I love you, buddy.
August 19, 2010 11:50 AM   Subscribe

I had to put my dear, grumpy, 16-year-old cat down yesterday. There were some things that I wish the vet's office had done differently, and I need some perspective on how to deal with it. TL;DR.

I'll try to tell this story in a linear fashion and include what I think are important details. I'm a little emotional about it still, so apologies for length and poor story-telling skills.

First, I called before my appointment to let the office know that it was most likely going to be an end-of-life visit. The person I talked to asked me (prematurely, I thought) if I knew what I wanted done with his body. She explained that they worked with a company that did communal cremation or private cremation, and that I could think about what I wanted and let them know later.

So I go in for the appointment, talk to the doc, and we agree that euthanasia is the best option. (I'll spare you all the handwringing.) The vet took my cat and his carrier into the back so that someone could help her give him the sedative. I'll mention here that the exam room had two doors -- one that opened into the reception area, and one that opened into the back. There's no sound-proofing, and I could hear everything going on in both places. Could hear my cat fighting against the shot, but that was expected -- that's just how he is at the vet's. In the meantime, one of the vet techs came in from the reception area and gave me the bill, which I signed. She again talked about the cremation, and I made my choice on that front.

They brought him back in after giving him the sedative, and we took the top off of the carrier so that I could pet him while it took effect. The vet left us alone for a while. After she went, I noticed that he'd peed inside the carrier while they were giving him the shot, but that they didn't clean it up. It could be that they were reluctant to disturb him -- or, more likely, afraid of him -- but I really wish they'd at least told me, and asked me if maybe I wanted to try and clean it. He was basically lying in his urine. I didn't want to leave him to find paper towels, so I just left it.

After 10 minutes or so, the vet and a tech came in to give him the second injection, and it was over. I thanked her, said goodbye to the cat for the last time, and she carried him out of the room.**

The carrier was still disassembled, so I began putting it back together. While I was doing this, just after she'd left the room, I heard a plastic bag rustling just outside the back door.

It took me a few minutes to get the carrier in one piece (hands shaking!), but I finally went out into the reception area. I wanted to wash the cat pee off my hands, so I set the carrier down in the hallway and went into the bathroom.

When I came out of the bathroom, I saw one of the vet techs walking down the hallway towards the exit carrying a black garbage bag. (I should point out here that the office is being remodeled. There used to be two front doors, a side door, and I assume a back door. Three sides of the building are inaccessible right now, so the side door is the only entrance/exit.) She turned around and saw me, and said "Oops" and ducked into one of the exam rooms near the exit. I distinctly heard her use the word "she."

I start walking towards the exit and as I get close to that exam room the door opens a tiny crack and another vet tech sticks her head out to peer down the hall. She pretends to be looking past me, but I know she was looking for me. I said 'thank you' to her as I walked past and left the building.

Right outside the door was a dumpster.

It was a 10-minute walk home and I'm going over all this in my head. I know I paid for cremation, and surely a veterinarian's office wouldn't dispose of a pet in the trash. I mean, surely. So I'm thinking, maybe they have a freezer or something around back.

All of this is going through my head when I remember that while I was waiting for the vet, I heard someone in the reception area, presumably on the phone, say the words "deceased animal for pick up."

So the assumption that I landed on, and am sticking with for the sake of my mental health, is that someone was waiting there to pick him up and take him to the crematorium, and that the vet tech was delivering my cat to the waiting courier. And I'm okay with that -- that's a fine system, if that's how these things work.


What I left with, and am left with, is the image of my cat being carried out of the building like a bag of trash. I really think they should have at least checked to see if I was still in the building before taking him into the public area. I understand that the logistics may be difficult for them with the building all torn up, but that's all the more reason why they need to exercise additional caution. Furthermore, I didn't need to HEAR the trash bag rustling just outside the door immediately after the vet carried him out of the room. I mean, come on. It's not hard to piece that together. They don't tell you about the garbage bag when they tell you about the cremation, because they know you don't want to know about the garbage bag.

My actual question: I feel like I need to communicate all of this to the vet's office, mostly because I'd like them to rethink the way they do this, and to be aware that it happened. These were my last minutes with my best friend. I don't want other people to have to have the same experience. It's a hard enough thing to have to do. They need to make a better effort to protect people from the really ugly stuff. I'm not sure the best way to go about it, though. Should I call the vet I worked with? Should I call the vet in charge? (I think one of the older vets there owns the practice, but I'm not sure.) Should I send a letter instead? I know I'm probably still a little too emotional to have a conversation in person right now, so the letter is appealing. But I don't know, maybe an in-person thing is more appropriate?

To be clear, I'm not angry. Disappointed, I guess, but not mad. I'm not litigious. I'm not looking to get free vet care. I don't want to make them feel bad. I just want them to not ever do this again. What do I do?

