The Good Death
|November 14, 2019||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
A good death.
That is our responsibility to the animals under our care, if we can possibly give them one. It isn’t always possible – they get lost, hit by a car, burned by a fire, swept away in a flood, poisoned by contaminated feed. It’s a dangerous business – this thing called living.
Sometimes we get lucky. Those under our care live a full and happy life until they drop dead seemingly out of nowhere – an undiagnosed heart condition, an aneurysm. It’s over so fast that it leaves you reeling. Just yesterday they were fine! I never knew anything was wrong.
Other times the choice is clear. Your horse is writhing on the ground in pain from a colic episode. Surgery isn’t an option and medical management has failed. Euthanasia is the only option so you give your partner the relief they need.
This post isn’t about any of those deaths. This post is about when we have to do the agonizing job of choosing the time of death after receiving a terminal diagnosis, or trying to decide when to call it quits after a long gradual decline of chronic illness. Or maybe it’s a younger animal with a disease that won’t hasten their death but calls into question of what the “right” decision is moving forward – life or death?
Of course we want the decision taken out of our hands. “I want them to die in their sleep, at home.”
Yeah. You, me, and everyone else.
I can practically guarantee that if we are having this conversation, they won’t and they don’t.
I’m sorry. Really sorry.
It really sucks and don’t let anyone, including me, tell you differently. These are the hard cases.
“When will I know?” is the most common question I get from clients and friends who want to talk to me about it. Is it when they stop eating? Get down to a body condition score of a 1 out of whatever number scale you want to use? Can’t stand? Can’t get up the stairs? Don’t want to go on walks? Is it the look in their eyes? When they are so confused they are head pressing in the corner of their stall or their living room? Or is it the day before you leave on a long vacation because you can’t stand the idea of getting a phone call from the pet or ranch sitter in a week and having to make it happen when you aren’t there?
When do you make the decision to end a life that has nothing to do with putting food on the table or war?*
*the only other culturally acceptable times I can think of to end a life, with the exception of a few states where there is an end of life dignity laws.
People want me to give them the formula. “When they stop eating for X days it’s time,” or, “body condition score of 1 means it’s time.” Or maybe it’s when various body fluids are pouring out of various orifices with varying amounts of control.
The problem is, every animal is an individual, has different priorities in life, and deals with the suffering and limitations of old age or their condition differently.
Here’s the thing.
Most people wait too long.
Concerned with cutting a life short unnecessarily, or guilt-wracked with should-of’s and could’ves, they hang on to their pet’s continued existence as proof that this is not a convenience euthanasia.
But, we need to remember that animal cares nothing for our intentions, or whether there is some small hope of a better future. An animal lives in the present. Any decision to prolong suffering should be because there is a significant hope that a life that can be well-lived on the other side of that suffering.
So, let’s set aside the guilt, sadness, and all those other complicated human emotions that are important and real, but don’t matter to the animal in front of us.
When is it time?
Let me ask you another question.
What are you waiting for?
Are you waiting for them to not be able to get up, to be found 6 or more hours down in the mud with signs of struggle as they tried again and again to make their arthritic joints obey their still young-at-heart spirit?
Are you waiting for your dog to take one last swim in the swimming pool, the love of their life, and not be able to get out this time because their hopes just can make that last leap?
Are you waiting for them not to eat for a couple of days?
Are you waiting for there not to be any more good days?
Are you waiting for the day they can no longer rise to relieve themselves and your once fastidious animal soils itself for a couple of days while you wait to make sure it’s time?
I know these are upsetting to read. They are hard to even write. The thing is, I’m not making any of these up. These and more are actual scenarios I’ve personally been a part of.
I think considering the question “what are you waiting for” instead of “when is it time” clarifies a lot of things. It often brings to mind the scenarios that we don’t want our animals to experience if it is in our power to prevent it.
I can’t think of anything more awful than waiting to euthanize my arthritic old horse until they are down in the cold mud, struggling and panicking for hours.
I will gently put her to sleep on a warm day when the sun is shining, while she is standing and her last hours will be filled with love and gratitude for the years of service she gave to me.
I will not wait until the bad days have squeezed out all the good ones until there is only suffering. That isn’t fair and that is as selfish as euthanizing too early. Somewhere between convenience and a love too great to let them go is a happy medium where the needs and suffering of the animal are considered independent of the human’s needs.
I told you, this “right time” stuff is tricky.
Here’s what I’ve learned in my very short five years of being a veterinarian and listening and seeing clients talk to me about death and wrestling with this question.
You know when it’s time.
Your gut is very intuitive.
Your job is to listen to your gut. It starts with a small voice. “Someday,” it says. Not today, not tomorrow, and not next week. But it’s coming.
I look at Farley, 21 years old in a couple of months, a tad stiffer than she was a year ago. Still maintaining weight despite crappy dentition that’s barely kept in check by regular dentals. Her death at my hand is a long ways off (unless she makes some uncharacteristically poor life decisions…always a considerations with horses) but at 21 it’s unlikely she has more years left than what we’ve had so far. I can’t afford to get complacent. Do what I can to mitigate the decline and give her a pat on the nose knowing that I’m unable to see the future and she could have a decade left, or (probably, statistically) a lot less.
At some point “some day” turns into “soon.” Not today, not tomorrow, but it’s time to turn a critical eye towards the question of “what are you waiting for?” That will help define the end markers.
Maybe it took an extra try to get up in soft footing after that roll. During turn out she falls. She’s never done that before. Now when she runs in the arena there are no wild gallops.
How long do I wait? Depending on circumstances I try controlling the footing, medication, management, but at some point all that can be done in the specific circumstances has been done (which doesn’t mean that everything has been tried because time and money is never unlimited, at least in mine and my client’s lives. And that’s OK too.). Now there’s evidence that one night she struggled for a prolonged time trying to get to her feet.
But she’s fat and shiny and nickers at me when I go out to the barn.
Is it time?
Your gut hurts. You can barely think through the decision and your mind slips off sideways when you think about doing it even as you try to grab it with both hands you can turn it over and see it from all angles. You think about the judgement of social media and others looking in from the outside. “You could have….”, “You should have….”, “Why didn’t you just…” Will others think you euthanized for because it was easy? You just bought a new car and your new baby is taking up a lot of your time. You have a big vacation planned and you fly out next week.
Folks, these decisions aren’t easy.
I can’t give you an algorithm where you plug-in numbers and it gives you a result.
Here’s what I can offer for comfort.
I’ve done literally hundreds of euthanasias as a vet so far in almost every species imaginable. Only twice have I turned someone away and said “no, I will not euthanize your animal.”* That’s because you, as an owner know your animal well. Sometimes you need me to chat with you about your decision, but usually I’m able to validate your gut feeling. Most of the time, it was time to make the decision to let them go a week ago, but you couldn’t bring yourself to do it and waited.
*These “no’s” were people who insisted that I euthanize their animal and I refused to do so, believing based on a lot of different factors that the requested euthanasia had nothing to do with the well-being of the animal, and everything to do with being asked to euthanize under false pretenses. One I believed was a vindictive family member, the other was a breeder who had gotten a new male and didn’t want to her older male for breeding purposes any more. I very much doubt any of my readers fall into either of those categories. Other’s have come in for a euthanasia, only to find out there was some cheap and easily controlled disease to treat. It doesn’t happen a lot but it does happen sometimes and every one definitely goes home happy when it does! I don’t count those as euthanasia failures, those are just joyful misunderstandings!
For all of us, including our pets, life is always too short. It doesn’t matter if you squeeze another week in. If it’s a week of suffering it doesn’t mean anything. If there’s a terminal diagnosis and quality of life will only get worse, it’s OK to say goodbye now while life is still good. It will never be enough time, you will always wish there had been one more ride, one more picture, one more walk. There will always be regrets. Don’t make holding onto an animal longer than what is fair to them be one of them. Under the guise of “life” there are things worse than death. Give them the gift of a good death.
If you are struggling with the decision and evaluating quality of life, here are some good resources:
How Do I Know it’s Time? Ohio State University
Quality of Life Scale Quiz from Journeys Home Pet Euthanasia
Welfare of Aged Horses – Chapter 5 is especially relevant
Time to Say Goodbye from the Horse.com
It goes without saying that your veterinarian can be a good (and necessary) resource. If at all possible, chat with your vet about their philosophy of end of life care prior to having to make a big decision like this. Veterinarians are individuals and we hold varying opinions on the giant grey area of the timing of a good death. Your vet can be an ally in this situation and help shoulder some of the stress of deciding when it’s time to say goodbye.
This hit home! Sibling German Shepherds-2 years apart. Elsie started showing signs of degenerative myelophia. Nearly two years We waited and waited until she could no longer walk and soiled herself. Blitz began to show signs in October-because of the fire his symptoms progressed rather quickly-one day he had trouble getting up stairs and kind of fell over-I could see he was confused and scared-it was 6 months after initial symptoms when we said good bye. I’ve always second guessed myself for not waiting a bit longer. Your blog helped confirm-the right choice was made.
You are welcome. I’m so glad I could bring you some peace.
