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Issue: 64 - Apr 15, 2014
Conveying Compassion: a Room Designed for Client Comfort
By: Dana L Durrance, MA
Dana Durrance, M.A.

The days when owners come in to euthanize their pets are often the most important appointments in the veterinarian-client relationship. The reason for this is what is known as the “recency effect” in human nature. The recency effect refers to the fact that people always tend to remember their most recent experiences the best. Therefore, if euthanasia is handled skillfully and compassionately, the owner leaves with a lasting positive impression of the veterinarian and the hospital. Their last memories are of a doctor and staff who truly care about them and their pet. However, when euthanasia is mismanaged or handled poorly, this one appointment can effectively destroy even long-standing relationships that have previously been positive. It is that important.

The best way to guarantee a smooth and compassionate euthanasia is to create an established protocol ahead of time. All the details of the euthanasia can be considered and planned in a way that creates an atmosphere of warmth, caring, and compassion. The most critical element in these details is the place in which the euthanasia is located. Just the appearance and condition of the room itself can mean the difference between a successful euthanasia and a disastrous one.

For successful euthanasias, client comfort is the key. Clients need to have space and privacy to say good-bye to their companions in a loving, respectful matter. Simple elements such as altered lighting and comfortable places to sit can make all the difference in the world.

Ideally, your client comfort room should be in a low traffic, quieter area of the hospital. Whenever possible, it’s good to have access to a separate exit (so clients can leave without having to walk through the main reception area when their emotions and grief are at their peak). Other items suggested include:

  1. Comfortable seating
  2. Large mats with washable covers that can be placed on the floor. This allows pets and their owners to sit or lay comfortably near one another.
  3. The option of lowered, non-florescent lighting (lamps, simple wall units with standard 40 watt bulbs, or overhead lights with a dimmer switch work well and plug into existing outlets)
  4. Colorful and soothing pictures on the walls
  5. Plants or greenery
  6. Curtains or blinds for any windows the ensure privacy
  7. Facial tissue
  8. Animal supplies including pet food/treats, a bowl for water, and towels.
  9. Clay Paw prints or other items that will provide a linking object to their pet
  10. Scissors for clipping fur, and small bags or envelopes to take it home (fur can serve as a memorialization/linking object to their pet)
  11. Telephone (if this is not possible, access to a phone that can be used in privacy)
  12. “Do Not Disturb” signs for comfort rooms doors
  13. A dry-erase board on the outside of the door to enable staff to reserve the room ahead of time
  14. Pet loss support handouts
  15. A lending library of pet loss support books (especially for supporting children)
  16. A small fan for when the room gets too warm
  17. TV/DVD/VCR to show videos on various topics (pet loss, treatment, diagnosis, etc)
  18. A small mirror (for clients who have been crying and may want to “freshen up” before leaving the room
  19. A CD player available for music

These special touches to the room can create a compassionate, caring atmosphere and are often not expensive and fairly easy to put together. By creating a room specifically designed for client comfort during euthanasia, veterinarians can establish and maintain lasting positive relationships with their clients that will carry on throughout the years.