** Winston was never one to let a slight go unnoticed or unanswered. So it is with a little bit of pride that I tell you that he did get his payback about all this. His body released its bowels as she carried him from the room. Go, Winston. I love you dearly, but I must point out how appropriate was your final act. No one who ever knew you would have expected any different, my buddy.
posted by mudpuppie to Pets & Animals (48 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Send them a letter telling them all of this.
posted by jayder at 11:56 AM on August 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh man, pups. I am so sorry to hear all this. Having met you, briefly, and talked to you, I think you should call your vet's office and ask to come in and speak to the managing partner in person about your experience. I think you can handle this conversation well and nonconfrontationally in person and I think it gives you the opportunity to get answers, as well as fully voice your concerns. It would probably help to write it all down first, but I think you should have the conversation in person.

I'm rally sorry to hear it went as it did. I hope you're doing okay.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:58 AM on August 19, 2010

I think you've done a fine job describing your feelings here. A little editing, and it would make an appropriate letter for the vet. They could stand to improve their bedside manner a bit.

Re: the garbage bag -- we went through this a few years ago. We brought our cat home to bury in the back yard. The vet recommended, and provided, a plastic bag because the body quickly begins to leak fluids.
posted by jon1270 at 11:59 AM on August 19, 2010

Everything crushy said (well, except that I've never met you). I'm sorry, pups.
posted by box at 12:01 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Write a letter outlining the additional, unnecessary trauma the vet and vet techs imposed in this situation. Send it to the lead vet and the office manager, if there is one.

I'm sorry that your last moments with Winston were less than dignified and I feel for your loss of your best friend.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 12:01 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. We, too, lost a Winston (a bunny) about six months ago. It was very hard and very sad. My husband was with him. Our loss wasn't a euthenasia, but if the aftermath was anything like what you dealt with, I know my husband would be just as upset as you are. Winston was his best pal for close to five years.

I think it would be good for you to write the vet a note saying what you've said here just as you've said it here. The tone here is good. You're not laying blame. You understand that certain things might have to happen and that the circumstances of the remodeling may be playing a part in this, but your feelings are your feelings and are valid. The vet's office should be willing to do something to fix the way end-of-life visits are handled to be more sensitive to the grief of their patients' humans.
posted by zizzle at 12:01 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think a letter, addressed to the veterinarian, is perfectly appropriate. It's completely understandable that you'd be upset at seeing Winston in a garbage bag. A letter creates a paper trail, and if you include your phone number, they can contact you later when some emotional processing has occurred.
posted by muddgirl at 12:02 PM on August 19, 2010

I think you should let the office know, absolutely. Whether you do it by letter or in person is your choice, obviously, and you should go with whatever you're comfortable with.

I'm so sorry about Winston, losing a beloved pet is so hard.
posted by torisaur at 12:02 PM on August 19, 2010

First, warm sympathy to you on the loss of your beloved friend. May happy memories bring you some comfort in your grief. If it helps any at all, your cat was lucky to have a human like you in his life.

Second, your vet's office did a poor job caring for you and your cat. Write them a letter and spell it out for them. The letter might benefit if you give yourself some time before you write it.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 12:02 PM on August 19, 2010

I don't think you sound too emotional at all, I would just edit it up a bit and send it like this. Moreover, the vet should EXPECT emotional owners and be prepared to deal with emotional owners.

I will tell you that in most places in the US it's illegal to dispose of animal remains in the trash. (You can get away with a mouse but nothing much bigger.) You are supposed to call animal control for animal disposal. There is NO WAY a vet's office is going to be able to get away with putting dead pets in a dumpster, and they risk major fines, tickets, even loss of licensing if they do so. So I am confident your pal was placed somewhere appropriate for pickup.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:03 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

My big surprise is the vet didn't allow you to be there. I've had friends have to put down their animals (one cat was blind, deaf, and had lost all her teeth) and every time they stayed with the critter until they were gone.

You had a shit job, man. Bast is looking after him now.
posted by Heretical at 12:09 PM on August 19, 2010

Sorry to hear about all of this, though I agree with Eyebrows McGee that it's unlikely your vet was using the dumpster for ill purposes - their licence to operate is at stake. They do need to hear about your experience - I would send a letter and ask to meet briefly to discuss it, as they will likely remember the human contact more than the letter.
posted by analog at 12:10 PM on August 19, 2010

I'm sorry, pups.

I think you should send a letter. What I am afraid may happen if you have this conversation in person is that the employee with whom you speak will go on the defensive immediately and react in a way that will make you angry, and you don't need that. If they have the opportunity to read your thoughtfully worded letter and formulate an appropriate response, I think that the effect will be better on them in terms of rethinking their practices, and better on you in terms of not making you more emotional than you already are.
posted by amro at 12:14 PM on August 19, 2010 [9 favorites]

FWIW, they probably asked if you had thought about cremation because the time immediately after is very emotional. If you think about it beforehand, you can maybe make a slightly more coherent decision--and you also won't feel pressured, like you might if they're standing there going "Okay, now that this is over, here are your options, choose now." It's actually considerate of them to inform you of options *before* you're out of your mind with grief.

