Join Dr. Keith Tillman, a dedicated veterinarian at Caring Pathways, on a heartfelt journey that sheds light on the importance of end-of-life pet care. Through the touching story of Faith, a remarkable Basset Hound facing a terminal illness, Dr. Tillman shares his unique perspective and the invaluable role he plays in supporting pets and their families during this challenging time.
Faith’s Journey: A Veterinarian’s Reflection on End-of-Life Care
Witnessing Grace in the Face of Illness
As I embarked on my first in-home visit with Faith and her devoted family, my primary goal was to evaluate her quality of life and provide guidance on caring for a terminally ill pet. Faith, a 14-year-old Basset Hound, exemplified an extraordinary quality of “dogness,” gracefully adapting to the limitations of her aging and arthritic body. However, the presence of an inoperable spinal tumor compounded her challenges, leaving her weaker and struggling with mobility. Rachel and AJ, Faith’s loving owners, were deeply concerned for her well-being and faced the difficult decision of whether it was time to provide her with a gentle and compassionate passing through euthanasia.
A Warm Welcome and a Familiar Connection
As I arrived at Faith’s home, I held a glimmer of hope for a familiar canine greeting—a bark, a sniff, or a gentle tail wag. True to my wish, Faith surpassed expectations and offered all three. Although she moved slowly, her determination to reach the door made me feel instantly welcome. I extended my hand to feel the velvety texture of her Basset ears, and she leaned into the gentle rub, demonstrating the mutual trust and comfort we had established. The smiles on Rachel and AJ’s faces reflected their relief as Faith seemed to be having a good day after a challenging night. These precious moments, filled with warmth and affection, are the gems that caregivers cherish on their journey, and our pets innately understand how to provide them without concern for what lies ahead.
A Serendipitous Reunion: Connecting with Faith’s Past
As I sat on the floor beside Faith, ready to begin my examination, Rachel shared a revelation that left me both humbled and astonished. She asked if I remembered Faith because Faith seemed to remember me. To my surprise, I couldn’t recall seeing Faith for veterinary care in recent years. Rachel then revealed that I had been Faith’s veterinarian when she was just a puppy nearly 14 years ago. I had provided her with wellness visits, vaccinations, and even performed her spay surgery. AJ proudly presented me with a well-organized binder, housing Faith’s extensive medical records, including the discharge instructions I had written in 2010.
Embracing Moments of Joy and Sadness
As we marveled at this tangible connection, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and honor to be present for Faith. I pondered the myriad of experiences—joy, sadness, life, love, and change—that Faith and all of us had encountered throughout these years. The stories shared by Rachel and AJ painted a vivid picture of a life lived fully, brimming with love and cherished memories. In a heartwarming gesture, Faith happily rolled on her side, allowing me to find the scar that marked our shared history—a profound reminder of the bond we had formed so long ago.
Focusing on Comfort, Happiness, and Dignity
After completing a thorough examination of Faith, together we crafted a care plan centered around the family’s primary objective—ensuring Faith’s comfort, happiness, and dignity. While we acknowledged that the time for euthanasia was drawing near, we agreed that today was not the day. As a poignant memento, I captured a photograph of Faith in her cherished place on the couch, radiating peace and contentment—a snapshot that would forever preserve her spirit.
Embracing the Role of End-of-Life Care
Throughout my career as a veterinarian specializing in end-of-life care, I have been privileged to care for numerous extraordinary pets. Each patient has become my teacher, but Faith transcended the role of a patient. Although not a direct member of her family, I became an integral part of her story, and she became a part of mine. Older dogs and cats hold a special place in my heart, and it is often during their final chapter of life that our paths intersect. Countless times, I have found myself saying, “I wish I could have known her when she was younger. She was my kind of dog.” Faith granted me that wish, bridging the past and present in a profound way.
Faith’s journey epitomizes the profound significance of end-of-life pet care from the perspective of a dedicated veterinarian like myself. At Caring Pathways, we understand the unique challenges and emotional complexities that come with this stage of a pet’s life. Through compassion, expertise, and unwavering support, we strive to provide pets and their families with the utmost comfort, ensuring that their final chapter is filled with love, dignity, and cherished memories.
Written by: Dr. Keith Tillman, Caring Pathways Veterinarian
Dr. Keith Tillman earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine and was honored to stay on at the Teaching Hospital to complete a Small Animal Medicine and Surgery Internship.
After several years of practicing veterinary medicine in Athens, GA, Washington, DC and Mooresville, NC, he was drawn to helping geriatric and terminally ill pets and their families with their special needs. He started a mobile pet euthanasia practice in 2011 and found this service to others to be his life’s calling. He continues to advocate for compassionate and comfort-oriented care for animals approaching end-of-life.