I arrive at the emergency clinic and a STAT triage is immediately called. A large shepherd is wheeled back on a gurney, as he is unable to walk. His gums are pale and he is having a difficult time breathing. When I try to listen to his chest, I can’t hear his heart. I reach for the ultrasound and immediately visualize fluid around the dog’s heart (pericardial effusion). As I head to the lobby to get the owners, a technician hands me the chart (or Bible rather; it is that thick) and says “Good luck!” I review the chart quickly. Synopsis: Bruiser has a heart-based mass, a splenic mass, and repeat episodes of pericardial effusion; he has been diagnosed with cancer (hemangiosarcoma). The sarcastic comment from the technician can mean several things. Top differentials include: 1. Owner is crazy, 2. Owner is mean, 3. Owner is crazy and mean. For this case, the answer was quickly determined to be #1.
I enter the room and am greeted by 5 people: owner (Mr), owner (Mrs), owner’s mother, owner’s father, and (my personal favorite) the animal communicator/family friend. Also present in the exam room are two other dogs because who goes to the emergency veterinary clinic without bringing all the household pets to help support the sick pet? (Answer: No one. No one brings all their pets with them to the emergency clinic). Immediate alarms sounding in my head.
Owner (Mr): Where is Bruiser? His siblings are worried.
Animal communicator offers a confirmatory nod.
I explain that he is in the treatment area getting an intravenous catheter placed, as he is at risk for impending arrest. I explain the return of the pericardial effusion and the concerns at this time.
Owner (Mr): We need to hear the most aggressive treatment option.
Me: We can drain the fluid from around the heart. Bruiser would then stay overnight for monitoring and supportive care. In the morning the surgeon can review the case and Bruiser would likely go to surgery to remove the affected organs (spleen, right auricle) and the sac around the heart.
Owner (Mr) shakes his head repeatedly while I give my spiel.
Animal communicator: Bruiser is scared right now; he wants us to know that.
Owner (Mr): We would like to put Bruiser down right now.
Me (experiencing whiplash from this complete 180 in treatment discussion): Ok, I understand that this is a lot to take in right now. I definitely think humane euthanasia is a compassionate decision today with everything your pet seems to have going on. The way we do this …
Owner (Mr): We would like to do it right now. This moment. Please go get my dog.
Me (with likely a frustrated expression on my face due to being interrupted): Ummm, ok. I understand this is difficult, but there is a process here. I will need to have you guys fill out some paperwork, and I will get the medications ready. We will move you to a more comfortable room and we will bring Bruiser on a big, comfy bed.
Owner (Mr): My dog is suffering. I would like him dead right now.
[NOTE: This is verbatim folks… (insert emoji with the teeth showing)]
Me (appalled): Sir, I understand. We will proceed with the euthanasia, but we will need to take the appropriate measures to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Owner (Mrs): We understand.
Owner (Mr): What of Bruiser can you offer me to take home today?
Me: Yes, of course. We can make you an impression of his paw in some clay.
Owner (Mr): No, I would like more than that. Please provide me with his toes, teeth, and tail.
Me (with obvious shock and disapproval on my face): Yeah, I’m so sorry, but I can’t do that.
Animal communicator: Is the concern that the tail would rot?
Me: Yes, among other concerns. Also, it is not easy to obtain the samples you are asking for, nor is it common practice. I can certainly clip some of his hair for you. Otherwise, I can only really offer the paw prints.
Owner (Mr): Oh, you can shave him for me and provide the pelt?
Me: No sir. I don’t believe that’s what I said. I can offer a small hair clipping. … You know, perhaps we should just put a hold on his body so you guys can decide what you would like to do.
Owner (Mrs): No, we will take the paw prints and hair clipping and private cremation.
Owner (Mr) showed obvious disapproval, but I elect to quickly flee the room to get some air.
I go get the dog while the receptionist goes over the paperwork. When I enter the euthanasia/comfort room with Bruiser, the sibling dogs immediately bark.
Owner (Mr): Please! Sit down! You are scaring them.
Animal communicator: No, they are trying to say goodbye.
The owner nods. He then permits me to bring in the gurney and lower it to the ground so we can all surround Bruiser. The owner’s father allows the sibling dogs to sniff Bruiser and then he leaves the room. At this point, I notice the animal communicator in the corner of the room with a phone in his hand.
Owner (Mr): We are ready to record.
Me: I’m sorry, what?
Owner (Mr): Please get started.
With some trepidation, I go ahead and administer the first injection.
Chanting from all people present (myself excluded): We love you. We love you. We love you.
This is for sure a kind sentiment, but, when chanted, it comes off pretty creepy…. I continue despite the alarms going off in my head. I can’t help but think that I need to check YouTube later and make sure this video doesn’t get published or something. I imagine the title: Awkward veterinarian euthanizes man’s best friend. I curse myself for not putting the kibosh on the recording, but I just want to get this over with so I continue.
Me: He is sleeping now. I am going to give the second injection.
The patient peacefully passes away. I confirm with my stethoscope. The owner (Mr) then starts wailing and picks up Bruiser’s legs and drops them to the ground repeatedly. He looks straight at me…
Owner (Mr): You killed my dog.
Me: Yes, I believe that was the intention… I’m so sorry for your loss. I am going to go, but you are all welcome to stay and visit and grieve.
Owner (Mr): But we haven’t gotten your photo with him yet.
I immediately imagine a photo of me holding this dog up by the ears as if I am some kind of trophy hunter. I visibly wince.
Me: Oh, that’s very kind, but I am actually going to have to pass on that.
Owner (Mr): WAIT! Where do we stand on the toes, teeth, and tail?!
Me: I’d like to stress that our paw prints are quite good.