I can’t express how much this blessed me. Lost my sweet Star 3 days ago and been struggling about was it the right thing to do. I’ve been really sad and crying. However, finding this article made me instantly start feeling a little at peace. It makes perfect sense to give them a good death. Yes my sweetie was old and was having some health issues so I think I made the right decision. God bless you and please continue what u are doing…helping folks in perhaps one of the most challenging times in life.. Thank you!
I always wondered about my little dog Scruffy, Scruffy started having seizures just out of nowhere and they wouldnt stop and got worst, all the meds he was on didnt help, on Mar.24 2018 l had to make this very hard choice, keep him because l love him and be selfish or let him go over the rainbow bridge, l let Scruffy cross the rainbow bridge, its still very hard for me but l know Scruffys isnt suffering anymore, mommy loves and misses you so very much my teeny weeny little boy,
I struggled so much with putting my DM pup down. From first symptom to being down in the back and incontinent was six months. Walking unsteadily to wholly down in the back was days. It’s so hard to see them degrade, you made the right choice when it was the kind gesture to do so. You released his spirit from a body that failed him, and the gift of freedom from a broken body is a lovely final gift, even when the goodbye is so painful.
Incredibly well put. I have never regretted being a day too early, but certainly have regretted being a day too late.
I completely agree, I certainly have my regrets from past pals that I waited too long, and when I saw the last look in their eyes that said “Thank you so much I love you too” I knew. 3 horses I had no choice when I lost them all to lightening. But my last heart horse, Fiona, I made the right decision at the right time after talking with my wonderful vet, Tanja we planned it out. And just as you said: it was a beautiful sunny day, a very unseasonal warm winter day when a sweatshirt sufficed. I brushed her and let her munch her hay on the grass in the warm sun, talked to her and she was happy and content. Tanja did such an amazing job, so gentle and I would never have thought that a 1200 lb horse could be so softly laid down with her head in my hands she ran free again. I miss her every day but I know for a very sure thing that I made the right decision at the right time this time.
Your story made me cry. How kind you were to make her last moments so loving. Bless you.
Totally agree with Anonymous. I’ve been, I think, a bit too late with 2 dogs and that hurts a lot. The last dog I let go was technically okay, 14 years, but with more cons than pros against her name. I still worry that I could have waited a few months more, but like you said – rather sooner than too late.
Thank you so much for this! Glad you shared it on HVC. This confirms that I’ve made the correct decision for my aged gelding. It doesn’t make it easier but it gives a sense of relief. Thank you!!
I want so bad to share this but do not want to get in the soup with HVC- Can we share it?
Absolutley! This is not associated with HVC in any way. I shared it there because i thought it would be helpful. But it is a public link that is available to all :).
I needed to read this today. I’ve been having the internal struggle for a few months now with my older cat.
Wow. Thanks for the article! I had to have a mare euthanized recently due to a twisted gut. I thought I’d made the decision in haste thinking another surgery might produce a good outcome. But I’d remembered the first surgery and the post-op care required. Couldn’t put us through that again. I miss her all of the time. But the grief is starting to pass and she isn’t suffering. You’ve offered an excellent way to look at the less clear-cut cases. I will share your words with my friends. We all have the question of what day to choose. You’ve taken away a lot of guilt today.
I wish we could be this kind to our elderly
Having waited a couple wks longer than I preferred last time, I never want that to happen again & will take a stronger stance with my SO who seems to not see that look in the eye of our pets. I feel that animals try to hide their pain and weakness so we have to pay close attention when they begin to fail.
I worked with elderly, terminal patients when I was 19 yrs old, swore right then that I’d never try to keep someone alive who was ready to go.I am 70 now and still vividly remember a terminal cancer patient begging to be allowed to go, and his wife demanding that he be continually treated and kept alive. I made a huge impact on my young mind. And, the little old lady that wouldn’t eat, only wanted her “cup of tea” once in a while, but instead was spoon fed to keep her going longer than she wanted. Assisted or self-compassionate euthanasia would be preferable to slowly fading IMO. I feel the same way about my pets, big and small.
Oh how I agree I watched my beloved father die of cancer of the oesophagus, if I could have assisted his dying I would gladly have done so, when the time comes for any if my papillons I hold them until life has gone, the very last thing they should know is they are in my arms and hear my voice, that’s what loving them is all about.
I so agree with you ~ just turned 70, too & am worrying about this. Luckily Maine just passed a ‘death with dignity’ bill .. altho I have no idea what it entails, at least we’re thinking about it here!
Thank you for putting in words how I feel. I have idiopathic lung disease, it will never get better in fact the last month I’ve noticed a big change. My lungs are getting harder & breathing makes me so tired, I just want to sleep. Everyone wants me to fight but I’m looking forward to passing. I have my bible under my pillow & at night every prayer ends with please let me sleep into heaven.
I’m sorry you are dealing with that. It sounds terrifying but you sound like you have found some peace in the process? I hope that you have the passing that you want. The value of your life isn’t in the number of your days. I’m so humbled and touched that this post provided some validation or at least made you heard. Safe passage to your next stage.
Your words are so well written and powerful! I am a senior and so are my two dogs! I make a lot of consesions for them just like I Have to do for myself! I dread the day, but will enjoy each day with a hem now❤️🐾
Thank you for this.
very good post and great info to keep at hand. I find it much easier to apply the logic of when to horses vs. my house pets…I guess I’m that much more attached to the little critters in the house…
I am so relieved to read this. We had to make that decision two days ago with our 14 year old Doodle. He was such a sweet dog but started failing a few months ago. Not the decision any dog parent wants to make because you always want to think that it’s not your decision to end a life. We have now told ourselves that we did it for him to give him peace and to be pain free. Looking back on recent pictures of him we now see that he looked tired, no brightness in his eyes and the weight loss that was unexplained was apparent. The last day he was with us he slept but I noticed he had dreams that he was running, something that he hadn’t done in a long time. Thank you for putting into words what we needed to hear. Sweet peace to our Buddy
I think sometimes it’s easier to see in hindsight than in the moment that they look tired and the look in their eyes is gone. That’s why I don’t talk about using that as a marker here and even kind of dismissive about it, because it’s too easy not to see it in the moment. But like you I have looked back at pictures taken “around the time” and noticed exactly what you are talking about, even though in the moment I had convinced myself otherwise for longer than I should have.
Well stated. There are things far worse than death. Working in the medical field, It is not death itself that scares me, but how I die. I feel lucky that I can give my pets a peaceful death when it is their time. If only more humans would understand that the quality of life is more important than the quantity of life.
Oh yes!!! My biggest fear when people I love end up sick and dying is how their end of life will be handled. Because there just aren’t the options. Ugh ugh ugh.
I love your article. It hit home in many areas of death that I have had to deal with with my animals and my human comp Asians and relatives in life. Keep up the good work. I will follow u if I can hit the right button.
Just tired a long day.-:)-:).
I grew up on a farm and have dealt with many end-of-life issues with different animals. I always put the animals pain and suffering first. If it can’t be resolved, then I let them go. It’s heartbreaking EVERY SINGLE TIME! Still, I will do what I can to help a sick animal if there is hope of a good outcome. I have a horse right now undergoing chemo for a stubborn sarcoid on her face. She is a young healthy mare. It will cost me around $3,000 to resolve. I will invest that to make her more comfortable since it isn’t, in any way, life-threatening. I would never do chemo on an animal that is old and terminal, just to buy time.
Thank you for stating this so clearly. We can’t explain to animals why they are in pain. It’s up to us to love them enough to let them go, when their time comes.
I get it – I did abdominal surgery on a mare to remove an ovary with a tumor. I would not do colic surgery. She was a young promising mare, had a very treatable thing that was going to cost something under 2K (if I’m remembering correctly). but it was a different situation than an older horse with a chronic or potentially terminal disease. The rules aren’t the same for every animal in every situation.
Wonderful post, thank you!
I euthanased my old horse earlier this year. I am very grateful that someone asked me that exact question while I was working on the decision, because it made it very obvious to me what I wanted to do then. Before that, I had been struggling with the ‘when’, particularly because the vet had encouraged me to keep my horse going for longer by depending on pain meds. My horse was comfortable while on twice daily pain medication, but essentially that meant that I was waiting for the meds to stop being effective (dosage no longer effective, again) and for my horse to be in pain. Based on how things had progressed already, it was inevitable.
My horse was euthanased about 2 weeks after I was asked the question – the best care I could give him was to make sure he didn’t get to the point where he was in pain. If I waited for it to be critical/urgent, then I couldn’t choose to make the euthanasia when and how I wanted to.
It still sucked so much to lose him, it was always going to. But his last days did not suck, and that was only because I made sure they didn’t.
Thank you for sharing this post and your insights, the more people that ask themselves what they are waiting for, the better!
Thank you. You were able to explain exactly why it’s so important to ask that question. Kudos for you for having the courage to make a very hard decision.
Thank you so much for this……. I have been involved in “the decision” for quite a few horses over the years (and personal dogs, cats, goats), am right now facing this decision with my elderly gelding. He is so special to me, he was such a grand ride, we evented, did dressage, much trail riding…… amazing gallop. He has been retired over 5 years now due to neck arthritis making him a bit neuro. It has been a good retirement, but the inevitable decline has begun…… What am I waiting for? For my heart not to break, to not judge myself to harshly for making my world a bit easier, not worrying about him all winter long. No, there are no easy answers, but this article is touchingly clear. Thank you for this…..
