A Good Death

Rainbow Bridge

For those of us who think that animal stories are newsworthy and belong in the daily press, like the canaries-in-the-mine reportage that has surfaced in our dailies over Toronto Hydro handwells that have been electrocuting dogs with “stray voltage”, today’s kerfuffle is over a pet funeral establishment that has been hauled into court by the Ontario Veterinary College.

Now, no one but the hard-hearted relishes the idea of taking an ailing pet to the vet’s office to be put down on some steel table or cold floor. So there is a niche for Pet Heaven, a North York home business that hooks grieving owners up with mobile vets for a more gentle and dignified death at home.

Or so it would seem.

Pet Heaven’s proprietors have day jobs in real estate, matching film stars, rock icons and business tycoons with high-end homes. In their spare time, they can be seen on the internet, gamboling happily with their many dogs on their spacious lawn.

The OVC has taken them to court, alleging that they are not licensed to perform veterinary services. Of course, they are not doing so, only providing a referral service, at a fee, to mobile vets. Kind of like a service that promises to find you a home handyman. Or like you can find on your own for no charge, if you’ve figured out Google.

Euthanasia for pets is more than “just sticking a needle into a vein. It’s a serious and emotional event for the owner.”
~ Dr. Nigel Gumley, past president of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association

Like anything else, caveat emptor, although if a home handyman messes up your new deck, you can fix it. If a mercenary vet messes up your companion, you can never fix yourself.

The comments in the daily rags gush about how greedy the OVC is and what a saintly service these folks are providing. Probably some truth to both. And if you get referred to a good handyman, keep on keeping on.

When my old cat was languishing with terminal cancer a couple of years back and within a couple of days of the Imminent Event, I emailed these folk to pre-plan cremation. They never got back to me. Possibly I wasn’t a profitable prospect, since I didn’t want the full meal deal with a service and interment. Maybe they hadn’t checked their email. Well, I’m glad it worked out that way.

Instead, I took my old sweetheart up the street to our regular vet, and three of us sat in a comfortable little room in the back of the office, on a flowered couch, and we held the old girl and talked to her while our compassionate veterinarian, with whom she was familiar, carefully administered the Waters of Lethe. After she was gone, the vet arranged cremation, and the ashes were quickly delivered in a beautiful package with a clay pawprint that had been thoughtfully taken.

I hadn’t thought to ask whether a vet would actually come to the house. This is a big issue for those whose veterinarians perform euthanasia in a sterile office, and I fully understand their concerns. Many years ago, vets took the animals to the back room to do the deed, and packed them off to landfill or a rendering plant. Many still do, I guess. That’s why my vet is golden and if she provided home service for the final voyage, that would be even better.

Anyway, why am I glad that Pet Heaven didn’t return my call?

I can’t imagine that an ailing pet of mine would take to a stranger showing up at the door with a tackle box. I can’t imagine I’d take to it either.

My pets might not mind that the proprietor of the “funeral home” would show up in biker gear, driving a truck with Harley decals, get me to hand over a cheque and sign a disclaimer, then send the mobile vet in.  But I’d mind.

And if the vet didn’t ask a few questions about the animal’s condition and offer an compassionate and expert opinion, then proceeded to poke ineptly at my companion, finally delivering a painful heart-stick (the favoured but largely illegal method in some suth’n states). I’d be on the phone to the OVC immediately, and wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror forever after.

In this case, the plot thickens, as the mobile vet in question has denied working for Pet Heaven, even though payments from them are on record.

How do you find a vet with wisdom and compassion, and avoid the hacks?

You can take your chances on the say-so of a referral service. Or you can just forego the substantial referral fee, and ask your own trusted vet if they provide home service or if not, who would they recommend? Or ask friends. Mobile vets do advertise. Do your homework and check references.

The humane passage of your companion is too important to trust to just anyone, mobile or otherwise.

2 responses to “A Good Death

  1. I understand what you’re saying here, but my family, when I was in high school and college, twice used a mobile vet to euthanize our dogs, and it was actually a great experience. The man was extremely gentle, understanding, competent, and kind, and no, he wasn’t our normal vet, but did come highly recommended. Our dogs, rather than having to go through the stress of a car trip and a visit to the vet when they were already extremely uncomfortable and tired, were able to “go to sleep” quietly and in familiar surroundings. They could smell the smells of home instead of antiseptic and the fear of other animals. In these particular dogs’ cases, they were much more comfortable with a stranger than they would have been with their familiar vet. It also gave the family a chance to say goodbye in a calm way at our own pace, without worrying about holding up the vet’s office or standing in tears at the front desk, waiting for the receptionist to get the bill ready. I don’t know how this vet would have handed cremation, as my parents buried the dogs in the backyard, so that may be a concern, but I think he probably would have handled it the same way your vet did.

    All that said, these particular mobile euthanasia vets sound awful. The waiver-wielding biker is nightmarish, the fee is outrageous, and the drawn-out, torturous process is unspeakable.

  2. Thanks so much for this. I’d heard about the owners of Pet Heaven going to court but hadn’t kept up on the details. I’d once considered using their “service” but thankfully did not have to as our vet was able to come to our house himself.

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