Vet allows pet owners to say good-bye at home

- Catherine McGarity never considered herself a "dog person," until she and her husband Hunter Harris met Winston in 2010.

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McGarity, who'd never had a dog before, first saw Winston's photo on Petfinder.com.

"It was almost like he was saying, 'You need me. You need me  I need to be your first dog,'" McGarity says.

The Decatur couple went to an adoption event held by Animal Action Rescue, thinking they'd get a puppy. But, all the puppies had been adopted, and there was Winston, an American Bulldog - Pointer mix that McGarity had seen, watching them quietly from his crate. He had an almost human-like quality about him, they remember.

"I knew right away there was something special about this dog," says Hunter Harris. " He was not like other dogs."

Soon, the 7- month old puppy with the old-soul look in his eyes had snuggled his way into their hearts, and their home.

"The first night that we had him I told Hunter that he was going to sleep in the bed with us, that's just how it was going to be," McGarity smiles.

Their bed became Winston's bed, their sofa, his sofa. And that's how it was, for almost 5 happy years. But, in early 2014, Winston began having severe gastrointestinal problems, and losing weight. 

McGarity and Harris took him from specialist to specialist, even adopting another dog, Churchill, to keep Winston company and boost his spirits. But Winston didn't get better.  

His weight dropped from a healthy 75 pounds to less than 50 pounds.  

A family friend took photos, as Catherine and Hunter began to realize Winston was slowly slipping away from them.

"He never lost anything up here," Hunter Harris says, gesturing at his head.  "He was always everything up here.  It was just, we had to watch this big, beautiful dog shrink to nothing."

When doctors agreed Winston was near the end, McGarity found Dr. Lauren Cassady with Lap of Love, who specializes in end-of-life care for pets.

"Winston was an amazing, an amazing pet for me to work with," says Dr. Cassady.

She'd spent 8 years working in a traditional veterinary practice. Then, one day, Cassidy says a client asked her to euthanize a beloved family cat not in the clinic, but in their home.

She stayed with the family for a couple of hours.

When the cat, named Noah, passed away, the family had a ceremony, allowing the children to say their good-byes.

"And it wasn't until I went into the home for the first time, that I realized the difference that being at home made, for the family and the pet," Dr. Cassady says.

Today, Cassady not longer works in a clinic; she only provides in-home palliative and end of life care.

She spends her days on the road, visiting pets in their home, taking care of their pain, and helping their families by providing euthanasia when it's time to say good-bye.

"Every single time that I go into a family's home, they ask me, 'How do you do this every single day,'" Dr. Cassady says.  " And I always tell people, 'It's an honor.'"

In Winston's case, he wasn't afraid of the vet.

"But the reality of the situation was that, when he got sick, he was very sick," says McGarity.  "He was very weak."

So, Dr. Cassady tweaked Winston's medications to make them easier him to tolerate. And, suddenly, Catherine and Hunter had not just weeks left with Winston, but months.

 "And it was literally 9 or 10 months that were added on comfortably," says McGarity.  "That's what needs to be emphasized, 'comfortably,' to Winston's life. Because he was not ever uncomfortable until possibly the last week."

Then, in July of 2015, when it became clear Winston's pain had become severe, McGarity called Dr. Cassady,

"She looked at him, and she said, 'It's time, it's time.  And it's okay.  He's ready," remembers McGarrity.

Later that day, Winston died the way he lived:  in his home, on his sofa, with McGarity and Harris, the people who loved him more than anything.

"He was a good dog," Harris says.  "He was a really good dog."

Dr. Cassady says many vets will provide at home euthanasia for clients, so check with your vet about your options.

To find a Lap of Love veterinarians, visit http://www.lapoflove.com/vet-list.aspx.

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