Pet bereavement – I had to put my dog to sleep. Making the decision was impossible.

Hello everyone, I wanted to post on blog on putting your dog or cat to sleep. If you are reading this, you have been given time to think about it or you have already done it and feel incredibly guilty about it. You may feel your pet is very sad and wished you didn’t end their life. Don’t feel that way. I know it is impossible to think otherwise but I was there and I wanted to talk about it and tell you where I was with this black spot of anguish in my life.

Back in 2002 I came home to my dog-less apartment and had a thought. “What if I got a dog?” It just popped in there. My parents had dogs before I was born and I was free and clear of that, being that I was living alone. I wanted a dog but I knew the responsibility was huge, especially since I worked, as most people do. Later that week I found myself driving to a local pet store that I had driven passed many times on the way to work. Years ago I worked in one as a teen and was now 31. I wanted a smaller dog but not too small. Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies and I loved the look and personality of cairn terriers so that’s what I hoped for.

roxanne
Roxy, my baby, cairn terrier at 2 years old. Also known as Roxanne or Foxanne by daddy.

Opening the door to the pet store, my eyes were me with the eyes of a cute little light brown tan baby. Her brown eyes met mine and her little ears poked up. It’s as if she was waiting for me to arrive. Once I held her I knew she was the one. She was a cairn terrier of about 10 weeks old. I took her home that night and named her Roxy. This girl was such a sweet little babe and we did everything together. She slept in the bed with me on the 3rd night, only having one pee accident. Her first trip to the vet was a memorable one. As we waited in the waiting room, I heard a woman crying for awhile. Minutes passed and the woman left without her animal. She was really upset and crying. I knew what happened…her dog had passed. It’s as if it was yesterday. Holding Roxy on my lap, I whispered in her ear, “I’m glad that’s not us.” I knew full well that day would come but I dismissed it immediately. realizing she was a baby and we had a fresh start.

A couple years later I added a 2nd cairn terrier, Jack, to our home. Roxy and Jack got along great and Roxy maintained the lead of the pack, next to me. Jack was 2 years older than her. Having 2 dogs in the house is amazing and very loving, in case you are thinking about it….if you can afford the vet bills. I certainly don’t have the money but I made it work.

Long story short, this girl was with me through a lot and her personality was just perfect. She loved laying by me, on her terms, and when it was right for her. She was cat-like in that way. There were times she would walk up to the couch and jump to be right next to me. As years went on, she would stand with her front paws on the couch, unable to jump. Sometimes, just a short little bark to say “daddy pick me up.”

Fast forward to 14 years of age, Roxy is slower and gaining some weight. The evening of October 4th 2016 she went to bed and all was well. The next morning, all was not well. Right before leaving to catch the early train for work, I let both dogs out, as I always do. Roxy stumbled and could not keep her balanced. She fell on her side on the grass as if dizzy. She felt different to me. Her muscles seemed a bit tighter and she was clearly uncomfortable. Holding her up, she started to slouch backwards, as if she was still asleep. I gave her mouth to nose and that woke her up a bit. I knew I wasn’t going to work that day. My wife said she doesn’t look good at all and is probably dying. I shot that down right away with “are you nuts? She’s just sick or something.” The vet said they needed to do an x ray and would like to do blood work and some other scan as well. We have no money so went with just the x ray, which showed an enlarged mass. Her pancreas was very large so it wasn’t weight she was gaining. Surgery would be $2,000 and there were no guarantees. Again, we have no money at all so that wasn’t an option. I was against the wall and it really sucked. We took her home and I laid with her all day in her bed in the kitchen. She started to vomit and couldn’t hold food or water down, was hungry. She wasn’t walking or responding, just laying and breathing very fast and shallow. I took her to the vet again since she declined fast. My wife said her body is shutting down and that really upset me. The vet said she didn’t look good and if we went with surgery, there is a very good chance she could die on the table. If she survived, probably a 20% chance of saving her and even then….she may live another 9 months at best.

I’m a fighter and I NEVER give up. I wanted her with me always and asked if there were some meds to ease her pain or make it better. I was trying to buy time to research and make things right. I was bargaining for her life even though I knew the vet couldn’t do anything. My wife said it’s time to let her go. I told her there is no way that’s going to happen. It’s not her time. I picked Roxy up off the table, all limp. She couldn’t move or stand. At that moment I felt it was time but I couldn’t say it. When the vet returned to the room I asked through crazy tears what anesthesia is all about and what the process is. I asked if he suggested it. He said it is up to me but given the circumstances, it doesn’t look good for her and I agreed. I could not make the decision to let my best friend go. Animals, in my book, are so much better than most people. They love you unconditionally and they are just perfect gifts from God. This was so hard. Luckily, her state of being helped me make the decision. She couldn’t go to the washroom, couldn’t eat and nothing was going to save her.

The decision was made for me, seeing her condition. Some people have decided to put their dog to sleep when the dog is still pretty much coherent. I couldn’t do that. I would be saying…see, she’s fine…she sees and hears me.

The vet returned to take her to a back room to prep her, which is putting a cathedar in her leg. He said it was really difficult to get that going since her veins were very narrow. That comforted me a bit; another sign it was time. I would rather her pass away with me holding her than to get news that she did it alone while I was at work, or, alone on the operating table.

