Compassionate Care...the Often Missing Ingredient

A Flat Coated Retriever sitting in the garden of Sacred Beginnings Birth Services Head Quarters

A few days ago, we lost Sienna one of our Flat Coated Retrievers.  She’s been with us from a puppy since before we had the children, and she was only a few weeks away from her 9th birthday when we had to say good bye.  

The whole thing happened very suddenly.  We went down to London on the Thursday and came back late on Friday evening, and my parents were looking after the dogs.  In that time she became very lethargic and stopped eating.  We took her straight to our vets on the Saturday to see what was wrong as she had begun vomiting by then.  She was displaying some of the same symptoms as her older sister had when she swallowed a dish cloth and we nearly lost her, so we assumed that was the issue.  

We weren’t prepared really for the news that it was instead severe renal failure.  She was started immediately on treatment for that which was 48 hours of IV fluids while being monitored to see how she did.  She seemed to brighten up bit and we saw her on the Sunday, but we were warned that it may just be the fluids making her seem so much better, and we would need to wait for the repeat blood test to be certain there was any improvement that would signify she could cope with a change of diet and fluid intake.  So we waited to see what would happen.  She didn’t do so well coming into Sunday evening, and it was thought it best to not only redo her blood tests on the Monday but also scan her kidneys and have a closer look.

The blood results came back unchanged, minus some readings which were worse than they were on the Saturday, which indicated she wasn’t responding at all to her treatment and the scan revealed that there was no left kidney (possibly she was born without it), and the right one was severely abnormal and given her breed the most likely cause was cancer.

We were given our options with the benefits and negatives of each one, and we felt that give the fact that was no hope at all from any biopsy other than to name a tumour that could not be treated, it would be unwise to put Sienna through the trauma of anaesthetic for our sakes.

We chosen instead to bring her home on the Monday and enjoy whatever time we had left with her before she needed to be put to sleep.  We were told it could be 12 hours or we could get 48 hours depending on how long she wanted to hold on.  We very much wanted her to die at home surrounded by everything familiar to her and her family.  We knew that if she went downhill overnight we would have to take her to her most hated place and she would die somewhere that she didn’t want to be.  It was a fine balancing act.

On Monday evening she seemed so ill we were sure that she wouldn’t even last the night and we were setting alarms to check on her all through the night.  We were prepared to call the vets out on Tuesday and then suddenly she revived herself.  She had the most amazing day playing in the garden the whole time, chasing her ball and being full of beans.  Come Wednesday morning when they were due to come out, we called and had a chat with the vets and felt she wasn’t ready to go.  They happily supported us in the decision and we played it by ear, checking in daily with progress reports, and I asked her every day to tell me when she was ready. 

Come Friday, she finally refused to eat anything and drank hardly anything either.  She was very tired, and she couldn’t quite muster up the energy to play ball all the time, but she still got up for the kids’ sake and her tail still wagged.  Again, we had lengthy discussions about our options, and we were fully supported whichever way we chose to go.  We could have waited it out, but I felt her eyes were telling me she was too tired to keep going, and for us to hold onto her at that point would have been for our own sake and not because she was still enjoying her final days of fun.  To hang on, we would have run the risk of having to take her to her most hated place to die as well and she didn’t appear like she was wanting to hold on until the Monday.  

We made the heart breaking call to our vets to say that it was time, she seemed ready, and it was the final act of kindness we could give her to allow her to pass peacefully at home in her own bed by the fire.  The vets came out, and Sienna was treated with such compassion and dignity, as she said her final farewell, tail wagging, ball in mouth like she always was, in front of the fire, with the hands she’s known all her life stroking her.  

A few hours later, we waited for the arrival of At Rest Pet Cremation Services to collect her.  Once again, the compassion both she and we received was out of this world.  Watching a couple come into your home and go and talk to your recently passed dog and stroke her like they would do, were she still alive,  I knew we had made the right choice to use their services.  They waited an hour while our other two dogs said their good byes which was so heartbreaking but sweet to watch, and they carried her away in her own bed.  We were updated at every step of the way as to where she was on her journey and they even saved some locks of her fur just incase we would want to have some keepsake jewellery made with it.  

The compassion we received both for ourselves and towards Sienna made all the difference in the world to an awful situation.  But upon reflection, it made me wonder why are women and their babies not being shown the same compassion and dignity at the other end of the life spectrum?  

We had open, honest, factual discussions with our vets who then supported us however we chose to go with no coercion.  On the other hand, women making choices for the birth of their baby are often treated like children who are making ignorant decisions if those decisions don’t align with the birth professionals decision of what should happen.  There seems to be a forgetting of the fact that no one has the best interests of a baby in mind more than the mother herself, and no one knows that baby or what it is like to carry that baby more than the mother herself.  

We and our dog were treated with dignity and care when it came time for her to move on to the next stage of her journey out of our lives.  Babies are often treated as just one of a number to push through the system without stopping to consider that they, too, are humans who deserve to be treated with compassion and dignity.  

Dignity and compassion, kindness and understanding can go a long way to giving a mother and baby a wonderful birth experience even if complex situations arise in the pregnancy or the labour itself.  And if we can afford to show compassion to a dying dog and her family, we can certainly afford to show compassion to every family bringing forth new life into this world and accept that, when armed all the facts and information, they will make the appropriate choices that are right for their baby and their family even if they may differ from the ones you would make yourself.