helping your pet across rainbow bridge

In December, we had to say our final farewell to Carney, who had developed a neurological issue that caused him to lose the use of his limbs.

We decided to have our vet administer in-house euthanasia, and I insisted that our young dog Hunter be there for the experience. My husband wasn’t convinced that a dog, like humans, could understand death, nor experience closure.

When the time came, it was a beautifully bittersweet moment, with Carney surrounded by Christmas trees, flickering candles, bright twinkling lights and the companionship of our cat Buddy. In the comfort of his own home, Carney was with all those he loved and passed away peacefully in the arms of his mommy.

Hunter was present, but because he was trying to steal Carney’s pumpkin-filled send-off Kong, we put him in the yard for a while. Our vet is a sweet, soft-spoken person who made Carney extremely comfortable.

While Carney indulged in his Kong, the vet administered a strong sedative that allowed for a slow sleepiness to take hold. As Carney drifted off, I was able to tell him what a good boy he was and how much he was loved.

When he was completely asleep, the vet put him under anesthesia, waited a few moments, then administered the final dose that sent Carney across the rainbow bridge.

Not every vet who offers the choice of at-home euthanasia practices this three-step process, which provided our beloved dog — and us — the experience of such a beautiful departure. Some vets put the dog out instantly before administering the final dose. In my opinion, this can rob owners of the time they need to say goodbye.

When Hunter was allowed to return, he was quite hesitant to approach Carney. He looked up to us for guidance and I told him it was okay. He began to sniff Carney and then sniffed around his muzzle.

Then he looked up at us in what I could only describe as a combination of confusion and astonishment. His eyes opened widely and he stepped backward in retreat. I went to him, kissed him and told him it was okay.

When Hunter appeared entirely comfortable, I returned him to the yard to be with my husband as the veterinary staff removed Carney to their vehicle.

While Hunter’s reaction cut me to the core, the result was that he didn’t spend time searching the house for his missing friend, as so many dogs do when they are not allowed to join the process of saying goodbye.

Some denied this closure may engage in worrisome behaviors, such as obsessive self-grooming and barking, whining, bouts of fear-aggression, loss of appetite or even depression that can last for weeks.

When preparing to send your pet over the rainbow bridge, you may want to consider at-home euthanasia by a veterinarian with whom you have a good relationship, one who practices Fear Free medicine and is accredited by AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association).

It’s my belief that bringing Carney to the vet’s office for the procedure would have been too frightening for him. And Hunter and us would not have had the time to experience quality closure.

Karen Fazio is director of training and behavior at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital and owner of The Dog Super Nanny in Monmouth County.

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