I still remember Curly and Moe’s first puppy visit all those years ago. I had just moved to the community and purchased the small animal veterinary clinic about a month before. I didn’t know many people and was under a lot of stress trying to figure out how to run a business. So, when these little black bundles of fur and energy came into the clinic for their first check up, I jumped at the chance to see them. It was puppy kisses all around from these two. They were lab/cocker spaniel crosses and so small. They came in every four weeks until they received all their puppy shots and I watched them grow.
Before I knew it, they were 80-pound balls of fluff and energy. Still every time they came in, I pictured them as little puppies and was amazed at how big they had grown. Curly and Moe had the best pet parents. They had their annual preventative visits and the family always did everything I recommended, (except weight loss, but who can resist those sad cocker spaniel eyes asking for treats). Even with the best care, Curly and Moe had their share of problems. Both were cursed with allergies. There were chronic skin infections and ear infections that we managed as best we could. There were emergency visits after one of them got cut on a fence, sick visits when they got into the garbage and developed diarrhea, surgeries to clean their teeth and remove masses that developed as they grew older.
They almost always came in together and they were always happy to see me. Until one day, almost twelve years later and Curly came in alone. Curly had a tumor on his abdomen that had been slowly growing for the past year. It had been removed once but came back and his family didn’t want to put him through another surgery. The tumor was now so large that it had broken open. Curly was feeling weak and didn’t want to eat anymore. His family knew it was time to say goodbye.
Euthanizing a patient is always hard. Even though I know I am doing what is best for my patient, it is still emotionally draining. Euthanizing Curly was especially hard. I realized that I had been part of every medical milestone in his life – his first puppy visit, his neuter, managing his allergies, helping ease his arthritis pain, removing his tumors – and now I was part of his death. I cried as I petted his curly hair, gave him treats, and finally ended his suffering.
Curly’s family came in again two weeks later. It was time for Moe’s annual exam. It was the first time in twelve years that Moe his annual exam without Curly. We talked about how Moe was doing without Curly. We reminisced what a great dog Curly was and how full of energy he was. We talked about how much he is missed. We laughed about some of his antics in his younger years.
It was at that moment that I realized what I love about being a veterinarian. I had known and treated Curly his entire life. I was there when he joined the family and I was there when he said goodbye. What other medical professions can do that? Veterinarians are a special group of people. We help our patients in so many ways throughout their entire lives. We are their pediatrician, their surgeon, their dentist, an emergency doctor, the primary care physician, and sometimes their family’s counselor. Our patient’s lives may be too short, but at least we can help them to live their lives to the fullest. And when it is time, we help end their life peacefully, with dignity and love.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Jennifer Shepherd received her DVM from Colorado State University in 2000. She is currently the owner and head veterinarian at Cloquet Animal Hospital, a small animal practice in Cloquet, Minn.
When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband Paul, three children, and her dog Coal.