Babylon Town Shelter may well be the only municipal facility to have a room designed to ease the emotional pain owners feel when the decision to euthanize a beloved pet is inevitable and imminent. Babylon’s “Buddy Cares” room takes compassion to a new level.
It began as an email. Kristin Siarcowicz, animal control officer, asked shelter director, Chris Elton, if owners could be with their pets after euthanasia is performed. Since then, this idea has become reality, evolving into a comforting setting where owners can say goodbye to their dear furry friends. Thanks to Kristin’s creative vision, the new space is a drastic contrast to the cold, institutional room it once was, and is a symbol of positive shelter policies concerning pet end-of-life procedures that have gradually morphed over the last five years. During Chris’s tenure as shelter director, Babylon Shelter has made strides to regard pets during their last moments, as well as their distraught guardians, with kindness and dignity.
Some, but not all, LI municipalities offer affordable pet euthanasia services with group cremation to their residents but the procedure usually means dropping the cherished pet off. Loving owners have a very hard time doing so. Certain shelters like Babylon accommodate arrangements for individual cremations or burials. Recently, Babylon stopped designated euthanasia days, and instead schedule appointments so distressed pets would not be left waiting. Chris dismantled the holding pens which he says “is the most cathartic task I have ever done at the shelter.” Still something was lacking.
In a perfect world, all pet owners would be able to afford to go to a veterinarian to stay with their dog or cat during its final moments. Especially in these hard times, many caring owners cannot afford hospital fees that can run several hundred dollars. The self-righteous will insist that these people should have never obtained a pet if they cannot afford this last act of mercy; yet no one can truly understand someone else’s circumstances. The owners may have already depleted their savings trying to save the pet’s life; the family’s finances may have changed drastically in the 15 years that have transpired since acquiring the pup or kitten. The family may be barely getting by. With scores of senior and seriously ill dogs and cats abandoned now, it appears many animals are victims of the economy too.
Kristin is also the shelter’s NYS certified euthanasia technician. She and other staff members speak to people who are struggling with the idea of euthanasia, especially the thought of handing the pet to a stranger and leaving. Nowadays the shelter counsels callers to ascertain if it is the time, or whether veterinary intervention might still improve quality of life. More callers were asking if they could be there for closure. In May, Kristin sent Chris an email titled “Wondering” whether owners could be with their pet before the procedure, or afterwards or both. She noted doing so would “open up the process, welcome what is fact and make it more comfortable.” When he agreed, the room modifications, which began as Kristin thinking she’d merely paint the floor, became a total metamorphosis. The extreme makeover was done after hours on Kristin’s own time, with several marathon sessions lasting well after midnight.
To put it bluntly, the old room, as is the case in many municipals, was a stark chamber with a hydraulic table, floor drain and freezer. No one would want a person already upset to venture in there. Each change had to be soothing and healing without being too cheery or cute. Kristin started with painting the walls and doors in warm orange tones to embrace a sunrise/sunset theme. She found matching burnt orange drapes in a thrift store so her mother Karen modified them to cover the freezer, and as a window curtain and table skirt.
On one door Kristin painted a mural of a mountain scene with a dog and cat silhouette as a focal point. Her German Shepherd Lara would accompany her during late sessions to model and for protection. Later she decorated the outside door with a sunflower field. Kristin and Karen laid down a vinyl tile floor which covered the drain. A stained wainscoting panel and chair rail surround the room, lamps glow in the corners, while comforting poems and quotes, like the one above, are propped up on shelves. Kristin’s brother Edward is a professional photographer. His framed sunsets grace the walls.
The building supplies are courtesy of “Buddy Cares,” Babylon Shelter’s 501c3 wellness fund, founded by Lauren Van Kirk, director of Town Senior Center at Spangle Drive. Lauren established “Buddy Cares” to honor Buddy, a neglected Lhasa she adopted from the shelter in 2007. The fund helps pay for grooming, medical procedures and equipment like the new washing machine.
The office intercom no longer announces that a dog or cat is coming in the side door for Code E (“euthanasia”) which was a slight improvement over the archaic Code D (for “destroy”) of decades past. Now they are there for “Buddy Cares,” the new name of the room.
Lauren stopped by the shelter to glimpse the room in progress and saw a young couple with a little boy doting over an older Golden Retriever in their car. “Last year, we put our Golden down after a year of chemo. We knew it was time but it was still such an emotional thing,” recalled Lauren. Only later did she realize that the family was there to put their Golden to sleep. She rushed out to buy a case of water to keep in the room because she feels “municipal facilities exist to help the community. We can’t do enough for people during such sad times.” She plans to donate comfortable chairs. Lauren added, “Kristin has put her heart and soul into this room.”
Most definitely. Kristin knows tearful eyes will wander. When pet guardians choose to say a last good-bye, they may notice a door decal inscription as they exit. It reads: “You and I honor their devotion with this gift of peace.”
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Angus” #12-245 was found in similar condition as Buddy. Folks came out of a doctor’s office and this matted Cairn Terrier mix dragging a chain was hovering under their car. “Mischka” #12-407 is a handsome and friendly Siberian Husky found as a stray, and later surrendered by his owner.
Dogs: “Pinky” older Shih Tzu; “Shortly” Pit/Shepherd; Tanner Park Beagles; “Bruce” compact Pit.
Cats: “Mr. Man;” “Tabitha;” “Midnight;” “Cody.”