Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Companion with Dani McVety

In this episode John McQueen interviews Dr. Dani McVety with Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice

Dr. Dani McVety

Dr. Dani McVety

John McQueen:  [0:00] Welcome to Anderson‑McQueen’s radio show “Undertakings.” I’m John McQueen, president and owner of Anderson‑McQueen Funeral Homes. As always on this show, we undertake those subjects that you want to know about.

[0:14] Remember, if there’s a specific topic you would like to ask us or talk about, if you have a question, or would like to interview one of our upcoming guests, please email us at radio@andersonmcqueen.com. We always do our best to include everyone’s request if at all possible.

[0:33] Our topic today is “Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Companion.” We’re going to be speaking to our special guest, Dr. Dani McVety with Lap of Love Vet Hospice, who will help us in understanding this worthy subject. Welcome, Dr. Dani.

Dr. Dani McVety:  [0:49] Thank you, John. Thank you.

John:  [0:51] We’re glad to have you with us today, and as you and I have spoken some, I know you’re quite the accomplished young lady, both a speaker, an author, a consultant, a mother, and also a veterinarian.

[1:03] As I noticed, you were a graduated of the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, and I believe, if I’m correct here, you were the youngest recipient of the college’s Most Distinguished Young Alumni Award. Is that correct?

Dr. Dani:  [1:19] That’s correct. Last year I had the honor, yes.

John:  [1:21] Great. That must be a fabulous honor, I’m sure, from the University of Florida, and I’m sure it’s got a lot to do with the great work that you’re doing here in the Tampa Bay area with families. If you don’t mind, just share with us a little bit about yourself.

Dr. Dani:  [1:35] Sure. I graduated veterinary school, and shortly after, I practiced veterinary emergency care for a couple of years. When I started doing that, I also started seeing what I loved about veterinary medicine. I love the pets, obviously, that’s how I got into this, but I also love the people.

[1:51] I love the people a lot, the people that love the animals. I love helping them through the decision‑making process. In emergency medicine that’s what I got from that, was walking into an exam room when people had no idea what to expect, if it was a broken toenail or if it was a very bad emergency situation that I needed to be there presently for them.

[2:18] It didn’t really matter what it was because to the family, it’s an emergency. Walking into that room and helping them calm down, just make the decisions that we need to make, get to the place we need to get, because we’re both coming from the same place, which is loving the pet. That’s really where I saw one of my strengths in veterinary medicine.

[2:37] Shortly after, I formed Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice. I had no idea what it was going to turn into. I had no idea. I volunteered for a human hospice when I was in college, and it gave me a high level of respect for what human hospice does, and the standpoint that they come from, which is honoring every step of life and even the end.

[3:00] In every step of the end we can honor each and every part of that, including the grief that the family goes through, also. That grief starts before that companion, that loved one, has even passed at all.

[3:10] I love their outlook, and I started Lap of Love, again, not knowing what it was going to turn into. Within a year, I really saw the potential. I saw that there were a lot of veterinarians around the country that wanted to do this that honor the human‑animal bond just as much as I do and loved what they do.

[3:28] I partnered with a classmate of mine, Dr. Mary Gardner, and we turned it into something big. Just a few years later we have almost 60 doctors around the country working under the Lap of Love name. We’re all incredibly dedicated individuals.

[3:44] Really, if you are going to sum it up into a few short words, we’re dedicated to the human‑animal bond, and dedicated to honoring that bond through every step and passage of it.

[3:52] Particularly, with veterinary hospice, through the end of life stages, which, again, starts before the pet has even passed. Starts at the beginning of that terminal illness, knowing that we’re not going to be doing any more curative options, but we’re going to set help that pet, and the family, feel as comfortable as they can possibly feel during that time.

John:  [4:09] That’s great. I know you’ve been doing amazing things here in the Tampa Bay area. Really got to pioneering this whole veterinary hospice side of things.

[4:20] In the funeral industry, obviously, we’ve dealt with the human side of the hospice for many years. Now that we’re into the pet side of the business also, from performing the cremations, we’re glad to be one of your cremation specialists here in the area. We’ve felt that it would be perfect to bring you in and share some of that commonality.

[4:41] Tell our listeners, if you don’t mind, elaborate more on the actual veterinary hospice side of things. I know, on the human side, many times they have a census that they say they are in hospice from six months before the death occurs or other things like that.

[4:58] Can you elaborate maybe a little more on exactly what a veterinary hospice is?

