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Gentle gestures for euthanasia
How you handle a pets euthanasia is one of the most memorable moments you share with clients. So make sure your veterinary team strikes the right note.
Short of a walk-in or emergency euthanasia, any time you must euthanize a pet, your veterinary team needs to take special steps to assure the utmost comfort for pets and their owners. At our clinic, we like to schedule a time for these events when we have no other appointments booked. If you're saying to yourself, “Our practice simply can't do that” you couldn't be more wrong. If you need to perform a euthanasia during standard visiting hours, you may choose to block out the appointment slot immediately following a euthanasia, giving you ample time to perform your duties. Don't worry about the potential of lost income. It's more important to provide for clients in their time of need.
Let's not forget, last impressions are just as important as first ones. I'll give you an example. Enter a party with a gift and a smile, then circle the room and entertain everyone in attendance with a friendly, personal greeting. They'll think highly of you. Then, leave the same party-drunk, stumbling and slinging profanity. You're unlikely to be invited back.
The same goes for veterinary patients. You can win them over with the best first exam they've ever experienced, and continue this trend with annual visits. But perform poorly with their pet's final visit, and they'll find someone new-and tell their friends.
Here are a few pointers to show your gentle side when you're helping clients say goodbye to their beloved pet.
A script for success
Make a script to explain the process of euthanasia to the client, and have your entire veterinary team read it until they have it memorized. You should point out the process of cleaning and preparing the injection site, the speed in which you expect the drug to take effect and the possibilities of activity after the process (for example, muscle activity, sighs, eyes not closing and so on). This helps clients prepare themselves, as many people aren't comfortable around needles. Or some people expect the process to take half an hour, when it sometimes takes just seconds.
All dogs go to heaven
Was the pet famous for being aggressive at every visit? Keep your comments to yourself. If the owner mentions the pet's track record, feel free to laugh along or simply agree-just don't bring up the time it attempted to remove your coworker's fingers. Remember this is a troubling time for the owner, no matter what your opinion of Fido is.
Silence is golden
For heaven's sake, turn off your cell phone. In fact, turn off every phone for a square mile. That includes your clinic phones. They all have a ringer off mode. Use it from time to time, and have someone on the other side of the building taking calls during this time. Our clinic took this one a step further and had a sign made. It was cheap, and customers, drug reps and even our UPS guy think it's such a nice gesture.
Offer the following, and never charge for any of it.
> Bottled water (cold or room temperature). Ask for the client's preference. Don't keep these in any refrigerator that will impart an odor onto the bottles.
> A comfortable seat: non-rolling, as some people use the chair for standing support in a time of grief.
> Soft, high-end tissues. No one wants to wipe their tears with cheap, sandpaper tissues. Spend a little money and get the soft, aloe or lotion-infused kind. Their comfort goes a long way.
> A nicely-scented candle, like eucalyptus or ylang-ylang, to help offset any pet odors in the practice. Try to light this about half an hour before the appointment, if possible, and keep it up and away from where pets or children could come in contact with it.
> A guided walk to the restroom, if the client needs to visit. It doesn't hurt to wait just outside, as some people, during emotional distress, can pass out and require assistance.
Don't leave a message after the beep
Some practices receive the ashes of pets recently cremated so pet owners can pick them up in person, instead of having them shipped. When they arrive, you can call the owners to notify them, but don't leave a message. Sensitive ears like those of young children or emotionally affected adults could be on the other end. Simply call any numbers you have on record until you get in touch with someone. If this doesn't work, send a letter to the home address on record.
Handle with care
Any time you must move either the pet's body (try to avoid this at all costs) or the pet's returned ashes, treat them like a delicate egg. It can be helpful to notify staff that you will be moving such things, so they can stop at doorways and keep their voices to a minimum. If you were picking up your pet's remains, would you want to hear people laughing in the background? Also, never, ever pass a pet's remains over a front desk or any other sort of physical barrier. Walk them around, gently place them in the hands of your clients and then walk them to their car. It takes only a moment of your day, but it will make a big difference to them. Holding an umbrella over them on a rainy day is especially thoughtful.
In the typical practice, or any given day, we're all busy and running around trying to accomplish all our tasks at hand. It's just another day for us, but for grieving pet owners, it's a day they may never forget. Let's do our best to make sure they have the best possible memories of that day. We owe that to our furry friends that stood by their side.
Brent Dickinson is the practice manager at Dickinson-McNeill Veterinary Clinic in Chesterfield, New Jersey.