Jersey was a surprise addition to my life in October of 2000. I came home during my sophomore year in college to find that my next door neighbors had a litter of lab puppies and my mom finally decided to grant my lifelong request for a puppy. So we returned from that weekend and moved Jersey into the four-bedroom apartment that I shared with three other people, a kitten, a chameleon, a handful of hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and other insects kept by my roommate (who now has her Phd in Entomology). We moved together seven times after that and lived with a variety of people and furry critters. Jersey was a great sport and a terrible dog (in the best way). It’s a good thing she was cute. She ate something(s) important from anyone we ever lived with (or visited for more than 5 minutes). She ate flip flops, sunglasses, hats, checks, paper money, door frames, and eventually my passport (when I was wise enough to know better). She also required me to replace several library books when she thought the hard covers were tasty (never paperbacks). But in total contrast, she was also a therapy dog and visited with children at the library to let them read to her for as long as they liked.
Over the years she had 4 orthopedic surgeries, but was otherwise very healthy. Eventually she, like so many big dogs, just had a body that wore out on her and she couldn’t do the things she loved. Jersey turned 15 years old on August 16th, 2015. I had to say goodbye to her on October 16th, 2015. In the 4 years since starting Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice, friends, colleagues, family members, and clients have often asked me if I would be able to be the one to euthanize Jersey. There was never a hesitation as I answered “yes” each time I was asked. It seemed many people were surprised by that answer and that I didn’t even have to think about it.
But the reason for that is simple.
Throughout my veterinary career in emergency medicine, preventative medicine, ophthalmology, and especially now practicing hospice and palliative care- families always ask… “What would you do if it was your dog/cat/best friend?” Some families ask right away, some preface it with “I know I’m not supposed to ask you this” or “It’s not fair of me to ask, but…,” but in nearly every appointment- someone asks. And I try to answer as honestly as I can, knowing that every family dynamic, disease trajectory, and pet’s personality is different.
My passion is letting pets truly live comfortably during their end of life journey and giving pets and their families the opportunity to have the most peaceful and dignified goodbye possible when we can no longer keep our furry friends comfortable and happy. Because it’s what I would want for Jersey.
So I knew from the beginning of my journey with Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice that I was going to euthanize Jersey myself because it’s why I do what I do. Was it harder than helping a family say goodbye to a pet that I just met? Absolutely. And not only because I was crying, making it difficult to see what I was doing. But all of my veterinary training, advanced hospice education, and hard work creating the sedation protocols and refining the techniques used by Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice doctors in clients’ homes have led to a process that I am 100% confident would be good enough for Jersey. And they were. She fell asleep in her bed, surrounded by her favorite people with a belly full of Reese’s cups and sausage biscuit.
It’ s been a little over a month since saying goodbye to Jersey and I’ve shared her journey to the Rainbow Bridge with those who loved her. But, I also wanted to share it with all of the families we have helped through their most difficult goodbyes. Myself, Dr. Kao, or Dr. Thomas were there for your worst day. And saying goodbye to Jersey was one of mine. We understand.
We are entering a hard time of year for all those who have experienced a loss, but it’s also the perfect time to be thankful for the time we get to spend with our furry friends (no matter how short) and reflect on the things they have taught us- especially about family, friends, and unconditional love (even for strangers). It seems these days we need to get everyone in the world a furry friend!