As a vet, when the hard decision needs to be made whether or not to have a pet put to sleep, we see a range of human emotion from anger to tears to denial, writes Sara Jackson.
Owners apologise to us for their reaction, often saying ‘you must get used to putting animals to sleep’.
For many of us we do not get used to it but, in actuality, understand what it is like to lose a pet of our own and therefore the often devastating gap that is left by their death.
Three weeks ago, the day after my wedding, I found myself looking at my gentle 14-year-old black Labrador, Hal, who had not only been a wonderful companion and working dog but had also provided me with the inspiration to become a vet.
For some time his back legs had been failing but now he was struggling to walk and had become incontinent – had the time come, I had to ask myself? He looked at me with trusting eyes as I remembered the good times and bad times that he had seen me through.
I contemplated how he was always there for me, unconditionally, whenever I needed a shoulder to cry upon, a friend to walk the hills or simply a quiet companion on a long winter night.
We had a quiet, mutual bond, which seemed like it would never end until that heart-wrenching day when, from his body language, I could see the pain and distress he was in.
With the utmost respect I let Hal go, in the kitchen at home, with a last piece of ham and an enormous cuddle.
Although I knew it was the best thing I could do for him, I was left with a sense of guilt, of pain and of emptiness.
I will never forget him and often find myself thinking about him as I look at the photographs of him that adorn my house.
So, for me, each time I am faced with putting a pet to sleep I think back to my own beloved companions. This allows me to step into your shoes and provide the compassion and understanding required, in this, one of the most important parts of a veterinary surgeon’s job.