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Local veterinarian brings dignity to pet euthanasia

Dr. Céline Leheurteux is a veterinarian who has been practicing in the Montérégie for just over two decades. She had always dreamed of being a veterinarian, citing it as her calling. While she is still practicing, she is also an entrepreneur; in 2016 she launched Euthabag, a respectful and ecological alternative to the plastic garbage bags used to transport, cremate, or bury beloved animal companions after their euthanasia.

The idea for Euthabag came to Leheurteux after years of struggling with many aspects of the euthanization process. She highlights that this is a common struggle among veterinary practitioners, as she says they don’t receive thorough training in euthanasia in most university curricula. In fact, when Leheurteux was in school, they didn’t teach her how to euthanize an animal; she had to figure it out on the job. “In vet school we have no training in euthanasia – not how to euthanize a pet, what words to use, [how] to make sure to be empathetic, how to talk to pet owners… so I had to figure it out myself. I suffered a lot, because I didn’t have a ‘toolbox’ to pull from,” she says.

However, even after years of practice, she still felt uneasy about elements of the process, saying, “I still didn’t feel great that the only option I had for after euthanasia was a garbage bag. It felt so shameful and misaligned with my values.” Leheurteux decided to see if there was some sort of pet “body bag” she could use instead and found that such a product did not exist.

 

Dr. Céline Leheurteux, inventor of Euthabag, and her dog Pepper.   PHOTO Joelle Couture

 

Surprised by this finding, she spent a few days considering whether she should start making a suitable product herself. “At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start this; but then I got the idea to also create a hub of resources on euthanasia, and courses, for other vets,” she says.

The design process for the Euthabag took a lot of work and collaboration from people in other fields. Leheurteux got input from costume and prop makers, firefighters, and an industrial designer to design a bag with easy access, handles, waterproof fabric, and leak-proof stitching.

“It’s really simple, but it took a lot of work to make it efficient and simple,” she says. It was also important to create a product that was as ecological as possible. Human body bags are typically made with PVC as it’s easy to seal. However, PVC contains chlorine, which, when burned during cremation, creates benzene, which is harmful to the environment and our health. “I finally chose polypropylene, with which were able to include recycled materials. And when it’s burned at the temperature needed for cremation [companion animals nowadays are often cremated] there’s nothing toxic emitted.” Euthabag is also safe to bury, though it will not biodegrade.

The other aspect of this project Leheurteux felt passionately about was the creation of the hub of euthanasia information and resources for other practitioners. The Euthabag website has guidance on dealing with grief as a practitioner, grieving with pet owners, how to talk about euthanasia, and it even offers courses and training.

Leheurteux’s goal wasn’t simply to create a product, but to make the entire process of euthanasia more dignified and respectful for all involved. “There’s an aspect of protecting dignity for the pets and pet owners, but also for the people that work in veterinary medicine, because its tough,” she says.

Euthabag is currently being used by thousands of veterinary hospitals around the world, including the larger ones in the Montreal area. The company is also currently working on a new model that will be made with 100 per cent post-consumer recycled material, rather than the 40 per cent that is currently used. Leheurteux is happy with the resources and products Euthabag currently offers and is proud to see its impact on the field she loves so much.

“Being a vet is amazing, its fun and interesting, but it can be exhausting,” she says. “I really wanted to improve this whole process for everyone.”

For more information on Euthabag, visit the Facebook page, Euthabag Vet, or go the website, euthabag.com.

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