You love your dog, perhaps even more than you feel comfortable sharing with others, especially those who are not animal lovers. You have taken hundreds of walks together, ridden in the car with the windows open and the radio on, and snuggled together on the couch while binge-watching your favorite show. You may have been together for more than a decade, but it has become evident over the past couple years that your dog’s life is slowing down and nearing its natural end. You can’t even bring yourself to think about it, but, because your dog appears to be in nearly constant pain or has lost vision and hearing or is experiencing a host of other uncorrectable age-related problems, you think it may be time to make one of the most difficult decisions of your life.
It would be much easier if you awoke one morning to find that your furry friend has passed away peacefully in her sleep, that nature had taken its course. You will miss her, but what are you going to do? It’s the circle of life, right? But, unfortunately, many dogs do not die in this way. Instead, they continue on, lingering in pain, weakness, and confusion. It is when this happens, that you (with the help of your vet) have the responsibility as your pet’s caretaker to make the very difficult decision to end your dog’s suffering through humane euthanization. Even when you and your vet know it is the most loving and humane action for you to take on behalf of your suffering friend, it often comes with excruciating doubt, guilt, and deep sadness. Here are seven bits of advice that won’t make it easy, but that might help you get through the experience.
Sometimes, simple pain medication may be able to give your dog six more months of a pretty good life. A lot of times, however, this isn’t the case. Ask your vet, “If this was your dog, what would you do?” Be willing to get a second opinion from another vet if you feel like your vet is jumping too quickly to euthanasia as a solution. While it isn’t good for either you or your dog for you to be in denial or for you to dismiss your vet’s medical opinion, it will help you in the long run for you to know as best you can that euthanasia really is the most humane and loving option for your beloved dog.
Uncertainty can cause a great deal of anxiety in many people. Just understanding how things are going to happen before they happen can help relieve some of the difficulty involved. Your vet will explain to you that your dog will not panic or feel any pain. Your dog will first be put to sleep and then a medication will be given that will stop your dog’s heart. It will be emotionally difficult for you, but it will be peaceful for your dog, like drifting off to sleep. Some vets will even come to your home to do this if you feel that is better.
While you may want time to allow everyone in your family to say goodbye and sometimes your vet’s schedule just may not allow it to happen very quickly, it is probably better if you don’t have to dread this for days upon days. It is hard enough if you have to do this tomorrow--nearly excruciating if you have to do it next week.
How will everyone say their final goodbyes? Who will take your dog to the vet that day? Will there be more than one of you? Whoever is doing it may want to take that day completely off of work, as it will be a tough day. Will you be with your dog when she passes? Will you have your dog cremated (vets usually have contracts with local crematoriums) or will your transport your dog’s body somewhere else for burial? If cremating, will you want your dog’s ashes? Make sure you have a form of payment (euthanasia, like any veterinary procedure, has a cost).
While some people feel the need to walk this road alone, it can be helpful for a lot of people to spend some time with a friend or family member who will listen to your grief and uncertainty as the day of your dog’s passing approaches and in the days after. It can often help if this person is an animal lover, as well. Get together. Talk it through. Process your feelings. Lean on your friend or loved one. Accept their concern and encouragement. It’s okay if this is too hard for you to experience alone. That’s what friends are for, right?
Some people purchase a burial plot for their deceased dog’s body or ashes and have a marker placed there just as they would for a human loved one. They may even hold some kind of formal or informal funeral service. Others bury their pet or his ashes in the backyard and place a marker there. Some do the same under a favorite tree or place the ashes in an urn and put them on a shelf. Still others allow the vet to handle the cremation and don’t feel the need to receive the ashes. A simple framed photo or photo album may be what is right for them. Your personality and your finances will be the determining factors when it comes to memorializing your pet. Whatever is right for you is the right thing to do. Just know that you don’t have to act like your dog wasn’t important to you. There are ways to celebrate her life, while at the same time moving on.
We understandably dread difficult things before they happen, be it an exam, a medical procedure, a difficult conversation, or having to put a beloved pet to sleep. But usually, when that difficult thing is over, there is a great feeling of relief, a weight lifted from your shoulders and your heart. You will miss your dog, but the agony of the decision will be over then. While you will still grieve the loss of your pet, when it is done, you will not feel the anxiety of the decision anymore. You will know you did the right thing, and you will not have to anticipate it anymore. You will know that you were strong for your dog and you loved her to the end.
Having to put a beloved animal companion down is never easy. It is, however, usually the kindest thing you do for him, a final gift you can give in return for all the love he has given to you over the years. You will miss him, but after some time has passed you will know that, with your vet’s help, you did the difficult, yet right, thing to show your love for your dog. While you will always have memories of the walks, the car rides, and the snuggles, as time passes, your grief and pain will lessen and you may even come to love another pet just as much as you loved the one that has died--not a replacement, but an addition to your life and love. It will be tough for a while, but it is the loving thing to do, and you will get through it.