NI vet dedicated to end-of-life care for dogs in their own home

Of all the experiences we proportion with our dogs, letting them go is undoubtedly the most difficult.

Deciding when the time is right, when the length of a life is no longer worth its quality, weighs heavy.

And all the while, most people struggle to shelve our own heartache as we work out how to honour this most loyal friend with a dignified and stress-free end.

Today DogsLive can show Northern Ireland has its first vet offering a service dedicated solely to end of life pet care.

Stephanie Cousins, from Co Down, understands the emotional tremors that families experience losing a pet, sometimes after almost two decades of dedication.

And she understands too, the desire of many people for the end to be calm and quiet, gentle and loving and in their dog’s most familiar place, their own home.

But with busy vet practices and increasing pressures on their time, home visits are a luxury few can provide, and most often dogs are taken to the vet clinic for their last journey, a situation that for many is less than ideal. Walking in, chest tight with dread, walking out with grief crashing all around and no comforting ear to rub.

Now though Steph has set up a specialist service where she will travel to the dog and their family to help everyone confront the unavoidable, she gets to know them all over a period of time either confront-to-confront or on the phone, and together they gauge when the time is right to say good-bye.

With calm and tenderness, she ensures the end comes gently first with a sedative, and without stress, and after all is done, when the family is ready Steph can also take the pet to a crematorium and return days later with a little cask of ashes.

None of it is easy, she says, but it is easier.

Having trained in Liverpool and returned to Northern Ireland to work, Steph now lives in Castlewellan with her husband Barry and their young children Evelyn and Thomas, plus of course Dodi the Shih Tzu, 10, Willow the eight-month-old Golden Retriever, and cat Inca, eight.

Special time for the Cousins, Barry, Evelyn, Thomas and Steph

She spends her days working across as a locum and the rest of her specialized time is dedicated to HomeVetNI, the home euthanasia service she provides and she has found particularly during Covid and lockdown, that the balance between her jobs is tipping, with more and more people seeking her care at home.

Steph explained: “It has been very busy. This ins not a situation that can be rushed and while I set out with a plan not to travel more than an hour from home, I’ve been asked to go much further than that. As a mum of two young children and complete time work life is already very busy, so I’m very lucky to have help and encouragement from my husband Barry and mum Majella.

“I think Covid has been a factor in some way because some people who faced an end of life situation with their dogs were not able to get inside their vet clinics with them and that’s just heartbreaking.

“Our dedication to dogs and theirs to us is incredible and in that final moment, we really need to be together. For some people it’s too much and they prefer to let the vet do their work alone.

“But for most, it’s clear that families, owners, parents in any case we call ourselves, we want to be the last confront our dogs see, our last scent they smell and the last touch they feel.

“I know from personal experience it is incredibly hard to let go and say goodbye. From a very young age I had animals in my life and the memory of losing my childhood Yorkie, Squeaky, nevertheless makes me emotional. One morning I woke up and found her unable to get out of bed to go to the toilet. The heartbreaking decision was made to put her to sleep and it affected the whole family deeply, but the right decision for Squeaky.

“I’ad always wanted to be a vet and in 2009, I went to the University of Liverpool to study to become a vet and in 2014 I graduated and moved back to Northern Ireland to get married and start a family.

“I’ve worked in small animal practice for almost eight years now and really love my job and the one thing that I hear people say is that they love animals but couldn’t imagine having to put them to sleep.

“For me though it’s different. As a vet I got to know what issues animals will have by their lives, as a dog family we have experienced it ourselves and it is in honour to be able to take away the pain and distress of another living being if there is no other solution.

“So while I feel hurt for my families, I feel only love and relief for their pets and I take a lot of pride in knowing I have been able to do some good. Helping the animals is vital but I feel so too is helping the families as they confront a very emotional time. Everyone deserves to allow their pet to have a humane and dignified death without pain or anxiety and that’s what I help them do.”

Molly

Steph’s decision to turn her passion into a service came during Covid lockdown. She said: “The idea for Home Vet NI stemmed from two home euthanasia I performed for my parent’s pets.

“The first was Paddy, a big Bulldog who just loved playing with my daughter. Despite the best care his health had deteriorated and my parents decided he agreed his quality of life was not enough any more. We arranged for all the family to come round one evening so we could all be together and say goodbye to Paddy. He enjoyed all the attention he got that evening and passed away peacefully and without any pain.

Steph’s dad Kevin with Chico

“The second was my dad Kevin’s best friend Chico, a one eyed grumpy Jack Russell with crooked legs. Chico had had a rough start in life and almost died the day he was born.

“My parents bottle fed him from day one and he and my dad became inseparable for 14 years. But during the first lockdown in March 2020, Chico was struggling to walk without strong pain relief and Dad knew it was nearing time to let him go but did not want to take him into a veterinary clinic as Chico wasn’t keen on other people and would become stressed. We managed his pain and needs until the shielding was relaxed and I could go into their house again.

