Dear Emergency Room Pet Owner,

Your pet is sick or hurt and you’ve just been told that you are going to have to leave him in the hospital overnight. You’re scared, you’re worried, you’re angry, you’re tired. You just want him to be ok. You just want to take him home.

Instead, you’re led to to the central treatment area. There are people dressed in scrubs speaking in what sounds like a foreign language and they say things “pericardial effusion,” “increased lactate,” “PT PTT,” and “obtunded”. There are machines making high pitched beeping noises. There are other pets being treated for various problems. There are familiar smells of alcohol and antiseptic like you would find at any other hospital you’ve ever been in, but there’s an added aroma of animal.

You’re shown to a room just off from the central treatment area. There are kennels in this room and there are more of those beeping machines. This is where you find your pet. He is in one of the kennels. His name is on a card clipped to the kennel door and there’s a clipboard hanging next to it that says why you brought him in.

This is the moment that you meet me, his technician, the person responsible for his care while he is in the hospital. You don’t know me, and I am sorry that we have to meet under these circumstances. I wish I could tell you some things about myself in the few minutes that we have to talk.

If I could, I would tell you that I knew I wanted to work with animals since I was four years old. I would tell you that I started working in the veterinary field as a veterinary assistant when I was 16 years old. That I spent the next ten years learning everything I could about recognizing disease, taking patient history, monitoring anesthesia, giving medications, pulling blood, running lab tests, placing IV catheters, taking radiographs, performing dental cleanings, and anything else a good veterinary technician is supposed to know.

I would tell you that once I learned everything I could while on the job, I moved 1,200 miles away from my family and friends so I could go to school and learn more. That I earned a degree in applied sciences. That I took a four hour exam and officially became a certified veterinary technician. That every year I spend hours in continuing education classes to maintain that certification. I would tell you that I have spent the past year focusing on emergency/critical care and trauma.

But I can’t. Your pet is waiting. And he’s more important right now. What I can tell you is this: I work in a position called “patient care.” Not only is it my job, it is my privilege to take care of your pet. He is my patient and my responsibility. And I feel, in some small way, that this makes him a little bit my pet too.

So I will do whatever I can to help him. I will talk you about what will happen to him while he is with me overnight and what to expect tomorrow morning. I will let you visit with your pet and I will answer your questions so you will feel better about having to leave him there. I will walk you up to the lobby and tell you to call any time to check in (and I will mean it). Then I will go back and introduce myself to your pet. Like you, he is also scared and he doesn’t feel good. He won’t have you there to tell him he’s a good boy so I will do my best to reassure him. I want him to feel safe so he can rest and hopefully get better.

While you are at home sleeping, I will be keeping an eye on his vital signs. I will take him outside to go to the bathroom and I will clean him up when he doesn’t quite make it there. I will give him medications and keep close tabs on his IV fluids. I will offer him food and water if I’m able. I will take radiographs (x-rays) and run lab tests. I will talk to the doctor about how he is doing and if I am worried about anything. I will tell her if I think he is in pain or if he is breathing harder or if his behavior suddenly changed.

I will wrap him in warmed blankets if his temperature starts getting too low. I will dim the lights in the room so he can sleep.  I will call him a naughty boy when he tries to chew out his catheter and then I will rub his head so he knows that I don’t really mean it. I will apologize to him when I have to do something he doesn’t like (like take his temperature) and I will talk to him so he knows that he hasn’t been abandoned.

I will sit in the kennel with him because he wants someone to be with him in this scary place with the strange sounds and smells. I will tell him that you love him very much and you will come back to see him. I will tell him that I hope he gets to go home soon because no one likes being in the hospital.Tomorrow I will let you know how he did. I will tell you what’s going to happen next and that the veterinarian will discuss his treatment options so you know what to expect.

When it’s time to go home, I will go over his discharge instructions and his medications with you. Then I will go and bring him back to you. I will tell you to call with any questions or concerns. I will tell him he is a good boy and that I hope I never have to see him again because that would mean he is sick again.

Or I will be there when the veterinarian has to tell you that we’ve done everything we can, but we can’t make him better. That it’s time to say goodbye. I will explain everything that will happen. I will tell you that the injection will be given in the catheter that he already has and that he won’t feel anything. That he will just go to sleep and then he will wake up at the Rainbow Bridge. He will wait for you there and he will be happy and healthy and whole. I will be there while you say goodbye and my heart will break a little like it has for every pet I’ve cared for that didn’t get to go home. And I will cry.  Mostly I will cry for you. Because you loved him and you had to say goodbye when you didn’t want to.

Then I will take care of him one final time. I will make sure your wishes for him are fulfilled. I will pet him and tell him that I am sorry that we couldn’t fix him, that we couldn’t make him better. I will say goodbye. Then I will make myself wipe the tears from my face, close my eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Because another pet is waiting for me and I need to take care of her too.

I will still think about your pet, sometimes even years later, and I will miss him. While he was in the hospital, he was mine too. That is who I am. That is who we are.We love what we do and can’t imagine doing anything else. Thank you for letting us take care of your pet.

An emergency room veterinary technician

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.

About The Author

Mistie Pruitt CVT has been working in the veterinary field for over 17 years, and is currently employed at a specialty hospital (internal medicine, oncology, neurology, surgery, ophthalmology, cardiology, dermatology, and emergency) in Denver, Colorado.