Today an owner told me I have the worst job in the world. His reasoning was not what I expected.
Said owner’s dog was dropped off for an exam by the pet sitter. She said the dog was just not acting right. The owners were out of town and could be expected to return that evening. After a physical exam was performed, it was determined that Cooper was suffering from an oozing splenic mass. Surgery was the only option and the owners were concerned about putting their geriatric friend through the procedure and recovery, only to have a few months with him.
The owners elected to make the dog comfortable and have us do supportive care, and then they would come to the clinic when they arrived home that evening to make a decision. Cooper received injections for pain and nausea and was set up to rest in a treatment cage until his owners could come to see him. Throughout that day, the staff offered him treats and cooked chicken, attempting to get him to eat. They walked him outside and sat in the yard with him, letting him enjoy the sunshine and their company. The sadness in his eyes was contagious as he just looked to us to help him.
At the end of the day, when the owners were due to arrive any minute, Cooper coded and went into cardiac arrest. My staff began CPR on him and attempted to get in touch with his owner. The owners were five minutes away and wanted us to keep trying. Even with our best effort, Cooper was unresponsive and declared deceased. This of course happened just as the owners walked into the clinic to see their pet. The owner and his wife, along with their child, were escorted into an exam room. The doctor came into the room to discuss the situation with the owner and that Cooper had indeed passed.
The family was heartbroken. The owner wanted to come and see Cooper one last time. Cooper’s doctor walked the owner into the treatment room so he could see his friend one last time, leaving his wife and child in the room to cry together. I had prepared Cooper so his family could see him again, clean and peaceful, with his head on a blanket. Underneath, the efforts of our attempts to save him were there: IV catheters in his paws, an endotracheal tube discarded so the owner would not have to see, ECG clips still in place.
As the owner laid his head down on top of Cooper’s, he looked up and me with tears in his eyes. I put my hand on his shoulder and stood with him as he cried, shedding tears of my own. I walked the owner back into the room with his family. As he consoled his wife and child, he looked at me and said “You have the worst job in the world.” I looked down at my scrubs, covered in blood from his friend and agreed wholeheartedly, not knowing that we were talking about two different things. He proceeded to tell me how hard my job must be to have pets die, despite all we do to save them. That I have to be a part of their passing and deal with emotional owners.
I realized what he was referring to and sadly shook my head. I told him that I have the best job in the world as I can help pets to end their suffering if needed and can allow their owners to enjoy what time they have with them. I help families to learn how to care for their new puppies and kittens and do what is needed to help their sick pets get well.
I told him the worst part of my job was having to collect payment from owners once their pet had passed. Cooper’s owner looked up at me with amazement. He reached into his wallet and pulled out his credit card without hesitation. He asked why that would be difficult. Owners know that they have to pay for their services. They should know despite our efforts, they must pay for what had been done for their pet. That it is not our fault that the pet died.
I smiled as he said this and told him that that was not always the case. When money is brought into the situation it changes things for sure. Owners get defensive and money turns things ugly. Shaking his head, he just smiled sadly. Once his bill was settled, he shook my hand and hugged me, thanking me for taking my time to care for Cooper. Even though he passed, he knew I had done everything in my power to help him, and that was priceless.
About the Author
Jamie Rauscher is a Registered Veterinary Technician and Medical Manager of an eight doctor practice north of Atlanta. She is President of Georgia’s Veterinary Technician and Assistant Association and serves on several NAVTA committees. Her interests include pain management, sick pet care, and anesthesia as technician empowerment. She is currently pursuing her VTS in ECC.