Hospice and euthanasia veterinarian Karen Randall, 58, talks about what she does and why she thinks it matters. Randall of Silver Spring, Maryland, has also volunteered with hospice at a children’s hospital.

Q: You are a vet. What made you decide to specialize in euthanasia?

A: I’ve had two full-service clinics in my career — I started with my last practice. One of my clients asked me if I could come to their home to help with euthanasia. I didn’t advertise I did it, but I would go. It was better for the people, it was better for the patient. Think about yourself going to a doctor. Most people don’t like to, but we tell ourselves we’re doing it for the good. But when you’re talking about ending a life, you’re not fixing anything, so you can make a decision not to have that fear at the end of life.

Q: When you’re driving away from a home, job done, do you feel … good?

A: Sometimes I’m on top of the world. I have had some appointments where I cried the whole way home. I’ve been screamed at. Anger is part of grief. My worst appointments are when I go to a home and people really haven’t made a decision. When I was back in Minneapolis, I’d spent a fair bit of time (with a client), and she decided, Yeah, this needed to happen. And I met her dog, and I wanted to cry because there was so much suffering going on. She changed her mind. She waffled, she second-guessed, which is very human, it’s what we do, but I want you to go through that process before you make the appointment. It’s going to sound a little crazy, but when I walked in — it was a sweet 18-year-old border collie — I looked at her, and I said, silently, I’m not leaving without you. Because it was that bad. I sat with her for 3 1/2 hours. With the owner and the dog. And I left with her. But it would have been so wrong for me not to find a way to help (the owner) get to the place where her dog needed to be.


Q: Has anything funny ever happened?

A: Funny, huh? Well, I don’t really work in fun. Not hilarious, but I was at an appointment in a back yard and about to administer the sedative when the teenage daughter jumped up and yelled, “Wait!” and ran to the house. No one knew what was going on. In a minute she came back with a box of Godiva chocolates and started feeding them to [the dog], saying, “These won’t hurt you now.” Chocolate is toxic to dogs.

Q: That is funny, but I’m crying a little. What’s something you could have learned only by doing this job?

A: I had a client in Minneapolis who spent the last 30 days of her dog’s life — this was in November — in a tent in the back yard because she was an elderly Siberian husky, and she wanted to be outside all the time. (The client) didn’t want her dog to be alone, and her dog didn’t want to be in the house anymore. I see some amazing accommodations out of love.

Veterinarian Karen Randall specializes in end of life care for pets. She poses with her 18-year-old cat, Rorry. (Photo for The Washington Post by Andre Chung)

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