I'm so sorry you lost your dear grumpy little buddy.
posted by galadriel at 12:22 PM on August 19, 2010

I'm very sorry for your loss and that it was compounded by awkwardness at your vet. I agree with the others who thought writing a short letter detailing as objectively as you can what happened is a good idea. It may or may not get you a response from the vet that means much, but just writing it and mailing it might help you let go of those bad final moments.

I've lost several companion pets in the last 20 years too. It's always awful, even when handled more gracefully (and I have had experiences both better and worse than what you report). Also, I've always found myself obsessing over the details: both of the decision making process (the medical treatments, or not; and when to do it, if euthanasia was involved) and the minutiae of my last contact with the pet. Watching any living creature die is heart-breaking, and an order of magnitude more so if it's a loved on. So, of course, it takes a while to process everything and to let go of both the grief and the (unfair to yourself but inevitable) guilt; this is mainly why I think a letter might be therapeutic.

Almost certainly if this vet is at all reputable they were just waiting for a pick-up to the crematory service, not to put the body in the dumpster. As others have noted, that's illegal in many places. Still, yes, the fact they handled the logistics so awkwardly that you suspected otherwise is something they need to know and address, if only for the sake of future pet owners in the same unhappy situation as you.
posted by aught at 12:23 PM on August 19, 2010

I am so sorry about the loss of your friend.

Regarding asking you about arrangements, and asking you to sign for payment in advance - this is all standard. Asking you on the phone is actually a good thing, because they are thinking that you might not be in a state to answer it when you get there. They were being preemptive, probably because you were letting them know it might be an end-of-life visit.

When I had to let my cat go, we went to the emergency vet in the middle of the night, and I had Mr. M. with me to do a lot of the talking and signing. But I had also researched everything in advance, sent him the links so he could do likewise, and so I already knew what I wanted/what to ask for. But, they did take me through the same things they took you through. While I completely see how you felt those questions & details might have been poorly timed, it would have been worse to ask you to sign a credit card slip or write a check after you have said goodbye to an old friend. Does that make sense? It made sense to me, even though I was completely numb at that point.

The timing of moving the remains was poorly done, I completely agree. I do think that you should write a letter about that entire chain of events. If you try to talk about it, it will be hard to explain what happened when, and people take letters more seriously.
posted by micawber at 12:26 PM on August 19, 2010

Aw man. I had to put down one of my beloved kitties, named Grey, a couple of weeks ago, so have an idea of what you're going through.

As well as a direct comparison with how my own vet handled it. First, yeah, as Heretical said... many vets allow you to hold your animal when given the sedative. That's what my vet did for Grey. Second, any vet worth their salt knows that a euthanized animal empties its bowels. My vet gave me paper towels (Grey was in my arms the entire time) specifically because of that. Third, any vet worth their salt would, indeed, show more care about handling the furry dear's remains. My vet was very thoughtful and carried him somewhere out of sight and hearing after I'd finished saying goodbye (she let me be alone with him for as long as I wanted after he passed; I was able to go find her to tell her I was ready to let his remains go to the cremation service).

Absolutely let them know how you felt about it, whether in writing or in person. It's so important that euthanasia be handled empathetically. I've had animals all my life, I'm 34, that means I've lost quite a few of them... Grey's passing has been the "easiest" to grieve thanks to the wonderful, thoughtful veterinarian who walked me through his euthanasia. He headbutted me up to the very end, purring in my arms (a trusting, happy purr, the one I knew well — not that nervous "whirr"-purr cats can get when afraid), relaxed and, heartbreaking as it is to say, pretty clearly happy that he thought he was going home. That's what I wanted for him, and I'm so thankful the veterinarian allowed that to be possible. You certainly deserved the same care and thoughtfulness.

Take care.
posted by fraula at 12:30 PM on August 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

My deepest of condolences to you on the loss of Winston. When it was time to let go of my beloved cat, he too gave a final poop, bless his little soul.

Because my cat was chronically ill, I had talked to the vet, and vet techs, at length about what would happen to his body after he was euthanized. They did let me know that in general, once he died, they would need to adhere to a protocol which included a bag. Of course, I didn't need to see the bag. Neither did you. I don't believe you need to worry about the dumpster. Winston was likely handled with great respect after he died, bag or not, and was handed over to the courier (or, more likely, owner) of the crematorium.

You would be served well writing a letter to the owner or managing partner of the vet practice. Your description above really resonated with me, about "what you were left with." I think a letter using those compassionate but resonant terms would be ideal. If you're not sure who the owner of the practice is, you can look it up at your state Better Business Bureau. One thing you should specify in your letter, though, is what you want a resolution to be. I think a fine one would be, "I'd like for the management at [Vet Practice] to talk to employees about the relationship between timing and compassion for grieving pet owners, because I don't want my experience to be a common one." If you'd like to be sure to have maximum resonance, include a picture of yourself with Winston.

