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Posted on Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 8 a.m.

Two local pet owners share their experiences with euthanasia

By Lorrie Shaw



Photo courtesy of Wendy Beckwith

In all likelihood, we will outlive our pets. That's probably a good thing. The way that our relationships are structured these days, they are dependent on us not only for basic care like food and shelter — but also medical care and, eventually, entering into the final stages of life, regardless of the age of the pet.

It's difficult to live with the end in mind, but as you'll read from two local residents' stories, doing so and keeping the pets' best interests in the forefront can be invaluable.

The beginning of a journey's final leg

Wendy Beckwith speaks of her yellow Labrador, Holly, with a quiet fondness that you would expect of any person that has shared her life with a pet for as long as she and her husband, Paul Takessian had.

After arriving in their lives in 1999, it was evident that Holly loved people, and, as Beckwith illustrates, Holly loved attention more than food — unlike most Labradors. In hearing about her, Holly's exuberance and the bond that she shared her with owners is still resonant.

After presenting with a limp that led to a diagnosis of osteosarcoma — a type of bone cancer — in December 2010, her owners decided that, based on Holly's prognosis, the best path to follow would be to offer palliative care and to forgo surgery.

Beckwith notes that she felt strongly that her beloved dog should be able to go through that period of her life in a dignified way — including her final days. In fact, the mantra that she and her husband kept in mind was that Holly should be afforded a life that was joyful and dignified.

With that in mind, as normal of a schedule as possible was maintained, but it also contained lots of attention, plenty of time on the floor with Holly with toys and games, as well as physical contact — lots of touching was important.

Something else was in the forefront: The idea of Holly's last moments being spent in a clinical setting, if euthanasia was needed, was something that Beckwith and Takessian wanted to avoid. Not long after the diagnosis, Beckwith was on a walk with a friend and confided that she felt being at home would be ideal for Holly as she made her transition.

Her friend said, "I know just the person that you need to be in touch with."

Dr. Cathy Theisen, DVM was brought on early as a home vet and proved to be integral in helping the family navigate through the entire period, making everyone feel very comfortable.

Visiting vets are the preference of many pet owners today, as the premise provides for a more comfortable alternative for uneasy pets to get the care they need — especially when addressing end-of-life issues.

Despite the disease affecting a front limb, Holly did well for a time with radiation to help mitigate some of the pain, as well as great care from her family. Beckwith and Takissian felt that it was integral to have ongoing, daily dialogue regarding how Holly was feeling and getting along: Was the pain being managed adequately? How well was Holly able to physically get around? Her quality of life — was it still good?

Another important part of their dialogue meant checking in with each other about how they were managing as Holly's caregivers. Beckwith, a retired guidance counselor, noted how important it was for her and her husband to maintain an open dialogue with each other, asking, "How are we handling things? How is the experience affecting us today?"

After all, it wasn't just Holly's journey, but their journey as well.

Drawing from her experiences in caring for two friends during their terminal illnesses, Beckwith instinctively knew to apply the same mindfulness when it came to caring for Holly at that point in her life.



Photo courtesy of Kimberly Troiano

Kimberly Troiano and her husband, Chris, were on a similar journey this past winter.

Their cat, Zepplin — or Zeppi, as he was affectionately known —  was adopted in early 2005 and shared his owners with another feline, Tana.

Life was good for years, and then sadly, Tana fell ill, and eventually the illness was having a profound effect on his quality of life. Euthanasia became the most logical choice.

The Troianos did what many people do: They took Tana into the very clinical setting that is the veterinary exam room, lingered while they said their goodbyes, waited by the side of their four-legged family member through the process as they watched him slip away.

Because the couple wasn't sure how Zeppi would process the idea that Tana wasn't going to be around anymore, they made the decision after talking to their vet to bring him along and into the room during the process. In retrospect, Troiano says that not might have been the best decision, as trips to the vet after that were impossible to manage for the cat: The fear and anxiety was just too much.

Troiano, who took faith as a Nichiren Buddhist in July 2010, notes that chanting Daimoku daily was integral in helping to find a different solution to address her pets' health needs in a way that would help them be more comfortable — ideally at home. It was then that Dr. Theisen came into their lives.

Fast forward to September 2010, and Zeppi needed to have a dental cleaning performed by Dr. Linda Griebe, DVM at Ann Arbor Cat Clinic after Dr. Theisen's recommendation.

There was one glitch: Dr. Griebe saw a problem as she prepped Zeppi for the procedure, which requires anesthesia.

