Laura Owen RVN, BSc(Hons) APHC CC
1. Losing Mole Tuesday 24th April 2018 is a day that will be forever etched into my memory. My partner Chris and I, had been out shopping and had come home, given our cats some food and were giving them cuddles. I jumped into the bath and heard Chris shouting that something was wrong with Mole, he was crying and tried to jump onto the couch with Chris but couldn’t. Mole, our beautiful tuxedo cat, had been diagnosed at 16 months old with a grade 4 heart murmur and Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy.
We had specialist heart scans every 6 months at first, then every 3 months as his heart progressively worsened. Our routine at home focused on keeping him stress-free, medications, and vitamins, as well as not changing things too much for our other 3 cats. We knew that Mole’s heart was bad, all his siblings had passed away before 12 months old, and we had hand-reared Mole from just 9 days old. We knew that at any moment he could drop dead, or develop a clot, which is exactly what was happening. Chris grabbed the cat carrier, I wrung my hair out and in 10 minutes we were ready to head to my vets.
I’d called two of my vets to ask for help, and they were both on their way. Mole kept crying and I knew that we were losing him tonight. We had planned for heparin therapy if he developed a clot, with home euthanasia, surrounded by our other cats; but that’s not what was going to happen. We arrived at my practice, opened up and I gave him the pain relief my vets had told me to, while Chris held him and we told him he was the bravest, and through tears, I placed an IV catheter. We had a chat whilst waiting for the vets, both his hind legs were cold, and one of his front ones was going the same way; heparin therapy wouldn’t save our boy. By the time my vets arrived we had decided euthanasia was the kindest option for him.
My vets confirmed that his heart was barely audible and that the blood wasn’t flowing correctly and he sounded like he had a clot in his heart, as well as one his spinal cord and in his front leg. We gave him his sedation through his catheter and he drifted to sleep in Chris' arms. My vets left us alone for a few minutes with him and I gave him the injection into his catheter to stop his heart. We bundled him up and thanked our vets, and took him home. We used a brand new bed we had been saving and put him on it, then let our other cats say goodbye. Lilo and Stitch gave him a groom, Oogie (his baby brother) didn’t understand why he wouldn’t play and his sister Eyks (bottle raised with him), kept licking him and nuzzling him. We took many, many paw prints from his beautiful toes. Our baby boy was no longer with us, just 10 days before his third birthday.
We took him up to bed with us and he slept next to the bed overnight, while we tried to decide what casket we wanted for him, as the cremation company would be at my practice the next day. Chris took the next day off work and I went to work with Mole, filling in his individual cremation card, getting fur clippings and some whiskers, and then putting him into the cremation bag, wrapped in his blanket, with some treats and a favourite straw.
My work colleagues put him into the cold storage for me, as I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and I tried to do my job, whilst trying not to think about him being in the building with me. I ended up with three of my favourite team members encouraging me to go home, which I did in the end.
We got his ashes back and they take pride of place in our living room, with a lovely memorial piece that a wonderful work friend had made for us. I was prepared to be upset for days, weeks, months, and I was prepared to cry randomly. What I was not prepared for was the reaction of my partner.
2. Helping my partner.
Chris was distraught after losing Mole, and I encouraged him to take a full week off work and we arranged to pick Mole’s ashes up for the cremation company ourselves sooner, rather than having to wait a week for him to be returned to my practice. When we picked Mole’s ashes up we decided to go out for the day, rather than remember the day as just picking up Mole’s ashes. We had a beautiful double rainbow, which was like Mole saying that he agreed with the idea. The day after we lost Mole, Chris' Mum came down to the house, and when we dropped her off back home that night was when I realised that Chris really was going to struggle with Moles' loss.
I had a little more preparation as I had put our family cat to sleep a few years prior, and it was a day to day occurrence in my job, but Chris hadn’t ever experienced it for his own pet. When Chris was walking back to the car he stopped, then slid down the wall and was sat crying in the rain. I had to call my brother to help us get him to my car. I asked if he wanted to stay at his Mums and said I would go home to our cats but he wanted to come home. I had to call his boss and tell him that he wouldn’t be in tomorrow, and this was our first obstacle. His boss wasn’t too happy that I was calling him in the evening, to say Chris would be off tomorrow, and said that we should have given him more warning like we knew that this would happen. You can imagine his surprise when Chris then requested a week off, but he was more understanding by this point.
Many people do not understand what it’s like to lose a pet and Mole was our furbaby, as we do not have children. We had bottle raised, toileted, toilet trained, weaned and taught him everything he knew. I couldn’t take time off at such short notice but was only working for the next two days, so Chris' Mum came down to ours so that Chris wasn’t on his own. Picking up Mole’s ashes helped to finalise it, and Chris seemed to come to terms a little better after this.
