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