With pets becoming even more important to post-pandemic families, a variety of at-home euthanasia providers are offering compassionate, in-home end-of-life services for old or ill animals.
More than two- thirds of American households now have at least one cat or dog, and as our connection with pets has grown stronger, so too has many families’ desire to make a pet’s final days a dignified and less impersonal and traumatic experience.
Many Northern Colorado veterinarians now offer specialized at-home pet euthanasia services for older or terminally ill dogs and cats, allowing families to say goodbye to their animal without the added discomfort of making a final trip to an animal hospital or clinic. Costs vary from provider to provider, but the peace-of-mind factor is worth it to many families.
Dr. Rebecca Cross, a Longmont veterinarian who operates Companion Home Vet Care in addition to her day job at a traditional animal clinic, says at-home euthanasia services offer pet owners a compassionate and more connected alternative at the end of a pet’s life.
“When I was a young vet 20 years ago, house calls of any kind were not common at all, and it never occurred to me that this could be an in-demand service,” she says. “I’ve been offering in-home euthanasia services since 2014, and I’ve now done work with many families who have multiple pets, but were comfortable with the way that things went the first time.”
Cross says the most tangible benefit is often avoiding the trauma of loading a pet into a carrier or, in some cases, simply trying to move a large dog who’s too ill or immobilized to take that final trip to the vet’s office.
“It’s a little awkward to say that I enjoy what I do, but I’m providing a good service at a tough time, and offering some comfort to families, and some peace when their pet passes, without stress,” she says. “Families are always so grateful, which is often a very different experience than seeing pet owners as an ER vet when people are stressed out and concerned about bills.”
In addition to pain management and animal acupuncture, Cross does about 8-10 end-of-life visits a month, mostly in the Longmont, Frederick and Erie areas. She sometimes brings a technician and then can work with Circle of Life to provide cremation options.
Dr. Chelsea McGivney is the general manager of Caring Pathways, a Colorado-based end-of-life pet care service started by Dr. Larry Magnuson in 2010. McGivney says her organization has grown to include 26 staff veterinarians in Metro Denver and Northern Colorado who specialize in palliative care and at-home euthanasia – sometimes as many as 1,000 procedures a month, across the state.
“Pets are family members, and we want them to be as comfortable as possible at this last stage of life,” she says. “When one of our doctors does a visit, everything slows down, and we try to make everything as positive as possible at a really difficult time. Nothing feels rushed.”
McGivney says her doctors confirm a family’s wishes, including a range of burial or cremation options, as well as provide grief support documentation, and get to know a bit about the family and their stories about their beloved pet.
She emphasizes that sedation and pain control are critical parts of the final procedure, making sure that the animal is relaxed – which also helps cut down on human anxiety in those final moments – and family members are given time to be alone with the animal afterward.
Caring Pathways’ model has become popular enough to add providers in Virginia and North Carolina, and McGivney says the practice recently held a local Continuing Education event for other Colorado veterinarians to learn more about providing the service as part of their whole-life care for pets and their families.
By Andy Stonehouse, Longmont magazine