Dr. Dani:  [5:02] Yeah, definitely. Human hospice does have a bit more defined roles and defined definitions. Particularly with medical insurance, they have to have those definitions. In veterinary medicine we are working through it.

[5:14] Veterinary hospice is where, I like to say, human hospice was 60 or 70 years ago, where nurses would walk into a home and they would think, “Oh, my gosh, if only I would have gotten this family six months ago, I would have been able to do so much more for them,” in the realm of preparation and emotional support.

[5:31] That’s kind of where I see veterinary hospice right now. It’s a little bit in its infancy. As the human animal bond changes, as it has changed, so 20 years ago, a lot of our dogs were in the backyard. They were all farm dogs. Now, they’re under our sheets, at the exclusion of our spouses, they’re under our sheets sometimes.

[5:48] Veterinary hospice is changing. We have our definition, which is, veterinary hospice is a family centered, medically supervised, and team oriented service that’s dedicated to maintaining the human animal bond via the comfort and quality of life for the terminally ill patient until the natural death occurs or until the client elects euthanasia.

[6:09] We do have the option of euthanasia in veterinary medicine as we always have and we always will have that option. Now, veterinary hospice does not include euthanasia, but it does include the time leading up to that, and also the preparation for euthanasia, if that’s the way that the family’s going to wish to go.

[6:26] It’s really all about keeping the family at the center, the family’s wishes at the center, and supervising that medically, spiritually and emotionally as well, just like human hospice does. Also, there’s a great deal of differences between veterinary and human, just like there is for veterinary oncology and human oncology is completely different. But the foundation is the same, which is honoring the bond that the family has with their loved one.

John:  [6:53] That’s fabulous. I’m obviously more familiar on the human side of the business, with hospice and things. But I’ve even learned something here already and that was that, I guess I had always sort of envisioned more, it’s time to put my dog to sleep. I’m going to call you and you’re going to come in and take care of that.

[7:16] But it sounds like you really start that process much earlier. Maybe you’re letting me know that it’s now time to start looking at what the future might hold for myself and my beloved pet, and maybe the steps in which we should take as we travel those last few miles together.

Dr. Dani:  [7:35] Yeah, and what I don’t like hearing is when veterinarians say, “There’s nothing more we can do.” Or really, human doctors, too. Our doctors should never say, “There’s nothing more we can do.” Maybe there’s no more curative options that we can do. There’s nothing more to get the outcome that we all want, but there is always one more thing we can do. That one more thing we can do is implement hospice care.

[7:55] We could have someone come to your home and help out with the maintaining of the daily habits that we have with our pet, help change what’s going on.

[8:03] Let’s put some rub down, for example, for the 90 pound Labrador that can’t get up and walk around anymore. Let’s put some things in place so that we can honor that bond for as long as possible, as long as that pet, the family and the disease, is, of course, maintained, as well in the current state. That’s what veterinary hospice really includes.

[8:22] When we’re in medicine, we, a lot of times, are trying to treat the disease. But hospice is about treating the symptoms that the pet’s going through. We go through the most common symptoms, and of course, the thing that everyone who is concerned about, including myself and my own animals, is we don’t want them to be in pain, and we don’t want them to be suffering. We don’t want them to be uncomfortable.

[8:43] Animals have the difference between having an emotional pain, and then, of course, having physical pain. They handle physical pain very well, because they don’t think about what that physical pain means for their future.

[8:55] They don’t have a broken arm, we break our arm, we think, “Oh, my gosh, I have to go to the emergency room. I have to walk out and wait for three hours in the emergency room. Surely I have to wait there. They’re going to give me injections and I have to wait a little bit longer and then I’m going to go the surgeon, they’re going to have to plate my arm in a cast. Oh, I’m going to be out of work for four weeks, it’s going to be…”

[9:12] We have this emotional interpretation of what our physical pain is going to mean for our future. But our dog doesn’t. There’s a broken leg. That’s it. To the dog, it’s a broken leg. It’s nothing more, literally, than a broken leg.

[9:23] Families all the time want to say, “I can’t amputate that leg,” and I really get that, but we have to recognize that we have an emotional attachment to the dog’s leg, the dog doesn’t have an emotional attachment to the dog’s leg. They get up from surgery, and they’re running around.

[9:35] Now, that’s the good news about the interpretation of physical pain. But the bad news is that, an animal also can’t interpret an ending to their physical pain. They don’t know that they can take an Advil and go to sleep and their headache’s going to go away. They don’t know that.