Thank you, Laura for your comment. My 33yo gelding has come off his food, looks to have cushings and dentation issues…. he is in a wonderful living situation with a professional who cares for so well for him but even with a very reasonable rate it has always been challengeing to provide for him – thank you for your comment about not judging oneself because it would be easier (for me). My true heart horse and my last horse…. who will I be without him??
Last year I had to make the decision for BOTH my cats, one in September and the other in November. The first cat was 15, and had had some sort of long illness no one could diagnose. She saw a total of four vets plus a specialist, and no diagnosis. She would get better and then worse. She started dramatically losing weight, but was still so, so sweet and loving always and seemed happy. One weekend she slept almost the entire weekend, only moving when I changed rooms. I took her in as soon as the clinic opened.
The second cat was younger and had a chronic health issue from babyhood. I adopted her at 4 weeks as a sickly abandoned kitten. She developed a sinus tumor. it got bigger and bigger, and I could not put her through chemo/radiation, just don’t think it is fair. I really struggled with when. The vet’s wife told me better too soon than too late, and I knew that the tumor could eat through the bone into the brain cavity and cause a crisis.
The day I took her in, I took video of her batting around her beloved milk ring and questioned my decision. And she fought me like the devil to avoid the hated crate. I have a permanent scar on my finger I will always cherish! After she was gone, the vet asked to look into her mouth, and he said that the tumor had completely dissolved the bones in her palate. And that was only what was visible. I am so glad I did not wait even a day longer. Cats are SO good at hiding pain!
I had a 34 year old mare that had been doing really well. She was still eating well, mostly keeping weight on, still the bossy queen of the pasture. I got up one morning and she was down and could not get up. She was very calm, her usual imperious self. I sat with her head in my lap, feeding her as many apples as she wanted until the vet got there. I am thankful that it was a warm, sunny day, and that she was so calm and trusting and did not panic. She tried to get up when I asked her to, but she really had no interest. And enjoyed all the apples.
This is awesome… We always need these words.. Hope we can manage to make it right when we have to make the decision.
What gives us the right to play God though? We as humans will grow old and sore and slow to get up and have bad days but then we have good days, joyous days. What if someone else cut our days short? I agree that we should not let our animals suffer and medication and pin management are crucial but I struggle with being the one to make the decision to end their life. It would be so much easier if they could talk. I DO appreciate the article and other people’s opinions. A hard topic for sure
It’s very hard. I actually struggle on the other end – looking at the human end-of-life. I see people who want to die and are being helped with opioids etc which do nothing but numb the pain as they slowly starve and dehydrate to death. That is a hard thing to endure at least from the the outside. At least with a human there is understanding of what is happening and why, and a good day or two is something to look forward to. Animals on the other hand, can’t hurt now and think “well, there may be better days in the future.” There is only the now. Imagine the suffering when you can only exist in the present without an understanding of the future. In an arthritic horse’s case, imagine being in the cold mud, unable to get up for hours as you wait for someone to come rescue in. It’s akin to going outside in the snow while feeble because that is your life, slipping, and having no one come for hours. That is what I view as my mission to prevent.
It is a hard, complicated decision to make though and you have my sympathy. It’s never as cut and dried in your own pets and I actually regularly have nightmares about having to euthanize my own pets. Sometimes I think about it intensively and try to process some of the emotions now – I guess so that it will be easier when it comes time? I don’t know. Death is never as peaceful as we imagine except in some lucky cases and I want to spare them that pain when there is no hope and honestly, I want that for myself too.
We watched our beloved mother die last year. It’s very true that there are worse things than death. Someone said that a her wake and I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you for this article. I’ve had to make this decision many times over the years. It’s never been an easy one. I will be keeping this article and sharing it with others.
I have had to have many animals PTS over the years and it is hard. One thing we need to remember is that Mother Nature is a hard mistress, she has hardwired animals to hide pain. In the herd the lame or the ill get picked off soonest so animals just try to keep up and keep quiet.
This article was very good as are the comments.
“Are you waiting for them to not be able to get up, to be found 6 or more hours down in the mud with signs of struggle as they tried again and again to make their arthritic joints obey their still young-at-heart spirit? ” This was why I made the decision to let my “son” go Sept 1, 2018 He was 23. A retired OTTB with a lot of joint issues. While he was still in good weight, and in great spirits. He had gone down in the field a few times and had to be helped up, and those are the times people were there. Who knows what happened when every was gone. I had promised him when I got him, that he and I would be together to the very end. And I kept that promise to him. I miss him horribly. I feel un tethered despite my commitment to my family. Heck my husband once mentioned that I had actually seen my horse more than I had him, over the 14 years I had my boy. I rough boarded and saw him 365 for 14 years. Twice a day. Blizzards, Hurricanes. Didnt matter. Vacation? Ha what’s that? Christmas morning and night. New Years. Halloween. All spent in the barn with him. I know I let him go at the right time. But damnit if it wont hurt forever.
Thank you for this article, I found it through a pet loss grief support page on Facebook and it helped me a lot to read it. I let my chronically ill senior Aussie mix dog go back in June when she fell into DKA after a year of being very difficult to regulate despite working closely with the vet. I know I could have taken her to the emergency hospital and maybe she would’ve pulled through after days of intensive care, but she was rapidly declining and not well regulated and would have been at high risk of another slip into DKA, which is a terrible condition as I’m sure you know. She had already suffered loss of vision to SARDS years before becoming diabetic, and at the time I found her half starved in the woods while out hiking with my other dog, she had endured health issues primarily multiple surgeries and recoveries to repair badly damaged hips and leg from some kind of injury (hit by car?) that healed without vet care because she was either a stray or somebody’s neglected pet. She endured all this with good cheer and was of the sweetest, gentlest disposition – so devoted that I couldn’t imagine life without her and it was only after she was gone and I was wracked with grief and so deeply depressed that I knew I had to rescue another dog or risk losing myself, then having this new and young and vital dog around I realized with clarity just how badly my poor Aussie had gotten and how diminished her quality of life had become in those final months. And I’m sure she was masking pain for a long time because animals do instinctively, and I had seen her do it from the very first yet somehow deluded myself about it.
I think we tend to see our beloved pets as they were when we first fell in love with them – just as parents often struggle to see their human children as grown adults, we don’t always see our pets clearly as the seniors they’ve become with steadily declining quality of life. Now I look back at photos from across her lifetime and I can see it SO clearly – but in the end of her life I just wanted to not have to face MY life without her in it.
It’s important to always emphasize that this is about sparing them pain, and not about sparing us grief. Loving a pet – or a person – means that at some point there will be profound grief. It’s the price of love, and we must pay it – sooner than later, in order to spare them unnecessary pain.
This is so true: “It’s important to always emphasize that this is about sparing them pain, and not about sparing us grief.”
I often tell people that they made the last, greatest gift to their pet when they choose to take all of their pain and suffering into themselves so they don’t have to suffer any longer. You take their pain away, and give it to yourself as you ache for their loss.
Thank you for this… I prayed over my decision for my gelding who’s been with me 25+ years… Then I found this article. I found confirmation and peace from your insight… Though the decision has been re confirmed in your words, the decision is still surreal. I appreciate every word. Thank you.
Thank you everyone that is sharing your stories. I hope when people see this post and your stories in the comments it helps make a hard decision a little easier.
I gave up work (I’m I n my 70s) to be at home with my 15 year old Miniature Schnauzer. She had tumours and I didn’t want her to be on her own when it was her time to go. One morning I knew it was time and took her straight to vet. Was with her when she passed . Didn’t make her loss any easier but I knew I hadn’t let her down and am sure she was aware of the extra love those last precious months of her life.
It is never easy. I’ve buried 7 horses, 3 dogs and 3 cats. Only 1 dog went in his sleep… he had a heart murmur. People ask all the time… sometimes you need to turn off your heart and look with your eyes and brain…
We honor them by doing what is right for them and not for ourselves.
Lovely article Doc… I hope it helps many arrive at the correct decision sooner rather than later.
Your post is obviously badly needed. I had a little cocapoo who was with me for 17 years. She never showed any signs of pain but she had stopped eating. She continued to follow me around the house and behaved normally. People told me “She will let you know when she is ready to go.” But she never did. The vet told me her organs were failing. I panicked. But she NEVER left my side. She never let me know. How I wished she would just die, but she didn’t. I had to make the decision to put her down. It was heart wrenching. I sought to find a grief group but the grief groups were all for people.
6 months later, my little 12 yr old Maltese who had been suffering from Cushings Disease started to fail. But her eyes were always bright, she still wanted her treats. Even though she couldn’t walk, her little tail still wagged when I came near. Again, I had to make that awful decision. It is so heart-breaking, I can understand why people don’t get pets again.
But I was left with only one dog and I felt she was lonely, so we got another dog. It was the best thing we could have done!
I’m so glad you posted this! Thank you so much.
