My Dog Has a Living Will, And Yours May Need One, Too

To resuscitate or not resuscitate, that is the question... in a pet emergency.
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Jill L. Ferguson
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To resuscitate or not resuscitate, that is the question... in a pet emergency.

The veterinary technician slid the form across the counter to me, and she handed me a pen. These words jumped off the page at me: DO NOT RESUSCITATE. 

I had the choice of two boxes to check — resuscitate or not — and the fine print told me resuscitation would be $350. I didn't give a damn about the money; I wanted our dog alive and well, and I certainly didn't want him to go into cardiac arrest while on the operating table (which is what I was told the risk was).

I had moved in with Nacho, a red heeler Australian cattle dog, and his human family at the end of July 2014, and a few months later married the "alpha dog," also known as Rick (a human). It was now the end of April 2016, and this was my and Nacho's third trip the to ER vet — the first two ER vet visits were after run-ins with raccoons — and the first time I had been handed a DNR form. This time, the neighbor's two dogs grabbed Nacho by his hind legs and tried to drag him under their unsecured chainlink fence and into their yard. His legs were bloody, and his skin was flayed.

Rick and I have never talked about what to do if Nacho needed resuscitation, ventilation, or anything else like palliative care, and at the moment he was on a multiple-months work assignment on the other side of the world. My youngest stepson, to whom Nacho "officially" belonged, was at work (plus, he was a minor and would need me to sign as the legal authority). I also had no idea what his wishes would be.

So I went with my gut after the vet said Nacho's chances of anything negative happening were slim. And after hours in the ER, Nacho was cleaned up, coned, and ready to go home. 

The next morning, I found a template for a living will for pets online, downloaded it, printed it, and we filled it out as a family. 

Many pet care agreement templates include DNR and emergency care language within their documents.

Many pet care agreement templates include DNR and emergency care language within their documents.

Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, wrote on Pet Health Network that if you hire a pet-sitter, including friends or family, take your dog to doggy daycare, or use a dog walker, your pet should have a living will that includes a detailed plan of how to care for the pet in case of a medical emergency. 

Lee recommends that living wills should include a detailed list of resuscitation orders, including if you want your pet intubated (where a breathing tube is placed) or placed on a ventilator/respirator under anesthesia, if you want CPR performed (keeping in mind that once an animal is in cardiac arrests, the prognosis isn't good), if you want a temporary feeding tube placed, and if you want your pet to receive certain life-saving drugs, blood transfusions, or emergency surgeries.

Every pet sitter should be given one of these.

Every pet sitter should be given one of these.

Creating a living will and providing a copy where a pet sitter can access it (and take it to the ER vet, if necessary) as well as keeping one on file at your regular vet will assure your wishes are respected with regard to your animal family member's care should an emergency arise.

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No one, our pets included, wants to experience a life-threatening emergency. Nacho has recovered from his injuries, and he avoids the fence and the dogs that live behind us. And as a result of the living will we filled out together, our whole family is now literally on the same page about Nacho's future care.