[9:50] There’s that placebo effect that we all know. But there’s also that nocebo effect, which is the alternative, meaning they can’t interpret an ending to that pain. Which is why my job, as a veterinary hospice practitioner, is to make sure that we don’t ever get to that state of severe physical pain in the first place.

[10:07] Because that 80 pound Labrador that can’t get around and walk anymore can’t go upstairs to be with their family at night time. Can’t go walk to the office to be with their owner, can’t get up and walk to the food bowl anymore.

[10:20] Then we start anxiety, and the panting, pacing, whining and crying is something that we see a lot of times, particularly at night time, just like human hospice does with the sundowner syndrome that we need to address. There’s the physical pain that the animals can handle well, but then there’s the emotional pain that, as a doctor, I want to help the family help the pet as much as we can do.

[10:39] That’s probably the most important symptom and thing that I do as a veterinary hospice practitioner is making sure that that’s OK. As long as the disease is under control, so that the congestive heart failure patient isn’t, the lungs aren’t filling up with fluid. Things like that that are difficult to impossible for me to treat in the home. I treat, i.e., take away.

[10:59] That’s the root of it, and the root of the conversation that I have during hospice, the hospice exam.

John:  [11:08] Sounds like you do a lot for your patient, the pet, as well as the family. You treat the whole family prior to the death.

[11:20] Have you gotten into any continued care for the family after the loss? I know like with us, we offer our comfort circle program for families who have lost a loved one, whether it be two‑legged or four‑legged, and they’re able to come and find a lot of help in that. I didn’t know if maybe Lap of Love, if you’ve branched out into any sort of aftercare sort of like the human hospices have.

Dr. Dani:  [11:45] It’s something that we’re working on a lot. I have seen many, many pet loss support groups that start up. A lot of them seem to kind of end up fizzling out a little bit. I know you guys have a wonderful one, as well, that’s been great.

[12:00] The answer is that that’s the future of veterinary hospice. That’s where we’re headed, is more of the complete supportive group. We’re veterinarians, we’re not counselors. We can’t step into that role, although we do counsel all the time, obviously. But it’s also a difficult thing for us to continue to do after the passing of a pet, because then we get into things that we’re not licensed to do.

[12:26] All of the veterinarians that work with us are required to have counselors that they work with, required of all information on pet loss support groups in their area. We all know the best ones. Now, that information’s constantly changing. Every group ends up moving, doing this, doing that. We’re always needing to start that.

[12:44] We are actually starting something this year that’s very exciting for us, and it’s Harvey’s Place. If you’ve been to our website, you’ve seen a little dog on everything that we have, and he has glasses on, kind of looks like a geriatric dog. We named him Harvey.

[12:57] We’re going to start this support group, kind of, a forum, I guess, if you will, called Harvey’s Place. Something that I’ve seen that’s worked very, very well is families that are going through, let’s say you have, again, an 80‑pound Labrador.

[13:11] Your path through that veterinary hospice time is going to be completely different than the family with the Yorkie with congestive heart failure. You make the decision totally differently. You’re going through a completely different things as the disease progresses.

[13:25] To have another family that had an 80‑pound Labrador, to have someone else who’s been through that is incredibly helpful. What things helped them, what did a veterinarian say that put things into perspective? What did a friend say that put things into perspective?

[13:39] That’s what Harvey’s Place is going to be all about, is sharing your stories. It’s also a way of memorializing your own story. We tend to get a lot of self‑soothing by telling our story and by being present in what actually happened and to be able to put that out on paper. Then for that story to help somebody else is, in my opinion, and from what I’ve seen, going to be an incredibly helpful way of sharing with everybody.

[14:03] Versus maybe just going and sitting in a room, right now, which helps a great deal of people. That’s something that does help. Having something that’s going to help people with those six or eight months before they’re facing that decision, I think, is going to also be a way for us to support and a way to support people that have already been through it. That they can go back and be contacted and help somebody else.

John:  [14:24] I look forward to hearing more about Harvey as he develops in his roles.

Dr. Dani:  [14:28] That’s right.

John:  [14:30] Shifting gears just a little bit. Maybe you could share with us sort of more of a process standpoint. How would you, if I had a dog or cat or any animal in my home that, maybe the end was coming. Explain to me a little bit about the process between doing home euthanasia versus taking my dog to the veterinary clinic and maybe what some of the benefits are of one over the other.

Dr. Dani:  [15:00] Right, absolutely. The benefit of home euthanasia, which is a large percentage of what I do, I see. The veterinary hospice part will continue to grow as we did, as we’re furthering our goals.