As it turns out, the news wasn't good. At age 7, Zeppi was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Although the cat had some minor health issues, the diagnosis was a shock to the couple.

After looking at treatment options, it was decided that palliative care was the best choice. As a Nichiren Buddhist, it was important to Troiano that Zeppi be able to go through this process with dignity, as much joy as possible and a decent quality of life.

After all, this was not about his owners — it was about how they could help him navigate through this period of life, an all-encompassing process, just like Holly's family was doing.

Final transition

Holly lived fully with her family from the time she was diagnosed, with the help of radiation to help quell the pain of the disease for a time — and pain medication throughout. Takessian made a ramp to assist the pooch in getting in and out of the house, which proved to be helpful.

By early March, it was a different story: Over the course of a week or so, her pain medication wasn't being tolerated very well, and Holly was having difficulty getting in and out of the house to eliminate. Her owners had anticipated this time coming and made the decision to call Dr. Theisen to come by and help Holly transition.

That morning, because her husband was unable to help lift the struggling canine, Beckwith asked a neighbor to come by and help with getting Holly outside to relieve herself.

"The vet is coming today to take care of Holly; it's time."

Understanding the gravity of the situation, her friend asked, "Would you like me to stay?"

The offer was most welcome, and her friend graciously brought her guitar, and softly played "Amazing Grace" as a handful of other loved ones came by to shower Holly with attention and love, stroking her and talking, reminiscing, comforting her and each other.

Holly was aware of those around her and maintained a relaxed, peaceful state throughout that afternoon. Even after Dr. Theisen helped Holly ease through the final moments, the mutual support remained, as her loved ones lingered that day.

Beckwith said softly, "It was totally unexpected, the way that everything fell into place that day: The people who were important to the three of us were present, Holly's peaceful passing ... and it was very much like a wake afterwards."

Conversely, I noted that the process that day sounded a bit like awaiting a birth — everyone gathered, the anticipation, the support.

Beckwith, her voice brightening, said, "Yes, yes it was very much like that, ironically enough; you're right. It was."

Zeppi maintained a quality of life that was totally manageable for a few months after his diagnosis. Despite the cancer affecting his epiglottis, he ate wet food without issue and, to someone who didn't know him, he didn't look like he was batting a terminal illness.

Troiano's faith continued to be a sustaining factor throughout the process, and she and her husband kept in mind that this process was more than about Zeppi's dying. It was a transition — one that would assist him in attaining Buddhahood — and through chanting Daimoku, this would be facilitated.

Sadly, right after New Year's, Zeppi started to decline and, by mid-week, had stopped eating. At that point, the Troianos understood clearly that it was time but were glad that they didn't have to move their furry friend, who had since settled into the quiet sanctuary of the master bedroom.

Arrangements were made for Dr. Theisen to come by at about 2 p.m. on Jan. 11 to assist Zeppi. Fellow Nichiren Buddhists were notified by phone to chant at that time to help him through the transition.

As it turned out, the doctor arrived a bit early, and after chatting downstairs about what each party might see and hear during the process (the couple got some insight into how euthanasia is administered and what typically ensues, the doctor was clued in on the chanting that she'd hear throughout), all three headed up to where Zeppi had chosen to retreat.

In keeping with the Buddhist tradition so that a proper transition could be facilitated, Zeppi was positioned with his head pointing toward the north and his face to the west. His owners sat at his side talking to him, stroking him, all the while chanting as the doctor helped the animal along.

As he began to slip away comfortably, slowly, the doctor gave the family private time to comfort Zeppi, and each other — saying all of those things that pet owners want to convey to their four-legged loved ones in those final moments if they are able — and as it was evident that he was gone, the clock read 2 p.m. exactly.

The event still very fresh in her memory, Troiano is incredibly sad that her very loyal sidekick is gone, but she finds solace in knowing that the choices that were made on behalf of her pet were the right ones. Musing how Zeppi would sleep with her, his habits, the joy that he brought to the family, it's clear that he was very special.

"Zeppi was able to go through this process — especially dying — on his terms. We had an obligation to ensure that he lived and died with dignity." She adds, "We're very thankful to have had the option to allow him to stay home and transition where he was comfortable."

One piece of advice that both pet owners give: You are your pet's advocate. When they are facing death — regardless of the reason — keeping their best interests in mind is paramount. It's hard to let go, but it's harder to watch them suffer needlessly.

Read more about the topic of end-of-life care for companion animals by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for and has previously written about end-of-life, palliative and pawspice care. She welcomes your contact via email, and to follow her daily adventures as owner of Professional Pet Sitting on Twitter.