One consideration I have to include is my pets companion, litter-mate and best friend. Will the litter mate decline after the loss of her sibling?
very well said. However, until the SAFE act is passed, I am concerned by you turning away from those that would euthanize horses rather than drop off at a kill pen or auction, you are putting animals at an even greater risk of a grisly death. We do not have laws that help these horses out there. They are starved at pens, treated horribly, abused and transported to Mexico for a very inhumane death. Would it not be better for the horses to be safely over the rainbow bridge than thrown away that way? Because the one who wants to replace old with new will do just that. More people need to be talking about this until the SAFE act is passed and stand up for protecting horses; it is not as black and white as just make a good decision. Horses are tremendously expensive, I’ve watched costs rise for their keep unbelievably so should only the rich own them? We need better ways of making sure they stay out of the slaughter pipeline and are protected for life. I agree, people wait too long, that is well said, but talking about walking away from horses in bad homes is a very complicated subject that needs to be discussed further and real solutions implemented
We just went through this two days ago with our 3-1/2 year old beloved cat. He suffered terribly from feline pica. He had had two abdominal surgeries in a month and only a few days after the last surgery found a rogue sock and ate it. We had tried everything to help him stop this terrible addiction. He was well loved and otherwise healthy and happy. That is what made the decision so hard. We called in our animal communicator friend to ask him if he wanted to live. His answer was no. The obsession was too much for him to live with. Hearing that it made the decision easier. But it was sobering and devastating to decide this for a young animal.
your compassion is inspiring.
I cannot tell you how extremely helpful this article has been for me. We helped our precious Smooth Collie “Daisy” over the Rainbow Bridge 2 years ago on June 26 at 6:30pm at home. It wasn’t easy to find a vet to come to the house but we did. She was my Heart Dog since 12 weeks. There were so many symptoms of serious problems at 11-1/2, but you always hope the vet will find a pill or shot or something to fix it. Despite an appt. to test for one condition, I knew deep inside that other serious issues were presenting themselves, and she was spiraling badly that last weekend. When the vet called with the results of the bloodwork, my heart broke. He recommended taking her to the only place they did ultrasounds for what he believed was GI cancer. At this point, she couldn’t keep food down, was constantly thirsty, couldn’t get up without help, couldn’t do the stairs or go for a walk beyond 3 houses, and had labored breathing. We would not have done surgery or chemo or radiation on her at this age and stage of her life. I called her breeder immediately. She told me to be strong and that I could not let her suffer and knew what had to be done. Yes I did, but I still struggled with every fiber of my being. Reading your article has brought me a peace in my decision that has been so difficult these past couple years. Thank you Dr. Newton so very much for your extremely well-written and helpful article.
I sit here reading and tears come to my eyes. In March of 2019 I had to make the decision for my 9 year old Shepard who was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy. Such a sweetheart with a huge heart. I made arrangements for the vet to come to the house, as she was unable to walk without assistance the last day or two. She declined rapidly that last week after I made the heart wrenching telephone call to have her body picked up by the crematorium after the vet left.
The night before we had cheeseburgers, the only table food she would eat. My kids took the day off from school – took her for a long car ride, one of her favorite things to do, played soccer and just loved on her. They made the last day special – was still not ready to say goodbye but we needed to let her go with dignity 💔
What are you waiting for? The thought to pass that my best friend’s last thoughts were, ” What did I do wrong that you’re sending me away”. It’s too easy when they are old and infirm.You can find some comfort in that you are relieving their pain. But when you are letting them go ( old or not) and they physically fight to stay… Most of mine leave like that and I can’t help but wonder…
I am the founder of the Sanctuary at Red Bell Run. We only take in special needs equines who have been severely compromised to the point that though they may have a decent quality of life, they are unadoptable or their medical needs are more than most people can handle. We deal with quality of life assessments on a daily basis. A dear friend once told me that she bases her decisions on 3 things: Can they masticate? Can they ambulate? Can they communicate? If one or more of these things is compromised, we begin to assess weekly at 1st and then daily. When the good days start outweighing the bad over a period of 2 weeks, we consult with our vets. If our vets feel we have done as much as possible, we make our decision. It is far far better to be a day too soon than a minute too late. Here at Red Bell Run, I often tell my staff that the price of the unconditional love is sometimes a painful heart. It is our responsibility to do right by them. It is about them, not us.
Thank you for saying it so well.
This is s good article that I’m sure was tough to write. Almost exactly one year ago I was faced with the decision of having my beloved Airedale euthanized. I agonized and prayed and finally I feel like God dropped this thought in my heart: it’s time when he is having more bad days than good ones. My dog was 11 and had hemangiosarcoma of the spleen, and had I waited he would have bled out and suffered so much more. I made the decision and two days later he was euthanized, kindly, peacefully in my arms. I don’t regret my decision because he is no longer suffering while valiantly trying to be there for me. Does it hurt any less? No, but I know I did the right thing by letting him go. Thank you for frankly addressing this topic. Only a truly compassionate person would have had the guts.
A friend shared your link on her Facebook page this evening. And as much as I don’t want to say it, it is just what I needed to read right now. We have tried to give our dog Buster Boo the best possible care and chances in life we could. He has never been an easy dog and came to us with a lot of issues at 18 months old. But we worked our way through those. At 4 years old he started behaving oddly and it turned out he was having petit mals, which from time to time could make him unpredictable and snappy. Over they years we have delt with this and with the correct medication has really helped. Last September he damaged his other crucial ligament (1st one at 18 months just before we got him). He is now nearly 13 years old. At the same time he started to have trouble with his nose. Sneezing and trouble breathing from time to time. The vet called it a backward sneeze. He’s had antibiotics and it cleared it up. But it has come back and now is bleeding again. His left nostril almost constantly dripping with goo. He has still wanted to play and go for walks and eat most of his meals, so it has been a tough call. So having read your article, it has put his life now into perspective for me. I knew this day was coming and sooner rather than later. So the idea of “why wait?” Rather than “when is it time?” has helped me. Also crying with my nose blocking up has given me insight as to how his nose must feel to him. So thank you xxx
I’m so sorry for the decision you are facing now. It is so very difficult.
I’ve learned that it’s better to be one day too early than one day too late. About 10 years ago, I waited several days before making the decision and during that time, she was in treatment at the vet..so she spent her last days there. I did go to be with her during those final moments, it was important to me. The next one, I was determined that she wouldn’t suffer. She had cancer that couldn’t be treated, but she wasn’t in any pain or discomfort. Then it started to grow and she had a few days of eating less…still eating but not as much so I called my vet and made the appointment. I took the day off work and we took a car ride. It was a gorgeous day and I let her stick her head out the window. We went for a slow walk in the park, then stopped for chicken nuggets. She ate some on the way to the vet, then ate more while waiting in the office. I’d said my goodbyes the night before and I was at peace with my decision so I had no tears and she was so happy. When it was time, we made our way back to the exam room and I put her on the table, gave her more love and more chicken nuggets 🙂 as she chewed, the tech slipped the sedative into her vein and she quietly started slipping away, still chewing on that nugget. My vet said it was one of the most peaceful euthanasia’s he’d ever done. Given the choice, I will always choose to make it ‘special’ again and let them have one last happy time. I’ve recently found a vet that makes house calls so if I have that option, even better! Thank you for this article.
Your article just makes sense. We have to put our pet’s quality of life first. I am dealing with my 18 year old cat now with kidney disease.
My almost 9 year old cat also has kidney disease. She was diagnosed stage 3, last May. It had come on hard and fast, and we were blindsided by it. We’d been doing fluid therapy every evening since her diagnosis, but she started biting me a few weeks ago, so we scaled back. The roller coaster of good and bad days has been rough, but just when I think maybe it’s time, she bounces back, and I question my judgment. This article speaks to me on so many levels, and yet, I still don’t feel entirely confident. Her bad days are SO BAD, but she still has so many good days.
This is an inane article. Written from the perspective of someone who’s daily job includes killing dogs.
If a vet has killed a dog for behavioral issues, such as “behavioral euthanasia”…when it’s extremely straightforward to address behavior…how can her professional opinion be respected?
Dogs that have lost limbs from being hit by a car or old age weakens their back end…these dogs would be killed as prescribed by this article.
Sheesh…my Rescue foundation helps dogs that this author will kill.
And that’s why there are 6 million dogs killed annually in North America.
That is right on what you wrote. You write it to the point no making it pretty or easy because it never is no matter how many pets you love and have euthanized. Only ones that went on their own tragedies hit by car, one dog the police let out she tried to follow could not get back into my yard and died. I found her remains 4 years later, also had 3 beaten to death. I have an old cat I need to make the call, his tooth. Or both canines bother him he is maintaining weight but its getting to me and him being confined to a bedroom he is too old to be outside and he looked awful when I brought him inside. Then was lonely so I brought his friend in. But all temporary if they would not run back to the old shop I would say go for it, but not when he is 18 with medical issues. I have 2 cats that stsy in the house one will not tolerate any others but maybe I will see when i have all the doors locked. She attacked the last cat I brought in. I personally do not like her, she is about 19, not showing health problems yet. I did in home euthanasia for 3 years with a veterinarian yes people wait too long.