[15:10] But as far as home euthanasia goes, the vast majority of our families that call us call us and they have never talked with us before. They don’t need a consultation, we don’t need to see them prior to it. They call us, our support staff is amazing. We simply had that appointment made when they’re ready. The large majority of them are the same day.

[15:32] I don’t like to say we’re an emergency service. Cops don’t like it when I go through stop signs and red lights and that kind of thing. Emergency is one thing, but short notice is very, very common for us. I would say, upwards of 80 to 90 percent of our calls are within 24 hours of meeting us.

[15:47] The doctor comes to the home. We always call when we’re on our way, because there’s nothing worse than having to sit their twiddling your thumbs waiting for the doctor to come and knock on that door for that final visit with your baby. We always call when we’re on our way.

[16:01] When the doctor walks in, we always explain the process, exactly what we’re going to do. We always sedate beforehand. It’s a very important thing that they actually lecture on in the veterinary community is, giving that pet that sedation injection beforehand is so important, is that last peaceful memory that we get of our babies.

[16:25] To me, it’s the most ethereal moment that we can have with our beloved one, with our family members. They’re lying there, they’re peaceful, to the outside, they’re asleep. They are comfortable for a bit, and we get to have that special time, we always talk about anything that the family wants to talk about, how we get their name, any funny stories. That’s really that bonding time with the doctor and the family, as well.

[16:52] Then, of course, we give the injection afterwards and we always have the family gets as much time as they want with the pet before we either assist them with the cremation arrangements, like with you guys, or really, whatever they want.

[17:06] But the benefit of in home euthanasia, ask anybody that’s been through it. The benefit is to the pet, number one. Pets see their surroundings, really, via smell. That’s kind of the most important thing. Nothing good ever happened in a clinic. How many of us wanted to go the pediatrician’s office when we were young?

John:  [17:22] I know my daughter doesn’t.

Dr. Dani:  [17:24] Right. How many of our pets don’t want to go to the clinic? Don’t want to go in the car? Cats don’t want to go in the carrier. They don’t want to do that, and that’s stressful for the families, too. This way, as veterinarians and veterinarian support staff, that we euthanize our own pets, too, at the home. We bring the medications home.

[17:40] The benefits are immeasurable to the pet, because they get to stay in their most comfortable place. I’ve euthanized pets on boats, in pools, on the beds, on their own bed. You name anything, I have, the family is always like, “Can we do it outside, on this time?” Absolutely. The family says, “Can I?” The answer is yes.

[18:04] I can do almost anything, anywhere, any time. I have a little flashlight that I bring for that moment when I need to see exactly what I’m doing and otherwise, no, it’s all about that experience. Because the pet being comfortable is number one, so wherever the pet is comfortable is great. Mom and dad know where the pet’s most comfortable.

[18:21] Then secondary to that is mom and dad being comfortable. If they’re comfortable, if the children that are present are comfortable, it’s this incredible snowball of love and compassion I’ve had. I’ve shared wine and beer and people having cigars.

[18:38] It becomes a celebration of the life, just as you guys know, instead of this downing thing. It’s really whatever the family can think up. What can you think up to make this the best experience for you and your baby that you can? That’s what I get to be a part of, which is a huge honor, huge honor.

John:  [18:58] It sounds like an amazing experience.

Dr. Dani:  [19:00] It really is.

John:  [19:01] Along those lines, oftentimes we hear the term, “Quality of life,” and that’s whether it’s a human person or a pet. But maybe you can share with our listeners, how do I know when it’s time or are there certain signs I can look for that, maybe, direct me to the fact that I should begin my conversation with Dr. Dani and Lap of Love on my aging pet and maybe what the future holds for him.

Dr. Dani:  [19:33] Yeah, how do I know when it’s time? That’s the most important question veterinarians would ever answer. It’s the most important question that we answer, “How do I know when it’s time”

[19:42] The important thing that I tell families, number one, is that there is not one moment in time that’s the perfect time, unless that pet is absolutely suffering, and that moment is the only moment that we have if we want to stop suffering.

[19:53] How I explain it is that there’s really a subjective period of time when euthanasia is an appropriate decision. It may not be the only decision, but it’s an appropriate decision. It’s not this moment before which you’re going to go to hell and after which you’re going to go to hell. It’s really a period of time.

[20:07] Before this period of time, as a doctor, I’m going to refuse euthanize because just morally and ethically I couldn’t do that. After which, at the end of this period of time, there’s suffering that’s consistent, and I’m going to insist on euthanasia to the best of my ability, because we need to stop that.

