YORK, Pa. (AP) - Smokey was lying on a blanket on the living room floor, breathing heavily, his front legs splayed out to the sides.
The 16-year-old German shepherd was surrounded by Melissa and Ron Weitkamp, their 21-year-old son, Dylan, and their 12-year-old daughter, Destiny.
The Chanceford Township family’s other dogs, 5-year-old German shepherd brothers Phantom and Shadow, were also in attendance, staying close to Smokey most of the time.
One of the family’s cats, Buttercup, was sitting on the sofa next to the blanket, offering comfort to Destiny.
Dr. Elizabeth Carney explained the process to the family.
“Overall, my goal is to make this as peaceful for Smokey as I can,” she said.
The York County native specializes in the in-home euthanasia process.
Carney explained to the family that she would give Smokey a single shot between his shoulder blades, a combination of a sedative and pain reliever.
Smokey would get sleepy.
Then there would be a second shot, this one directly into the vein on his front leg.
A minute later, he’d pass.
Melissa Weitkamp first noticed a decline in Smokey years ago. He was diagnosed with arthritis and went on anti-inflammatory and pain meds. Then, three or four years ago, Smokey had a lump on his leg that kept growing and eventually needed surgery.
“Surgery always runs a risk, especially in older animals,” she said. “I stayed by the phone all day and my boy came through.”
The tumor was cancerous, but surgery was successful and Smokey never had a relapse.
But his arthritis started to get worse with age.
“Slowly, bit by bit, it was becoming hard for Smokey to get up,” she said. “He started to lose control over his bladder and started having accidents in the house.” The family tried different bladder medications and Tinkle Trousers, a harness that allows a dog to wear a diaper.
Smokey got thinner. It was impossible for him to stand on the family’s hardwood floors and it was becoming a struggle for him to get up off the carpet.
“He had good days and bad days,” Weitkamp said. He never ceased to amaze me or confuse me. That’s what makes it so hard. Even at the very end he was still so mentally sharp.”
Weitkamp consulted Dr. Carney, and they decided it was time for the in-home euthanasia procedure.
That day, the family and Dr. Carney spent some time with Smokey, petting him, comforting him and giving him treats.
After the first injection, Ron Weitkamp said a prayer, thanking God for allowing the family to have Smokey in their lives for so long.
Smokey’s friend Blue, a Siberian Husky, died about two years ago. The two dogs had grown up together, and were best buddies.
When Dr. Carney administered the second injection, Melissa Weitkamp hugged Smokey, telling him “I love you, you’re so brave. Go find Blue.”
Dr. Carney checked Smokey’s heartbeat and said, “He’s gone.”
Phantom and Shadow sniffed at Smokey’s body, as if saying their final goodbyes, and then the body was placed in a quilted, dog-sized sleeping bag and on the stretcher. Melissa had opted to have Smokey cremated, so his body was then carried out to the van for transport to Peaceful Pet Passage’s main facility on the border of Monaghan and Fairview townships.
Peaceful Pet Passage put German shepherd ashes in a wooden box. Smokey was etched on a nameplate.
“I held the box all the way home,” Melissa Weitkamp said.
Why the Weitkamp family chose in-home euthanasia
“I knew when the time came, Dr. Carney would be the one to do it and that Smokey would be in his home surrounded by his family,” Melissa Weitkamp said.
Weitkamp operates Lissa’s In Home Animal Care and did an internship with Dr. Elizabeth Carney, who was operating a mobile vet service at the time.
“People think I am strange when I tell them the most rewarding part of my job was the in-home euthanasia,” Weitkamp said. “It was not that I enjoyed seeing the owners’ pain, but rather it was how peaceful the whole thing could be.” She said it was hard to watch pets come to spend the last moments with their owners in a sterile veterinarian’s office and preferred seeing them in their natural state.
“I remember watching an old poodle take his last breath curled up in his mama’s lap on a rocking chair by a sliding glass door,” she said. “This was their favorite place to sit and watch the birds outside.”
Readers share memories of final moments with pets
We asked readers how they handled the final hours or days of their pets’ lives.
Here’s what they had to say:
Tony Schmitt of Dover:
This is something that really hit home for me as my husband and I had to put down our 9 year old black lab, Diva, just a short 9 days ago. Needless to say, it was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Diva was a wonderful dog and one of the most loving dogs I’ve ever had, with a personality to match her name. She was not blessed with great health, however. …
I called Shiloh Vet and made an appointment for ending her suffering. It was the hardest phone call I ever had to make. …
When I got home that night, I couldn’t even look her in the eye. I felt guilty that I had basically signed her death certificate, even if it was probably the right thing to do at this point.
We spent the next four days choking back tears and doing everything she liked to do, and giving her extra table scraps. …
We miss her so much. Time heals, but it seems like every day something is there to remind us that she’s not there anymore. I still open the door slowly when I get home, expecting her to be there at the door happily wagging her tail as we walk in. I still walk gingerly around the foot of the bed because I’m afraid I will trip over her in the morning. This one will take a while to get over, but at least she is not in any more pain.
Gail Markle of York Township:
Though my baby had been sick with something at the time, he was slowing down at a rapid rate. At the time of his death we found that he had a tumor in his belly and one on his leg. …
I rescued Dewey when he was 3 years old and he lived 11 years with me. He was the joy of my life! Since I have no children, these are my babies. I miss him dearly, but I also know that this will not be the last pet in my/our lives. …
My beautiful 15-year-old cat, Maxie, became sick very quick with cancer. We took her home loved her and talked to her and spent a few days thinking about it and decided it was best to let her go.
The vet came to our home, so Maxie passed away in her bed.
At the end and before the sedation kicked in, my husband was holding her and in a very sweet moment, she gave him a kitty head rub as if to say it is OK, Daddy, I will miss you also.
Kathy Buser Arnold of York:
My 19-year-old Kittykitty became ill the week my husband was in the hospital for open-heart surgery. I took her to the vet, but they were unable to keep her body temperature up, and I asked if she could be kept comfortable until he could also say goodbye. The vet made me realize that it would be best to let her go.
I could not even be with her as she passed because of the situation with my husband, but I honor her life by volunteering at the SPCA as a foster for kittens among other things. …
Kittykitty is buried in the garden with a beautiful flower planted over her.
Information from: York Daily Record, https://www.ydr.com
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