In 10 years of working as a veterinary technician, I’ve helped care for thousands of patients. Each one is special, but I think most of my veterinary colleagues would agree that there are a handful of pets that stick in your memory forever.
One case in particular from 2008 comes to mind often; every time I hear a Sarah McLachlan song. Read on, and you’ll understand why.
Bentley was a big, boisterous 3-year-old Boxer/Lab mix with a larger-than-life personality. He was his owner’s first dog after moving out of her parent’s house, and she was thrilled to have found such a perfect companion at the animal shelter.
He was a handsome boy: tall, 75 pounds, with shiny, chestnut fur, and big, soulful brown eyes over a smiling black muzzle. Bentley danced and wagged his way through the exam room door, and if he got nervous, he’d wrap his neck around his owner’s in the most beautiful canine hug I’ve ever seen.
Just a few months after she adopted him, Bentley’s owner called the office. Something wasn’t right. Bentley didn’t want to eat, and seemed as if something had zapped every bit of energy from him.
Our normally energetic friend entered the exam room with a weak wag of his long, skinny tail, still trying to please us. Bentley was quiet for his examination, clearly not feeling like his usual self. In fact, he laid on the floor for most of the appointment. His mom sat next to him, looking desperately at us for answers.
Most of Bentley’s physical exam was normal, aside from one very important observation: his lymph nodes were enlarged. Not “he’s fighting an infection” large, but “this is going to be a difficult conversation” huge.
We took a sample of cells with a fine-needle aspirate and examined them under the microscope to confirm the diagnosis, though we all knew from experience that our guts were probably right:
Bentley, the young, perfect, hugging rescue dog, had lymphoma.
The vet went over options with his devastated owner. We have board-certified oncologists at the local specialty hospital, but as a college student, those expensive treatments weren’t an option. We understood, and decided we’d do whatever we could to keep Bentley happy and comfortable for as long as we could.
He did well for a couple months, with appetite stimulants and supportive care when he needed it. But the cancer was aggressive, and not even a year after adopting her companion, Bentley’s owner knew it was time to say goodbye.
My stomach lingered in my throat that morning, knowing his name was on the schedule for euthanasia. I adored that dog, and admired the special bond he had with the friendly young woman that gave him a loving home.
The decision for an owner to stay for a euthanasia procedure is personal. Sometimes it’s just too much for someone to handle emotionally, or there are feelings of guilt (albeit unfounded). Bentley’s mom couldn’t bring herself to be present, and she kissed the teardrops that had fallen on her big boy’s head before leaving him in our care. It was one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever witnessed.
A big, fluffy comforter was laid out in the treatment area, and two of us sat with Bentley, reassuring him that everything would be okay. He knew us, and was fond of us. We both got one of his special hugs. Choking back tears, I told Bentley what a good boy he was as the needle prepared to touch his skin. He didn’t flinch, and we both began sobbing uncontrollably when the treatment room radio broke the silence just as the solution entered Bentley’s vein:
“I will remember you; will you remember me? Don’t let your life pass you by; weep not for the memories…”
Sarah McLachlan’s angelic voice still brings me back to that treatment room floor, looking into the eyes of a wonderful dog, taken too early from those he touched. I’ll never forget Bentley and his adoptive mom that loved him so much. I like to think that he’s watching over her from above, waiting to wrap his big, brown muscular neck around hers in that special embrace when they meet again.
Know that your veterinary team truly cares for you and your pets. Your companions touch our lives in special ways, just as they do yours. Bentley will live on in my memory, as will many other patients that I’ve built connections with through years of care and puppy kisses. Rest in peace, sweet boy.
About the Author
Stephanie Glenz has been a Certified Veterinary Technician in Pennsylvania since 2006. After 10 years of working on the front lines with dogs, cats, horses, birds, and pocket pets, she now serves as Communications Director for a family of three veterinary hospitals and a pet salon. Back in college, Stephanie will finish her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Colorado State University Global in October 2017.