[20:24] In my veterinary oath it quite literally says the prevention and relief of pain and suffering. I’m not just relieving suffering that’s occurring at that moment. But I need to prevent suffering from occurring at all.

[20:34] Families call me and say, “I’m not really ready. He’s not suffering yet.” Generally my response next is, “Well, do you want him to be? Maybe we don’t want him to be suffering. Euthanasia can be about preventing suffering from occurring at all.”

[20:47] Every disease process is going to have its subjective period of time, every disease process. Every family is going to have their subjective period of time, and every pet is going to have their subjective period of time, what that personality is going to allow.

[21:01] Different pets with different personalities ‑‑ a great dane has a different personality than a yorkie ‑‑ that’s going to allow a different amount of pain, a different amount of discomfort, a different amount of interpretation means for them at that moment.

[21:14] My job, as a veterinarian, is to align each of those things, the disease, number one, the family’s wishes, number two, and the pet’s personality, number three. Find out where they all overlap and allow that family the right and allow them permission to know that you’re going to have a subjective period of time.

[21:32] Anywhere during this period of time, I am going to back you up. I’m going to guide you in this. I’m going to help you. I’m going to back you up.

[21:39] Another important distinction that I think we tend to look at too much is, “Well, they’re still eating.” Or, “Well, they’re still wagging their tail.” Listen, the 95 pound Labrador that can’t get up and move around, it cries every time it walks, it will wag its tail…The day you come home, he’s going to wag his tail every single time, because you are the most important thing to him.

[22:02] He might eat until that last moment also, because food might be secondary to you, that last important thing. That doesn’t mean that his quality of life exists on a continuum, that we can allow him to be lying in his urine or his feces or allow him to be in a state of anxiousness, which he’s in when you’re not there.

[22:18] The eating and the “being happy,” I think, is taken a little bit too far. Because every disease is going to have a different level of eating that’s allowed and a different level of happiness that’s allowed.

[22:29] One thing I’d also like to say is that don’t just look at what your pet still enjoys. Sometimes we say, “OK, name five things that he still enjoys and when he doesn’t like to do two or three of them, then it may be time.” But also look at what he doesn’t enjoy. Let’s say that the Goodyear Blimp going over your house every day, your dog just hates the Goodyear ‑‑ he’s going to bark at the Goodyear Blimp every time it goes over.

[22:53] The day that he doesn’t bark at the Goodyear Blimp, maybe there’s something wrong, because he doesn’t have the energy to hate what he normally hates. Not just having the energy to love what we normally love, but also the energy to hate what we normally hate.

[23:05] Some may say, “Well, my cat never let me pet him before, and he’s letting me pet him now. Isn’t this wonderful, it’s great.” I’m like, “Well, he probably doesn’t have enough energy to hate you petting him.” It’s little distinctions that we need to take on a whole spectrum instead of just one or two things.

[23:22] Us, as veterinarians, we know the biological and physiological progression of a disease that we can help the families through, during those end stages.

John:  [23:29] That’s some great advice. I think the toughest thing for all of us, letting go is difficult, whether it’s your mom, your dad, or your dog. Unfortunately, though, or fortunately, I guess, with mom and dad, we can communicate a little better with one another. Knowing some of those signs and looking at it is…

[23:54] I know my dog, Captain, loves to bark at the neighborhood dogs as they’re walking by and stuff. Obviously, as he gets to be a little older, he is reaching the sunshine years of his life, when he no longer wants to do that that might be as much of a clue to me as when he, now, doesn’t want to take his usual favorite walk or ride up to the river house, or things like that.

Dr. Dani:  [24:20] Yeah, absolutely.

John:  [24:21] Shifting gears just a little bit again, we are now a funeral home that has served families for many years and have branched off into the pet business through our Pet Passages.

[24:37] But how do you see, maybe, your role, because you’re, now, branching out of veterinary medicine, I would say, into hospice care, too. How do you see your role as a veterinarian, but how it may relate to, possibly, the human side of business?

Dr. Dani:  [24:56] Yeah, it’s something that we’re taking a really hard look at, because it’s a conversation that every single one of my clients at some point, generally, brings up. They see how peaceful of a passing that it can be for their pet and we have this sense of obligation to our pets that sometimes we don’t always have with our family members.

[25:15] There’s not always a level of obligation like we have with the pet, on the sense that we need to feed them, we need to have water available, have shelter. That’s what I mean by that statement.

[25:26] I see this level of obligation we have to our pets and the pet parent’s dedication to that overall relationship that they have their pet through the end. It’s funny, because one I give that final injection and that pet has peacefully passed, it’s amazing that so many of them look at me and say, “I wish we could do this for humans.”

