Veterinarian Dale Paley said the most difficult part of her job is watching the light fade from a pet's eyes as it takes a last breath.
Euthanasia is a difficult task. It also may be a necessary last resort when a pet is suffering great pain.
Paley has begun offering in-home pet euthanasia in Spartanburg County, S.C., and the surrounding area. The service allows people to have their pets euthanized in a setting more familiar than a veterinary clinic.
Paley does not own the business, Pet Loss At Home. She is part of a network of mobile veterinarians across the country that provide in-home pet euthanasia through the business owned and operated by veterinarian Karen Twyning and her husband, Rob.
Paley also fills in for veterinarians in clinics throughout the area on an as-needed basis.
Paley said a misunderstanding over her relief work prompted Twyning to contact her about in-home pet euthanasia. She thinks it's a needed, useful service and "wonderful alternative" for some people. She recognized the need for the service after euthanizing her 12-year-old Golden retriever, Tara, last August.
Paley, who is childless, considers her four-legged companions more children than pets. Tara was euthanized after battling two types of cancer. Paley euthanized her at home. She's buried in a wooded spot overlooking a lake on Paley's property.
Paley said some people don't want ailing pets further traumatized by a trip to a veterinary clinic. Paley recently euthanized a 140-pound Great Dane that belonged to an older couple in Hendersonville, N.C.
Taking such a large dog to a veterinary hospital would have been difficult.
Paley can transport remains to a crematorium. She said animals are first heavily sedated with various medications. Paley administers a strong barbiturate that she said anesthetizes the animal's brain and stops the heart.
"I try to make it as peaceful, relaxing and comfortable as possible," she said.
She talks to owners beforehand and encourages them to place their pet on a favorite blanket, in a favorite place and to make them comfortable.
Amy Holbein of Spartanburg said her dog, Joy, was around 15 years old when she was euthanized last month. Holbein said her family adopted Joy, a Husky mix, from an animal shelter when the dog was a pup.
Holbein said Joy was one of those rare dogs who smiled.
"She stole our hearts with her smile," Holbein said of their decision to adopt her.
Joy enjoyed hiking with the family - she once treed a black bear. Holbein described Joy as robust and said she was gentle and tender toward people.
Holbein has known Paley a couple of years. The women saw each other at the gym and Holbein learned that Paley was offering a new service. The next morning, Holbein said Joy was not on the porch where she usually slept. Family members searched for her and later found her hunkered down in the leaves inside a neighbor's gully.
Holbein said Joy was carried home and placed in the sunshine, and her condition deteriorated. Holbein called Paley. The family was able to spend that morning with Joy before Paley arrived to perform the euthanasia.
"It was all very peaceful," Holbein said.
She looked into Joy's eyes, while her husband stroked the dog's head and Paley injected a heavy dose of barbiturates into a back leg. Holbein said Joy did not react to the needle injection.
She said she was grateful to Paley that the family experienced that time with Joy before she was euthanized. Holbein said it would have been traumatic to Joy to load her into the car and take her to the veterinary clinic. Holbein said they did not want to cause additional stress.
"We're very glad that we did it this way," Holbein said.
Paley stressed that she is not trying to compete with other veterinarians. She sees this service as something that benefits them, as well as pet owners. Paley said veterinarians may be emotionally invested in a pet they have treated for years.
Paley said most euthanasias are not emergencies. Pet owners have scheduled them because their pets already are suffering.
"The decision to euthanize is a tough one. It's based on a declining or deteriorating quality of life in animals. So usually it's not an emergency and they have time to make the decision and plan for it and I can help guide them, clarify issues for them and give them confidence they're making the right decision."
She acknowledged the service isn't for everyone. Expense is one factor. Prices range from $200 to $600. Price varies due to travel time - she travels within an hour and 15 minutes from Spartanburg - whether an owner chooses to have a pet's remains cremated and other factors.
Paley said many people don't understand, or even fear, euthanasia. She considers it a final act of "kindness" for a suffering animal.
She says the last moment of a pet's life should be stress free, easy and "as good as it can be."
"Pet owners should expect an experience that is compassionate, relaxing, comfortable so that the final moments with their pet are everything they want it to be - whatever that is."