When Dr Cherrie walks in your door it’s normal to simultaneously feel both dread and relief.
Dread because the time has likely come to say goodbye to your beloved furry family member; and relief because Dr Cherrie radiates calmness and compassion and will give you the reassurance you need that you are making the right decision, and comfort in knowing any pain or suffering your beautiful pet may be experiencing will soon end.
Dr Cherrie from Sunset Vets Palliative and End of Life Care (Sunset Vets) is a palliative care Veterinarian who works exclusively with pets approaching the end of their life. Before excelling in this specialised area of medicine, Dr Cherrie worked in several small clinics building her impressive portfolio and allowing her to experience all aspects of Veterinary medicine.
“My first job out of University was a small two-person clinic in Ipswich,” said Dr Cherrie. “Due to the size of this clinic I got to see and do a huge range of Veterinary medicine including quite hard cases. This gave me a really good grasp on the different types of medicine I gravitated towards.”
It wasn’t until 2021 and several clinics later, that Dr Cherrie joined Sunset Vets knowing she could contribute to end-of-life care with compassion.
“I felt like compassionate end-of-life care was a growing area of need,” explained Dr Cherrie.
“People need to be able to say goodbye to their pets in the comfort of their home, and have their last months be comfortable. I really resonated with the Sunset Vets values, and it was an easy decision to work within this field of medicine.”
And although the majority of the pet’s Dr Cherrie visits are one-time euthanasia patients, she also works with terminal or elderly animals who can benefit from palliative care.
“As a Vet you are taught to treat, treat, treat,” says Dr Cherrie. “But palliative care patients are either elderly or have a terminal diagnosis, so the goal posts move. We are now working to make them comfortable and keep their quality of life rather than cure them. You are taught to preserve life 100 per cent of the time, so tipping the scales is quite interesting and I find that owners are quite happy with that. A crucial part of palliative care is working closely with owners to make sure they’re well informed, well-prepared and on board with the objectives of palliative care.”
Dr Cherrie went on to explain that by making small tweaks it’s possible to really improve a palliative care patient’s day-to-day life whilst managing their pain.
“I had a beautiful dog with kidney disease, and the family came to us after being given an approach based purely on prognosis and statistics. As my palliative care patient, I was able to prolong her life and make her comfortable whilst reassuring her family that she wasn’t suffering. I find that a lot of elderly patients get a horrible diagnosis and owners are not always aware that palliative care is an option that provides treatment that supports both pet and family. Helping owners process their grief is a huge part of it.”
It’s this component that can seem unusual to people and Dr Cherrie is often asked how she copes with the grief and death that is such a huge part of what she does.
“It’s natural to cry over a loved one passing and it’s just one of those things that comes with the job,” Dr Cherrie says. “I personally find saying goodbye to my long-term palliative care patients harder as I have built a relationship with them, but there’s sadness at every visit and sometimes I do dwell, and I have a thought for my patient and their family. But time heals all wounds.
“I find the relief I can give families helps me with processing grief. A professional has come in and reassured them that they are making the right decision and it’s a relief for them to hear. People just want what’s best for their pet.”
It’s this mentality that’s driving more and more people to seek a peaceful goodbye at home. Pets are a beloved part of the family and owners truly want the best for them, but as Dr Cherrie explains, the love people carry for their pets can means that owners occasionally wait too long to say goodbye.
“Sometimes owners do wait quite a long time before calling us,” says Dr Cherrie. “We’ll get a call saying their pet is having a good day and they don’t want to say goodbye on a good day; but it’s normal to have more bad days at the end and it’s very easy to regret saying goodbye a day too late.
“When this happens it’s unfortunately become really apparent that the pet is now in a lot of pain and that can be really traumatic and difficult for the family to see.
“The day you say goodbye to your pet is a day that will stay with you for a really long time and in my experience having a great last day with your pet is something you won’t regret.”