Vet Shares His Story Of Putting His Dog To Sleep

A veterinarian speaks of loss, love and the bond between owner and pet.

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Douglas Palma, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM) spoke in empathetic tones when any of his clients lost a pet. But he couldn't truly feel that empathy. He had never gone through that loss.

As a veterinarian, Dr. Palma dealt with the difficulty of euthanasia every day. Part of his job is to help clients come to the best decision regarding their pets, and to help them when that decision involves loss. Chances are the day that decision was made will be stuck in his clients' minds for years to come.

Three years ago this August, Palma received a call at work from his wife Eileen. Their beloved yellow Lab-Border Collie mix hadn't eaten that morning. A pet skipping a meal may provoke concern in some pet owners; some may wait to see if their dog eats later on then opt to take them to the vet that evening or perhaps even the next day. But Palma's response was a little more urgent.

"Bring him to the hospital," he told Eileen, according to ABC News.

It's been said that parents who are also doctors hear their child cough and fear the worst. They've seen what it can turn into. They know things can go wrong. It was no different for Palma. Although this wasn't the first time Rufus was brought to the hospital, Palma's uneasiness wouldn't cease.

Disease was everywhere at the clinic. His dog was 15. How could he not think the worst?

But thoughts of the day Palma and Eileen got Rufus came rushing in as well. They were a couple of college kids who rescued him from a cooler. Rufus was one of several puppies from an unplanned breeding. From that day on, he became an exceptional companion; a family member who witnessed Palma's proposal, who willingly moved to Ohio then New York and who loved Frisbee and swimming.

Rufus saw Palma through vet school and later his internship, but he would not yet see Palma in practice. A colleague was asked to conduct the tests.

"I can't be involved in the decision process," he said, as reported by ABC News.

When the metastasis diagnosis came back, Palma knew that he had less than a month left with Rufus. Faced with this reality, he quickly transitioned from pet owner to veterinarian, conducting an ultrasound and assessing Rufus's condition: splenic tumor and internal bleeding.

Emergency surgery would help temporarily, but death was inevitable. With that, Palma did what people in his situation are often advised to do: he focused on Rufus's life instead of on his death.

Rufus's last day with the Palma family was spent happily catching sticks and Frisbees. His dog tag remains on Palma's key chain to this day, memories of him forever in his mind. Palma's words when a client is dealing with loss are now full of true empathy.

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