An excerpt from: Lucky Dog: How Being A Veterinarian Saved My Life

by: Dr. Sarah Boston

As veterinarians, one of the options that we are able to provide is humane euthanasia. I believe this is the ultimate freedom — the freedom to die without pain. In humans, we resist when death is imminent, suffering is great, and there is no relief in sight. We hang on for dear life when life is no longer dear. We allow our loved ones to suffer. We watch them die. When a person wants to die with dignity, it becomes national or international news; a court battle usually ensues. When a high-profile euthanasia case is in the media, there are panels of bioethics experts, physicians, the terminally ill and their families. With all the controversy, I am always amazed that no one has ever turned to the opinions of doctors who regularly euthanize their patients when their prognosis is grave and they are suffering: veterinarians.

senior dog - black labrador retriever laying down
There are many reasons for euthanasia in my profession, but the most common are terminal illness and poor quality of life, with no hope of improvement or the potential for recovery. The outcome without action is clear: the patient will continue to suffer and then die. By choosing euthanasia, we can select the time and place. There can be ceremony to it. The family can control the situation and say goodbye. The patient does not die alone, and the death is painless. We are able to make this process peaceful, fast, and dignified for our patients. It is a ritual. We place a catheter in the dog’s vein without the owner present, so that they don’t have to see that part. Once it’s in, the owner comes back to give their dog hugs and kisses and say their goodbyes: “I love you. You are such a good dog. It’s okay. You are not going to hurt any more. I love you so much.”

Then we give an intravenous overdose of an anesthetic agent. It is fast — shockingly fast. It always throws people how we can move from life to death in a matter of seconds. This is simultaneously the best and worst thing about the whole process. How can you compare human euthanasia to humane euthanasia in animals? Well, how can you not?

Death with dignity has definitely gone to the dogs. I recently euthanized Molly at home. It was only six months after I finished all of my treatments for thyroid cancer. She was fifteen and a half years old and she was just done. Not sick with any one problem, or at least not one that I had discovered, just expiring, ready to go. She didn’t want to eat her favourite foods, go for walks, interact, or enjoy life, not to mention that she was rather senile and completely deaf.

I put a catheter in her back leg while she was on her bed in the living room. My husband was at the front end, feeding her cheese (the only thing she would eat) and scratching her ears. We were both crying as I gave her the injection. It was fast and peaceful. None of us will be lucky enough to have a death this good, eating cheese in bed with your best friends in the world until the lights fade out.


Reprinted with permission of House of Anansi Press. Available for purchase at //

Sarah Boston, DVM, DVSc, Dipl ACVS
Sarah Boston is a veterinary surgical oncologist and public speaker. Sarah is also a cancer survivor and author of the best-selling, hilarious memoir, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved my Life.

Follow her on Twitter: @drsarahboston

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