MN Dog Owner Chooses At-Home Euthanasia For Beloved Dog

By Amelia Santaniello, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Janis Olson will tell you the hardest part of having a pet isn’t cleaning up a litter box or the backyard, it’s saying goodbye. She agreed to let WCCO-TV witness the death of her Husky Heather because she wants pet owners to know that at-home euthanasia is an option for them.

“Honestly, I hope she’s, I pray that she’s gone when I come home,” Olson told us last month. “I don’t want her to suffer, and I don’t want to. I’m being chicken. I don’t want to make the call.”

Olson spotted Heather, a stray dog, at Minneapolis Animal Control 16 years ago. She was scheduled to be put down the next day. Instead, Olson brought her to her Northeast Minneapolis home.

We talked to her there about how to make the decision to end a pet’s life.

“She’s gotta have more than one bad day,” said Olson. “Yeah, she doesn’t look good, and someone else who doesn’t know her or isn’t into animals and pets the way I am might think this dog should have been down a long time ago, but this is how we’re doing it.”

Heather used to run fast. Olson figures that’s how she ended up homeless. Now, she moves slower and more stiffly. When it was time for Heather to go outside, Olson said, “Heather, let’s go outside and go potty, c’mon, here we go.” Heather stayed in her spot in the family room. Olson waited a while, then she went to her dog. “C’mon, I’ll help you,” she said, lifting the pet into her arms.

Olson has an aging Mom and says it has made her more accepting of an aging dog.

“This part is really hard, I’d like this part to be over, because then I can get on with the grieving part,” she said with a laugh. “That’s very selfish to say that, but you know what I mean, don’t ya?”

Olson was waiting for Heather to give her a sign. On the day we visited, Heather and her owner still weren’t ready.

“Sometimes people write that they’re crying, and so it’s hard to make the phone call,” said Dr. Rebecca McComas. “Email’s a little bit easier.”

McComas owns Minnesota Pets, which is an at-home euthanasia service. The veterinarian euthanizes around a dozen animals each week, not in a clinic, but in owners’ homes. She charges $225 for home visits, regardless of the distance or the pet’s size.

“It’s a dramatically different experience. It’s nothing, nothing like a clinical experience,” said McComas. “Clinical practice can be pretty fast-paced, and a euthanasia appointment is something that … you don’t want it to be fast-paced.”

A couple weeks later, Heather’s ready, and so is Olson. She called McComas the night before to arrange an appointment.

“She doesn’t look 17 to me. Her face hides it,” said the vet as pets Heather’s head. “No, she doesn’t look like she feels well today, certainly.”

McComas starts the process by giving Heather a sedative. While they wait for Heather to get sleepy, Janis says the sort of things we all say when we’re losing a pet, “I love you, Peanut. You are a good girl. Mommy loves you.”

As Olson’s other dog looks on, McComas explains how she’ll give Heather medicine that will cause her heart to stop.

“I’ll use my stethoscope and I’ll listen to her chest, probably for a couple minutes,” she said. “I’ll let you know that her heart has stopped.”

Olson’s is worried about Heather.

“If she cries out in pain, you’ll stop, won’t you?” Asked Olson.

“Yeah, I sure will. I don’t think she’ll feel me,” said McComas. “If she were to feel it, we’d just wait a little while.”

“OK, good, thank you,” said Olson, as she leaned down to kiss her dog. “God bless you, baby girl.”

Then the doctor gives Heather the last shot she’ll ever have. A few minutes later, she checks for a heartbeat.

“Her heart has stopped. She’s gone,” said McComas.

“Oh, Heather. Oh, Heather,” said Olson, as she starts to cry.

There is no rush. She’s able to take her time saying goodbye.

“I love you so much. Mommy loves you,” said Olson. “You’re so sweet. God bless you. What a little angel you are. You’re a real angel now.”

When it’s all over, McComas makes a paw print for Olson to keep. A while later, Olson helps Dr. McComas carry Heather out.

The family room seems emptier now, but Olson has no regrets.

“Horrible decision to have to make, but with that in mind, it went, it went great,” she said. “Now I get to just grieve and start healing.”

Heather’s jeweled collar rests on the couch, no longer around her neck. The pet bed on the floor is empty. Her dog is gone, but Olson feels good about the way Heather went.

“Yeah, on her favorite blanket, at home, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she said.

Paula Engelking, Producer

Contact Paula

More from Amelia Santaniello
  • Patsy

    Thanks alot! March 17th marks 3 years since I had to do this the last time…. and now I will be having flashbacks all night…. I think it is horrible that you filmed and showed this on your news program…. national news about Japan is hard enuf to watch….you don’t need to show this type of thing for all dog owners who have lost their loved pets to see….again!

