One of the most difficult tasks in my career as a veterinarian is helping an owner decide when it is time to say goodbye to a beloved pet. I decided to share my own experience in this matter in hopes of helping others facing this decision.
Christmas 2007 – I wanted a dog. I really, really wanted a dog. Not just any dog, but MY own dog. I started asking my veterinarian what he thought about different breeds. He suggested that a greyhound of all breeds might be a good choice. Over the next couple of months, I went to every “Meet & Greet” that I could. I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the time. Greyhound Pets of America located in Springfield, MO had a few of these events in Fayetteville, and I attended as many as I could.
May 2008 – My graduation present from my parents was the adoption fee for a retired racing greyhound. I was so excited. I contacted the GPA-Springfield, and irony of ironies…a greyhound had just appeared wandering the streets of Fayetteville. His racing name was Gary, and there was no record of his previous owners. He was emaciated with horrible diarrhea. My veterinarian back in Little Rock helped me get him back to good health.
August 2008 to 2015– My greyhound and I packed up and moved to Missouri for my first year of veterinary school. Over the next 7 years, Gary was my companion as I persevered through difficult classes, got married, completed my clinical, and got my first job as a veterinarian. He greeted us at the door when we brought home our first (biological) child. He lovingly greeted the numerous foster children we’ve taken in over the years as well. He was a gentle and kind dog, and comforted many scared, lonely children.
As all living things must…Gary got old. He stopped enjoying long walks in the park, and instead limped if we walked more than a block. He started losing weight. He forgot his house training. He started getting lost at night – unable to rest in his bed to pace the halls endlessly. I tried a number of things to make him comfortable. Whenever our baby cried, Gary walked to a room to be by himself. Sometimes he slept through greetings. He stopped sleeping in our bedroom. He paced the halls repeatedly. At the same time, he was always so happy when I grabbed his leash. He ate well…some of the time! He still came up to adults for gentle pets. Sometimes he even bounded around the yard like the retired racer he was.
Was it time? He still had good days, with a few bad days mixed in. Maybe I could try a different pain management strategy? Maybe a supplement to help brain function? I’ve heard scientist say that dogs don’t feel embarrassment, but in my opinion…that’s not quite right. Gary was sometimes very embarrassed by his accidents.
In the end, I decided that it was time to euthanize Gary. Here’s the truth. I can do a lot…a whole lot of good. I can help arthritic animals move comfortably. I can aid as organ function starts to decline. I can make animals feel so much better. But I can’t turn back the clock. When a pet reaches Gary’s age, there is sure to be a steady decline. I wanted to put Gary down while he was still Gary. I didn’t want him to have even one day when he didn’t enjoy being a dog.
Are you going through this difficult time? There’s never a right answer to when it’s the “right time.” It’s always a very difficult decision. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is my pet …
• Enjoying life?
• Urinating/defecating normally?
• Suffering or experiencing pain?
• Breathing well?
• Tired more often? Or even withdrawn from daily activity?
• Doing the things my pet loves to do?
Do I still love my pet? Or am I starting to resent him?
Has my family accepted it’s time to say goodbye?
Are there any reasonable, humane treatments that can improve my pet’s quality of life?
Am I able to keep my pet’s and my family’s living environment clean and sanitary?
In Gary’s case, he was just starting to lose enjoyment in life, but still mostly enjoyed it. He didn’t eat consistently. He was having accidents every day. His arthritis was starting to cause muscle loss. He was starting to withdraw from us. With his numerous accidents, my husband and I were struggling to keep the house clean. I had tried a number of treatments, but we were reaching a point that there wasn’t much more I could do for my dog. It was time.
June 18, 2015 –I looked out to see my dog stumble in the yard. His back legs were so weak. I decided that today was the day to say goodbye to my beloved friend. Over my lunch break, I made a house call to my own house. We scratched Gary behind the ears, and loved on him. I had him lay down in his bed. A technician gently restrained him with a big hug, while I gave him an injection. He was asleep in seconds, and passed away within a minute. It was very peaceful. Rest in peace, my dear friend.
If you are struggling with this decision, we are able to help. Schedule an appointment to talk about what we can do to make your pet comfortable, or just to talk through this difficult decision. Our number is 573-875-3647. All of our veterinarians and team members understand what a challenging decision this is, and we want to help as much as we can.