Client communication: Talking about the end
When the decision is reached to end a patient's life, addressing the client's needs is important, as is communicating what
the process will look like.
At the outset, says Cindy Adams, PhD, MSW, of the University of Calgary, you should find out if the client has been through
the process before. In addition, she advises you ask how much information a client wants. "For some, this is not a big deal,"
she says. "One prescription (doesn't fit) everyone. Offer clients different options and ensure they know what they'll see
and experience in each one.
At Dr. Kate Knutson's practice in Bloomington, Minn., she asks clients about their prior experiences with euthanasia. Rituals
are a healthy way to honor a pet's life, Knutson says. Some of her clients want to be with patients before, during or after
the procedure, or even have a last meal with their pet, which she accommodates.
To prepare clients on the day of the euthanasia procedure, Knutson sits down and discusses with the client the events that
might occur. Then, she adds, "We always give our clients permission to ask questions and give permission to say 'I'm ready'
or 'I'm not ready.' I think it's best to explain the process, and then tell them that this (experience is their own) and that
we are here as facilitators and not on a time schedule."
Some veterinarians may worry that a euthanasia experience led by the client may create schedule problems. What if a client
struggles to make the decision? Knutson says it's not a problem. "If you provide people the opportunity (to take their time),
they don't (wind up) tying up an exam room," she says. "It's really strange, but, psychologically, if you give the client
permission, they do the right thing."
Following the procedure, many practices send a card to a grieving client or offer other resources. At Knutson's practice,
a volunteer grief counselor follows up with a family two weeks after the animal was euthanized to find out how they are doing
and what assistance the practice can offer. The counselor also offers an open session one Saturday a month. "Not a lot of
people come, but the people that come really need it," Knutson says. "They need a professional other than the vet. We kill
patients, but we're not trained in the grieving process."
Knutson says that in most areas where there is either a college or university system, practices can reach out to social workers
or psychology majors who may be looking for credit or field hours to offer services to veterinary clients. "It makes so much
more sense than the vet staff trying to do pseudo-science," she adds.