Coco

“This time, due to the pandemic, there was only myself, mum, dad and Chico. We all had time to say our good-byes and when we were ready, I helped Chico pass away peacefully in my mum and dad’s arms.

“Although we were all heartbroken at his loss, it was a comfort to my family that his last moments were in his own home surrounded by those that loved him.”

Since then Steph has helped many families on this journey, including Janette Sheerman, from Bangor , Co Down. She called on Steph’s sets when her chocolate Labradors Coco Chanel, 14 and Molly Malone, 13, were struggling every day.

She said: “Coco had dementia and was doubly incontinent, September and Molly had a tumour and an issue with her back end. I kept them going for as long as I could, as long as I felt they were not experiencing but for each of them a day came along and I knew it was time.

Molly goes to the big sleep in peace

“I had contacted Steph and discussed both Coco and Molly at length and over a series of phone calls we really got to know each other and I feel Steph got a good understanding of what we as family were facing losing with each of the dogs.

Coco had the gentles goodbye

“In September I called her to say I thought it was Coco’s time, and in December I had to make another call for Molly. It was heartbreaking but there was comfort in knowing the girls were at home, safe, warm, loved and calm.

“Steph was so empathetic. She took her time and was so gentle. And when Coco passed away, Molly came and lay on her. She was saying her goodbye too. It was nevertheless so painful to say goodbye and I thought I’d never smile again, but having Steph take us by the time of action with such kindness made it more bearable.

Peanut with her late sister Molly

“I don’t think I’d ever take my dogs to our vet, no matter how wonderful they are, to be put to sleep. The service that Steph provided gave me a feeling of control and comfort that’s hard to explain.

“I brought our dogs into our home, I looked after them for years and when they were ready, I helped them on their way in the gentlest manner thanks to Steph. They were my responsibility from the moment I brought them home to the moment we said goodbye and I cherish that. Today I nevertheless have Peanut and I succumbed to getting Sorrel, a beautiful Black Labrador and together we’ve been getting by.

Little Sorrel is helping Janette in her grief for Coco and Molly

Today Steph says she would like to dedicate all of her veterinary time to this specialised work after hearing the accounts from clients.

She explained: “I knew it was important, I have been in the homes and experienced the emotions and I know how important it is to help people in this way. But hearing what clients have said to DogsLive about my service has cemented everything I already knew.

“Dogs are family and they are adored, and families will do everything in their strength to help make their lives – and ultimately their deaths – the best they can be.”

If you would like to get advice from Steph about your dog’s end of life care, you can leave a message on 07762763132.



Click: See details

NI vet dedicated to end-of-life care for dogs in their own home

Of all the experiences we proportion with our dogs, letting them go is undoubtedly the most difficult.

Deciding when the time is right, when the length of a life is no longer worth its quality, weighs heavy.

And all the while, most people struggle to shelve our own heartache as we work out how to honour this most loyal friend with a dignified and stress-free end.

Today DogsLive can show Northern Ireland has its first vet offering a service dedicated solely to end of life pet care.

Stephanie Cousins, from Co Down, understands the emotional tremors that families experience losing a pet, sometimes after almost two decades of dedication.

And she understands too, the desire of many people for the end to be calm and quiet, gentle and loving and in their dog’s most familiar place, their own home.

But with busy vet practices and increasing pressures on their time, home visits are a luxury few can provide, and most often dogs are taken to the vet clinic for their last journey, a situation that for many is less than ideal. Walking in, chest tight with dread, walking out with grief crashing all around and no comforting ear to rub.

Now though Steph has set up a specialist service where she will travel to the dog and their family to help everyone confront the unavoidable, she gets to know them all over a period of time either confront-to-confront or on the phone, and together they gauge when the time is right to say good-bye.

With calm and tenderness, she ensures the end comes gently first with a sedative, and without stress, and after all is done, when the family is ready Steph can also take the pet to a crematorium and return days later with a little cask of ashes.

None of it is easy, she says, but it is easier.

Having trained in Liverpool and returned to Northern Ireland to work, Steph now lives in Castlewellan with her husband Barry and their young children Evelyn and Thomas, plus of course Dodi the Shih Tzu, 10, Willow the eight-month-old Golden Retriever, and cat Inca, eight.

Special time for the Cousins, Barry, Evelyn, Thomas and Steph

She spends her days working across as a locum and the rest of her specialized time is dedicated to HomeVetNI, the home euthanasia service she provides and she has found particularly during Covid and lockdown, that the balance between her jobs is tipping, with more and more people seeking her care at home.

Steph explained: “It has been very busy. This ins not a situation that can be rushed and while I set out with a plan not to travel more than an hour from home, I’ve been asked to go much further than that. As a mum of two young children and complete time work life is already very busy, so I’m very lucky to have help and encouragement from my husband Barry and mum Majella.

“I think Covid has been a factor in some way because some people who faced an end of life situation with their dogs were not able to get inside their vet clinics with them and that’s just heartbreaking.

“Our dedication to dogs and theirs to us is incredible and in that final moment, we really need to be together. For some people it’s too much and they prefer to let the vet do their work alone.

