They’re our best friends. Loyal beyond measure. They wait for us to come home and are always joyful to see us. They don’t talk back, call us names or leave their clothes strewn about — although they might leave us other “presents” once in a while. They’re like members of our family.
That’s why, for most people who have pets, coming to grips with their end time is excruciating.
How do you decide when is “when?” And that last car ride to the vet ... taking him through those doors for the last time. Do you stay through the procedure ... or drop off that furry friend who was there for you through that nasty divorce or after that time you got stood up or lost your job, had a bad day at the office or danced with abandon after she said “yes?”
It is so hard. And that’s one of the reasons why Laura Lefkowitz founded Gentle Goodbyes nine years ago. Lefkowitz had been an emergency veterinarian at WestVet in Boise and came to the idea of founding a home euthanizing company for pets for several reasons.
“I had a lot of open blocks of time,” she said, “and I was euthanizing animals at a much more frequent rate than I had as a general practice practitioner.”
But mostly, she wanted to provide a better way for grieving animal owners to say goodbye.
“You make that decision but then ... putting the animal in a car is traumatic to the family and to the pet,” said Lefkowitz. “You have to go through the process of the drive, it’s stressful for the animal. For so many people, they told me ‘my dog was too big to transport,’ ‘my vet wasn’t able to be there.’”
Making that final decision, “it’s extraordinarily difficult,” she said. “It’s the only time in your life you have to make a decision to end a life … and it’s your pet, a part of your family.”
Lefkowitz said it also was the way she’d euthanized her own pet, at home. “That’s where it should be; the way it should be is in their home.” She said her team members try to accommodate pet owners’ wishes and often euthanize pets on the owner’s bed, or out by the trail in the backyard.
And in addition to being a godsend for pet owners, “quite frankly, it helps the veterinarians as well,” Lefkowitz said, because it lets them focus on their daily schedules. And, “after working a 13-hour day, they’re already giving so much of themselves.” She said most vets do offer home euthanasia visits themselves, but they’re also supportive of the work her team does. “They need a break — and most aren’t available on the weekends. We want them to know we’re an extension of (their) practice. If they’re not able to get out to their client, we’re here.”
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Lefkowitz and her business partner, Stephen Havis, a former dog musher, also recently opened their own crematorium so that they can provide that service as well. Doug Powell, a Nampa woodworker, crafts the wooden memorial boxes by hand. “From the moment we arrive at your door, your pet never leaves our arms or hands,” Lefkowitz said.
The Gentle Goodbyes team is a group of about nine Treasure Valley veterinarians who are paid volunteers, putting in time after their regular office hours. They sign up for several shifts a week of two to four hours. They are accompanied to each home euthanasia by one of the dozen or so technicians who also have day jobs.
In addition to providing a home euthanasia service, Gentle Goodbyes also offers an in-home “Quality of Life Exam.” It’s an assessment that some people want and need so that they can feel better or more confident that they are doing the right thing.
Or, they might not know what the “end points” are for their pet, said Lefkowitz, which can mean different things for different situations. For example, a pet with cancer will have different “end points” than will a large dog who has orthopedic and/or spine/hind leg issues. Lefkowitz said it’s really impossible to pinpoint a death time for a pet, but when making that hard decision, “it’s better to be a week too early than an hour too late.”
The home euthanasia service is not free, but it’s also not wildly exorbitant — and that’s on purpose, Lefkowitz said.
“We are passionate about making this affordable for everyone — it’s specifically designed to be reasonable. We don’t want to deny people the ability to have a home euthanasia,” she said, adding that “we work with Care Credit and can make payment plans if it comes down to that.”
Lefkowitz said currently the team is performing a couple hundred home euthanasias a month. They get most of their calls on the weekends and will try to accommodate most requests, but don’t schedule visits “in the middle of the night.”
“It’s a big moment,” said Lefkowitz. “It’s one of those moments in your life you don’t forget … and people are really grateful. I’ve never received as much gratitude as I have for this service.
“We can’t take away the sadness or the fact that you’re losing your companion of many years — but we can make it less stressful.”