Grab the tissues, this beautiful piece was submitted to us by Alexa Veale from Colorado State University.
I arrive to a young dog on a gurney in the treatment area. Her name is Bosa. I talk to her in my
usual high-pitched baby voice, introduce myself with pets and scratches, then start my physical
exam. I see the sweetest, squishy-faced soul looking back at me through soft, deep brown eyes.
High heart rate, high respiratory rate, high temperature - She’s probably in pain. But she bears
the struggle of her condition quietly to herself as I look her over, poking and prodding for the
cause of her visit to the hospital today. She’s such a good dog. Such a brave dog.
Her spinal cord is damaged. Bosa is paraplegic. Unable to move her back legs, and loss of all
sensation. I could break her bones in the back half of her body and she wouldn’t feel a thing.
Treatment? Emergency surgery. Prognosis? Depends… Time to talk to the owners.
I walk into the exam room where the owners are waiting, looking up at me from their chairs with
a mix of worry and hope in their eyes. A boy who could not have been more than 12 years old,
and his mother, who’s about 6 months along. I introduce myself, and start to gather a history.
“What brings you in today? What has been going on with Bosa?”
The boy starts speaking in Spanish to his mother.
She speaks back to him. He speaks back to me.
Bosa has been unable to use her back legs for 3 days.
Now, prognosis? Poor. Even with emergency surgery, Bosa has less than a 40% chance of
being able to walk again.
We have a long, triangular conversation about possible causes for Bosa’s condition, tests Bosa
needs, treatment options, and prognosis.
Now the mother is crying; her eyes no longer filled with worry, nor hope, but despair.
As we start talking about prices, she touches her belly, looks down at her unborn child, and
starts crying harder. We can’t understand each other’s words, but actions have no language
barrier. I can see the fight she’s having in her mind and the burden she carries, being forced to
choose between her dying fur family and her growing human family, both whom she loves
I breach the topic of humane euthanasia.
“What’s humane euthanasia?” the boy asks.
… How can I explain to a 12 year old, simply enough to translate to his mother, the process of
purposely killing your dog because death is better than her current state of life?
“To peacefully help her fall asleep. And she will never wake up.”
He tucks his head and looks at the floor in silence. His mother presses him to translate what I
just said. I watch him struggle to choose between fighting back tears, and answering her,
knowing he can’t do both at the same time.
Now they’re both crying. I’m crying. And we’re all sharing one box of tissues. My heart breaks
for this family.
“Lo siento, lo siento” I keep saying over and over. “I’m sorry” is one of the only 3 phrases I know
how to say in Spanish. I wanted to connect with them further, but “Where is my cat” and “Thank
you” just didn’t seem appropriate at a time like this.
I try to better explain the process of humane euthanasia, and ask if they want to be present
during the procedure. “Absolutely not”, I gathered from the aggressive shaking coming from
My heart breaks even deeper, this time for Bosa. I picture her people back in the treatment area,
visiting her one last time, draped over her, grabbing her fur, showering her head with kisses, and
speaking softly to her in Spanish, squeaking out words between their hard tears and gasping
breaths. Then the boy and his mother stand up, turn around. And they leave.
The last image Bosa will have of her family is their backs.
It all happened exactly how I pictured.
“Bien perro, bien perro” I desperately try to comfort Bosa in a language she’s used to,
completely guessing at how to tell her she’s a “good dog”. Filling the role of veterinarian with
lethal syringe in hand, while simultaneously standing in as her family during her last moments
on this planet, is more than I can bear alone.
Nobody can do this alone. Veterinary medicine is a family all its own.
*Some details changed to protect client/patient identity