[25:50] It is, it’s something that, as veterinarians, we have the honor to do. It will never be the same as it is in veterinarian medicine in human medicine. It will never be exactly what we are allowed it to be in veterinary medicine. But I do think that there is a way that we can open up the conversation to where it’s not taboo anymore.

[26:15] Death isn’t, we tend to put it in a back room and close the door and we don’t look at it. We don’t want to look at it until we have to. But instead if we can honor the choices that we all get to make every day…If we get to make the choice of what are we going to eat, what are we going to drink, what are we going to do with our bodies, how are we going to honor every cell in our body that requires our presence and our force of life to be there, and to provide a good fuel for it every single day?

[26:42] How do we honor that through the end? It’s been very interesting to me, because I’ve been approached by quite a few human groups and human hospice groups about how do we open up that conversation? What is human euthanasia? There are a few states that have, in fact, approved it.

[27:01] It’s very interesting, because they use the same exact drugs that we use in veterinary medicine. We inject the drugs into the vein in veterinary medicine, that’s our preferred method. We do others with very aggressive dogs and those kinds of things, so there are other ways.

[27:12] But the same drug is what the humans actually drink in a lot of the states. Of course, every state is different, so I’m not going to pretend to know everything about that. But as a veterinarian and one that’s assisted in probably close to 2,000 passings in my careers, I find a lot of information is transferrable.

[27:36] How do we judge quality of life? How do we have those conversations with the families? How do we assist them through the decision making process? Maybe, perhaps, on some level, the decision to euthanize a pet is similar, although not the same at all, is similar to needing to pull the life support on a family member. How do we make that decision? Do we make the decision? Is it our right to make the decision?

[27:57] Is it all right to say this is how me, as a person with a terminal illness ‑‑ not me, personally, but someone who’s in that situation ‑‑ if I have a personal terminal illness that I know, via medicine, how this is going to progress, do I have the right to say, “This is what I would like at this time?”

[28:13] It’s something that, again, I’m not going to understand. I’m not going to pretend to understand every single thing, but there are a lot of conversations and theories and ways of presenting information to families that are very, very, very similar. That we, as veterinarians, can learn from humans and from human medicine and that human medicine can certainly learn from veterinarian medicine as well.

John:  [28:42] Sure, and my father, passed away 27 years ago this month and, unfortunately, his death was relatively unexpected. But my brother and sister and I had to make that final decision to remove life support. If nothing else, at a minimum, if we can get families to talk more about not only the decisions they want to make for their beloved companion pet, but also for their mom or their dad or their loved one if something were to happen to them.

[29:15] Although it’s always difficult to stop life support, and have to admit we’re going to have to let somebody go. But fortunately we knew our father well enough, and we had had enough conversations that we knew that that was not the type of life that he would want to live, that was not the quality of life he would have wanted.

[29:36] Our mother, on the other hand, would happily have taken him home and cared for him, if that’s what she needed to do, even though they had divorced years before. She was willing to do that. But we knew that for our father, that just was not the type of life he would have wanted to live going forward from there.

[29:54] I can definitely relate and, again, it’s slightly different, but…

Dr. Dani:  [30:01] It’s not always that different though. It’s certainly is slightly different, but it’s the conversation that a lot of families have with me is that, “I just want him to go naturally. I just want him to pass naturally.”

[30:11] But we also have to take a look at, “OK, well, having a 14‑year‑old akita is not always natural.” Not always, it can be, of course. But how do they live in the wild? If you want to talk about natural, having food and water [inaudible 30:31] , having an animal that’s completely immobile, Mother Nature would have taken that pet a long time ago.

[30:33] Mother Nature removes pets, removes animals, removes humans, from the pack when they’re no longer contributing to the pack in a productive way. That’s how Mother Nature tends to be, so what is the natural death that’s not natural anymore in the way that we do it?

[30:48] Now we get to take the responsibility of providing that passing, that ending, in the most compassionate and loving way that we as humans can interpret that to be, and everyone’s going to have a different interpretation.

[31:01] A Buddhist is going to have a different interpretation under certain circumstances. Certain Buddhists will have their views, and their beliefs, and we get to honor that as veterinarians, what are their views and beliefs, and we will assist them through the medical supervision of that case, just like someone else who wants to make that decision a little bit sooner rather than later.

[31:21] They get to make that decision and use a veterinarian. I get to help them through that, in their vision of what it is, within my moral ethical boundaries.

