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How To Know if It’s Time for Euthanasia

medicine versus mom

One of the hardest, most gut-wrenching and life altering moments that can happen to a dog parent happens with regard to euthanasia. There is no right answer to this. Never, I repeat: NEVER let anyone coerce, bully, or guilt you into “putting your dog down.” Euthanasia is a personal decision made in the best interests of your beloved dog. How to know if it’s time for euthanasia is not something I want to write about, enjoy writing about, but need to do this for anyone who treasures and loves their dog and seeks answers and guidance.

As someone who has been faced with this decision, I am asked now and again, how I knew when it was “time.” I didn’t know and doubted myself for a long time. I am not your ordinary dog mom: I admittedly am over-the top, my dog is like a child to me although I know he is a canine, and making the decision to end my dog’s life remains the hardest thing I have ever done. I don’t have the answers. I cannot guide you. I can tell you the truth and what happened to us.

In a continuing effort to give you”Medicine Versus Mom”  perspective, fellow pet blogger and vet tech, Rachel Shephard of My Kid Has Paws, offers the “medicine” perspective of euthanasia. Here’s the raw truth from me, the dog mom.

It is incredibly difficult to talk about letting my Cocker Spaniel, Brandy Noel, go. You can read her story, my level of grief, and more about her journey here: Anatomy of  Grieving Dog Mom.

Brandy
My baby girl, forever loved.

Pre-Decision

Throughout my dog’s life, that eerie and nauseating feeling of “someday what will happen when I don’t have you, Brandy” would cross my mind. I am not alone in this, right?

I would forcibly think of something else and try to eradicate those thoughts from my mind. Dogs live in the here and now, so this is the way I try to live my life—it ain’t easy, right? I’d be lying if I said those thoughts don’t creep in with my dog, Dexter.

I knew that someday when and if the time came that I had to sit down with my spouse to make the dreaded decision, it would be life altering. I had no idea how hard it would be until faced with it.

It is hell, plain and simple. For me, it was hell. For others, you may feel a sense of peace because, as our veterinarian told us at the time, “you gave her the greatest act of love.”

I felt like I murdered my dog.

There.

I said it.

I know now this is not true. It is a gift you give a dog, some say. Bullshit I say. I give my dog gifts all the time and this did not feel like a gift. I will never call euthanasia a gift. It was necessary. that’s all.

double rainbow

Knowing When

My spouse and I knew that on October 11, 2008, the day had arrived. Our dog’s health took one final and rapid turn downward. I begged her not to go, that we had a lot of time ahead and so many things to do as a family. Dogs are here for us and to love us and be patient with us. I learned in that moment I had to be there for her and not allow her to suffer.

What constitutes suffering is the blurred line. Since this blog is called FiDOSE of REALITY, the reality of our dog’s health was she was:

  • Losing weight
  • Would not eat
  • Frequent bloody diarrhea
  • Could not stand for long due to weakness

Our dog had complications from Irritable Bowel Disease, which was confirmed with endoscopy and colonoscopy at a veterinary university. My well- researched belief and dog mom’s inner sense is that the IBD was brought on by chicken jerky treats fed to her at the time. That’s here nor there now: She is absent from this world.

The knowing when moment came when I took our weak little girl out to pee and she literally stood there, shook, and seized.  This is all too real for me now as I write this, and though six years have passed, I still tremor inside, cry, and feel that exact same sense of nausea and ache when I think of her in that moment.

Coupled with everything that was happening, my spouse and I decided to drive to our veterinarian’s office. Our regular vet is about 100 minutes from our home, and though we have a nearby emergency clinic, we wanted only our vet, our friend, of many years, to be the one who helped us. Maybe he’d perform a miracle. I held out out.

I prayed with every fiber of my being that the ride down would change things. She was just having a “moment.” This would pass. She would rally for us. For me. For the sake of our love.

She couldn’t change because it was her time and that is the hardest aspect of sharing life with a dog: The all-too-real knowledge that in most cases, you will outlive them.

