Veterinarian Suzanne Thomas laid a clean blanket on the ground, placed a small pet bed upon it, knelt and waited.
A few minutes later, Inger Bjerge came out of her home holding Sandy, a 16-year-old cat born on the same Olalla property, but now suffering from a stomach tumor. Bjerge laid Sandy on the bed. She and Thomas petted him, made him purr.
When Thomas gave Sandy the first injection, it was to relax him.
When Bjerge was ready, the second injection was given, and it painlessly caused Sandy’s death.
“Go to the light,” Bjerge said, and wiped away tears.
“It’s so much quieter here, much nicer” she said a few minutes later. “This was more for him than for me.”
Putting a pet down hurts. To take the edge off the pain, many pet owners are embracing in-home pet euthanasia, where a vet makes a house call.
“The animal is at home, as comfortable as they can be with people they know and love,” Thomas said. “Some of them are in pain, so carrying them to a car, taking them to the vet’s office, that’s just added stress. The idea is to take the stress out of this as much as possible, for the pet and the owner.”
Thomas, a Gig Harbor vet and single mom, runs Peaceful Passing as a side business. Near Eatonville, Robin Gardner runs a similar business called Perfect Goodbye.
Both women are animal lovers who have had to deal both with losing a pet and with having to put one down in an office setting.
“Taking your pet into the vet’s is the only option for some, and they provide dignified treatment of the animal,” said Gardner, who owns two cats, three dogs, fish and a rat. “For you and your pet, in-home euthanasia is a totally different experience.
“Even in their prime, some animals hate getting in a car and going to vet.”
Businesses like hers offer an alternative to the awkwardness of the final office visit.
“For the owner, there’s no waiting room, no sitting there while someone brings in their new puppy,” Gardner said.
A few weeks ago, Thomas visited a family where a much-loved dog was euthanized while lying on the living room rug, surrounded by his favorite toys — placed there by a 15-year-old boy.
“With children, it can be more stressful. They may have known the pet their entire life,” said Thomas, who has two small rescue dogs and a couple of cats. “I’ve had them write letters to the pet, send toys with it to be cremated. You never forget your first pet.”
Both Thomas and Gardner talk to the pet owner before setting anything in motion, helping them sort through the timing of the death.
“They wait for animal to die in its sleep,” Gardner said, “but it rarely happens.
“I like to err on acting while there’s still some quality of life, when a dog can still wag their tail, still walk. Animals are so loyal, they’ll try to do what you ask, even if they’re in pain.”
Janice Baker knew she was facing the end of her dog Chloe’s life last month after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. When physical symptoms increased, Baker called Thomas.
“Chloe got claustrophobic, wouldn’t ride in the car,” Baker said. “When people reached out to touch her, she sometimes snapped, which she’d never done before.”
Thomas arrived in the evening.
“At the door, she held out her hand and Chloe licked her. I know it sounds crazy, but my dog knew why she was there.”
After the first shot was administered, “Chloe gave this huge sigh and we knew she’d stopped hurting.”
“It was an amazing experience, almost like hospice for animals,” Baker said. “Chloe’s last moments, her last memories, were loving and warm. That was a gift to all of us.”
The cost of the service starts at about $150, depending on how far the vet has to travel. It also depends on what the pet owner wants to do after the animal is euthanized. Both Thomas and Gardner are connected with a mortuary that cremates pets.
“If you take your pet to an emergency clinic for euthanasia, it’s probably going to cost $150,” Thomas said. “If you go to your local vet, it might be just under $100. For most housecalls, I ask for $175.”
Gardner has been doing this for more than a decade.
“It’s emotional, every time,” she said. “I get a lot of hugs afterward, and if someone doesn’t hug me, I might hug them. We’re all there for the same reason – we love animals.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638