Tae, a blue-cattle cross we adopted more than 10 years ago, was put to sleep today, after suffering a ruptured (previously undiagnosed) Hemangiosarcoma. It was the first time I was directly involved in a euthanasia decision and process. The varied emotions, thoughts, hope, catharsis of it all. The apparent peace, the warmth, the softness, the sleep-like state that resulted were all new experiences. The level of compassion of the staff at the veterinary hospital is something I could not have expected. Something almost overwhelming in itself.
In the weeks prior, Tae’s vision and hearing had deteriorated rapidly, after more than a years steady reduction, and we were adjusting to caring for a vision and hearing impaired companion. She was adjusting well, (re)learning to navigate via different means — after a couple misadventures. In monitoring her, we noted some changes in her behaviour, physical stature, energy levels and mobility over the last few days. I had hoped it was an intestinal blockage. On arriving at the veterinary hospital early this morning I became aware rather quickly that it was far more serious.
Given her age and the symptoms resulting from Hemangiosarcoma, the vet outlined the options. Kidney failure (revealed by bloodwork) and cardiac arrhythmias may or may not have been related to the Hemangiosarcoma, though the latter would significantly reduce the chance of her surviving a splenectomy. My concern was for Tae, and it became apparent that euthanasia was the most compassionate option, though this option was not one I was 100% certain on — for reasons I will return to…
It was decided that I could take Tae home for others to have the opportunity to say good-bye to her, to give her a few final hours in which we could express our love. How much this was for us is up to question — and a valid one that does require some reflection.
Whilst she was at home today, I decided on her resting place (adjacent to the other animals we had adopted) and began the preparation. It was somewhat cathartic — as writing this, trying to consider how to broach her condition with others in her life, and trying to (rationalise how to) come to terms with it myself have been.
Why was I not 100% certain about euthanasia? What it comes down to is perhaps a romanticised notion, but also based on speciesism. I have grave concerns about decisions humans make for other animals. Often, euthanasia is the easy option. Looking at the notion of euthanasia for humans exposes some of the issues (comparatively). I also hoped that she would either get better/be found to have a treatable condition without loss in quality of life or any suffering or that she would die without me making the decision.1 The latter is perhaps problematic, and shares, somewhat, some of the recurrent themes/issues that debate about human euthanasia. For me (problematic or not), it was about not making decisions for her, wanting it to be on her terms.
To me, it seemed like Tae was deteriorating as the day progressed. She was comfortable, though it was obvious that the internal bleeding, Abdominal distension, inappetance and general weakness were progressing. When we returned to the veterinary hospital, with Tae sitting on my lap, my reaction to her appearance differed to those of who I was with. Tae was starting to drool heavily. I thought this another sign of her deteriorating condition. The member of the family with me viewed it as a sign she was very happy in her final living moments.
The injection and Tae’s passing was very quick. What was to immediately follow has given me a new perspective. I have never witnessed an animal euthanised, and it seemed to be very peaceful. As the injected chemicals passed through her body, Tae had two members of her (adopted) family stroking her with almost benign familiarity. She was in a very comfortable position, one I had seen her sleep in many times. The Veterinarian adjusted her head position, placing her head between her front paws post the process. It was picturesque. I continued to stroke Tae, and the warmth of her body, the softness of her fur. These were far from any thoughts I had about how this would progress.
As mentioned, albeit perhaps lost in the cloudiness of my own emotions and reactions, my main concern was for Tae. The compassion of the veterinary hospital staff certainly made the process easier on us. Their compassion was far from anything I had considered would be provided. It was almost overwhelming. I will be going back to thank them. Their actions has made the process easier, whether it should be a factor or not, for the thoughts that have emerged. Clarity. In the past when a companion had died, the grief was a barrier to adopted another animal in need. I am now able to more clearly recognise that adopting animals is about them, restitutive justice as much as it can be, their quality of life (I have renewed feelings of anger about the world we have constructed, the suffering inflicted on other species for our wants).
Whilst being about them — as it should be, adopting animals does impact on our lives and change us. Tonight as we reflect and each of us deals with Tae’s passing in our own, some very different, ways, this is strongly reinforced. The first emotion/reaction I have had (and I think it is one I have experienced in the past) is the profound emptiness of the yard without Tae there…
These are my immediate thoughts and feelings. I have shared them as is, no to suggest they are free from critical comment or challenge. They may, however, provide some solace to others in similar situations or a starting point for thought.
I will search for a photo of Tae. I considered taking a photo of her lying on the couch at home today, though thought I would rather a picture of her happy, playing. This contrasted with my thoughts on her lying peacefully, picturesque, immediately following the euthanasia…