A broken needle on a record, playing the same track over and over, that needle gets stuck in that moment. You have to get up, move the needle, and play the song: For some of us, you start a new song, for others you get stuck in that song, and for many, you carry the song with you in your soul forever. I am affected by all three: the new song, the being stuck in missing her, and moving forward with her love.

I let her go. This blog post is about knowing when it’s time to let go. The letting go is the physical. The love will never end. I have learned this through time.

The folks who say time heals all wounds are full of it: At least from my perspective. Time is a buffer. Time makes it real. No matter how many tears, dry heaves, moments of sadness, days of darkness, or angry feelings you have: The dog is not coming home.

A grief counselor and channeling my grief into helping dogs in need have helped. Realizing a dog will always be in my life is my reality. Knowing the trauma of loss will wash over me again and again is a broken record that I know cannot be fixed. I am who I am and the short span of a dog’s life is all too real.

It is time for your dog when you feel that it is time and it is first, foremost, always and only in the best interests of the dog.

It is time when every physical option has been exhausted.

I never saw “it” in my dog’s eyes. Some say they do. For others, we don’t.

I hope those reading this never have to make this dreaded decision. If you have, my heart is with you. I truly know. My heart beats dog™ and it breaks in the name of dog, too.

From a veterinary perspective, here’s the topic of euthanasia from My Kid Has Paws.

Catch up on our other Medicine Versus Mom columns here:

Why Does My Dog Need a Muzzle

Does My Dog Really Need Vaccines

What Happens When a Dog Has Surgery

Comments

  1. Jordan Walker says

    Euthanasia is sometimes acceptable if the reason is valid however if the reason is inhumane like you are no longer happy with your pet or you can’t afford its medication then it’s a big NO NO.

  2. Jackie Preas says

    You wrote everything so very well.I too had been told that my Riley would let me know when it was time…it did not happen that way.I made the decision it was time to let him go with my husband…when the act of simply touching him on his head caused him to scream out in pain…I knew.I had promised him I would not let him suffer needlessly.He lived for 11 years and 3 months and had been mine to love from the time he was 5 mo. old.It is never enough time.He is gone in body but will remain forever in my heart.
    Beauregard sends hugs to Dexter.

    • Carol Bryant says

      Dex says thanks for the hugs and he sends some right back. It really is the most awful decision and I just try to live not thinking about it – some days are worse than others.

  3. Sharon S. says

    Thank you for discussing this delicate subject. I also read the story on My Kid Has Paws and appreciate learning how the veterinary profession views euthanasia. Over the years I’ve had 7 dogs and the decision to ease their suffering at the end of their lives has never gotten easier, even when I am positive I am doing the right thing.

  4. slimdoggy says

    Toughest decision a pet parent has to make. We’ve done it 3 times and it’s never been easy. I waited to ‘see it’ with Tino but never did. Sally was in so much pain it was an easier choice and Becca, well we knew she was terminal but looking past her stoicism was hard. I have felt the decisions were right even though, like you, each one still brings pain and tears.

  5. The Swiss Cats says

    It’s the hardest decision and the last act of love of a responsible pet parent. We know that Mum and Dad won’t ever let us suffer too much needlessly, even if they will be all pain and tears for a long time. Purrs

  6. Camille @ GoodPetParent says

    This is such an honest, transparent, and beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing something so personal, and for expressing so well the conflicting emotions we feel when having to make this almost unbearable decision for the animals that we love so much.

  7. Leah says

    I confess I didn’t want to read this story because you are not alone in wanting to push aside the thoughts of “someday what will happen when I don’t have…” my dogs. But I did read it because I trust your writing, it is consistently real and non-sugar-coated yet caring and respectful. In any case, my dogs are now “seniors” and I treasure every moment with them and ever chance I get to smell their necks.

  8. Jennifer says

    My girl nearly made 16 and had led a peaceful, calm life. Unfortunately, her end was not the same. Our vet was on leave and a vet I had not met before was trying to save her although I had given the instruction that I did not want her to be suffering. I fear that she did and the thought of that breaks my heart everyday. The look in her eyes at the hospital haunts me however, as she was finally put to sleep that look seemed to change to one of knowing. I have two rescue boys who are filling the hole in my heart but I think that hole is just too big.

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