The death of a beloved pet is a painful experience for anyone, but some local veterinarians are helping make a bad situation better by offering personalized end-of-life care in owners’ homes. Dr. Laura Summers of Sacramento Valley Veterinary Services in Wilton is one of just a handful of Sacramento-area vets who specialize in in-home euthanasia so that pet owners can say farewell in the privacy of their home instead of an impersonal clinical setting.
“Euthanizing a pet in a clinic is not as peaceful or as graceful or as kind as what we can do in a home setting,” explains Summers. “I don’t think anybody, human or animal, would say, ‘Gosh, I hope I die in a hospital.’ It’s a sterile environment, typically it’s noisy, and there’s a time frame that has to be met.”
By performing euthanasia in a home setting, people can grieve the loss privately and on their own timeline, without feeling rushed or having to deal with distractions. “At home, we focus on what our clients and our patients need at that moment; we don’t have other phone calls to make or other patients to care for. And families can take as much time as they need.”
As Summers sees it, bringing euthanasia services into the home makes sense for the era in which we’re living. “We live in an Amazon Prime time where virtually everything is being delivered to us,” she says. “Culturally speaking, why wouldn’t we ask for these very personal, emotional services to come into the home?”
In spite of the somber nature of her work, Summers says it is gratifying to be able to guide families through heart-wrenching end-of-life decisions for their pets. Because most of the people who hire her aren’t longtime clients, “I don’t take these cases personally,” she says. “I’m sad for my clients, but to bring peace to an ailing pet in a comfortable setting is actually very rewarding. That’s why I do this.”
Although she has euthanized many animals over the years, Summers says there was “maybe 10 minutes of training” in vet school about how to serve clients in an emotional capacity. “You sort of learn it on the job, and maybe some of it’s intrinsic,” she says. “Not every vet can provide emotional support to the client without taking it home and being emotionally burdened themselves.”
Summers has consulted pastors and hospice nurses about finding the right language to console her clients. “Sometimes all you can say is, ‘I’m very sorry and I’m going to try to make this as peaceful and gentle as possible,’” she says.
In-home end-of-life care typically costs more than it would in a clinical setting: Summers charges $250 for euthanasia services, more if cremation is involved. But for many pet owners, it’s worth every penny. “I’ve done many, many euthanasias in the clinic and it is very stressful for both our patients and our clients. We can simply do a lot better job when we see our patients in the home.”