Including pets in a planned death at home

Personal Stories | April 28, 2023 | Bonita Thompson

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A photo of Don and Brulee the dog

I felt a soft wet muzzle slipping into my hand. I turned and saw big brown almond shaped eyes staring up at me. Our search for this elusive female, chocolate brown standard poodle ended with her choosing us.  

Brûlée came into our lives at the perfect time – Don’s illnesses had ended our travels and after years of friendly negotiations we had finally agreed on the four-legged person we would welcome into our home.  

As with so many families she became a member of the family upon whom we showered much attention and love (often to the amusement and rolling eyes of our grown children).  

Walking Brûlée got Don out of the house, gave him much needed exercise and social interactions often with strangers whom, he lamented, “knew Miss Brûlée’s name but not mine”. She gave us both an enormous amount of pleasure particularly as Don’s health declined and as he became more frail. During the last months of his life she spent more and more time at his feet and Don said one day “she knows”. 

Don ended his life with much dignity and courage accessing medical assistance in dying (MAID) in late August of 2018.  

After his death I have thought often about how Brûlée was part of Don’s passing. I share these thoughts with you today in the hopes that it might help someone who has a cherished four legged member of their own family.  

Don received MAID in our bedroom of our home. I must admit that I never gave Brûlée any thought in the days, hours or minutes leading up to Don’s death. She was just present as she always was. But at the time of the MAID procedure, she slipped into the bedroom on her own, ignored the doctor and nurse and stood watching on the opposite side of the bed to me as I sat with Don.  

At the moment of his very quiet and peaceful death, I remember hearing a primal sound and then realized it had come from me. Brûlée immediately came around to where I was seated, pushed her nose under my arm and laid her head on Don’s arm. It was clear she also knew he was gone.  

She stayed at the foot of the bed for several hours until the funeral home people arrived. While they were preparing to remove Don’s body, I kept Brûlée away, but she saw them take the gurney through the front door. When they were gone she retraced their route into the bedroom with her nose in the air following a familiar scent. She checked all around for Don’s presence and then quietly left the room. 

It was Brûlée’s practice to stand vigil at a front window awaiting the return of Don or me whenever we left the house – sometimes for hours. I anticipated that after his death she would do the same – waiting for him to return. I must admit I was a bit worried that she would grieve his death by not eating or becoming listless. But she never did. She did not stand vigil at the window as I expected. I did not have to worry about her. She was fine and turned her attentions to me. 

So why am I sharing this story with you? I suppose it is because you may wish to think about the impact on a pet of a planned death at home. In conversations I have had with other pet owners since Don’s death I have mentioned how having Brûlée present for his death allowed her to know that he would not be coming back. And at the moment of his death her presence also provided me with unexpected comfort.  

Anticipating a MAID death at home is fraught with unaccustomed practicalities and mixed  emotions. So I simply offer the observation that perhaps allowing a family pet to be present may alleviate some of the grief suffered after a loved one is gone. 

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