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.


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 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.

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.