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The Last Slipper (Choosing Euthanasia & Planning End-Of-Life Indulgences)

I believe that one of the greatest gifts I can give my companions is a peaceful, dignified, pain-free end to their suffering.

Andy in 2010

This is why I recently called on Dr. Blair Burggren at Peaceful Transitions, our regional in-home euthanasia veterinarian to help my Andy die comfortably at home in my arms. The doctor and Amoreena (his business and life partner) are tender and respectful. Upon meeting them, it’s immediately apparent they provide this service out of love and admiration for our companion animals.

The Burggrens and I once talked about how to help people decide when their pets are nearing the end of their lives. Of course the prognosis can be a big hint, especially if there’s a trauma of some kind. Short of that, they believe the best indicator is how many of an animal’s favorite things has he given up. For example, below is a list of some of my Andy’s favorite things. As Andy neared the end of his life, he gave up the things in bold.

Andy & Emma

  • Pinning my slippers to the floor whenever I wasn’t wearing them, so they didn’t float off into the sky.
  • Eating canned food, dry kibble, raw food… any food, actually. (He continued to eat until his last day, but he ate less food and with less enthusiasm.)
  • Managing me in my home office, especially when I was blogging. (Climbing or jumping up to his perches was a problem in his last days. He also gave up laying by my chair because he couldn’t move out of the way quickly if I moved the chair.)
  • Cuddling with and grooming Emma. (Near the end, he seemed uncomfortable with most forms of touch.)
  • Laying in my armpit (or on my head) all night. (He could no longer jump or step up comfortably.)
  • Ambushing his favorite toy from his hiding place in the feline fun tunnel. (He didn’t seem to have energy or interest in play near the end.)
  • Eating treats.
  • Monitoring me when I did housework. (He slowed down significantly in his final weeks.)
  • Examining each cat bed and blanket and selecting his favorite several times each day. (Eventually, he just chose one central spot and stayed in it all day – supervising activity from that one location.)
  • Laying in the sun on his favorite perch so the fabric didn’t fade. (Jumping and climbing became tough for him.)
  • Presiding over my showers to make sure I didn’t miss any spots. (He just stayed in his one chosen spot in the living room all day.)
  • Getting my attention before using the litter box so he would be rewarded with treats. (Near the end, he rarely made it all the way to the box anyway.)
  • Pretending that he liked my singing.

It’s up to you how to interpret the list of things given up. Is his time up when he’s given up all of his favorite things? Or just half of them? Is it when only 50% of his time is spent doing his favorite things? You still have a tough decision to make, but this list is a handy tool when you’re starting to consider euthanasia.

In the end, Andy no longer spent even one hour a day doing his favorite things. When Andy’s vet told me that the prognosis was not good and that he’d never regain the ability to do his favorite things, it felt like the right time to call Peaceful Transitions for help.

My special treat for my cats before they die is to do all the things on their bucket list, if they have one. For example, for my Snicklefritz it was eating yogurt and ice cream, stepping outside with me for a little while, and tasting ham.

The Last Slipper

If they don’t have a bucket list, I just indulge them in as many of their favorite things as possible. One of my vegetarian friends took her dog through the McDonald’s drive-through to get Happy Meals every day for a couple weeks at the end of the dog’s life. The week before Andy died, he started spending nights and days on the living room floor, so I slept there with him for a few hours every night. Also that week, he got to eat everything he loved eating, no matter how unhealthy it was for him. For several days, I kept my slippers off so he could keep them warm for me. For his last night, I made a bed on the floor and we slept together all night – just like old times. (I would’ve done this for more nights if we had more notice. But he was euthanized less than 36 hours after we got the bad news from his vet.) On his final day, I placed my slippers and a padded blanket by the back screen door for him, so he could lay in the sun, on my slippers, sniffing the fresh air. I laid with him almost non-stop that last morning, too.

I’ll do whatever it takes to give each of my companions their last hurrah and then spend their final hours in the comfort of their own home.

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