When — and How — to Say Goodbye
No matter how well you take care of your dog throughout his life, old age will eventually catch up to him. It may be a slow decline or a rapid decline. There may be good days — those during which your dog wakes with his renowned zest for life, eats well, and wags his tail enthusiastically when you talk to or pet him — and bad days — those during which your dog won't even want to get out of bed for his favorite toy or treat. The good days will renew your hopes, and the bad days will break your heart.
As your dog's caretaker and friend, it's up to you to determine when the bad days can't go on and decide if it's time to put your dog to sleep. When your old friend suffers at the end of his life, euthanasia is the gift you can give him to bring his life to a peaceful close with you by his side. It is a terribly painful decision to have to make, but it is a wise and humane one.
Discuss putting your dog down with your family so everyone can be prepared for it. Call your veterinarian and talk to him about your decision. When you agree the time is right, your veterinarian should make the time to take you right away so that you can be in a quiet room alone with your pet. If it is going to stress out your dog to take him to the vet's, ask for a mild sedative you can give him before you come over, then go pick it up so you can give it to your dog at the right time.
Dogs are extremely sensitive to our moods, and the pain you experience watching him suffer and considering euthanasia will bring additional stress to your dog. It is your job as her friend and caretaker to keep your emotions in check and focus on her. Talk to her, sing to her, tell her about your favorite times together, let her know how much you love her, recall the joy you shared. Hold her with love and tenderness in her last moments.
Think about what you want to do with your dog's body when he is no longer. If he's small enough, do you want to bury him near your home? Do you want to bury him in a pet cemetery so you can visit his gravesite for many years to come? Do you want the veterinarian to have him cremated? Make a decision that's right for you and that you won't regret later.
Euthanasia is a painless procedure in which a lethal dose of anesthesia is injected into a vein. As the drug enters the bloodstream, the dog loses consciousness and his systems cease functioning, bringing on a peaceful, pain-free death. You can be assured that all he feels is the slight prick of the needle.
You should be with your dog until the very end. Talk to him and tell him what a good friend he's been and how much you'll miss him. It's normal to cry, so don't be embarrassed. Your veterinarian will certainly understand if you want to be with your dog for a few minutes after he passes away.
When Your Friend Is Gone
You may be surprised at how deeply you are affected by the loss of your dog. When you think about it, even though you may have known deep down that this time was coming, you were still trying to be strong and optimistic, if only to give your dog hope. Now that your friend is truly gone, you will grieve for her loss, but you will find a release for all the days, possibly years, of hanging on that you did for her sake.
Your home will not be the same without your dog there, and everything will remind you of her — her old bed, her old bowls, her old collar, her favorite toys, and her favorite spots. We are lucky to live in a time when it's acknowledged how deeply people love their dogs; in fact, some people feel stronger love for their dogs than for other people in their lives, so naturally they are going to feel their loss more deeply. Your family will also be grieving, and it's important to allow everyone to grieve in their own way and time, and to talk about those feelings.
There are a number of Web sites for grief counseling upon the loss of a pet. There are memoriam spaces and online support groups. This is a tough time for many people, and you should consider taking advantage of these services, as the loss of such a friend is always difficult to accept.
If you or anyone in your family is having a particularly difficult time, or if you just want to know that there are others who have gone through similar pain, you can find books on coping with the loss of a pet in your bookstore or library or online. Speaking with other dog owners can help, too, since chances are they've had a similar experience and understand what you're going through. There are also pet-loss hotlines you can call to speak with people who can lend a kind ear. It's important to honor the memory of your friend. Your heart will heal with time, and you know she will always be with you.