    • Cliff

      Lack of real life education is one of the many downfalls of this country. Grow Up and realize that you DID NOT HAVE TO WATCH! You chose to, so don’t blame other people for your own problems.

    • Barbara

      I saw the headline. I read the story, but I chose not to watch the video. I didn’t have to, because I’ve seen it personally too many times. I personally think the article was okay. I’m lucky that my vet comes to our house for this. I think this helps a lot of people with this so very painful decision.

      • deepthroat 2

        If your still traumatized by the loss of a pet three years ago that you chose to put down, then you have some issues to work out.

      • JamieinMN

        I have yet to watch the video. The story itself just broke my heart. :-(

      • Igor

        Yeah “deepthroat”, sounds like you have some issues to work out too. Patsy was expressing her feelings regarding the audacity to show the death in a video. The story was sad and depressing enough, i certainly didn’t watch it. i see death everyday. But some of us rescue pets to save their lives. Some of us have rescued pets that save our lives. Name another creature on this earth that is born, bred, and dies to serve us. Unconditional love. Sounds like you and Jamie have some issues to work out with who you blame and why you do it within yourself.

    • Mandy

      Thank you for saying that.

    • vlad

      wow, you are a thin-skinned nut job. “boohoo, I “have” to watch news about japan”. Those people have real suffering. Why not shut up and go do something to help others instead of whining about how you shouldn’t “have” to watch something (no one makes you watch tv, you fruit). Grow up.

      • Amanda

        OK…let me clarify a few things….Patsy, who is my mother, and I had our dog, Dakotah, put to sleep at home 3 years ago. It was a very difficult decision, as it always is. Her quality of life had diminished so much, that we decided euthanasia was the best option. It was a hard day for our family. “Coty” as we called her, was really a member of our family. Our veterinarian was wonderful…so caring and gentle with her. The reason this video was disturbing to my mom was that it seemed to be more of an advertisement for the vet that was featured, rather than an informational report. Yes, my mom had the option to walk away from her TV, and not watch it, but my mom loves dogs. It’s hard for her NOT to watch something so close to her heart. So, shame on you people who criticize so quickly.

    • Chris NYC

      JamieinMN I read the headline but I didn`t watch the video. I only wanted to see the dog. YOU are a terrible person and I hope you will choke on the next time you think of putting your dog to sleep. YOU are a horrible ,a horrible person.

      • Dibs

        Who are you to judge someone? Its her dog, she loved her enough to not see her suffer and be in pain. Go yell at someone that actually abuses their animals.

      • Mark Los Angeles

        That is one of the meanest things you can say to another human being…You have a lot to learn……

    • Paul

      Why did you watch? Your decision precedes your intelligence, which in turn was also reflected in your post. I am a dog owner and a volunteer at the humane society. This avenue just gives people another option. I see nothing wrong with this. It is your prerogative if you choose to watch your pet “go” while on a metal examining table with your vet. That is fine. I may or may not use this type of service. My dog is a member of my family and if you have ever been to an ICU or hospice, you would realize most of the people there would rather die at home also.

      • Igor

        Incorrect. Your lack of information precedes your intelligence. Do not make opinionated statements and treat them as fact. People go to the HOSPICE because they do not want to die at home, or else because they do not want their loved ones to watch, have the burden of them dying within the home, or else they are in such an incapicitated state that it is too much work for family members to care for them at home. People in the ICU don’t want to die there – the ICU isn’t for dying!!! it’s for getting them out of the ICU and into a bed on a unit and eventually go home. Intensive CARE unit. Almost no one wants to die!!! Read some educational base practice articles on it before making a stupid “truth” comment!!

    • East_TN_Patriot

      Give me a break! You saw what the story was about and chose to look at it. Sorry to break it to you, but the world doesn’t revolve around you. This woman made a personal choice and I applaud her for making it. Letting your pet go is a terrible experience and I am glad to know that option is out there. If the news depresses you, perhaps you need to find some good medication or read a nice book.

      And now I will have flashbacks of how selfish you are.

    • tom

      why did you watch it…?

    • Teacakes

      Then WHY did you watch???!!! You know what it was going to be about!

      • Lassie

        People love to get enticed by supposed insensitive comments made by others. It’s the internet, this place is weirder than reality, people have to get over it and make a logic remark on the topic at hand and not get trolled so bad.
        Back to the topic: I’d say if you choose to watch you are sadistic in a sense and get off on it. Don’t own pets, in this economy how can anyone afford one. and pet lovers please stop putting your dogs and cats before the lives of people’s children, human life has more societal value ; maybe not to most who were raised to feel inferior over other races.

