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Veterinarians trained for animals, but also help humans

"I don't know how you do it."  

"I could never do this job."

"I wanted her to pass on her own. Do they ever just go in their sleep at home?"

I hear these phrases and questions all the time, and I still don't have a clue how to answer them. After 14 years, often no words come to my mouth. I can only stare down at a little frail animal, a beloved pet, a best friend, and wonder the same things.

Sometimes the emotions are so close that we cry too with the family for the loss. Sometimes we hold it in and protect our hearts for another day. You never know how any situation will affect you until you experience it at that moment.

Most of the time we are professionals and want to do our job to the best of our abilities. We have to be strong for our human clients that will go on without their companions. The same companions who, just moments ago, were walked into the exam room for the last time.

Personally, it is not the animal I am saddest for, although they can break your heart. I believe I am helping them by ending their suffering and pain. We were trained to do just that. What we were not trained to do is to relieve the human suffering that will ensue. We can never take away that hurt or that grief.

But we can try. So we make ourselves emotionally available to our human clients to hear the stories of earlier days and younger, healthier times. We try to let them know that they made a wise and careful decision, a decision that was based on the love of their pet, unselfish and pure.  We give them our time, our shoulder and sometimes our tears because that is all we have to give.

As they talk it helps us to know that in time things will be OK, and we can start to calm down, too. But this is never about the veterinarian; it is about family - whatever family we all might have, traditional or otherwise. In that room, with that animal before us, and those grieving hearts looking on, it takes us all to say goodbye humanely and with love.  

So that is how we do it. I believe in helping to end suffering and to begin healing. I knew that part of my job would be hard and occur too frequently during the course of my days. I accepted that challenge 14 years ago. I too have prayed that my own pets would pass in the night, to no avail. I should know better. I have told the stories about a beautiful, strong, playful pet that I could still see like yesterday in my mind.

Because I am a human first and a veterinarian second, I can do all this. This is how I should have answered their questions. If only I could.

Send questions for Dr. Allison Dascoli to "Ask the Vet," Charleston Daily Mail, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston WV 25301 or email them to Comments or suggestions can be submitted the same way.


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