Over New Year’s Eve weekend, our 21-year-old boy cat, Gallup, had pretty much stopped eating and was having trouble getting around on his own. By Sunday night, wife Floy and I knew it was time. I emailed the vet office and Dr. Byron Maas at Bend Veterinary Clinic had us come in on Monday morning. We sat in the car and caressed Gallup, cradled in a blanket, saying our goodbyes, until it was time to take him in. Gallup was calm and did not appear to be in any pain, leading us to briefly question if we were doing the right thing, but the hard reality of his condition meant it was the right decision. We knew the day would come, but the realization could not stem the tide of tears. Gallup always had a voracious appetite for food and an insatiable love for life in general, but that passion was just no longer there. Maas and the BVC staff could not have been kinder and more compassionate. We remained with Gallup throughout the procedure and buried him in the backyard that afternoon.
“There is never a good time to say goodbye forever to your best friend—and most of the time people only know that it’s time at the exact moment it needs to happen,” Jessica Woodmansee, digital marketing and administration assistant at BVC, wrote in an email. “There’s just no way around crying with people at this job unless you’re a cyborg, so no one really holds back the tears here.”
Maas revealed that he was a mortician and funeral director before becoming a veterinarian, so he has dealt plenty with the death of people and animals.
“I think the most important thing to understand is that life is not forever, and that every pet loves faithfully and unconditionally, but often when their bodies are worn out, broken or spent, it is an act of kindness we can give them to help them pass comfortably without anxiety, pain or additional suffering,” Maas said in an email. “As you can imagine, this is a very emotional part of our job. I approach it with the philosophy that given the circumstances, this is the best choice for a pet, and we are helping alleviate ongoing suffering. Certainly, knowing that we have done everything we can helps us logically to process death and the loss, but the hardest is to comfort a client as much as possible as they process the loss.”
Many euthanasia procedures are performed as house calls, or can take place in other locations. Maas says one of the most memorable ones he ever did was in the rain in a cemetery near Pilot Butte, where the dog loved to walk among the tombstones. “That’s where he was freed from his body to go play on more happy adventures,” he said.
“…Often when their bodies are worn out, broken or spent, it is an act of kindness we can give them to help them pass comfortably without anxiety, pain or additional suffering.” —Dr. Byron Maas
Another memorable one was a house call where a virtual family gathering was set up on FaceTime with kids, moms, dads and stepfamily, “offering comfort and love for each other and to the dog that kept the family together over the years.”
Besides burial, BVC also works with pet cremation services in case that’s what the family desires. For our sweet Gallup, the BVC staff posed him in a small cardboard coffin as if he were curled up taking a nap; it was the last, fitting, view that we would have of him.
Amanda Wheeler is the founder and director of the Rawley Project, a pet loss support group inspired by her own personal struggle with the loss of her beloved dog Rawley many years ago. “There is always this underlying sense that the loss of a pet shouldn’t be as difficult as the loss of a human, but for many of us that just simply isn’t the case,” Wheeler said in an email. “Whether recently or years ago, the sadness and pain can be overwhelming. Time doesn’t always heal, but connecting with others can help.”
The pet loss support group meeting schedule is 7-8pm on March 29, June 28, Sept. 27 and Dec. 6, in the upstairs conference room at the Bend Veterinary Clinic.