Misty, the 10-year-old Golden Retriever who inspired the Senior Dogs Project

The Senior Dogs Project
..........."Looking Out for Older Dogs" ...........

"Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog."
Sydney Jeanne Seward


The Road Ahead......Is Euthanasia the Right Choice?

It's wise to prepare ahead of time for the eventuality of losing a dog. From the moment you become responsible for a dog's health and well-being, establish a relationship with a vet whom you trust. This will be the vet you will be able to depend on to help you make the difficult decision about whether to euthanize your dog. Also, think ahead about the choices of cremation or burial. Your vet will be able to help you find a reputable organization to perform the service you choose.

There are people who do not condone the euthanizing of an animal under any circumstances. They believe that every animal has the right to choose his or her own time for dying. With all due respect to this point of view, we would like to note a few issues that, in our minds, make this a more complex matter than it might appear at first glance.

The first issue is that, with the current sophisticated level of veterinary medicine, our dogs are living many years longer than ever before. In their extended lifetimes, there is greater opportunity for them to develop seriously debilitating and painful conditions and diseases. While we would all prefer that our dogs die a "natural" death, in many cases their lives have been extended beyond what nature might have intended in the first place.

Another issue is that our dogs are stoics. They hide their pain and suffering because it is a life-preserving instinct. This means that, when a dog actually shows pain and discomfort, it is likely to be quite severe.....possibly more severe than we could ever imagine. It is hard to determine how much pain a dog is experiencing, but, if it is impossible to relieve pain when a dog shows signs of it, we question whether it is kind, humane, or loving to prolong the dog's life.

Most of us will do as much as we possibly can to ensure quality of life for our dogs until the very end. We will use all the resources at our command and bid our veterinarians to do their utmost. However, if there comes a time when nothing more can be done, the situation may be akin to deciding whether to sustain a human on life-support equipment when there is no hope of recovery.

It is not clear that letting a dog "choose" his or her own time for dying is any easier than choosing euthanasia. On one hand, there is the worry that the dog is suffering and not enough can be done to ease his pain; on the other, the concern is whether you are choosing the right moment to let him go.

To help those who wish to provide hospice care instead of euthanasia, the Nikki Hospice Foundation publishes the following mission statement on their website:

"The Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets, the first official, non-profit organization of its kind in the nation, has been founded in response to a need which is becoming ever more prominent in our society. Its express purpose is to encourage the provision of hospice care for dying pets, so that pet owners who do not wish to choose euthanasia when their animals are about to depart this life, or who wish to postpone it, can care for them in the home environment--under veterinary supervision and with adequate pain management and/or symptom control. Ultimately, for those who see a natural death as the best and most acceptable end for their pets, and who wish to strengthen the human-companion animal bond in their pets' hour of greatest need, hospice care is the answer."

Hospice Care

Spirits in Transition is a website posted by a holistic veterinarian who writes, "I am a holistic veterinarian and was just told about your website. It is wonderful to see what an amazingly rich compilation of resources you are making available to those who are looking to caring for senior animals. Just as Misty was the one inspiring you to offer all this helpful information, it was my dog Momo who led me to understand that there can be more to caring for a dog at the very end of it's life, other than euthanasia. This led me to be dedicated to making information on animal hospice care available to those who wish to learn about it. Many people found the information on my website exceedingly helpful."

How Do You Know When It's Time?.....

You may find help and support when confronting this question, both from your veterinarian and from others who have been through the experience. Read on......

The Hardest Thing in Life....

The following messages were posted to the Senior-L E-mail list:

"Putting pets down is the hardest thing I have had to do in this life. Since 1965, I have had to put down 13 pets....some cats, some dogs; and, even though I have known it was the right thing to do, the guilt always haunts me. The decision is pure torture. Once it is made and carried through, there is a certain sense of relief, but the guilt is still there. I have made up my mind that the next time I face this I want some input from an animal communicator. My dear Amy who passed last Saturday morning is the first of my many kids that I had no hand in helping to the Bridge. I never suspected she would never be coming home again. But at least I am free of that guilt. What I found interesting is that when I talked to the vet on Monday she said, 'At least, thank God, you do not have the guilt of having to put her down.' Then we discussed how one should not feel guilty, but one does. I cannot tell you how surprised I was to hear a vet say that. I cannot watch real suffering. It is not in me. Years ago, I wanted to be a vet, but, in later life, I realized I would never have made it, as I cannot inflict any hurt, even if it helps. I always hope I don't wait too long to do the deed, but I always hope I don't do it too soon. SUCH A FINE LINE TO WALK! My heart is with each of you facing the decision. I pray for you all." Contributed by Ann Marie & the 5 little English Setter Gems at Jem Kennel, Halifax, Mass.