And take it easy. Losing a pet is losing family. He lived a good long life with you, and you deserve to grieve at your own pace and on your own terms. Winston was lucky to have you.
posted by juniperesque at 12:35 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Definitely send a letter, but I would also post the details of the incident anywhere online that allows reviews of local businesses (Google, Yelp, etc.) I have cats, and this is certainly something I would like to before I chose a new vet.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:39 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You do need to tell them how unhappy you were. You will be angry at yourself (and them) for years if you do not. Ask to speak with the office manager. They are generally a more neutral third party for this sort of thing.

I understand that black plastic is both handy and hygienic. But this is a traumatic time for both you and your "baby" and they handled it poorly. By hearing about it, maybe they will do it better next time.

If you need a positive reason for complaining, consider that you may spare somebody the indignity that you feel.
posted by Ys at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2010

It would take very little effort or cost for the vet's office to do the euthenasia kindly and with sensitivity. They didn't need to bring him to you in his urine. Seeing the plastic bag was terribly hurtful, plus their hurrying past you to dispose of it. And the hide-and-seek makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with that person. Do they think it's a game?

Do you think it would have been easier if you'd been present for the sedating injection, instead of hearing it through the wall? If not -- would it have helped if the vet had apolgized beforehand about sounds carrying. Would you have liked to wrap your cat in a little blanket? Surely they could wait ten minutes till you've left the building before doing what should be done 'behind the scenes.

I think you'd be doing other clients a service if you'd write a letter to the vet.
posted by wryly at 12:52 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry you had to go through that. I can tell you that Winston's destination was to a refrigerator, not a dumpster. You may not have been able to see the refrigerator, or possibly it was in another structure, such as a kennel. Please do speak to or write to the office manager. Sorry again for your loss.
posted by rainbaby at 1:00 PM on August 19, 2010

I had a "what could have gone wrong, did go wrong" euthanasia experience with a cat, including some terrible handling by the vet, so I know what you are feeling. So, first off, it is okay to feel angry and it is okay to feel sad, especially when this sort of thing is handled without grace. Please, do inform the vet, if only for the next person in line.

My suggestion is that, in your letter, you first write down, carefully and without much emotion, what happened. Then, suggest what could have been done differently. At the end, describe how you felt during and after this. Put the letter aside and read it in a week.

After mailing, go out for a walk or something that involves physical activity. If it won't disturb anyone, go out in the woods and yell. Break some dead branches.

I failed to do these things, mostly because I was too timid, and have been left with a lingering resentment of the vet. Every time I run into the man, I have to leave, because I didn't express anything and the time has more than passed to do so.
posted by adipocere at 1:04 PM on August 19, 2010

I think your feelings are natural. It sounds as if the vet's office could make very simple, no-cost improvements in their service by being a little more careful with their people skills. For instance, the receptionist could have simply prefaced a question about cremation with something more sensitive like, "I know this is difficult, but if this ends up being an end-of-life visit, we'll need to discuss what you want to do with the remains. Would you like to talk about that now or in the office?" They could also give more information (i.e., explain how they'll be transporting the body to the crematorium) and make some basic changes to choreography of guiding a pet owner around the facility after her pet is euthanized (i.e., make absolutely sure the owner is back in the reception area before they move the body).

I would gently suggest that you write a letter now, wait a week or two, reread it when you're feeling a little less raw, and then send it off. I would frame your suggestions not just as ways in which you were disappointed with your experience, but also as ways that this vet's office can create a better experience for their other customers. In other words, I'd write, "[X] is what happened, [Y] is how I felt, and [Z] is what could be done differently" rather than "[X] really upset me."
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:17 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had to put down my 18.5 yr old baby, Matthew, last year. I am so, so sorry for what you're going through.

This is how I wish it had been, for both of you:
I knew it was his time, so I called to make the appointment and they asked if I'd want to take his body home or have his cremated remains returned to me. When I said I'd want his ashes returned, they said that the visit & cremation would cost $130 and I could pay it when I picked up his ashes. They told me to come in through the back at the time of my appointment.
I brought him in through the back door (not having to pass all the people waiting with the pets they'd be taking home again), said I was there to euthanize my cat, and was shown to a room off the OR, far away from the waiting room and quiet. I was able to hold him while they sedated him, singing the song I'd written for him in his first weeks of life, and continued to hold him for the final shot, and for as long as I wanted afterwards. I held him and cried, put him down and cleaned myself up, and then picked him up again and cried some more. When I left, every employee I passed looked heartbroken for me, and apologized for my loss -- one even promised to take good care of him for me.

A couple days later I got a sympathy card from the office. Now, it wasn't as if they knew him really well -- they'd seen him maybe 6 times in the prior 10 years -- this is just what they do when you suffer the loss of a pet in their care.

And a week after that I got to pick him up, and the cremation company had put him in a lovely wooden box with a brass nameplate already engraved.

