My name is Chas Dickens, DVM. I am a veterinarian and I specialize in at-home end-of-life care, to include hospice care for pets along Colorado’s front range. Working out of my black Subaru, I travel all over the front range from Golden to Loveland, Lyons to Parker, and am blessed with the opportunity to meet families on one of the most important days they will share with their pets: their last. I participate in celebrations of lives; I explain the complicated medical ailments that our pets suffer from, and I hear the stories of how our four legged family members come into (and out of) our lives. I help families begin the challenging process of healing after the loss of a four legged family member. The loss of a companion is profound and it is truly an honor to be allowed into families’ living rooms to be the one able to aid pets, guide families in the grieving process, and escort these important family members across the rainbow bridge.
Saying Goodbye to Kuzik
On this particularly sunny and hot early September day, I started with a drive to Thornton to meet a 19-year-old orange tabby cat named Kuzik. Kuzik got his name from his awkwardly long and gangly legs, as he would jump with excitement early in his life, his name is short for “kuznechik” which means grasshopper in Russian.
This handsome senior cat has been a member of his family for 17 years and was adopted when his “mom” was only 15 years old. Like so many of our companion animals, Kuzik was ever present in this family’s life, supporting his owner through her adolescence, her parents’ divorce, and her law school education.
Words cannot express the impact he made on the people that loved him, as is the case with all of the family pets I meet.
Kuzik passed away peacefully with the aid of Caring Pathways in the back yard that was his domain, lying under some furniture to beat the late summer heatwave we were experiencing.
I made a clay paw impression of his front left paw as a keepsake for the paw prints he left on his family’s lives and in their hearts.
Saying Goodbye to Drake
My next appointment of the day took me to the home of Drake, a 12-year-old black lab. Drake was suffering from a painful form of bone cancer and was not a candidate for aggressive oncological (cancer) treatment.
I arrived at the end of a multi-course brunch thrown in Drake’s honor with his parents, grandparents, close friends, dog walkers, and his four legged siblings: Penny the Boxer-mix and Sam the cat. This was truly a celebration of his life, surrounded by those that love him most in the world. Drake enjoyed a paw-bender ice cream and fresh grilled steak as he received his cocktail of medications to prepare him to pass onto the next world.
Drake spent his younger days sprinting across the Chatfield dog park and playing in the South Platte with his ball. That morning Sam the cat and Drake shared a moment of closeness, with Sam nose nudging and Drake returning the love with a big wet lick to Sam’s face, both snuggled in their parents bed. These two pets recognized that something was different about the day but not quite realizing that it was the last morning they would share together.
Drake passed away a few minutes later, snuggled as the small spoon in his mom’s arms. After I declare that a pet has passed away, I leave the room and give that pet’s family time and space to spend with their recently passed friend, beginning to process the monumental loss that has just occurred.
After Drake’s family had welcomed me back into the home, I helped tuck Drake onto a stretcher where a bed and pillow are set for him. Finally, as a team we loaded Drake into my Subaru to be taken to the crematory for his family’s final wishes.
Honoring the Human/Animal Bond
This day, before the sun set late into the summer evening, I met two other families to help their pets leave this world and pass away without any pain or distress. It is truly an honor to be welcomed into anyone’s home for what is one of the hardest experiences a pet owner will ever go through. Us human beings all grieve differently; some need to talk, some need silence, and many tell stories of the beautiful lives shared with our companions.
These special moments are rare for a typical veterinarian. When pets are euthanized in a veterinary emergency or general practice as it’s very challenging to be able to spend the time with pet owners while balancing the many other ongoing cases that demand a veterinarian’s attention. At home care also has the benefit that the pet never experiences the stress of a car ride or senses that anything is out of the ordinary, other than the abundance of attention and love. It is these little moments that add up to an overwhelming sense that these animals lived such important lives and gives me immense satisfaction to be present and helpful in their last moments.
Caring for pets is the primary job of any veterinarian, but it’s also my duty to care for the pets’ families and support them in the hardest of times. I end my day by driving home west into a late summer sunset over the foothills, knowing that I have helped a few animals feel no more pain and aided some families in what will likely be one of the toughest days of their years or even lives.
A huge thank you to photographer, videographer and educator, Ross Taylor, for capturing these last moments of Kuzik and Drake.
Author: Dr. Chas Dickens
Dr. Chas grew up in Florida always loving animals and started working in veterinary medicine in his teenage years. After deciding to choose veterinary medicine as a career, he attended the University of Florida for an undergraduate degree in Animal Sciences in 2009 and again for veterinary school, graduating in 2014. Upon graduation Dr. Chas moved to Durham, North Carolina for a 2-year period where he trained in general medicine and surgery. In 2016, Dr. Chas and his family packed up and headed west seeking the Colorado lifestyle we all love so much. Dr. Chas has practiced medicine, surgery, and run and operated veterinary clinics in the Denver Metro Area prior to joining the Caring Pathways team. He is passionate about end-of-life care and the eternal bond we form with our pets.