“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ~Anatole France
As with humans, though some pets live to a ripe age and die of natural causes, others may become incurably ill or experience an injury which can irrevocably alter their life and cause persistent pain and suffering. Owners of pets whose quality of life has ceased may prefer having an option, which will allow their cherished companion to transition gently, painlessly and peacefully. Euthanasia, basically providing an overdose of anesthetic, has increasingly become a desired option for a more benevolent end to a terminally ill pet’s life. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (etymonline.com), euthanasia comes from Greek for “an easy or happy death,” (from eu- “good” plus thanatos “death”). Dr. Kristen Klie of Final Journey, LLC in Connecticut (founded in 2009) offers in-home euthanasia services when clients do not wish, or are unable, to bring their animal companion into a hospital or clinic. Her commitment is “to provide a humane, dignified and compassionate service for people and their animal companions at a time of transition.”
According to Dr. Klie, knowing the right time to end a pet’s life is the number one question asked by clients, especially since there are occasions when a pet will “rally” for days or weeks after being unwell for some time. She suggests it is best for pet owners to feel empowered to trust their own instincts when it comes to that decision. “Many people aren’t sure they will ‘know’ but they always do when the time comes.” As mentioned on the company’s website, “Everyone has a different thought on quality of life and this can help you decide. For some, it will be when their companion stops eating, wagging their tail or purring and for others it may be when a terminal diagnosis is made. Another way to decide may be when he/she no longer does the things they always did like not eating their favorite food or, climb into bed or wanting to go for walks. Again, this is a unique time for your family and not everyone thinks the same, so please talk it over.” In any case, staff is available by phone or email to respond to pet owner questions or concerns.
Once the decision to euthanize has been made, the aim of Final Journey is to make the process easier for both owner and animal. The ability to be at home, in their own familiar environment and surrounded by their loved ones, offers comfort and eliminates many stresses for pet and owner that might otherwise arise. Paperwork authorizing the procedure and confirming choice of aftercare is typically done before starting so the owner doesn’t have to worry about such details afterward. Costs (on Final Journey’s website and running from approximately $235-685 including euthanasia, veterinarian, technician, sedation, travel and transport) are based on the animal’s weight and the owner’s choice of aftercare. Owners can handle their own arrangements or choose cremation (private, with cremains brought back from Final Journey, or communal, with nothing returned to the owner).
Though primarily working with cats and dogs, Final Journey has been called regarding other small pets, such as bunnies and guinea pigs. They will not provide services to anyone choosing euthanasia for convenience reasons (for example, the owner is moving and can’t bring the pet) nor for untouchable feral cats.
According to Dr. Klie and staff, the euthanizing process itself is typically not very long. A sedative is given to the pet, which usually takes between one and ten minutes to have an effect. Though the sedative is an intramuscular injection, so can be a pinch similar to a vaccine, many animals don’t even notice. The second injection (euthanasia solution) works fast (time can vary depending upon a pet’s age, health and size) and often the pet has passed before the entire injection has been completed.
To help soften sorrow, Final Journey houses on its website an “in memoriam” area where families can write personal prayers and upload pictures of their beloved pet. Additionally, staff is available to recommend helpful books and/or names of therapists experienced in grief counseling.
So how did Dr. Klie’s life journey lead to Final Journey’s creation? She says “everything about becoming a veterinarian started when I was young and with our family’s dogs.” Klie pursued her education at Colorado State University, “where the human-animal bond was emphasized as the most important factor while treating patients.” Several years after becoming a veterinarian, she took chaplaincy courses at Hartford Seminary with the intention of offering support to her veterinary clients. It was there that her listening skills and interest in spirituality and the diversity of people’s beliefs deepened. Time spent in human hospitals as patient and volunteer, a setting that can often feel impersonal, particularly at tender junctures, confirmed the value of offering in-home services. While working as a relief veterinarian in Connecticut for 17 years she noticed that doctors were increasingly unable to make house calls. Feeling privileged at having been able to be home with her own animals at their time of transition (“and knowing what a blessing it is”) she wanted to be able to offer that service to others. Grateful letters from clients over the years have confirmed that choice.
Though much of Final Journey’s focus to this point has been to offer compassionate care at the time of a pet’s death, Dr. Klie will be expanding the practice with the opening of a holistic veterinary wellness center this fall. The center will provide acupuncture, animal chiropractic, therapeutic laser and nutrition services (including supplements, a small selection of foods, herbs and similar items).
The Final Journey staff approach, whether caring for clients and their companions at the time of death or with an eye toward enhancing health and well-being throughout their life, comes from the idea that “we truly understand that this is a family member, not ‘just a pet.’”