I THANK YOU for making this post, this year I have euthanised 4 aged dogs (13-16 years) I knew their quality of life was diminishing and I wanted the to feel loved to their very ends , they knew , they were issed as they took their final breaths but ALL left this earth peacefully with dignity and being loved to their final moment. I get tired of advising owners it is time but they refuse and you see the life of that animal being sucked away day by day sadly . I love them so much they deserve the very best end as they enjoyed the very best beginnings and very best life sharing QUALITY time always with me no matter what ….. THANK YOU x THIS ARTICLE IS WONDERFUL
thank you for this post. As a life-long animal person and former horse breeder, I’ve had to make the decision many, many times. It’s never easy and some think I am hard. I realize animals live in the moment and even though it breaks my heart to loose one, I know making the hard decision is the right one.
I’m going to share this post to a couple of groups I belong to. I hope it makes those who’ve made the decision to let their friend go feel some comfort and peace and those who need to make the decision will be able to make the right one with a clear head.
Please – this affects your credibility!
A plural has just an s or in some cases, es at the end. Adding an apostrophe and s makes it possessive.
I’ve done euthanasia’s… Incorrect
I’ve done euthanasias… Correct
The horse’s hooves means the the horse has (or owns) the hooves.
How did you get through vet school (or even elementary school) not learning that?
Oops! I see I typed the word “the” twice in a sentence. That is a mistake and I’d like to correct it.
Most of my posts here are first drafts :). This blog is an unpaid project. I write quickly and post because if I spend too much time editing nothing ever gets published. Over the years I’ve managed this blog readers have told me they would rather have my stories than wait ’til I get around editing them into perfection. If you want something that is more “polished” you may enjoy my published book, or published articles, which have been edited with a fine tooth comb and are “final drafts”.
Pretty harsh considering you wrote loose when it should have been lose. As my sweet granny always said, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t correct the grammar of others.
Diane, I love your Granny.
This made me cry! My cat was only 4 years old when i had to make the decision to have him put to sleep. He had kidney failure and started getting seizures. Took him to the vet and we had a long talk off what will lay ahead and what the options were. After my vet and i spoke and cried i had him put to sleep while holding him in my arms. This broke me. Afterwards I thought what if? Maybe i should’ve etc. Its now 18 months later i still mourn for my cat but i do know it was the right decision he was suffering and I couldn’t let him live a bit longer just so that i could have him a few days longer etc. I only had Milo 2 years and 6 months he was a feral we rescued from under a shipping container. But he was the love of my life. Forever in my heart.
Thank you for this. I have a 34 year old horse. He’s my ‘ first horse’ . My dream come to reality horse. We have been through a bunch over the last 20 years.,his spirit is so strong. He can still lay down, and roll, walk yet and canter ( just not long distances) and is still the boss of 10 horses. His weight is ok per my vet for his age and I know the day is coming. I also have 2 old dogs age 12 and 9 . We lost 2 dogs over the last 2 summers. One while I was away in Europe. And she was fine when I left., I always tell my friends, we can only love them and give them the best care for their natural lives. That’s what we commit to them. And that includes give them goid quality life and to be there for their last journey. Thank you for an honest heartfelt article. I wish for you to keep your amazing compassion for all your patients.
Thank you so very much for this…I’m in my seventies now and have had to make this decision many times over the years and will again. It was always difficult except in two cases. One, I remember lying on the floor overnight with my very beloved 11-year-old cat, crying and repeating “Please don’t die, Casey; please don’t die”, knowing I was taking him for exploratory surgery to find out the cause of his illness. I left him at the vet in the morning with instructions to hug him and tell him he was a good boy before surgery, which I knew she would. I went to work and received a phone call a few hours later from my vet, telling me that he was full of adhesions (this was over 30 years ago) and there was no cure for FIP. She asked if I wanted to let him wake up so I could “say goodbye” to Casey. I would have loved to hold him again, but that wouldn’t have helped him, so I let him go. Reading your article and these comments have given me more insight and confirmation that my decisions were made for the right reasons. Thanks again!
There’s still no cure for FIP :(, (although we may be getting close). It’s an awful disease and my heart goes out to you.
This hits so close to home…
We are lucky to have been the one in a million that got to be there with our pup as he made a relatively peaceful journey at home, mostly in his sleep. His decline came quickly, one morning he just wasn’t very responsive, his hind quarters (which had been weakening) didn’t want to work, but he rallied a bit for breakfast and a vet visit. The vet couldn’t give us a clear answer and our dog was 13, not a good patient- so we opted to wait and see. This was a Saturday morning…by Sunday morning it was clear that he was fading, and by the time we settled him between us in bed on a layer of towels and extra sheets we suspected we wouldn’t have him another 24 hours. Apart from the normal physical phenomena that accompany death (which I won’t elaborate here), he passed peacefully in ‘the big bed’. Thank you for the insights of your article, I know that we will not have this opportunity the next time and will have to make the hard decision.
Wow, just wow. It’s like you have been sitting in our conversations and living in my head over the past few months as to what to do about our nearly 17 year old dog. We have done it 3 times in the last 3 years and there is still no “formula” for when. Incredibly well written, frank and insightful.
((Psst. “Should’ve”, not “should of”.)). 🙂
Great post, BTW. Then there are the behavioral euthanasias.
What is it with the grammar police around here. Excellent article, leave her alone.
Sometimes it isn’t policing, it is teaching. How many times have you seen or heard a person make the same mistake over and over? Nobocy learns if nobody teaches.
Trust me – no one wants unsolicited advice on their own, unpaid blogs. It’s not called teaching in this context…it’s trolling.
I do paid writing for various publications. Those pieces are extensively edited which takes an enormous amount of time and energy that I’m happy to do in that context.
For the posts that are here, on my personal blog – that I spend my own money and time to make happen – my blog readers and I have an agreement: I’m happy to write and share as long as they are willing to overlook the inevitable typos and errors that occur, since most of these posts are first drafts. There are errors, typos, and I don’t particularly conform to any style guide except my own.
It’s the greatest gift we are able to give them. Our unconditional love and their Peace and rest. Quality of life is deserved for every living being.
guys, guys, GUYS I’m so overwhelmed by all the views and comments here. I wish I could respond to every single one. I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes, just so overwhelmed by how much this article has helped so many of you. I never expected this to touch so many of you, but it was one of those articles that was just burning in my brain to write…to get it off my chest. Thank you for your stories, your compassion, and your kind words. May all of you find peace with the difficult decisions you have had to make for your animal companions.
thank you for writing this
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m still healing from putting my dog down in August. But I absolutely did it give him a good death, and this article really helped me. Even if I am crying like a baby. (He was a joyful basset hound, nearly 14yo, had an enlarged heart, touching his spine, and then newly diagnosed with a tumor in his stomach, he wasn’t going to get better, he was on excellent pain killers, No one would know what all he had going on if they met him on a walk, but I didn’t want it to become an ER situation and see him suffer). Thank you again.
Thank you so very much (sobbing for 2 days now)…my beautiful sister & my Vet, Dr. Carrie Marcum, shared your “spot on” message with me tonight. My sweet baby 5yr old bull-mastiff, Harley, recently out of the blue had 7 seizures in 2 days. We got proper medication and have had no more but, he began having problems walking on his hind left leg. Tests, meds and x-rays…Then, he could no longer use it. We got him a brace/splint which just hindered his walking. Then, his right leg began giving out. 😭 He can no longer get up, walk, go to the bathroom or get to his food/water bowl on his own. My poor baby is 98lbs so it’s not an easy pick him right up and take him where he needs to go😔 I called her last night, knowing in my heart that it’s only going to get worse. He is sad and you can see the depression. I asked her everything you spoke of in the beginning of your article. It is exactly as if you were listening to me completely broken hearted begging for her advise hoping it would reassure me that what I knew, in fact, is the right decision. We spoke and I did ask for 1 more day with him. Today we had special cheeseburgers, peanut butter, a wonderfully relaxing lavender and coconut oil bath for him, lots of snuggles togeather on his bed and a couple of funny snapchat selfies. 💞 When most people lose a loved one we always wish we had just 1 more day. I thank my beautiful little sister for me getting that 1 more day to just spoil, have relaxing and special time with my sweet baby Harley AND for send me your article tonight. As he sleeps next to me tonight on his bed next to mine, I have found quite a bit more peace for saying goodbye tomorrow evening💞 It will still hurt tremendously but, I know it is ok to make this decision now and not prolong the painful inevitable. THANK YOU, for reassuring me that I am giving him a Good Death after his last delicious peanut butter and bacon cheese burger and a big hug and kiss on his sweet nose💝
I am so sorry for your decision. I’m so thankful you have a sister that was able to help guide you. Just your story means that it was worth it to write this post. I imagined it helping one person or one animal and it being worth it. I didn’t realize what an impact it would have. But be assured that you were who I had in mind even if I didn’t know it at the time.
Our vet once told me that when it comes to euthanasia…
“It’s better to act a week too early than a day too late.”
