Home Euthanasia: All Sadness, No Regrets
By Ann Stockham
Edison was a big-talking grey tabby who flew fearlessly up trees, out windows, and, from day one, insistently into our hearts. But car rides filled him with abject terror that wasn’t exactly eased by what usually came next: time atop a veterinarian’s slick steel table. So when he was nearing the final hours of his life, we went looking for a way for him to meet his end that would ease, rather than compound, his suffering.
We found it in the services of Dr. Juliana Lyles. In essence, Dr. Lyles is the vet you never want to meet, but once you do, you may never again want to go through the loss of a pet without her. As part of Lap of Love, a nationwide network of veterinarians specializing in end-of-life care, Dr. Lyles performs home euthanasia and hospice care, attending to her furry charges with obvious compassion.
“I enjoy what I do, as odd as it sounds,” says Dr. Lyles. “When a pet is suffering, I can take away that discomfort, and I can make it so peaceful for them. It helps their families too, because the only thing that makes it better is making it easier for the pet.”
A Chicago-area native who spent her early career working with exotic animals and horses as well as domestic pets, Dr. Lyles never thought she’d spend so much of her time putting animals to sleep. She had had a bad experience having her own cat euthanized, and she disliked performing euthanasias at the North Carolina vet practice she was working at. “You’d walk in, and the pet was stressed, and the family was stressed. And I didn’t like the system,” says Dr. Lyles. “I just didn’t have enough time.”
Then she started working with Lap of Love. Founded by veterinarians Mary Gardner and Dani McVety about four years ago, the network now includes more than 50 veterinarians. Dr. Lyles, who often serves as a mentor, and her hand-selected associate, Dr. Stacy Chirillo, handle Chicago-area calls.
The website offers contact info and transparent pricing, and Dr. Lyles and Dr. Chirillo make themselves as available as possible. While most calls are for euthanasia, Dr. Lyles says she will assess the pet with the owner, and sometimes a euthanasia visit can be turned into a hospice appointment.
In our case, we called on a Sunday afternoon, and Dr. Lyles was able to arrive within an hour. After assessing Edison, she explained measures she would take to spare him distress, from forgoing the intrusion of a catheter to adjusting the pH of the first shot so it wouldn’t sting. The first injection, a painkiller and anti-anxiety drug, made Edison fall gently asleep. Soon after the second injection, an overdose of barbiturates, he died just as gently. It all happened in my arms. She then took a clay impression of his paw and snipped a tiny bit of his fur for us.
Before, during and after, it was abundantly clear she cared.
Of course, all that compassion comes with a cost to those who dispense it. Says Dr. Lyles, “Sometimes I’ll get in my car and cry on the way home. But it’s never for the pet. It’s for that poor family that lost this great guy.”
Dr. Lyles and Dr. Chirillo can be reached at (847) 260-8066; the website is www.LapofLove.com.
Helping Your Friend Cross The Rainbow Bridge
by a C.A.R.E. Volunteer, Published in the Spring 2013 issue of PawPrints™
Tycho was a one day old tabby kitten who came to C.A.R.E. in 2000. I took her home at the end of my volunteer shift because she needed frequent feedings and couldn’t be left alone in a cage overnight. She ended up staying with us for good.
In December of 2012, Tycho finally lost her year-long battle with lymphoma. When we knew the end was near, I told our vet that we might be in the office within the next week for Tycho’s euthanasia. Our vet asked me if we had considered putting her to sleep at home. I told her I would love to do it that way, but had no idea where to find a vet who made house calls. The vet said that she’s had several patients use Dr. Juliana Lyles from Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice (lapoflove.com).
I called Dr. Lyles and found her to be caring, supportive and understanding. Dr. Lyles, who also does in-home hospice care for pets, offered information on how to know when it would be "Time." Her schedule was flexible—she was able to move the appointment up to midday when we thought that would be better for Tycho.
The experience of helping Tycho pass at home was calm and peaceful. Dr. Lyles explained the process and allowed plenty of time for the initial dose of relaxation medicine to take effect. She was supportive in our grief and listened to what we had to say about our beloved cat. I think the at-home process also helped our other cats understand that Tycho had gone.
After Tycho passed, Dr Lyles took a clay paw print for us and trimmed a lock of fur as a keepsake. She brought Tycho’s remains to the crematorium for private cremation.
The at-home procedure cost more than having it done in the vet’s office—but was probably comparable in cost to using an emergency vet at night or on a weekend. For us, the extra expense was worth it to keep Tycho as comfortable as possible at the end.