I still had to (and still am, frankly) go through all the stages of grief -- but their process and actions were very comforting to me.
posted by MeiraV at 1:31 PM on August 19, 2010 [9 favorites]

It sounds like business as usual, if not a little sloppy. If it were me, I'd actually go in and call the vet tech out on it and let them know that they need to be a little more careful/sensitive to clients. Their job is customer service (everyone's job is customer service). I'd make an appointment with the head vet or owner of the clinic and have what was called in my wife's last practice an SBI, basically a face to face sitdown and discussion of what happened. This is a very important part of their practice and it needs to be brought to the attention of the correct people in the correct manner.
posted by TheBones at 1:32 PM on August 19, 2010

Nthing what everyone else has said: yes, send the vet a letter. The staff needs to be a little more careful with the post-euthanasia system.

And just one tidbit from my sister, who used to be a vet tech -- the bag and freezer is most likely because the crematorium will pick up at all the vets in this neighborhood on a certain day -- so it may be a day or two before your cat will be picked up. And the bag is, as everyone noted, to catch any bodily fluids.

We've been through this before with several cats, and one thing I always like about our local crematorium is that they will call to schedule a time to drop off the ashes. They don't want to just leave them at your door like it's a regular package. And the delivery person always says, "Sorry for your loss." I appreciate the value that they place on my pet's life and the fact that the service they offer is necessarily tied to our loss. I hope you receive excellent service like that.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2010

And, "no," unless this was a fly by night operation out of the back of a van, then disposal of a corpse has to be done by a company certified in the handling of such, ahem, matters.
posted by TheBones at 1:36 PM on August 19, 2010

Wow, that sucks. I would have lost my mind if I saw that sort of behavior after bringing in my sick pet. At the very least, they could have called you and explained what you saw instead of acting all furtive and weird. I don't think that I personally could handle an in-person talk with the vet or manager at this time, so I think a letter would be my choice.

FWIW, when my dog was put to sleep a year ago, they let us hold her wrapped in a big heavy blanket for both shots. ( I'm sure the blanket was for any possible accidents.) They let us hold her alone for awhile afterward, and then took her in back.

I'm sorry to hear of the loss of Winston.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:42 PM on August 19, 2010

I am so very sorry for your loss. It hurts to lose a long-time companion like that

Let me verify for clarity, because I think some responses are missing this part: you were allowed to spend time with Winston during the second injection, correct? What you were not there for was probably the initial sedation and--probably--placing of the catheter. Is that an accurate understanding? From your description, Winston was a feisty guy--and I say that with respect and love for such feline personalities. Taking him in the back and removing the owner from this first part of the procedure is quite common, especially with an animal who does not love the vet's office. It's safer for everyone, because owners--even when they're not directly intervening--add a note of unpredictability and stress. (Animals will read their owners' stress level and often act accordingly. My dog is a champion at 'injury? what injury? can I have a treat?' the second she's brought to the back for evaluation or treatment. When I'm present, even if I sit calmly, knowing that she has this behavior pattern, knowing that she's fine and safe, it's still drama and misery on her end, no matter what.)

With regard to Winston urinating in his crate...it's possible that they didn't wish to stress him more. Even aside from his fractious disposition and the possibility of injury to a staff member, it's a toss-up between 'stress of contacting his own urine' and 'stress of being handled when DO NOT WANT! NO TOUCHING ME! BAD PEOPLE! HATE HATE HATE!' Still, I'm surprised that they didn't include at least a peepad or paper toweling in the crate before returning him to his crate, though, as even if he didn't urinate during the shot itself, it's highly likely that he might do so before being returned to you, and certainly as part of the dying process.

As to asking you to assist with cleaning Winston in his carrier, before he was completely sedated--depending on the laws in your area, the practice may be liable for any injury Winston might have inflicted on you, and they have no way of knowing/being guaranteed that you will be able to safely handle your own animal, nor does their insurance extend to covering you. This is why many practices won't let clients assist in any way: if the client is injured by their own animal, the practice may be liable. Even if you know he would never have hurt you, there is no hard and fast way to guarantee that this one time he wouldn't have lashed out. It's unfortunate that these issues may include such adversarial-sounding reasons when everyone's primary goal should be alleviating an animal's suffering, and making things as comfortable and peaceful as possible.

I regularly deal with disposition of remains, and I can vouch for what Eyebrows McGee is saying with regards to the law in most states. If the practice is at all reputable and possesses the barest minimum of ethics, Winston did not go to a trash dumpster. I'm surprised you weren't warned about the plastic bag, and I think it's very fair to mention that in a letter. I understand putting a pet's remains in a bag as soon as possible, because of issues of fluid exposure and contamination, but it's also something that could have been communicated to you at one of several points beforehand.