    • Dibs

      You had the power to choose NOT to watch the video. Take responsibility for your actions and grow up.

  • melissa

    That brought me to tears. I love how people can judge on how others do things. Its real life, and its something really hard o think of having to do. I had to this procedure as well to my 6 year old beagle 3 years ago but mine was in the clinic, and they are right as far as fast paced but they didn’t ever make feel rushed i made the calls on when to do things. I am glad that they aired this for those animal lovers that dont know what to do in these circumstances. I feel for the owner and dog, they are both in my prayers.

  • tiredandretired

    I think the story is a good one, because it lets pet owners know that they have this option, when a pet’s life is ending. I didn’t watch the video, because I thought it would bother me too much. Evidently, there are some on here who wish that they hadn’t watched it either.

  • Michael

    I watched it, regretfully. I had to put my labrador down three years ago, and there was no shame involved as I sat there, an adult squandering and crying like a child. Now, as I sit here, 37 years old, hardened by time and experience……. I started crying like a child again! This story could have most certainly accomplished it’s goal to inform without putting many pet owners back into a time when they lost and grieved. Video is powerful, and more thought should have gone into how people would react to seeing this.

    • Don

      Mike, I am 55 years old and a retired Marine, but I know when the time comes to give my beloved bulldog his last farewell I will cry like a child myself. I have always somewhat hard-hearted, but a dog can bring out the soft side of any human with feeliings. Heck, even this story did me in. Yet, I know I will one day have to face this harsh reality.

      • JamesM

        My old best friend “Dusty” , 15yrs, at my side slowly ambled , due to her age, out to the backyard on Easter Sunday . She suddenly dropped down and could not get up. It was apparent she was leaving me. I handed her a tennis ball (as she loved playing ball all her life). She barely took it and yet she wagged her tail a couple of flicks. She then put her head down , looked into my face and passed away…..It still chokes me up.

        I had to make NO decision about this. I was her time to go and she just went. It is still a sad memory. I will never forget it or Dusty.

  • Cavylover

    I’m so sick of these ads that pop up right on top of the article.

    • Stacy

      Thank you for saying something!, me to!

    • RJ

      Then stop using Explorer. Use Firefox and add the Add Blocker plug-in (free). You will never see another add or banner ever again.

  • Patsy

    I’ve known for years that this option is available….. I live in a very small town in Wisconsin….maybe it isn’t well known to big cities…. but every time it is “time” I call our local vet and he comes out and does this for us … I agree with you Michael….put the information out there without the “benefit” of the video! By the way…. to the owner of the dog….you shouldn’t have let the dog suffer as long as you did either…. it hurt me worse to see that dog suffering needlessly than it did to watch the vet give the shots. If you have a pet, have the heart and sense to KNOW when its time…don’t put it off for YOUR selfish reason.

    • Cliff

      You think after watching a couple of minute video makes you an expert on what is going on in the life of this person and her dog. I agree, get off of your high horse. People like you are the downfall of this country with your high and mighty opinions. Everyone should conform to your way of life, right??? Go find your own life and quit trying to run other peoples lives. I bet this isn’t the first or last time someone will say that to you!

    • Anna C

      Three weeks ago, our 16 y/o beloved shepherd-mix was in pain. She has several known medical issues and is frequently incontinent of stool, but we have been waiting for her to stop smiling, stop wagging her tail, and stop bouncing in the backyard with our other dog. On these two days, she did none of these.
      We medicated her for pain, held her, let her know that she was loved, and phoned the vet to come over and inject her. It was time.
      The vet was out of town that weekend and would come Tuesday. We were fine with that. Well, by Tuesday, the dog was once again bouncy, smiling, wagging her tail, and eager to be walked! We cancelled the vet’s visit. We know that the time is coming soon, but we’ll know when that is. We are still waiting.
      As we wait, we are not “letting the dog suffer needlessly”. We are not “putting it off for our own selfish reasons”.
      Please don’t judge others’ motives for delaying the death of a beloved family member.

  • Peggy

    Janis: You did the right thing for you and Heather at the right time. God bless you both. What a great way to pass. I still smell Goldie, my son’s Humane Society lab mutt mix that passed over six years ago. The memories of her are winderful. Too bad we can’t treat our humans in the same way.

  • Victim Du Jour

    I had to put a dog down a few years ago and I regret not having him put down at home.

    I can tell he was a little stressed at the pet hospital.

