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Picture of pet dog, Bella
May 15, 2019

What Pets Can Teach Us about End-of-Life Care

Why do we treat our pets with more dignity towards the end of their life than we do our human loved ones?

No matter what background or denomination you are, we all know that our pets have a great place in our midst. Even if you are not a pet lover, you might have noticed that we have many more animal companions than 50 years ago. In many places, especially LA, pets are welcome in restaurants, and the moment you walk in, you see a water dish somewhere on the floor to accommodate them.

I recently talked to a person who helps veterinarians. In particular, assisting families with pet euthanasia. The first thing I said was that I wished we were kinder to humans in the same situation. In the medical profession, individuals take the oath to do no harm, but they also want to prolong life. I have always wondered if we are actually helping humans by prolonging life or if we should rethink our thinking!

The only thing I can truly add to this topic is that there is one word that stands central for me—for both humans and animals—and that is “dignity.” To me, it means making 100 percent sure that this being is treated with the utmost respect. Think of the saying: “Stand on one’s dignity,” which means to insist on being treated with due respect.

I used to be a candy striper as a young girl, and I saw very early on in life how hospital staff always tried to cover up the patients and make sure they looked dignified and proper before family members’ visits. It struck me as something beautiful. Later in life, I learned about hospice, and this is definitely where I learned that “dignity” was a priority!

Making the person as comfortable as possible and giving them care when a cure is no longer an option, filling their last months, weeks, or days with dignity.

When I witnessed how gentle they were when they put down my husband’s dog, years ago, it was so peaceful that it stayed with me. I know that some countries allow euthanasia and others find it immoral. I don’t want to make this article about euthanasia, it is just about dignity, respect, and care. We need to be in control of our bodies and our own lives. I believe this is all we have, and each adult will have to make his or her own decisions.

While doctors and experts ponder over your fate and medical staff advises families on what to do, we often forget to ask the patient what they want. I had one friend ask me to tell his family that he wanted hospice care, as he was incapable of telling them himself.

And if I take a recent example of my father in a hospital, that situation was totally undignified, and I had to fight to get him the respect and dignity he deserved. In others’ eyes, I fell off my pedestal as a “kindness expert” because I stood up for what I believe in…

All I hope to provoke here is that you think of how beautifully we treat our pets, and how inhumane we can be with our human loved ones faced with the same situation. We endlessly want to repair a broken body and prolong life, but for what?

Next time you have a loved one in the hospital or a loved one terminally ill, at the end of life in hospice, think of how your pet would be treated and then try to accomplish the same for your loved one. You will then notice how much you will need to fight for that principle.

Think for one minute that it is you, facing the end. What would you want them to do? I already know my answer: I would like to be treated as a beloved pet with dignity, respect, and care.