Marleys Garden: Our patient memorial


Our practice created a special garden to remember the pets that are no longer with us. This rock garden has become a foundation for our relationship with pets and their families.

Photos courtesy of Nicole Burruss

I've been in the veterinary profession for more than 15 years as a receptionist, technician and practice manager. And I'm still moved by the pets and people we help in the euthanasia process. Although we're doing what's best for the pet, it's hard to say goodbye.

About six years ago I got an amazing opportunity to help my doctor open a new practice. One of our goals: to bring compassion back into veterinary medicine, especially during euthanasia. We believed if we could show clients that we understand their grief we could make a difference in the euthanasia and grieving process.

After a bit of brainstorming we settled on the idea of creating a stone garden with personalized painted stones for each of our patients who were no longer with us. But some questions still lingered. What should we call the garden? What would our clients think? Could we pull it off?

A few days later one of our clients brought in a severely malnourished stray dog. We took him in and named him Marley. Marley was a very sweet pit bull who'd had a rough life. We ran blood work and discovered he was experiencing liver and kidney failure. We did everything we could, but we had to make the decision to euthanize Marley.

Although Marley wasn't with us long he made a lasting impression on our team. He was the sign we needed. We named our stone garden “Marley's Garden,” and Marley's was the first personalized stone we placed.

Clients love the personal touch of the painted rocks and the fact that we care enough to create the rocks just for them.

These gestures show pet owners they're more than just a number--they're a part of the Red Barn Veterinary Hospital family.With the help of a local artist, we now have stones from all of our beloved patients we've lost along the way. After losing a pet, clients select their rock and place it in the garden as a family. This way they can come back and know exactly where their rock is placed. On the clients' request, our technicians and veterinarians will join the family to place their stones.

We also send clients home with a rock for their personal garden. We sign a sympathy card made from bio-degradable, seed-infused paper clients can plant to grow flowers. We're always receiving photos from clients featuring their flowers with their beloved rocks.

Clients love the garden and volunteer to help maintain the flowers and rocks. And we've expanded the garden idea include Marley's Fund. Clients can donate money in their pet's honor to help homeless pets and financially constrained clients with pets that need immediate life-saving care.

In the past six years we've grown from a two-doctor practice to a seven-doctor practice. But one thing we've held onto-and our new doctors have embraced-is the impact of Marley's Garden and the experience we create for our grieving clients. Although we can't make the hurt go away, we can show how much we care about our clients and their pets.

Nicole Burruss is the practice manager at Red Barn Veterinary Hospital in Dahlonega, Georgia.

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