    • Russ

      It probably would be better to have your dog put down at home than at the veterinarian’s. However – what is most important is to always be with your dog when it happens. Don’t let his or her last thought be to wonder where their people have gone off to. I have had to have numerous pets put down (my wife and I adopt older, hard-to-place dogs) and several have had to be put down. I am always there with them. Is it hard? Yes. But it is much easier to live with afterwards.

  • Steven Lancer

    God Bless you and Heather…I firmly believe you will meet her again …

  • Stephanie

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I had no idea this was an option. Death and dying is always very hard to deal with, human or animal. I know I will be absolutely crushed when my pets die, but am glad this is an option should I need to make the decision some where down the line. I’m sure it would be easier on me, as well as on my animal friends I’m sure, if I could go through this in the privacy of my own home. Thanks for sharing Janis.

  • Devoided

    Wow..based on the numbers in the story Dr. Rebecca McComas is making about $140,400 a year on this service (less about $12 for the drugs and syringe)…and now that will undoubtedly go up…how is this news? I hope WCCO got a good chunk of change from the Dr. or will at least do another story talking about how compassionate the staff can be at the neighborhood vet clinic when it is time to end a friend’s life…

    • Jim Isaacs

      I had to put my cat of 17 years down last October. Fortunately I was able to find a house call service that provided this in home. I knew a trip to the vet would have stressed him out, and I didn’t want that memory to be his last.

      There are many people that do not know that this option is available to them. If only for that reason, I commend this article, although I didn’t and could’nt watch the video.

      When it comes time, please do yourself and your beloved pet the favor of using a service like this.

    • Elizabeth

      The reason it is “news worthy” is that it is a very useful and desired service that is RARE, or at least not well known. It would be the same deal if they did an article on a new restaurant that sold nothing but raw steak that you got from a cow you killed yourself. Yes, it may or may not help the business by getting their name out there, but it is also NEWS.
      Second? The amount of money that a subject makes has nothing to do with determining how newsworthy this kind of story is. This vet is providing a service, and had to become WELL educated with years of schooling and paying for said schooling to provide that service. Don’t begrudge her simply because she has both found something worthwhile to do with her life, AND get paid well for it.

  • Bobby

    Patsy, calm down. Worry about yourself and stop judging others.

  • Nancy Aleshire

    As a devout animal lover and pet owner, I can not believe all the negative comments about this story. First of all, euthanasia is not the same thing as killing an animal. It is the means of allowing a suffering pet to go in means. The term “killing” is a major dis-service to parents of murdered children and those of us (myself included) who had those whose lives were unnecessarily cut short. Euthanasia is the ultimate procedure for someone who truly loves her dog or cat and does not want to see it suffer no longer. They put that above the need of keeping their pets alive for their own experience. Dogs and cats have their way of letting their owners know when it’s time–for me it was when Dino, Kirby, and Prince stopped eating. My heart goes out to Janis, the rest of her family and Heather’s companion dog.

  • Nancy Aleshire

    Correction to the above comment-euthanasia is the means of allowing a suffering pet to go in peace.

  • katydid

    This was a wonderful story. I had no idea there was such an option.

  • Karen Randall DVM

    I too am surprised by all the negative comments. Janis made a very thoughtful and loving decision for her companion. Many pet guardians are unaware that the option of in-home euthanasia exists. It may not be the choice for everyone, but for pets that experience high anxiety at the veterinary hospital, or for pet owners that are looking for a more intimate experience, home euthanasia is a gift. For our pets, home is sanctuary. It is where they feel safe and comfortable. I also provide this service as a part of my veterinary hospice practice and I would like to reply to Devoided’s comments. This story highlighted an option available pet owners and at no point did it suggest that the care provided at a veterinary clinic was anything short of kind and supportive. As far as Dr. McComas’s fees, I would like to point out that as a professional, she isn’t being compensated solely for her supplies (which also include car and fuel), but for her time and expertise. One of the wonderful things about in-home euthanasia is the time it affords. Many home euthanasias that I have performed included the family and friends, stories, poems and memorials. Often an appointment will allow up to 2 hours of a doctor’s time. Her compensation seems fair and appropriate.

    • Dave

      I wish there were Vets in Vegas that would do In home
      euthanasia it certainly would put less stress on an already
      suffering companion

    • Nancy

      Though this story was very hard to watch, it is a day that will come for most responsible pet owners. My dog is almost 16 and I know that my days with him are numbered. It was comforting to see the loving way that this difficult decision was made. I didn’t view this story as “Wow, vets make so much money doing this”, but rather “how wonderful that this service exists for those people who want or need it”. It’s amazing to me how some people can take a nice human interest story about pets and make it about politics or about how a pet is just a pet. It was a lovely story about Janis and Heather and how you cope with the inevitable. My dog freaks out at the vets and it’s good to know that there is another option.