We kept his memorial lit of a night and said goodnight to him when we turned the light off, and we removed Mole’s food bowl when Chris was ready. We spoke about various memorials for him and I just allowed Chris to take it at his pace, which was the best thing I could do. There was no judgement from me, I talked when he wanted and, more importantly, I listened to him. We’re still not “over” Mole’s death and it has been a year and a half. We’ve endured the comments from people who don’t understand, such as; “he was just a cat”, “you only had him for less than three years”, “you knew he was sick” and my personal worst one “it’s not like you lost a child, get over it”. I know Mole was not our child, but we raised and loved him, and taught him everything he knew.
3. Working after Mole’s loss.
I work as a Registered veterinary nurse in a very busy practice that is widely known for providing high end of life care, and we are platinum rated by Compassion Understood, so euthanasia happens often around me. I took the day after Mole’s death off at the request of my team, and then came in for the next two days, as I had 4 days off after this. What greeted me was a caring team, who were there if I needed to talk and told me that they would assist with any euthanasia’s until I felt ready.
It took around a week for me to stop tearing up when I could hear clients getting upset, or when I saw the bottle of the drug we use to end a life. I knew the heartbreak they were feeling in those moments, the moment of sheer, crushing grief when you give the go-ahead for the vet to give the final injection to end your companions suffering. That moment of unbelievable guilt you feel at having taken away their life. It took a while for me to realise that making that decision is incredibly brave and selfless, and you certainly shouldn’t feel guilty about it at all. Mole was suffering and I ended that suffering myself, as I was able to do so.
I no longer feel guilt for this decision but relief that I was able to stop the pain in his eyes and let him go peacefully and with dignity. It was around two weeks after losing Mole that I assisted with a euthanasia, as I felt it would be disrespectful to clients if I were to be getting upset as they were saying goodbye. Luckily this euthanasia was a well-known client and their lovely dog, and I had known them for the 4 years I had worked at the practice, so me getting a little teary-eyed was fine with them. I found that it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be, I was upset, but it didn’t bring back the crushing memories of losing Mole.
This was done in our lovely “rainbow” room, where we have a cosy couch and plenty of tissues, and it’s designed to resemble a living room, as best we can in a practice. I thought that I would be fine with euthanasia’s from this point on, but I was very wrong. The next euthanasia was one where I was simply needed to put a catheter in with the vet, and they brought the cat out to me and we put him onto the prep table, in a cosy blanket, and I had to hold his leg and give him cuddles, while the vet placed the IV and I couldn’t see what was happening through my tears. The prep table is where we had said goodbye to Mole, and all my feelings just came rushing back to me.
Again, my team were fantastic and continued to shield me from cat euthanasia’s where possible, as they brought back too many memories. Where there was no choice but to ask for my help, we now started putting catheters in or giving the final injections for those whose families could not stay, in a different room other than prep. I am happy to say that, a year and a half later, my team still give me the option of moving to a different room if I want, but I have been able to use the prep table, and all I can think of is how I am helping this pet to pass peacefully and with dignity.
4. Pet Bereavement Support Advisor
Not long after losing Mole I saw an advert from the Blue Cross charity, asking for volunteers for their bereavement support phone line and their new email service. I thought that the email service would fit right in with my work shifts and so I applied. I remember how hard my partner found it, and that he felt he had nobody to talk to, and he didn’t want to add his feelings onto mine. I thought about all the other people who must be feeling that way, or people who have nobody to speak to. I thought of all the hurtful comments from family and friends that we suffered after losing Mole and really wanted to reach out and help people.
I waited patiently to hear whether I had been accepted, as they had thousands of applications, when I finally got an email asking to arrange a phone interview with me. I had a phone interview with a lovely lady, who asked me various questions, including the very difficult question of my personal experiences with pet loss. I explained that I’m a Registered veterinary nurse and that I experience loss almost daily in my job, and then I explained about Mole. It was difficult to talk about him and how myself and my partner handled his loss, but the lady was so lovely and compassionate and I made it through.
I then had another nerve-wracking wait to see if I had passed the phone interview as I had been told again that there were thousands of applications. A few weeks later I got an email letting me know that I had been accepted and explaining the training process. I started the training in January and it took me eight weeks to complete, submitting various assignments, answering questions and completing test emails. I hit a snag on the email training as it can be difficult to show empathy and compassion clearly in writing, but the tutors were very patient and I managed to complete the training and start on the email rota. I was assigned a mentor who lives in Canada, and we chat over the phone and through email and messaging services.
The email rota works well as you work a full week every month, and they forward everyone individual emails, which you respond to, copying in the Blue Cross so that they know you have responded, and you have 48 hours to respond to each email which fits well around my work shifts. I recently had an assessment, where they took one of my conversations, to check that I am responding appropriately, which I ‘m glad to say I passed. It was hard at first, and I was nervous that I wouldn’t respond correctly, or that I would upset somebody who has reached out for help. My first few emails received no responses, which was very disheartening, but on my next rota, I had responses to the emails I was sending and built up conversations with people. I still occasionally get emails for the people I have spoken to and now also get pictures of their beloved pets, or their memorials or them, which is very moving, that someone trusts me so much to share these moments with me.
Some stories will get to me more than others, but all of them are both heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time and it is wonderful that there is such a service out there and I am privileged to be a part of it.