That’s a principle that we always bear in mind when trying to decide if “the time is right”.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts too 💜💜💜
This gave me more peace over the recent decision to say goodbye to our 12+ year old lab. He was the best dog. Our experience was hard- we were at an ER vet on a Sunday. He had been declining for a year. He was struggling, needing more medications, going for acupuncture a few times a month. We went through the “someday” phase and the “soon?” phase. And then he got pancreatitis. Round one at the vet that Sunday looked promising, some meds and fluids and he perked up. By that evening though he was right back at square one. We looked at him, clearly in pain. We thought about all the meds he now hated taking, how he struggled to get his hind legs under him, how he couldn’t handle the stairs anymore… and we decided it was time. We called the vet back and explained and asked them to help us. They says to come in. And when we got there, the ER vet, not knowing us, and not knowing him beyond his morning visit, his chart and what we told him through the tears, tried to talk us out of our decision. He questioned everything about our vet’s pain management choices. I will never forget being asked “why did you vet recommend acupuncture over lasers?” My answer was not kind. But also, how in the world would I know? I’m thankful there are people who make this terrible decision easier, not harder. I’m going to remember to ask “what are you waiting for.” Thank you for this perspective.
I have been through this so many times – most recently last Friday with Reg. I knew the time was racing towards us but Friday was crunch time, while he was still happy and skipping round the field (arthritis in his spine making things more difficult for him). He was an abuse case 9 years ago so I celebrate his time of freedom with us.
Only 1 of my dogs chose her own time, swimming was one of her passions and she just stopped. As you say, no sign of illness or pain, she had been playing football in the park with the local kids in the morning so it was a massive shock but what a wonderful way to leave!
I cried when I read this. Out of sadness and relief. It is such a hard decision to make. I have fostered, rescued and adopted many dogs and cats in my life and it is always such a gut wrenching event to have to put someone down. This article really helped my heart.
As an end-of-life care veterinarian for 9 years and a vet for going on 23, I just want to say kudos and i will be sharing this with my hospice families and on my professional pages. This will really help people clarify their thoughts.
So true. My dog Barkley had bone cancer and it had spread by the time we got a firm diagnosis. We couldn’t keep him free from pain and amputation would have only bought him a short span of time with a lot of fear and pain. Letting him go was the best thing for him. I know this is long, but it’s something I wrote in a book I wrote about my dog that speaks to this. CHAPTER 47 – Decisions
The Internet continued with news of a weather disaster somewhere, the world no stranger to such devastation, man and Mother Nature both regularly leaving their devastating mark upon the land.
Throughout history, such dramatic events have happened; some in everyone’s mind’s eyes, some exposing themselves as earthquake fault lines, miles under our watchful eye, until such times as that cumulative movement suddenly erupts into our daily world. Landscapes ruptured, through history, whole cities and groups of people, lost to sight, like a coin up a magician’s sleeve.
Ghost towns dot the globe; some abandoned some retained as museums such as Oradour-sur-Glane, France. The village was destroyed in 1944; over 600 of its inhabitants were massacred by the Waffen-SS on June 10, 1944. Only one woman survived.
Things that change the course of a landscape and its people usually start small. Deep in the Sahara Desert, a column of hot air swirls upward fifteen thousand feet, spreading as it races to the west coast where it dips toward the ocean. This small-bit player, coached by the flow of the ocean, the spin of the air and the accolades of warm water, soon grows into a hurricane that slams into the Gulf Coast, setting up the act and the scene before the curtain even had time to fall.
But what of the dinosaurs, the largest creatures to ever walk this earth? They were felled by an unseen comet it is said, something oceans wide that disrupted the earth. Or perhaps it was just one small burp in the ecosphere, like the invisible microbe that ended the Martians in the War of the Worlds, Was it only one thing, or one giant calamitous thing that emptied the monuments and granaries and empiric towers of the Mayans? For they left, with no clues left behind, no words, and no records, entire cities whose names sounded of exotic riches and excesses, nothing remaining, but a soundless roar of a civilization vanished.
What was it? Did something tremendous happen that required immediate action, and they were struck down, hypnotized under the glare of that great and enduring WAS. Or did they look from the corner of their eye, a flash of movement, a small thing actually, the small, shiny blade of change, and flee from it, never to return.
Sometimes it IS the small things. A branch of coral is comprised of thousands of polyps that together, form a living thing. It’s living yeast that combines with flour and liquid and the labor of hands to make bread. It’s the opposing and orthogonal perspective of myriad pieces of metal, formed into a useful function by the human mind. It’s one small bird taking flight, joining another, and another, until the sky is dark with their winged victory.
It’s a small black puppy in a well-worn photograph. It’s another photo, of a red haired woman with that same dog, now old and grey. Between those two pictures, there was much love, so much life.
Sometimes it’s the big things, the sun that peeks up over the horizon each morning, millions of people turning to that same spot in which they gaze upon their expectation. A figure nailed upon a cross, all those many eyes, looking in that one direction, saying the same litany of prayer, with the same prostrations. Father Son and Holy Ghost, Amen; cleansing us in the fire as worlds away, a wall of rain and wind condense and compound to wash away more than sin.
The heavens contain pieces of satellite that may fall to fall to earth, each of them capable of harm, each capable of simply dropping into the ocean where their presence will not be noticed or missed. What will happen to it as it enters the atmosphere, as it crosses the line that separates the unknown from the comprehended? Will we even notice?
I would not notice. For all that fills my view is a diagnosis, the one we did not want to hear, even as it was spoken, with a voice tinged with tears.
In a small bed, in her hospital lays a beloved dog, weary of battles both large small, yet refusing to give quarter against a foe just the size of one cell of his body. Each and every cell in return put up its own fight, even as some were sacrificed to the cause, the body on fire from within itself. I watched the struggle to rise from his bed with the pain. I watched him try and hide it, lapping up every bit of joy from the wellspring of his suffering. I watch him play in the face of that fire and continue the fight he will lose in just weeks, still with that invisible captaincy of spirit that is as infinite in capacity as it is in faith.
Everything worth meaning is made up of so many small parts, its moments; its words, its acts, the skin and bone and the nucleus within us that contains its own fire, somewhere deep inside. We’re our own walking fate, and we’re our own little miracles, the atoms from which we’re made, not so different from the atoms of the earth, the air, the water, all of us formed from that blazing nucleus of the stars – Heaven, binding us together.
I will never fully understand the miracle that is our existence, our role in the vast wonder that is earth and space and Heaven. But I can grasp the wonder of my world, in a volcanic rock formed in the earth that holds in place letters from a loved one long ago. In a pressed leaf in a photo frame; the tiny veins within it stilled, a leaf once green, held tight between pages, even as it died a logical compromise between promise and poison, which left just a shell of what was once a beautiful thing.
I look at my own hands, the web of veins, the flow and beat of my blood, frailer than the scent of copper and louder than the seethe and fury of the ocean. I think of the decision I must make, not tomorrow, but today.
Such a difficult delicate topic. This is written from a vet‘a perspective. I’d like to add a trainer’s.
I like the question Mel asks about what we wait for in order to make an end of life decision for our animals. It applies to more that physical suffering. Our animals fulfill emotional roles in our lives that they often take very seriously. It is important to release them from these responsibilities if we want them to pass away peacefully. Whether they are a protector or comforter or entertainer in our lives many of our companion animals need permission to retire from their ‘jobs’ in order to accept their own end. Taking the time to rein in our own needs and feelings and reassure them that we will cope without them -well in advance of the final day- will often prompt them to reveal things about their comfort level that they were concealing for our benefit.
So far in my experience they have always displayed an element of relief when they are sure their decline has not failed me in some way.
If we take the time to prepare ourselves to be their companion at the end we will have one more thing to comfort ourselves with when they are gone. 🙂❤️☺️
So beautifully insightful. Tender. And I believe this contains a lot of truth. Thank you for this.
I just mad the decision to put my cat down on 1-11-2020. I’m still questioning the decision but after reading your article I feel a bit more at peace with it. I have a pic of her on her last day and she looks amazing! It’s those sparks….still using her scratcher or making “biscuits’ or eating her cookies that caused me to pause but in it I could still see her try to get comfortable getting a drink or lifting her foot up which I thought might be begging but realized it was pain. She had a huge mass that was eroding into her scapula. What I thought could be arthritis turned out to be an ugly cancer eating away at her. In 2 days I had to decide. The worst decision possible but I know it was the right one. I couldn’t keep her here for a few more days or a week just to make it easier on me. I know she had a good death.
I have two rescue ponies, both in their 30’s. Both with cushings; they have been together for many years and are very dependent for each other. They both will call to the other when apart. What shall I do if one need to go before the other? Will the one left behind ok?
If it were me, I would ask myself: what would they gain by not being put down at the same time? What would the one left alive gain?
I don’t think much.
A year ago I had to put my 13 year old horse down. I did it after consulting Mel, before she wrote this blog post. I could have made him live a lot longer, with meds and surgeries.
Doing it….it felt like my insides were being torn out. But Caspian? Caspian ate so much grain he would have foundered without being put down, and he died munching calmly on a mouthful of grass, happy and calm and loved.
If it were me, I would put them both down on the same day. I can’t even imagine how hard that would be on you. Id probably ask a friend to help me. But if it were me, I’d do it on a sunshiny day, with a belly full of sweet feed, and on the same day.