[31:29] It’s a huge kind of volleying, almost, with each case, with each family, with each pet, disease, deciding which is best, and where we all overlap, and then coming to that agreement, and surrendering to that agreement. Letting that develop in the way it’s going to develop. I love it. I love every aspect of getting down to what they want, and their vision of it, and letting that vision play out in the most loving way.

John:  [31:56] You definitely have a passion for what you do, that’s for sure.

[32:00] Just a couple of last thoughts. One, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this before, but just in the eight years that we’ve been serving pet families now, one of the things that I’ve noticed is it seems like with grief, for pet families it seems like the grief is much more pronounced and early on in the process than with a human family. With the human family, both of them, I would say, they can be prolonged.

[32:29] Sometimes they do need that extra help from an expert to get them through the loss, but with me, it seems, from what I’ve noticed, that many of our pet families grieve much stronger early on in the beginning.

[32:43] This is nothing scientific from my part, but on the human side, I think part of the difference is that when the death occurs on the human side, “I’ve got funeral arrangements to make. I’ve got family coming to town. I’ve got to figure out what am I going to do about the memorial service, or the burial, or the cremation,” or whatever it may be, and the human family almost doesn’t have a chance to grieve right away.

[33:11] Where I see more of the grief that sets in on the human side is a week after the funeral, or two weeks after the funeral, when now all the family has gone home, life moves forward, and, “Now here I am. I’m at home all by myself. My wife, who’s been with me for 50 years, is no longer here,” and that’s kind of when the grief becomes reality.

[33:34] Whereas with our pet families that we serve, that grief is very pronounced the moment they walk in the door typically, and is in the beginning. I don’t know if you’ve noticed anything along those types of lines, but I always say that I think it’s because of the unconditional love that your pet gives you. My wife is not always happy to see me when I get home from work, but my dog is always happy to see me.

[34:07] I was just curious if you had noticed anything along those lines or an advice on this.

Dr. Dani:  [34:12] What a powerful standpoint and viewpoint that you have from that, from both sides. That’s really neat. I certainly don’t get to have the honor of seeing the human side often. I did a little bit when I volunteered for human hospice, but it is.

[34:26] I also think it has to go back to a little bit of the obligation that we have to our pets also, and more of like a parental role to an infant, where that infant is 100 percent dependent on us and their needs are the same thing as their wants. An infant doesn’t cry because he’s hungry because he wants food. He cries because he needs food. His needs are the same thing as his wants.

[34:45] The pets are a little bit the same. You’re right. It’s that unconditional love and presence, non‑judgment, empathy, compassion, literally unconditional love that we get from our pets every day.

[34:56] You walk home, you get home, and your dog wants to play, and you don’t want to play. You’ve had a bad day at work or something, your dog doesn’t just gets you to be happy, try to force you to be happy. No, they just go off, and play by themselves, and when you’re ready to play, you can play.

[35:07] You’re right. Another thing is I feel that people don’t always feel the permission to grieve with their pets the way that we should. Society tends to say, friends will say, “It’s just a dog. It’s just a pet. Why do you need time off from work? Why are you doing this? Why are you acting like this? It’s just yadda, yadda, yadda.”

[35:30] It’s not just a dog. It’s not just a pet. It’s your family member. It’s the last attachment you have to another human family member sometimes. Last year I had to euthanize a dog belonging to a 17‑year‑old girl, and her mother and their father had died…this is going to get me all teary‑eyed.

[35:49] The father had died about a year earlier that month, and the daughter went with the father, when she was five years old, to go pick up this dog as a puppy. Then I get to sit out there on the lawn, and this dog that helped them get through the passing of their father, which was with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a very long, drawn‑out case. I get to be there with that family at that time.

[36:13] That dog, that was just not a dog. That was not just a canine. That was not just even a presence of unconditional love for them. That was on top of all those things, was one of the last connections they had with their father.

[36:26] It’s a very powerful thing. I’m not just assisting in the death of the pet but really another string of a family member they’ve had before also, and sometimes I feel that they don’t…families have never been allowed to have that grief, been allowed to experience it, in a public way like we’re allowed to have when you lose a human family member.

[36:48] You’re right. It’s that constant presence, that presence that has been with me, the one that doesn’t talk back, the one that doesn’t get mean. The one that doesn’t get mad at me when I’m not there, just that constant presence that’s there one moment and not there the next.

John:  [37:02] They’re amazing things, aren’t they?