I think you absolutely should let the practice know about the issue with the doors. This seems like one of the issues that arises mid-renovation...that maybe people considered, thought they'd solved--or the person in charge believed was solved--and presto! it turns out the workaround plan did not go smoothly in real life as opposed to on paper. Besides giving them the chance to apologize and know that it was hurtful, it will remind them to revise their workarounds, remind specific staff of procedures and procedural changes during renovations, or maybe not to have as many doors rendered inaccessible at one time. The 'hide-and-seek' doesn't speak of 'a game' as one respondent called it--it speaks of a staff member realizing that the contingency/make sure the owner has left reception plan failed and the exam room is already being cleaned and prepared for another appointment, and there's nowhere to go except stay in the other exam room, and you've already upset one traumatized client....and is she going to come back in and then she'll see her pet's remains again. It seems like poorly handled panic on the part of the tech. I think bringing the issue of navigation up with management will be helpful, because then they'll know to reconsider how they plan for remodels in the future, and how staff should react in case protocol fails.

Again, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss, and take care. It sounds like you were very fortunate to have Winston in your life.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 1:53 PM on August 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

Nthing what everyone said: absolutely write the letter and you did a great job explaining what happened, what they did, and how it made you feel. Add your suggestions on how their procedure could be improved for everyone involved. Also nthing putting said aside, reviewing it a week letter. In the letter, offer to come in, to discuss in person if desired.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by vivzan at 2:31 PM on August 19, 2010

My actual question: I feel like I need to communicate all of this to the vet's office, mostly because I'd like them to rethink the way they do this, and to be aware that it happened.

I fully agree, totally rational, and you should absolutely do it. I'm so, so sorry this happened. It's just insensitive, and they of all people should be most aware that this is the most difficult experience in a pet owner's life. I would hope they would WANT to know and want to correct it.

Uniformitarianism offers some really helpful inside perspective. Even so - I think that when the logistics of practice demand that something a little harder for a pet owner to understand, the staff should tell you about it and describe what they're doing and why. "Sometimes it upsets the pet to be with the owner when getting the sedative - they may pick up on your stress. You'll be able to comfort him right afterward." Simple things like that.

I think the most helpful for thing for you to do, in your letter, is call out things they could have done differently, specifying what those different actions could be (eg, "explain what's going to happen beforehand...") and why those would have helped.
posted by Miko at 2:33 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, I was going to say one more thing - sorry I don't have time to read the whole thread, this may have been said already. But when I put my cat to sleep a few years ago, they also asked me about burial/cremation options before the process began. It is terribly awkward, but in retrospect, it was not a conversation I would have been capable of having afterward. And other people may find it even harder to deal with in that moment, when you really just want to curl up and weep. As crass as it seems, it probably is better to state those preferences so that you can get the logistical side out of the way and concentrate on spending time with your pet and feeling your feelings. That might be something they've learned over time is the wiser thing to do.
posted by Miko at 2:36 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do what you feel you need to do, but also realize, in the great scheme of things, death is routine and particularly so for people in vet offices. Of course any given death is far from routine for the people most closely connected to it. You've not just lost something important to you, you've lost control of an important part of your life. We can't bring back the dead, so we try to regain control.

So, go ahead and raise your grievances with the vet, but none of it changes the essential facts. Death is messy, fluids leak, bodies grow cold, still and limp. They might have done more to hide some of those details from you, but there is no hiding that your dear pet is gone. You did your best for him.
posted by Good Brain at 2:49 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Condolences on the loss of your kitty friend. I had to put my elderly cat down a few years ago and I still miss her.

Do write a letter (a nice one of course) and say how you feel; they might want to take a look at their customer service and see where it needs improvement. If they don't know, they can't take action.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:41 PM on August 19, 2010

Gosh, I'm so sorry about your buddy Winston.

I was trying to think of a way you could both address this incident and honor his memory. Besides writing to the vet, I think you might consider writing to the closest veterinary school and vet tech schools. Your experience could serve as a learning opportunity for those entering the field.

IMO it isn't necessary to name the vet specifically unless this incident was representative of their overall lack of compassion. But a heartfelt letter from a pet owner may help new vets understand the need for good people skills in their field.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:50 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the feedback (and sympathetic MeMails), folks.

I think writing them a letter, and offering to follow up in person, is the way I'm going to go, and I appreciate the advice.

To clarify a couple of points -- I was okay with them taking him in the back for the sedative. I hesitated at first because, with my last cat, the effect was instantaneous, so I was afraid I wouldn't get a chance to say goodbye to him while he was still alert. The vet explained that that was really unusual, though, and that she didn't expect it to happen in this case. He was awake when he came back, and I know he knew I was there. I was present for the second shot (which took two attempts due to his fragile veins). They did not insert a catheter because Winston requested no catheters, in his inimitable way.

I don't feel like the vet lacked a good bedside manner. On the contrary, she was very compassionate and understanding in my presence. That, for me, is the definition of good bedside manner. I think that when she was not in the presence of the pet owner, however, routine took over.