Tue, Dec 18, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

euthanasia is a very painful injury that is not possible to tolerate. but the people who suffered through it really gives me a lot of pain. a very very touchy story. thanks for sharing. the pet post

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 3:47 a.m.

SillyTree: I read Joe's comment earlier and was torn: Written responses are difficult to gauge, certainly, and so it really made me wonder what is going on there. I appreciate you taking the time to interject with regard to the validity of his comments. I feel that there might be something else behind their words. This is a very emotionally charged topic. (Joe... was there?) The fact is, there's no denying that our relationship with pets has changed immensely in only a short time, and so has veterinary medicine. Only two generations ago, people lived very differently, as did the pets in their lives. It was common for people to do the job of what veterinarians do today when dealing with a very sick or dying pets, but usually in an very &quot;unsophisticated&quot; way at best. There might not have been a choice for some people. I can only imagine what having to do that , would do to someone. I don't think that you forget it. In any case, here are a couple of links that everyone might find helpful in dealing with the loss of a pet: <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;id=101061</a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;id=101062</a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;id=101063</a>

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 3:13 a.m.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to make a comment, tell a story, offer an experience and most of all, lend a kind word to someone else who is in need. End-of-life issues are never easy to face, whether it's with a human or a pet. It is different with pets, though, I think. For many of us, pets are in our midst from a tender age. Cats can live a long time - nearing 20 years, and there's a lot of history in that period of time. Having a cat in your life from the time that your kids are tiny, to the time that they go off to college - think about that - wow. With dogs, I am not one to subscribe to the philosophy that they are pack animals - not now, at least. Perhaps in generations past, (and even that's debatable) but our intervention has changed that significantly. Dogs have evolved to live within a family unit, just as children do. They can be taught to understand basic human language - and beyond. Just as adults, we do our best to understand a babies' cries and later a toddlers' attempts at language so that we can communicate with them - we do our best to understand a canine's language and their non-verbal communication. Having said that, we've invited pets to live beside us. They deserve that their people make sound end-of-life decisions for them. As Dr. Theisen explains, euthanasia means &quot;good death&quot;. Thank goodness it's an option. That's not to say euthanasia is necessary in every case. I've seen both species transition peacefully, all on their own. But there are cases when it might become necessary, and it's always a good idea to plan ahead and dialogue with your vet. We have two large-breed dogs - transporting them to the vet's office isn't likely going to be easy if they need assistance with their transition. Dogs can become behaviorally unsafe do to the effects of a disease. Sometimes, the decline of a pet is unexpectedly swift. There are all kinds of reasons, and Jen Eyer had another great example.


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

I've had to have several of my dogs &quot;put down&quot;. I had a husky shepherd-mix who, at age 15, could no longer stand up without great pain. It was a heart-wrenching decision. I took Calvin to our long-time vet, Paula Rode at Chelsea Animal Hospital. We were ushered to a back room, where Dr. Rode had put out a beautiful little Oriental rug for Calvin. All of the employees gathered around him, stroking him gently until he was calm. When I was ready, Paula gave him the injection. There was not a dry eye in the room. They then left the room to &quot;give me some time&quot;. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I cried for days afterward. But, the compassion showed by Paula and her team did make it a less unbearable situation. Dogs do not live long enough. :(

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

julieswhimsies, Wow. The comfort that you both felt really came through in your words. We all deserve to transition with support, dignity, as much grace as possible and surrounded with love. Thanks so much for taking the time to tell of your experience. Much appreciated.

Jen Eyer

Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 9:15 p.m.

A comment was removed for violating our guidelines, along with several that responded to it.


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

joe.blow had validity. We may have been able to work him through this. I reported his comment as abusive early this morning; why did it take so long to decide that it was? Obviously there are issues here and if we are as kind and loving as we say were are, we could have helped this person.


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 5:10 p.m.

I, unfortunately, had to euthanize my beloved dog one week ago today. He has been by my side for over 15 years. I am so very thankful to Saline Veterinary Service for their very kind and comforting help they gave me and my dog as his life quality began to go downhill. I've known Dr. Rushbrook and Dr. Romine as my pets' veterinarians for a long time and I am deeply grateful for their compassionate help and to the very kind staff there. The last thing I did for my dog was ask Dr. Rushbrook to put my dog down at home. I was so thankful they were willing to do that and it wasn't too expensive. It was the last thing I could do for him.


Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 2:20 a.m.

Thank you Lorrie Shaw as well. You are so right. Those &quot;little things&quot; are happening now. A bit painful right now but it will hopefully bring a smile to my face in the future. I look forward to your articles! :)


Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 2:17 a.m.

