Thursday, June 1, 2017

What a Tough Week Taught Me About Life With Pets-

By Heather Lucas

"Today was mentally taxing. It was the kind of day where you realize that you've been working for eleven hours and you've only had a granola bar. When your head finally hits the pillow, you're so tired the room is spinning but you can't shut your brain off. My alarm will buzz in five hours, but I'm hoping that pounding out some musings will settle my mind a bit.

We diagnosed some awesome patients with awful disease processes this week and it sucked. A patient I've been seeing since my first week at my current clinic crashed after perfect routine bloodwork three weeks ago. Another started having violent cluster seizures after a lifetime of good control. Another with well-controlled kidney disease developed acute-on-chronic kidney failure. Another with aggressive bone disease sustained a pathologic fracture. And still another developed respiratory distress secondary to severe tracheal collapse. We ended up euthanizing some of them.

Whenever humane end of life comes up, I think about my experience with one of my dogs. I didn't realize how much I'd still miss her months later and I hate it when my clients begin that journey with their own pets, but every time I discuss euthanasia I silently thank her for the perspective she gave me. She allows me to identify with clients who are struggling with The Decision; I can tell them how my husband and I made The Decision and chose the timing. I think some people prefer to let their pets go while they still have some happiness left, and others prefer to wait until they've exhausted every last bit of happiness together. I was surprised to find out that we are the first type - the opposite of what I thought we'd be.

As usual, my dogs greeted me with wagging tails when I walked through the door this evening. They each received two pats on the neck and then I tried to ignore them while they followed me around. My husband caught on and asked me why I was avoiding them. After thinking for a moment, I realized that I was trying to distance myself physically and emotionally. Days like this cause me to imagine that I'm in my clients' shoes and my own pets are suffering from the heartbreaking things I've seen. I guess my subconscious thought that if I start building a wall between us, it won't hurt so much when we have to make The Decision again.

I told my husband this and he stared at me before he responded. "Do you want them to just be passengers in our live? What's the point of that?" Well, shoot. He's right. They deserve walks, car rides, spontaneous treats, new squeaky toys to rip open, and the kind of scratches that make them lean into your hand. We should be making the kind of memories that tear your heart open when they're gone but later make you laugh and help you patch it together again.

The author's dog Emma

A veterinary oncologist I greatly admire says that pets don't live as long as us because it's easier for us to understand life without them, than for them to understand life without us. We build bonds with them knowing that our hearts will eventually be broken. I think about this every time we take in a new pet, but I choose to welcome them with shiny tags and open arms anyways. Days like this remind me that we need to live life enjoying what's in front of us like our pets do, not thinking about what's to come."

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About The Author
"Heather Lucas, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner from the Midwest currently living in Southern Arizona. She shares her home with her husband, three dogs, and an assortment of pocket pets. Learning countless new things every day and building relationships with clients top the list of her favorite things about the veterinary profession."

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