Like I said, I'm not angry with them, and I can see from their perspective why their course of action made sense. I just don't think they realize what a nebulous line exists between behind-the-scenes and involving-the-family in their current setup.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:07 PM on August 19, 2010

My totally brave Katrina survivor cat died two years later and I was so distraught my son had to come home from work to help me. I wrapped her body in a beautiful old embroidered linen cloth and carried her in. The vet, who had previously operated on her and saved her life, helped us through the decisions in the most gentle and appropriate way -- every employee came to me and said something sweet and personal about that brave little cat and I left actually feeling comforted and trusting them so much. The next day, a small bunch of yellow roses was delivered with a sweet card from the vet. I don't even remember what the cremation cost but I will never forget my only pet's astonishing vet and her caring staff.

I believe my cat deserved that, and so did yours. The difference in your story and mine is the care the vet took to set policy and the kind of staff she employed and trained. If you can effect a change in the vet's policy, it will be a fitting tribute to your indomitable Winston.
posted by Anitanola at 4:16 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good Brain, that death is routine or that it is messy doesn't make the events surrounding it less important or somehow incidental to what's happening, not even when one becomes accustomed to it.

I am acclimated to euthanasia and death in domestic animals. I am more accustomed to 'unfair' human death than I'd prefer as well. The normalization of euthanasia and the aftermath of death doesn't negate someone's responsibility to be understanding, especially when what's happening is unfamiliar, nor does it absolve one of the responsibility to recognize that an animal's death is important. Independent of an animal's status to a client, and irrespective of the animal having an owner at all, that animal's life is important. Adding in respecting another person's pain and grief over the loss makes a death even more important. Those are the essential facts, not the post-mortem biology.

No matter how routine the event, it is still the provider's responsibility to explain any unfamiliar procedures, and to address situations that may be outright callousness or honest human mistakes. Asking for that is not asking for too much control over the uncontrollable.

I have a relative who stopped the obstetric aspect of his human medical practice when he realized that although he was very good at providing care, he was no longer excited to be present for the birth of another human being, and he believed all mothers and children deserved an obstetrician who was genuinely thrilled to be a part of that time.

The other end of life is no less deserving of medical respect and concern, however routine the moment may appear, and no matter how messy and inconvenient and normalized.

on preview: HAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh...Winston. I have met your kitty kindred spirits. Fair enough, old man. Fair enough. (Please, OP, I hope you don't think I'm insensitive. I just...when a cat refuses something, they're so direct and emphatic about it.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 4:29 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just a small point, you probably didn't sign a bill that the tech brought you. You most likely signed a paper saying that you did intend to euth your pet. I'm not sure if the introduction of the money aspect soured your perception.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 4:58 PM on August 19, 2010

The vet techs certainly did act in a manner that was disconcerting, and I agree that you should write a letter letting them know that. I also agree with the people who have said it's highly unlikely that they would dispose of Winston in the dumpster. We just recently lost our cat, Jack, and had a vet who does house calls come to our home to euthanize him when it was time. The vet gave him the sedative and the final injections while we were present, but he did ask us to step back while he was working. After Jack was gone, the vet wrapped him in a black plastic bag and sealed it up well to transport the remains. I think it's standard practice, due to the fluid leakage mentioned above, but it was still a little jarring to me to see my little buddy wrapped up in what looked like a garbage bag. It's possible that the vet techs were just trying to avoid having you see that since it can be a little emotionally jarring.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by bedhead at 5:23 PM on August 19, 2010

I'm so sorry for your loss mudpuppie, and I'm sorry you were left with a bad impression. I work at a vet clinic, and what you have gone through is one of the aspects of my job that I love and hate in equal parts. Where I work:
- we generally only discuss aftercare options with someone on the phone if they ask, but I can see a receptionist thinking it was helpful to you to let you know about your options ahead of time, since many people are so grief-stricken when they actually arrive that it's all they can do to sign the papers
- when someone comes in for a euthanasia, we have to talk to them about what their options are and what will happen, what things cost and how their pet will be treated. We HAVE to ask about what you want done with the remains, and we have to do so beforehand, because there are generally large cost differences involved, things have to be signed for legal reasons, etc.
- we always give the sedative injection in the room with the owners unless there is a reason not to (a very fractious cat, as has been pointed out by others, might well be one of the exceptions, since it sometimes requires a bit of holding for everyone's safety (including the cat's) which some owners might find upsetting, and many pets are more stressed when the owners are present, and stressed). I agree that the urine may have been left there because it would have stressed the cat out more to clean it. That said, the technicians could have brought clean towels or at least an incontinence pad back to the room with your cat, and explained to you what had happened.
- we always try to cover the pet's body entirely with a blanket or towel when the owner is prepared to leave, and we usually walk the owner out of the building via the back door, especially if we have people in the reception area
-we never, ever, prepare the pet's body for pickup by the crematorium with the owner in the building unless we have no other options (like we have an emergency in every room and another on the way). This is so that the owner does not have to see what you saw. It is not legal to put euthanized pets in the garbage in most places, your cat's body was not destined for the garbage.