Thank you SillyTree. I love what you said in an earlier reply. Beautiful. It's unfortunate that so many comments were deleted. It lets me know how ignorant we humans can be at times.

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 2:16 a.m.

Trapped - I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Isn't it interesting how the relationships that we have with each pet in our lives is different? I am grateful for the fact that you had all of the experiences that you did, and I'll bet that there were many happy, funny ones. Your relationship with your beloved dog was so unique; no one else can understand it. There are going to be little things that occur for a long time, unexpectedly, that take you by surprise and remind you of them. It'll be hard, but those little moments will also make you smile. I am so thankful that you shared your all-to-recent loss. You've a lot of silent company, I'm sure and they took comfort in your words.


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 9:22 p.m.

I am so sorry for your loss.

Jen Eyer

Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 4:54 p.m.

@loves_fall: I agree with you. For various reasons we ended up putting our terminally-ill dog down before he really declined, and while we knew in our heads it was the right decision, it was so incredibly hard. I wrote about it here: <a href=""></a>


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 9:06 p.m.

I don't want to lose my dogs. I don't want to lose my wife. I don't want to lose my Mother. It doesn't matter. I will lose them or they will lose me. That is the way of things. Please love everyone and everything as long as much as you can and as long as you can. There are no exclusions; everyone and everything. Forgive immediately and love unconditionally.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 6:30 p.m.

try doing that to Grandma and you go to prison.


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 3:53 p.m.

Euthanasia is a hard decision to make but often is the RIGHT decision. I had a lab up until about 5 years ago. He had hip problems, started to go blind, then started to go deaf and really by the end he'd lost a lot of quality of life. He wasn't in pain, though, that we could see (although he seemed depressed a lot of times), so we put off putting him down because it felt like &quot;dirty work&quot;. One day my parents called me that he couldn't stand up and I went home from college to see him. He was about 13 at that point and when we took him in, our vet suggested we think about putting him down. The alternative was to see if it was some kind of ear infection causing dizziness, and they said they could keep him on antibiotics and see if he improved. For some reason we opted to leave him in a cage at the vet's on an IV for two days. He got a little better and so they sent him home. Within a few hours he'd managed to topple over and really slam his head on the group hard. My friend came over to sit for him because we had to go to a funeral, and she didn't think it was right to call and interrupt to say that he'd started hurting and had been crying in pain so when we got back we found him whimpering mostly and screaming occasionally, propped up with pillows in a kiddie pool looking beyond pathetic. He was impossible to soothe. We took him back to the vet's right away, but one of the things from that experience that I really regret is that in the name of &quot;valuing life&quot; we let him suffer. At the end he was panicked, terrified, confused and it all seemed worse because he was mostly blind and mostly deaf and had NO idea what was happening to his body. That experience really changed my view on euthanasia. I'd always thought that it was better to let things run their course and only rely on euthanasia when things were really bad, but having seen &quot;really bad&quot; I think that the kind thing to do is protect them from pain and harm when there isn't a good prob

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 2 a.m.

I am so sorry for your loss. The really difficult thing is, that when considering the decline of a pet, you just really never know what is going to happen. Some pets transition easily, peacefully... and others' bodies REALLY betray them, leaving them in a state that you described. You did the best that you knew to do at the time, what you thought was right. Take heart. That experience gave you wisdom. Thanks for your comment - it's much appreciated.


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 3:54 p.m.

ability of a positive outcome. (Apparently the word limit thing doesn't work, it told me I was still within acceptable limits.)


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

Leaving aside 'joe blow's ' kindly sensibilities ( bye bye! joe) , i'd like to put in a particular plug for the vet school at mich state as a 'going the extra mile' place on the compassion and competence front... .Evidently too its a valuable training place for other of the best local vets ( and indeed a particularly good one in my previous state of residence).


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

p.s. i meant specifically on the 'end of life issue'...although no doubt in other areas too.

Cathy Theisen DVM

Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

Yikes! joe.blow, you've confused things. It takes an immense amount of strength to love with an open heart, and love for an animal is not any different than any other kind of love. It's just love. For many of us, pets have come along at a time when we really needed their help, or they've stuck by us when others have abandoned us, and they deserve the same kind of dignity and respect you would give any other dear friend. Here's one vet who doesn't think euthanasia is &quot;dirty work&quot;, but rather an honor to share so intimate a moment at life's passing.

Dog Guy

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

Never consider me your &quot;dear friend&quot;.