“But for most, it’s clear that families, owners, parents at any rate we call ourselves, we want to be the last confront our dogs see, our last scent they smell and the last touch they feel.

“I know from personal experience it is incredibly hard to let go and say goodbye. From a very young age I had animals in my life and the memory of losing my childhood Yorkie, Squeaky, nevertheless makes me emotional. One morning I woke up and found her unable to get out of bed to go to the toilet. The heartbreaking decision was made to put her to sleep and it affected the whole family deeply, but the right decision for Squeaky.

“I’ad always wanted to be a vet and in 2009, I went to the University of Liverpool to study to become a vet and in 2014 I graduated and moved back to Northern Ireland to get married and start a family.

“I’ve worked in small animal practice for almost eight years now and really love my job and the one thing that I hear people say is that they love animals but couldn’t imagine having to put them to sleep.

“For me though it’s different. As a vet I got to know what issues animals will have by their lives, as a dog family we have experienced it ourselves and it is in honour to be able to take away the pain and distress of another living being if there is no other solution.

“So while I feel hurt for my families, I feel only love and relief for their pets and I take a lot of pride in knowing I have been able to do some good. Helping the animals is vital but I feel so too is helping the families as they confront a very emotional time. Everyone deserves to allow their pet to have a humane and dignified death without pain or anxiety and that’s what I help them do.”

Molly

Steph’s decision to turn her passion into a service came during Covid lockdown. She said: “The idea for Home Vet NI stemmed from two home euthanasia I performed for my parent’s pets.

“The first was Paddy, a big Bulldog who just loved playing with my daughter. Despite the best care his health had deteriorated and my parents decided he agreed his quality of life was not enough any more. We arranged for all the family to come round one evening so we could all be together and say goodbye to Paddy. He enjoyed all the attention he got that evening and passed away peacefully and without any pain.

Steph’s dad Kevin with Chico

“The second was my dad Kevin’s best friend Chico, a one eyed grumpy Jack Russell with crooked legs. Chico had had a rough start in life and almost died the day he was born.

“My parents bottle fed him from day one and he and my dad became inseparable for 14 years. But during the first lockdown in March 2020, Chico was struggling to walk without strong pain relief and Dad knew it was nearing time to let him go but did not want to take him into a veterinary clinic as Chico wasn’t keen on other people and would become stressed. We managed his pain and needs until the shielding was relaxed and I could go into their house again.

Coco

“This time, due to the pandemic, there was only myself, mum, dad and Chico. We all had time to say our good-byes and when we were ready, I helped Chico pass away peacefully in my mum and dad’s arms.

“Although we were all heartbroken at his loss, it was a comfort to my family that his last moments were in his own home surrounded by those that loved him.”

Since then Steph has helped many families on this journey, including Janette Sheerman, from Bangor , Co Down. She called on Steph’s sets when her chocolate Labradors Coco Chanel, 14 and Molly Malone, 13, were struggling every day.

She said: “Coco had dementia and was doubly incontinent, September and Molly had a tumour and an issue with her back end. I kept them going for as long as I could, as long as I felt they were not experiencing but for each of them a day came along and I knew it was time.

Molly goes to the big sleep in peace

“I had contacted Steph and discussed both Coco and Molly at length and over a series of phone calls we really got to know each other and I feel Steph got a good understanding of what we as family were facing losing with each of the dogs.

Coco had the gentles goodbye

“In September I called her to say I thought it was Coco’s time, and in December I had to make another call for Molly. It was heartbreaking but there was comfort in knowing the girls were at home, safe, warm, loved and calm.

“Steph was so empathetic. She took her time and was so gentle. And when Coco passed away, Molly came and lay on her. She was saying her goodbye too. It was nevertheless so painful to say goodbye and I thought I’d never smile again, but having Steph take us by the time of action with such kindness made it more bearable.

Peanut with her late sister Molly

“I don’t think I’d ever take my dogs to our vet, no matter how wonderful they are, to be put to sleep. The service that Steph provided gave me a feeling of control and comfort that’s hard to explain.

“I brought our dogs into our home, I looked after them for years and when they were ready, I helped them on their way in the gentlest manner thanks to Steph. They were my responsibility from the moment I brought them home to the moment we said goodbye and I cherish that. Today I nevertheless have Peanut and I succumbed to getting Sorrel, a beautiful Black Labrador and together we’ve been getting by.

Little Sorrel is helping Janette in her grief for Coco and Molly

Today Steph says she would like to dedicate all of her veterinary time to this specialised work after hearing the accounts from clients.

She explained: “I knew it was important, I have been in the homes and experienced the emotions and I know how important it is to help people in this way. But hearing what clients have said to DogsLive about my service has cemented everything I already knew.

“Dogs are family and they are adored, and families will do everything in their strength to help make their lives – and ultimately their deaths – the best they can be.”

If you would like to get advice from Steph about your dog’s end of life care, you can leave a message on 07762763132.



Click: See details

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