That said, sometimes things don't go as you plan, or as you wish they had. And sometimes things end up being taken in ways they were never intended to be. I doubt very much the technicians were playing a game, I suspect they thought you'd left and suddenly realized you hadn't, and were trying to prevent you from seeing your pet in a body bag. I agree that a letter might help, but I suggest that you write it now, and then reread it in a few days before you send it, and try to write it from the standpoint of what you felt about what happened, and how the experience could have been made better for you. In all likelihood what happened was a series of unintentional and very unfortunate blunders, this happens sometimes even in the best and most careful and considerate hospitals.

Most people who work in veterinary medicine genuinely love animals, and want to do everything possible to help both the animals and their owners. Most of us take our jobs very seriously, especially when dealing with end of life care. I am sorry you had this experience as your last experience with your cat, you are clearly a loving and wonderful owner, and she was lucky to have you.
posted by biscotti at 6:33 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am very sorry for your loss.

I have to carry out euthanasias often. The reason for bringing the pet to the back for the sedative is, at least for me, not wanting to have you witness the cat fighting. Which they will. Because the kitty is at the vet. I assume you've already agonized over the decision. Seeing him fight at the end will only, again I imagine, add to your sadness and hesititancy.

Avoiding having you see the cadaver bag is also believed to be in the best interest of sparing you any further trauma. This is probably why everyone avoided your eye. We know it's sad to have to put a dear friend in a glorified trash bag. But the law requires it. We try not to let you see it because, once more, we are trying to spare your feelings.

This was a very interesting question for me. Because there is no comparable model in human medicine, we often make decisions based on what we feel is least stressful for both the pet and the person. Unfortunately, that can vary wildly. Most of what you have described could easily happen at my practice. It can be very hard to know which person would feel more secure knowing every step of the process and which would be further upset by it.

There is certainly a good case for full disclosure.

I will certainly be thinking about this.

I hope that your fond memories of your friend can be a comfort in this sad time.
posted by troublewithwolves at 10:38 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a buddy cat that had to be put down a few weeks ago. Nothing really to say about the actual question, but I'm terribly sorry for your loss.
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:53 PM on August 19, 2010

So sorry, mudpuppie. I am agreeing with the letter. When my baby, Randi (a Siberian Husky) was put down, it was done lovingly by the vet she was named after (by her breeder, not us), and that vet even cried herself and hugged me. I was put in a conference room alone because I didn't think I could handle being there... my mom stayed with her. They let me come back into the exam room and see her and stay as long as I wanted, and they went out of their way to make sure that 1. that particular vet didn't have any other patients waiting for her and 2. to let us out the back so we wouldn't have to see any of the other vets' patients in the waiting room. They did not move her until we were out of the building. They gave us dog angel pins and a lovely postcard with a picture of the garden where her ashes would be scattered, with the hours on it so we could visit. A few days later, a card came in the mail signed by all the staff with a copy of the rainbow bridge poem included... I'd never heard of that poem before. I hope that if you ever have to go through this again, you have a better experience, like mine.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:48 PM on August 19, 2010

I can only reassure you that, when I had to put my cat to sleep 7 weeks ago, they carried him out of the room to parts unknown. But when my grief-stricken husband showed up that evening, they let him see the cat again, who'd been kept in refrigeration, not the dumpster.
posted by Ouisch at 4:10 AM on August 20, 2010

My condolences, mudpuppie. I had to go through this in March with my beloved Max, and I'm still grieving. I echo what MeiraV said about how a little thoughtfulness and attention to process can go a long way toward making this sad time easier to bear. Her experience was very similar to mine. Though I'd never met them before, everyone at the emergency vet clinic was kind to me -- from the receptionist who apologized for asking me to sign authorization papers, to the vet tech who hugged me afterward, to the vet herself, who let me hold him as long as I wanted to and explained my options thoroughly but gently. They also sent me a condolence card.

You may not be ready for it yet, but the vet recommended a book that has helped me deal with my feelings as they unfold: Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet. It's soothing, reflective, and sometimes even funny, but not preachy or sentimental.

Feel free to memail me if you want to talk.
posted by virago at 9:54 AM on August 20, 2010

One thing you should specify in your letter, though, is what you want a resolution to be. I think a fine one would be, "I'd like for the management at [Vet Practice] to talk to employees about the relationship between timing and compassion for grieving pet owners, because I don't want my experience to be a common one."

I hugged you and expressed my sympathy in the MeCha thread, but I cannot emphasize how important it is to let them read that you don't want to sue, but want to offer helpful, constructive criticism. While it's true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, letting them know what you want out of this experience is to know that this won't happen again to you or other clients and their pets is more important, I think.
posted by TrishaLynn at 4:02 PM on August 20, 2010

« Older i thought everything was on the internet?!   |   Be there AND be square. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.