    • Richard Hervieux

      I would love to know just how much the dog was at the vets office and what was done to try to avoid killing it. Do we kill human loved ones as easily? What is wrong with keeping the animal comfortable and nourished ??? Dont tell me they are animals and not humans. My dogs are few steps up the food chain than most people I know

    • Don R. Ricks

      I had to make the difficult, heart wrenching decision a cuople of years ago to have my 10 year old German Shepherd euthanized. I put it off as long as possible, until one morning my buddy who would come running up the back steps to greet me, could no longer rise. Some good friends helped me load him in my wife’s van, and I drove him to the vet clinic. The vererinarian allowed us to maintain our privacy in the van, and I sat in the back of the van with Ruger’s head on my lap as Dr. Coakley administered the meds. I watched the light go out of the gentle giant’s eyes, and cried like a baby. My friend and I brought him to the only home he had ever known and prepared his grave on our farm which would overlook the house. He is buried in a plot which will receive his lifelong mate as Maggie loses her fight with cancer.

      Do I miss him? Every day. Is it difficult to lose these precious friends? Certainly. But I would not have missed out on one minute of the love these family members shared with my wife and children and myself. I also thank God for compassionate professionals who helped us through this.

      • Amanda

        Don–Thank you for sharing your story. YOUR story helps all of us who have made that difficult decision. I think we all need reassurance that we are making the right decision. I have made the decision once, with our 10 year old Sheltie, named Chico, and been through it countless other times with Roscoe, Misty, and Dakotah. I have also been through the discovery that a dog has died on its own with Jake and Chinook. I have also been through my daughter’s best bud, Pepper, getting hit by a car, and her being right there when it happened. No matter how a dog dies, when they are close to your heart, it is a difficult thing to deal with. But it teaches us all about death and loss….something we all have to deal with at one point or another.

  • cg


  • Glenn Russell

    Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

    When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
    There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
    There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

    All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
    The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

    They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

    You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

    Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

    Author unknown…

    • Rex

      When we had our dog cremated, this poem was included with his remains. We can only hope that such a place exists. Thanks.

  • Animal lover

    We just got the news that the cancer our loving Lab had, has now spread and there is nothing that can be done. What a horrible day. Then, last night I saw this story on the news and it helped to learn of this option – the idea of a cold, clinical kinds of death when the time comes bothered us. This has helped us to plan ahead and do the best we can for a loving pet; it will be a terrible day when it comes, but we can make it a little better all around now that we know of this option, so thanks you for doing this story. To the critics, why do you read or watch something that clearly warns you of the content and then you complain; you are all adults right? The point was to help and for a lot of us facing this terrible day, it DID help. To the lady in the piece, so sorry for the sadness you must feel but thank you for helping others.

  • cynthia

    The last breath of a dog should not be filmed on ANY pretext. The fact that it was done to sell TV advertising makes it worse.

    • JamieinMN

      Sell TV advertising? Are you dumb or just plain stupid?

    • tnmccoy

      I’m with you.

      • tnmccoy

        I mean I’m with cynthia not Jamie the jerk.

  • Superchik1017

    What a wonderful story and video. It reminded me to be thankful for our Husky and enjoy him while we have the chance. After we watched this (and dried many tears) we gave our dog a BIG hug and some extra treats and play time. Thank you Janis and Heather fos sharing such a private moment with the rest of us, who need to be reminded how special – and short – our time is with our pets.

  • Superchik1017

    The dog was not killed. Heather was obviously in a lot of pain. Her owner did the right thing.

  • Bill

    Is this their way of preparing their audience for what will happen to older seniors and the lame when Obamacare kicks into high gear? The US has become a scary place to live for anone with traditional values or a sense of decency.

    • Superchik1017

      Then leave…

    • JamieinMN

      This has NOTHING to do with politics!!! WHY did you have to bring politics into this?!?!!?!?

    • Cap

      This occurred to me as well. But, at least for this go-round, I believe the American people will stop Obama. It’s the next round that worries me.

  • JamieinMN

    NO thank you. I don’t have the heart to do that.

  • cynthia

    To the people who think killing an animal is good TV, all I can say is: are the faulty ethics of such programming really beyond you?

    • Dave

      What Do YOU want to see on the news MORE stories of
      ghetto trash Pos’es robbing raping and killing
      Id rather have more story’s like this

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