Yeah, this is a tough situation. Ugh. Becky has great advice. That’s an excellent question…what would you gain by leaving one alive? The other thing you could do is do a trial separation and see how it goes (one off the property). The other thing you could do when it’s time is just try it and let the remaining one see the one that has been euthanized. Sometimes animals are intuitive in a way that surprises us and the “know” the other is gone.
Rereading it, “what do you gain by leaving one alive” comes off as rather….wrong but I think you get the deeper meaning. Does the other horse have a QOL that allows them to live a life apart from their companion? Depending on the medical issues of both at the time one is euthanized +\-how a trial deprecation goes, the answer might be yes or no.
Thank you for this. I’ve had many pets and every time the time comes to make this decision it has not been easy.
Thank you! I really needed this right now. I just had to make that dreadful decision last week and of course second guessing myself even though my vet agreed that it was time. Buddy was 18 years old and the best rescue dog ever! I now look at it like he was given an amazing 13 extra years of love and laughter. He was my ❤️
I have had to say goodbye to several kitties. They all let me know it was time but it was never easy. The one that we waited too long was because my daughter had died and we had to deal with that, including traveling to another state for her burial. I knew what I would have to do when I got home and a couple of days after returning we told him goodbye.
In September I had to finally make the decision to say goodbye to my 10 year old rescue/bottle-fed kitty who was on about life 20. There were numerous times when his doctor and I both thought it was time and made plans and he miraculously recovered. The last 3 years I took him weekly to a friend’s house for B12 shots which were the magic potion. Finally, though it was time and he let me know. His wonderful, loving vet was with us and was so kind, loving, and gentle with him, afterward petting him, telling him he was a good boy and would be missed. She then thanked me for knowing when it was time.
I have 2 16-year old kitties and I dread the time they cross the rainbow bridge.
This article hit hard. We lost three pets over the last 4 months. Two cats and a dog. I’m not new to euthanasia as we have had to put 7 pets to sleep over the last 16 years. Its always tough, though our second to last cat was the hardest. I had to do it alone, I felt terrible and still feel bad not for staying with him as he passed. Lots of alcohol, crying and sleepless nights. Slowly I am coming to terms with the fact that it’s not the worst thing to not stay as they pass but most of the time going with your gut is the right decision.
The entire article captures about every feeling/conversation we have had but have to say this one line sums it all up, at least for me ….. “they hang on to their pet’s continued existence as proof that this is not a convenience euthanasia.”
As for the grammar police on here, good grief. I can only assume you are not in the middle of a difficult decision looking for some perspective if that’s all you got out of the article.
On a lighter note, how many have said “if they could only talk” to tell me how they are feeling as I have?
Thank you for this! We moved to a different town and had a new vet. My 12 yr old Bishon was hiding in the house. She had always been glued to my side. She was nearly blind but could move around. She was a treasure. I sensed she was in pain and took her to our new vet for a “quality of life assessment”. I was upset because I knew it was time. He got annoyed and said, “What do you want me to tell you? She can’t see much but she seems healthy to me. ” He didn’t listen to a word I said. I called our previous vet and she said Brit likely had a brain tumor. Her behavior was way off. I drove her back there and she sweetly sat with me while we said goodbye. It was so hard but the right decision. I never returned to that jerk of a vet.
This article is so well written! It will choke you up…. but read it. I worked, for a brief time, as a vet tech at an emergency vet clinic. It was there I learned about animals at their time of death. Before that, I had only sat in on the crossing of my own beloved animals. The hurt really clouds the experience.
The epiphany God gave me through that job was this (and anyone that knows me has heard me say this):
Animals DO NOT count days. They do not die with unachieved goals or unrealized dreams. They do, as the Dr says in this article, live in the present.
It is true, what she says, that most owners wait too long. So please DO pay attention to your gut. When you know in your heart that “soon” is the word… make it a great last day and please just listen to your heart. <3 Let them go before all the good days are gone.
I named my rescue Quality of Life Rehab & Foster because that is what we should always put first. Quality before quantity~
[…] Dr. Mel Newton […]
Thank you for this article. As a fellow veterinarian and as a pet owner who just had to make that difficult decision for my own pet (this being the first dog I had to euthanize). I work in emergency and watching pets sitting in hospital with terminal disease while an owner hangs on to any shred of hope is by far the most difficult part my job. I am going to steel this line and see if this helps.
I echo what everyone else here has said- this article just hit home for me exactly when I needed to see it. My gorgeous 6 year old Newfoundland dog Sailor was diagnosed with osteosarcoma just over a week ago. Had been fine, and then suddenly a limp and swelling. We are not opting for amputation or treatment, as she just would not understand, and it would still never allow us as much time as we really want with her (years!). Now I face the decision on “when”, and it’s hard. It’s hard because on Rimadyl, she’s not even limping. She’s happy. She looks “normal”. But I know she has pain, and I am terrified that she will fracture. So my gut was telling me to do this at home, this week. But my brain couldn’t get on board, until now. THANK YOU, thank you.
You are welcome. Osteosarcoma is an awful terrible diagnosis, I’m sorry.
Thank you for your awesome words. I am not a vet but one of the” ancient ones” that get called upon to reassure others or to see if I can help. With many people, I ask quietly if they are trying to keep their friends alive for the animal or themselves ? Many times, I can see the dawning in their faces. Their decision becomes theirs alone, and I am only there for help and comfort. A close friend had some tumors removed from her dog but knew they would come back. Her comment was ” How will I know its time ?” My answer ‘she will tell you.” About 3 months later, she called and said its time, I went to see this lovely old pup and she greeted me with love . She knew !!. I lost my entire world within 3 months of each other but they all went with peace , one 81, one 19 and one 17. My life was devastation. I am not uncaring or “hard” just in tune with nature. Again, thank you for reaffirming what I feel !!!
This hits home so hard. Everything you write about your mare is what I obsess over with my guy. He’s 30 this year and has very few bad days, but I know at this age every day could be the start of the rapid decline. (Working as a large animal vet nurse sometimes doesn’t help either because I occasionally look for zebras when I hear hoof beats.) My greatest fear is that I’ll fail him and make him wait too long for my sake, and he’d wait for my sake because at this point we’ve been in each other’s lives for more years than not. I know at this point it’s just obsessing over his well being and that the closer the time comes I’ll know, but it doesn’t stop me from taking a moment to evaluate his QOL on the bad days. All I know is that when it is his time I will be there to help him cross the rainbow bridge, it’s the least I can do for him since he’s been there for me for 18 years.
I always strive to be a week early rather than a week late. Terribly heart-wrenching decision but I have to make it. Cindy
The biggest regret in my life was trying to keep my dog alive when she cleanly wanted to leave the vet office to go home to die.
I was selfish and regret what I put her though.
It will never happen again.
I have a 16 year old ,not on pain meds, is blind but knows where every thing is. Goes up and down stairs, Plays with a younger dog. Eats like a pig. Gets up quickly when I get home. Gets adjusted and accupuncture every 4 weeks. She is not ready and not in pain.
But the time is coming and it will not be easy but it will be done.
Well this is timely, and also difficult reading. My beloved golden retriever has been the very best dog – if only every dog could be just like him. He’s almost 15, mostly blind, fairly arthritic, and is getting ‘leaky’. He still gets around well, most of the time. He’s eating, drinking, smiling, and even still wants to shake and tug with a stuffy. I take him in probably way too often, and his blood work is that of a dog half his age, and those additional lumps and bumps are always benign. Occasionally, it starts to look like it’s close, but then he rebounds and my vet says no, it’s not time. I am in no hurry to say goodbye, but I am watchful that I don’t make him linger unnecessarily. He’s been loyal, faithful, and loving to me, and I owe him nothing less than the same. But wow, dammit, this hurts. I’ve been through this so any times, you’d think it should be easier by now.
My daughter’s darling Rottweiler was about 12, a bit chubby, and was the queen of our pack. She had been my service dog and wouldn’t let the other dogs help me. My mother died and as I was packing that night, everyone was in the kitchen and Nikita came in and laid down. She was done and let us all know it by not standing again. I missed going with the family to send her on because I was on a plane going to tend to my mother’s funeral. My daughter sent me a photo and Nikita was in the back of my car, grinning. The vet went over her and the aches we medicated her for were worse. She was ready to go, her person was with her, and we said Gammy needed her. Since then my daughter has passed, and all 8 of ‘our’ pets. I had to make the decision myself and always felt guilty. The last was her Pitt. It was hard to send him on, because he was my last living link with her. I told him to look for her, and even as he was dozing, he licked my face, turned his head away and wagged his tail. She was waiting right there and I know he leapt into her arms. With him I was thankful for the 5 years she left him to comfort me♡
[…] in much of the dog family life for a while. If you are facing the end of a dog’s life, this article helped us know for sure that it was the right time. Perhaps it can help others too. When our vet […]
But what about when your vet(s) don’t seem to want to euthanize, and keep going in circles for what they think is treatable, while your animal wastes away? 😢 that is my current situation. 2 separate vets, I told them both I don’t want my girl (cat)!to suffer, weighed at 4.8 lbs at the vet today and they want to run more thyroid tests. 🙁
That is the hard part. When the vet believes that the animal has a treatable condition and wants to do testing, but the owner believes it is time. Sometimes it is about finances and sometimes it’s not. Veterinarians, especially those in the companion animal industry struggle every day with what they perceive as a throw away pet attitude. Conflicts arise out of a difference of values. Ie answering the question “the most important thing is…”. I think that perhaps that’s the most frustrating thing about veterinary medicine – strong values and the inability for people (clients, vets) to understand that people have different values and most of the time it’s not unethical or immoral or wrong – it’s just a difference of core values and one person may not be able to imagine how ANYONE could have a different of opinion on X. And that makes everything hard. This clash of values occurs between clients and vets, and vets themselves. It’s easiest to be around people who share the same core values and so you often find varying opinions/values based on the sector of veterinary medicine. Heated and emotional arguments take place. Euthanasia and when it’s warranted is one of those.