Dr. Dani:  [37:03] Oh, they are. They are. They are. I watched them go…animals, I watched them go through the dying process, and we’re the ones that have a problem with it. Us, humans, are the ones that have a problem with the whole dying process, but they don’t, and even the other pets in the home, and it’s another important thing about doing in‑home euthanasia, is other pets get to be there.

[37:20] I always tell the families, “You’re having a bigger problem with this than Fluffy’s having,” or, “Scruffy isn’t having a problem with Fluffy passing.” I had one guy, his pet passed, and the other dog went over and started eating. He goes, “How could he eat at a time like this? That’s terrible, how could you…?” But we could have a lesson from that.

[37:46] We could look at how our pets handle themselves, and handle the passing of another housemate, and really take a look at that, and how they handle themselves, and it’s such a non‑judgmental, non‑assumptive…It’s a loving, caring. They come from a place of unconditional…their being is love.

[38:04] They exude love in every aspect without the interpretation of what that love really means for them, without the expectation that they’re going to get it back, so we have such a lesson in that.

John:  [38:15] Up through the mid‑1900s, families experienced death more often from the aspect that grandma and grandpa lived in the same house and the death occurred at home. Actually, funeral directors used to go come to the house, and we would do the necessary preparations there. Then you would receive friends at the home, so children grew up around death, and the whole family was exposed to death.

[38:46] Nowadays we live in sort of a death‑denying culture, and we want to sweep everybody off to the nursing home, or, “The death has occurred. Let’s get it over with as quickly as possible.” In many ways, people tend to think that that’s going to help them through that grieving process. As many psychologists, like Dr. Alan Wolfelt, probably one of the most noted grief psychologists, has said, efficiency is not necessarily effectiveness.

[39:18] He used to always say, “You can spend a little bit on the funeral today or a lot with me in therapy in later on,” and there’s certain steps we have to go through in trying to avoid those steps. They’re not necessarily healthy, and I think it’s the same, again, whether it’s your loved one or whether it’s your beloved companion.

[39:40] As we wrap up the show today, how about any last advice that you’d like to share with your pet parents if they need to begin that journey, of the veterinary hospice side of things for their beloved pet, or anything else you’d like to share before we call it a day?

Dr. Dani:  [39:56] Anything I could say to pet parents that are thinking about going through it, they’re preparing to go through it, whether or not your dog is 2 years old or 10 years old, is to listen to your instincts, and you know your baby better than anybody else, and if your veterinarian…

[40:10] If you feel unsupported in certain ways by your veterinarian, then go find one that is, and you have the permission to do that. You have the permission to ask your doctor and the veterinarian really anything that you can think. To try not to listen to other people’s interpretations, friends, outsiders, about what’s going on, because no one lives in those walls other than you and your pet. That’s the honor that I get to see when I come into a home, is really what’s going on within those walls.

[40:38] Trusting your instincts, coming from a place of love, that’s always the best thing to guide you when you’re going, or thinking about going, through something like that, and remembering that veterinarians are there to support that human‑animal bond. That’s why we all got into this in the first place, just to support that human‑animal bond.

John:  [40:58] You’re definitely a lady of passion for your profession, and for caring for the pets, but also caring for the families. That’s a great thing. Dr. Dani, we appreciate you being with us today.

[41:08] Thank you for listening to Anderson‑McQueen Funeral Homes’ radio show “Undertakings.” Never miss an episode by subscribing today to “Undertakings” at the iTunes store. It’s easy and it’s free. Simply log on at iTunes.com and select “Podcast.” Then search “Anderson‑McQueen.”

[41:31] In addition to our podcast, you can also download our free funeral app at iTunes or at the App Store. Don’t have an iTunes account? You can listen to the show on our blog at blog.andersonmcqueen.com or read a transcription of today’s show. Remember to email us those questions and show ideas to radio@andersonmcqueen.com.

[42:00] I’m John McQueen with Anderson‑McQueen Funeral Homes and I thank you for listening to “Undertakings.”

One Response to “Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Companion with Dani McVety”

  1. Jo says:

    Thanks for making me understand the process of letting my poor dog go. He went blind (13 yr old rat terrior), he suddenly cannot walk too good, his stomach is distended and he cries while he lays down. Breaks my heart to put him to sleep, but Dr Dani is right, just because they still eat and still have control over their bathroom habits, it is sad to see my dog bumping into things and unsteady on his legs. I have an appt at the vets tomorrow, i was going to ask if my dog is in any pain, but it is obvious he is uncomfortable, he cannot do anything any more, so i think tommorrow he will take his trip to Rainbow Bridge. Thank you for enlightning me on the process of making the final decision.

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