When they say “dog is a man’s best friend,” that’s no exaggeration. A family or companion pet can make a profound difference in many people’s lives, and their memories are often cherished forever.
For Ginny Mikita, 13 years with her dog Kadie was not enough. A couple years ago, when Kadie developed some lumpy masses, Mikita reached out to Dr. Laurie Brush, veterinarian and owner of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice.
Brush opened Heaven at Home almost seven years ago with the goal of easing an animal’s pain when dying as well as to assist the owners in giving their pets the best treatment and the most peaceful death possible. In Mikita’s case, Brush went to her home and assessed Kadie’s quality of life and gave Mikita advice on things she could do to make her dog a little more comfortable.
“Many times we can do things to improve their quality of life,” Brush said. “To help them get around better, to make sure they’re not in pain, to make sure they’re enjoying their activities and daily living.”
When the time comes that the pet is not comfortable anymore, many clients elect to have their pet euthanized in the home. In most cases, this is the most relaxing option for the pet instead of bringing them to an animal hospital where there is a lot more anxiety for the animal.
“It’s so much easier for the pet,” Brush explained. “If every pet could have this choice for their ending … it’s the way it should be.”
This summer, Mikita went on a trip to visit her son in St. Louis and while she was away Kadie had a seizure.
“When I got back, I thought, it’s time, it’s time to consider this,” Mikita said. “And the beauty of Laurie is she comes out and does an assessment again to make sure. She would not let someone do this if she thought there was solid quality of life left.”
The next step begins with Brush coming to the home. She brings all her necessary equipment, but works in a completely non-intrusive way.
“It’s all a very seamless process,” Mikita said. “Kadie was literally put to sleep first. So her first injection put her into a sound, sound sleep. She was on my lap and snoring, so she was completely unaware, other than just being held by all of us.”
While this event is extremely difficult for the family, Brush does the best she can to make the experience peaceful and intimate for the pet and their family.
“She has a minister’s heart,” Mikita said. “It’s a spiritual experience with her. She’s soft spoken, she explains everything, she encourages families to be together and other companion animals if there are other animals in the home, so it’s a family experience. … She’s fabulous with families and small children, explaining what’s going on.”
After the pet has taken its last breath, it is put on a small gurney or basket and tucked in with a blanket to be carried out. Mikita and her family then helped carry Kadie to the car.
“The crematorium picks up (the animal) from us and we handle all the arrangements of getting the cremains back to the clients,” Brush said. “And we make a little clay impression of a paw for them and we put their name and the year in it and get it back to them.”
Clients also have the option to bury their pet and can ask for more information on pet cemeteries.
Brush believes her work is important and hopes to work even more with local animal hospitals and veterinarians to get the word out to the community that this service exists.
“Death is an inevitable part of life and it’s the part we’re least prepared for,” she said.
“I’ve helped people in their own bedrooms, in the pet’s bed, wherever the pet is most comfortable. I’ve been in some unusual places; crawled into closets, under decks, I’ve been in barns, I’ve been outdoors, I’ve been to lake houses.”
To Brush, this work is from her heart.
“[It’s] more than just a job, it’s definitely a calling for people,” Brush said. “You have to want to do this.”
A few years ago, before she lost Kadie, Mikita started a pet loss support group called Companion Animal Grief Group. They meet monthly at Heaven at Home’s office, at 1530 Monroe Avenue NW. Now that Mikita is not only a facilitator, but also a participant, she has a whole new appreciation for the group.
“I’m in a place now where I can really appreciate why it’s so important to have a place to share,” Mikita said. “I always tell people, a companion animal dying, no one shows up at your door with a casserole. I call it a ‘disenfranchised loss.’ Especially for folks who have never had a companion animal, it’s hard to understand how this could feel worse than having a family member die, which I hear regularly.”
Mikita strongly encourages against people downplaying another person’s loss of a pet with minimizing comments like, “just get another dog” or “but she had a good life.”
Although Kadie is physically gone, she will always live through happy memories with Mikita and her family.
“She was the most carefree dog,” Mikita smiled, looking at a picture of Kadie. “Just an incredible companion.”
*Photos courtesy of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice