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A Holistic Look at Death

Several years ago, I made the decision to become a holistic veterinarian. Prior to this decision, I was simply a conventional veterinarian. Part of conventional practice includes the difficult task of occasionally euthanizing pets. Euthanasia, which means peaceful death, is an important part of veterinary practice. It allows us to end the suffering of pets and often prevents a painful, prolonged, and agonizing death.

Early in my practice career I performed euthanasia on many pets. Regrettably one day, I euthanized 3 totally healthy dogs owned by someone who was not a regular client. He came in on a Saturday morning with the complaint that all 3 dogs had "behavior problems" and wanted them "put to sleep" (a term I never liked as euthanized pets are not put to sleep but rather put to death.) I asked him about adopting the otherwise healthy and happy pets out, but he didn't want to do that. Being a relatively "new" veterinarian, I trusted this man and euthanized his pets. The rest of the weekend I regretted that decision and had probably the worst weekend of my life. I made a decision then that I would only euthanize pets that I felt needed this procedure.

Fast-forward a few years to my decision to begin my wonderful journey into holistic care. As a conventional veterinarian, defeating disease was my goal. Euthanasia was often considered a "cop-out," and admission of failure. This view is still held by many conventional veterinarians and MD's, whose goal iw is much different and I believe offers a more peaceful view. In the holistic view, we accept that all creatures will die. We cannot prevent death, but view it as a passing from this life to something else. Death is simply a continuation of the great "circle of life." Euthanasia then becomes a means to end suffering, rather than a defeat, loss, or admission of failure. Interestingly, as a holistic veterinarian I find that I am often the one who discusses death, end of life, and euthanasia before the pet owner questions me on these topics.

I honestly admit to owners, especially those whose pets have terminal conditions, that death will come at some point. We will not save this pet, but rather give the pet and owner more quality time together thanks to our holistic view of healing. While the holistic view offers "hope for the hopeless," that hope is a realistic hope, not a false hope. In a conventional medical practice, if no treatment is available then nothing can be done for the patient. In the holistic medical practice, out approach is different. Many therapies are available for conditions that are considered "untreatable" by conventional standards. In those rare instances where no treatment is available, we still have many therapies to manage "end of life" issues, prolong patient comfort and well-being, and prepare both pet and owner for the inevitable.

I'm often asked, "How will I know when it's time to consider euthanasia?" Certainly there are signs owners can look for such as lack of appetite, lack of interest in surroundings, inability to control bodily functions, and inability to move around. My better answer, however, goes right back to the holistic approach. Here's my rule of thumb for knowing "when it's time." Whenever a pet and owner are unable to enjoy each other, it's time to say good-bye. When the pet has clearly given up despite our best efforts, it's time for the owner to make that very unselfish decision to allow the pet to move on by ending the pet's suffering. Owners who share my holistic view are very in touch with their pets, and often say that they communicate with their pets. I believe this is possible, and many owners tell me that the pets told them that it was time to say goodbye.Using this very holistic approach, owners can make the difficult decision for euthanasia without guilt. They know the pet is ready to move on, and the special bond between pet and owner will never be broken. Looking at end-of-life issues in this very healthy and holistic way makes a difficult process a bit more comforting for all involved.




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