I’m sorry about your situation. It’s awful when you feel you have no control and don’t feel like you are being heard. Add a pet in that you are concerned about and it just escalates.
Many of the non profits I work with provide quality of life evaluations and euthansias for cases that warrant it. If you have one of those resources in your community, you may want to reach out.
Thank you for posting this. I so needed to read this. We had to make this decision Thursday. Out of no where our Murphy started seeming not quite right. The vet gave him fluids which perked him up and a week later he didn’t seem right again. The ultrasound showed a mass on his spleen that was bleeding causing his discomfort. He was 11.5 years old. Should we put him through surgery with it being an 80% chance of cancer and only 3 more months to live? Those three months we would have constantly worried what was happening when we couldn’t be home. And who were those three months for? It was for us, not him. We made the decision to end his life peacefully, with a full belly of chicken and chocolate, between us on a blanket and being loved. We bawled our eyes out but we made the right decision. It feels wrong to have that power and yet thankfully we had the choice to help him.
Thank you for this. It has helped me make the tough choice. When I stopped asking ‘when is the right time?’ and started asking ‘what am I waiting for?’, the decision became obvious to let my 29 yo gentle giant go (owned since birth). I could tell you all the things wrong with him, but the bottom line was he was old and clearly winding down. The best gift I could give him for all his years of service was to send him over the rainbow while he still had a little quality of life and before subjecting him to incredible suffering.
My vet has asked for a copy of this as she has other clients struggling with the same decision.
I waited too long twice, and this further confirms my wrong decision. Didn’t know when to let go. But at least, now, I’m learning. Reading this is a very big help. I don’t wanna go through the dilemma again, am rehoming most of our dogs. We still have 52, and the old and sick ones will grow old/er with us. I just hope I don’t go through the same thing again. Thank you so much.
We do the best we can, and when we know better, than we do better in the future 🙂
I’ve never owned a horse, but I have had a lot of cats. I always want to be able to know they didn’t suffer, but the little darlings do like to hide their pain and discomfort. Darned old evolution anyway. I enjoyed reading this and admire your devotion to your obviously beloved animals. Thank you for writing out your thoughts for all of us to contemplate.
thank you so much. So helpful.. Yesterday I euthanized my beloved burro. He had vet care and something was very wrong but still a mystery. Of course when he came up where I could contain him he looked perky and ate a few handfuls of hay.. On closer look I could see the labored breathing and he did finally lay down in the stall as he has been doing so much lately. For some of us.. getting the body off the property is a consideration too. In many areas here, it would be impossible so I had to figure that in my decision. happy to have this article to share… thank you.
My greyhound was diagnosed with osteosarcoma so it had probably already spread and projected 6 weeks only before excruciating fracture. He was getting stressed as I was packing up to move house and so hey, 3 days after diagnosis I gave him all his favourite foods, met up with all his doggy friends for a fabulous walk and he was PTS after a really good day. He went out on a high and was spared any suffering whatsoever. Didn’t wait till he was actually suffering because that would have been selfish of me.
I am so Grateful to my friend who sent me this article. I am dealing with the first dog I ever had – I’m a late bloomer – he is 10 and has oestosarcoma. Even though he’s still drinking and eating (although I can see his appetite slowing down last two days) it hurts me to see him be a shell of himself. He’s a cattle dog who can no longer herd goats or chase his sister Daisy. I would rather him go while he still has a twinkle in his eye not when he is shut down in pain
Thank you so much for this article. A year after the passing of my precious pup, a decision that was made too late, I still struggle. I was going to a vet who kept medicating my 13-year-old girl for seizures, just upping the meds. During our last appointment with that vet, I asked if it was time. I was told to schedule an appointment for a week to ten days. I got home, looked at her and just knew she didn’t have a week to ten days. I called another vet, got an appointment in a day. She even texted me late into the night to ask questions from the records I had sent After doing blood work and watching my girl seize, we let her go. This vet laid it out for me and confirmed my gut feeling. We need more vets like you and her. Thank you.
I’m sorry for your loss, and huge kudos to you for doing what you knew was the right thing at the right time.
This article has helped me realize a hard and devastating choice i had to make was the right one no matter what my feelings were /are I had to think of the soul inside my dog. How she felt and I made sure her last day was a good one . The sense of peace in her i could feel it . I think we both knew . As sad as it is to have to do this it’s the greatest gift to them . To help them no longer suffer or feel pain .
This hit close to home. My 16 year old cat has kidney disease and I don’t know what to look for to decide when it is time. The vet said she could live maybe another 2 years. And my 5 year old cat has bad seizures which we are controlling with gabapentin, but do I give her that for years to come? Without it she was having seizures about once to twice every two weeks which were starting to get severe and she would slam into walls and furniture.
Both of those cases are really tough decisions. My thoughts are with you. :*(
How do you make the decision when you have been informed your dog has an enlarged, darkened spleen? She is a almost 10 year old GSD, in great spirits, and happy. She is slowing down, but still playful. But she has this time bomb. My vet didn’t suggest euthanasia. What does one do?
You definitely have options! You can either decide that since the future is uncertain and who knows whether or not this will be the thing that kills her, you can do exactly what you’re doing now and enjoy the moment and try not to worry about the future. Your other option is to figure out why her spleen is in large dark dark. Not all of those reasons are bad. It could be something benign that does not need to be treated, something benign that can be treated so that it doesn’t cause further problems, or it could be bad news such as cancer. However, the good news is that dogs don’t need a spleen to survive so if it is something like cancer of the spleen that you catch prior to it actually being a problem there may be treatment options for that too. I think the first step is to talk with your veterinarian to get these options and if something that you want to pursue is beyond their ability to do with that clinic, it’s OK to get a referral. Some of the options may be on your budget, but others such as an abdominal ultrasound with a needle biopsy etc. might not be. You won’t know until you ask the questions 🙂 good luck. This is voice to texting so if it sounds weird that’s why.
I have worked in a veterinary critical care ICU for almost 30 years. This mirrors my own philosophy and does an incredible job of clarifying the if hardest decisions. I have sent a link many times. Just a heartfelt thank you.
Thank you for taking the time to let me know that the post has been useful 🙂
Thank you so much for writing this
I copied & saved this post when you first listed it. I have probably shared it a 100+ times… but I used it as my guideline when Axel was DX with subcutaneous HSA.. after trying a stem cell transplant & the mushroom protocol. I saw “the look” .. which would diminish when asked if he wanted to play.. he’d (try) to jump & he’d bark an excited “yes!” But his body wouldn’t comply.. so after many conversations with his specialist.. I booked in home euthanasia.. with the intent I most certainly would cancel the day before.. the morning of.. once sedated… but I called upon all the courage I had, & while I held the stethoscope to his chest, I hold it beat a final time.. it’s been 124 days & the tears still flow daily.. but I know he was ready even if my heart wasn’t. Thank you for these wise words.
I’m sorry that being a veterinarian means dealing with this part of animal caretakership. I wonder if you knew the magnitude of this when you decided to take on this profession. I thank you for putting your thoughts and experiences together like this. I hope to spare my own veterinarian from having to go through all of this with me because I’ve read your post.
I know it’s a few years old, but I came across your article after a google search. My dog will be 18 in a month. Since 2020 he has experienced a very gradual decline. By October of 2022 he started having seizures. Since then, I’ve talked to 3 vets, including his usual vet, and they’ve all said it’s because of a mass in his brain. He has experienced the normal old age symptoms. But the seizures have had me concerned. It’s like he has been getting the crapped kicked out if him once a month. I’ve been wrestling with the decision to let him go. It’s been hard because he does have many good days. The last vet I spoke to specializes in geriatric care of pets and told me there is nothing that will make the situation better. All they can do is prescribe medication that would probably make him sleep more than he already does. I keep coming back to this article to help with my decision of euthanasia. I want to have someone come to our home to make the experience as positive as possible for my sweet boy as I can. Thank you for writing this. It’s a huge help.
You are very welcome. since writing this article I actually put my own dog to sleep for basically dementia. It was so hard and just having my own words to refer myself to was really helpful. It’s one of the best things I’ve done with my life and my career that this article continues to help people like you. I hope it brings you some peace once you do make your decision.