"There are no words to make this decision any easier. But, I've been reading a lot on this subject lately, and I humbly offer some thoughts, for what they're worth.

"Try to put yourself in your dog's place and think about what you would want for yourself. Also, how comfortable are you with your vet? Have you discussed this at length with him/her? What would he do if this were his dog? My vet said to me last week that he thought Grover's love for me had a lot to do with him living well into his golden years (15 1/2). Perhaps your boy's love for you is so strong that he's afraid to let go because he knows how much it will hurt you. Maybe he needs to know, somehow, that it's okay for him to go.

"What does your heart tell you? I've only been in your position once, many years ago. But I will face it again someday, I hope not soon. I don't have a lot of experience, but I think that my heart, even though it will be breaking into a trillion pieces, will tell me when the time is right, and I think yours will too. You just have to let yourself listen, really listen. My thoughts, prayers and tears are with you." Contributed by M.E., Grover & J.D.

"I have an older dog who has had over the years many many problems, including melanoma, for which he received radiation treatments some years ago . So far, he's still okay. We enjoy one day at a time and have made the decision that, at such time as he is suffering, we will have him euthanized. Some 8 or 9 months ago, he was doing very poorly, and I really felt it was time. I will be eternally grateful to my vet who, after checking my dog out said, 'I don't think it's time yet.' He gave him some new medication, and we have enjoyed the extra time given us. On the miserable occasions when I have had no choice but to euthanize any of my dogs, I always stay with them. They are used to going to the vet and having me be with them during procedures. I feel I owe them that much, for they have given me so very much more." Contributed by Heather, Ontario Canada
"I wanted to write and share my feelings about the loss of a pet. Curly and Moe were nearly thirteen years old when in 1996, I lost Curly to cancer in July and Moe to grief eight weeks later to the day. I raised Moe and Curly from the time they were weaned to their final illnesses; they were litter mates and best friends. I was always afraid that I wouldn't know when the time was right to let them go. Curly and Moe 'told' me themselves. Each got a look that was plainly asking for me to do something to ease their suffering. The choice to euthanize them was the right thing to do. I held both of them as the medication was given and they each died peacefully in my arms. The day Curly died, the most vibrant rainbow I have ever seen appeared over the mountains and I still see 'Curly's Rainbow' when I need comfort. The night Moe died, a beautiful full moon appeared and of course became 'Moe's Moon.' I miss them both but know they are together and happy. The lovely rainbow and shining moon are a reminder of two special senior citizen dogs." Contributed by Patchcor@aol.com

Other thoughts inspired by the Senior-L list:

Sometimes love means letting go. Ask whether the really bad days are outnumbering the good ones. Putting an end to suffering is a final act of love. Remember that you have given your dog unconditional love during her lifetime, and she needs your strength and love even moreso now. You can give your dog the opportunity to leave this life with dignity. Death is part of life.

Arranging for Euthanasia:

To prepare for euthanizing a pet, you may want to review A Veterinarian's Suggestions on Arranging for Euthanasia

Recommended Reading:

A Final Act of Caring: Ending the Life of an Animal Friend
by Mary and Herb Montgomery. Order from Montgomery Press, PO Box 24124, Minneapolis, MN 55424. Or send $5.95 (includes postage and handling) to Montgomery Press.

Good-bye My Friend
by Mary and Herb Montgomery. Order from Montgomery Press, PO Box 24124, Minneapolis, MN 55424. Or send $5.95 (includes postage and handling) to Montgomery Press. For both books, send $9.20.)

Surviving the Heartbreak of Choosing Death for Your Pet
Available from Direct Book Service. Telephone: 1-800-776-2665. Paperback, $12.95.

The Senior-L E-mail List

If you are facing a decision about euthanasia for your dog or have recently had to euthanize your dog, we highly recommend that you subscribe to the Senior-L E-mail list, which is especially for people with senior dogs. You can post to the list or just read the posts of others. Subscribers to the list are often facing the pain and grief of losing a dog. To subscribe, address an e-mail to:


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