Companion Animal Club events address end-of-life decisions

Veterinary students practice making clay paw prints for clients who have lost a pet. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital gives these mementos to pet owners to remember their loved ones.

Last month, students in the veterinary college’s Companion Animal Club hosted a guest speaker and a wet lab on one of the most sensitive areas of veterinary medicine: euthanasia.

“Every life comes to an end and it is how we approach this end that can make all the difference to both our patients and our clients,” said Sara Waltz, a third-year veterinary student and president of the Companion Animal Club. “Euthanasia and end-of-life counseling is an inevitable part of our career. That being said, all too often I think many of us are unprepared for some of the situations we encounter.”

Waltz became familiar with some of the situations surrounding euthanasia when she worked in emergency medicine. One day at the clinic, a client whose dog was dead on arrival after being hit by a car embraced and thanked Waltz.

“I couldn’t understand what it was that I had done for him aside from tell him his loyal companion had passed away and present him with a cardboard box and a clay paw print instead of his family member,” Waltz said. “Somehow, this act and my empathy had meant enough to this stranger to feel comfortable hugging me and thanking me.”

These experiences drove Waltz to find a way to help her fellow students be more comfortable with euthanasia. In partnership with Zoetis and the college’s Veterinary Business Management Association and the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Companion Animal Club held a school-wide euthanasia seminar in September featuring Dr. Dani McVety, CEO and co-founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, the largest network of veterinarians dedicated solely to end-of-life veterinary care.

Dr. Dani McVety, CEO and co-founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, speaks to students about humane ways to perform euthanasia for various situations.

McVety’s lecture focused on what euthanasia means to her and why she based her in-home euthanasia and hospice business around it. As one of the first services of its kind, Lap of Love has quickly grown from one veterinarian in Texas to over 50 vets around the United States in just three short years.

McVety and Dr. Mark Freeman, assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, then led a wet-lab that allowed students to practice techniques using cadavers and learn about which techniques are most appropriate for various situations. Students ended the evening with a paw print-making class.

The following day, first-, second-, and third-year students participated in a communication clinic. Undergraduate students acted as clients, some angry and emotional, while veterinary students served in the role of “doctor” on some difficult cases based on real-life experiences with euthanasia. Dr. Jennie Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs; Dr. Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services; Dr. Meghan Byrnes, multi-disciplinary lab instructor; and Freeman critiqued students during the scenarios.

Dozens of veterinary students learned about euthanasia at the school-wide seminar sponsored by the Companion Animal Club and its partners.