When I was ready, the vet injected her with a mild anesthetic to put her to sleep, as if she was going to have surgery. They don’t do it all in one shot. Once she was relaxed and in a sleep state, he asked me if I was ready and i said “no. I will never be ready.” A few minutes later I said ok and he injected the dose of anesthetic to stop her heart. A few seconds later he said quietly, “she’s gone.” Typing this makes me tear up and it’s been 9 months already. She was gone and out of pain but her body was still warm. I stayed with her as she laid on the table, for about 90 minutes. Just petting her and talking to her, crying as i did it. The hardest part was making the unreal decision to do it. My wife was at home with the kids since she didn’t want them seeing the act. They were there before the act, saying their goodbyes. I wore my sunglasses so they wouldn’t see me cry but that was useless, as i was pretty bad. i didn’t care who saw me. My kids, 4 and 8, were very good about it. My 4 year old gave out kleenex and my 8 year old cried much less than me.

When she became stiff and cool to the touch I decided it was time to leave. I was there for almost 3 hours. Arriving at home, my youngest asked where Roxy was and that really hurt to hear. I just said, in heaven. My 2 dog, Jack, greeted me, and looked for his sister, who wasn’t there. The next day, Jack continued to look for her.

I did go to work the next day and cried the entire way to work and back on the train. Arriving home, I couldn’t stay in the house. I found myself looking for her. She was not in her normal spots and that drove me mad. I had to leave that house. I couldn’t be in that house. I went for a walk alone, which helped a little. Mourning the loss of a loved one is really difficult because you can’t physically try to do anything to make it better. Only time will make it better. The first few days were impossible to get through since your life is disrupted bit time. A week felt like a month. Then my wife brought the box home with her ashes. I have still yet to open the box to look at the fine craftsmanship of what her ashes are in. I chose to have her cremated alone. By default they cremate animals together so I would have received ashes of other animals. Maybe to some people it wouldn’t matter but it matters to me. I wanted only Roxy, so I paid the extra $75 for that….who knows….if the crematory was crooked, i could still very well have other dogs, but i was positive about it and felt good for doing what i wanted.

9 months later and i still have no idea what that box looks like. i keep her favorite small stuff animal squirrel toys on my night stand. those were her babies and she loved them from the day i brought her home as a puppy.

I tell you this long story so you know you aren’t alone. it also helps me to purge some sadness. i was bargaining with no one, to bring her back. i felt bad for ending her life. the guilt was too much at times. the only thing that made me feel ok with it was her final state of living….she was in no condition to do anything and her body was shutting down fast.

In the end, we all know that everything that lives, will die. That’s how life is. That’s how life works. It’s funny though, when we are in that situation, it feels like we are the only one ever in that situation. Right now there are millions of people at their jobs, going out for lunch, wondering what they’re going to be ordering. Meanwhile, someone is in the hospital with their pet or spouse or mother or father, wondering what they should do given the terrible situation they face. Time seems to stop for those of us in that situation and the world becomes a very dark place. We may hate seeing people happy…I know I did. I wanted to be alone and didn’t want anyone to talk to me. Death is never easy to deal with. It is a part of life but I know it doesn’t seem like it while you are going through it.

Weeks later my phone rang at 2am. My brother was in the vet ER with his 16 year old maltese, who he has had since a puppy. He found himself bargaining as well, with the vet, as I listened in on speakerphone. He put his best friend to sleep as well. It was hard to hear him going through that pain, but again, it’s part of life.

At the time of writing this, Jack is still with us and is now 12. He has diabetes and has lost his vision because of it. He is on a strict diet and gets insulin shots twice a day. Jack also has cushings disease, which is came about a few months before diabetes. That is a monthly medication he needs to be on for that as well. All in all, he is doing great and romps like a puppy….but his blindness hurts me. I hate that he can’t see me and will never see me again. He gets extra love and I hold him and talk to him a lot. My dogs are my life and the only bad thing about living with them is facing that unfortunate day when everything comes crashing down at the end.

I wish you well and hope you are ok if you have suffered the loss of a pet. Time will heal, I promise. Here is some reading I found from a psychologist online, to end out my blog.

Pet Bereavement – Understanding Loss and Euthanasia

By psychologist Susan Dawson

Given the option, the death of our pets is a topic most of us prefer not to talk about. It can cause intense anxiety and may also evoke awkward feelings in relation to our own mortality. Yet an unavoidable aspect of becoming attached to our pets is the inevitable experience of grief in relation to their eventual loss.

Pet bereavement is potentially complicated because it is largely an unrecognised loss in most white Western societies, resulting in what psychologists term ‘disenfranchised grief’ i.e. thoughts, feelings and emotions that are not recognised, accepted or understood by others, particularly some non-pet owners. For example whilst compassionate leave for the death of a human family member would be automatic, most employers would not allow time off to grieve the death of a pet. This lack of recognition of how intense pet bereavement can be can result in grievers feeling they are sentimental, over-reacting and even cause self-reproach and guilt for feeling so bad.pet bereavement

We cannot change how others react to our experiences of loss; but understanding and accepting our own feelings of grief as being a normal response to the loss of a much loved pet, can go a long way to helping process the loss and prevent more complicated grieving. To be able to do this it is necessary to understand different types of losses, what grief is and how to recognize as well as to develop positive ways of coping.

Coping with the loss of a pet

There are two different types of losses we can experience:

  • Necessary developmental losses – these are inevitable parts of the process of development, e.g. ageing. These are universal losses experienced by everyone.
  • Circumstantial losses – these don’t necessarily happen to everyone, e.g. redundancy, miscarriage, the loss of a pet. These losses are not considered to be an inevitable result of developmental changes.

To understand emotional reactions to loss it is also helpful to define some key terms:-

Bereavement – means the loss of a significant other; The Oxford English Dictionary

Grief – is the personal reaction to a loss; this includes our feelings, thoughts and behaviours.

Mourning – is the outward, public expression of grief and may involve ceremonies and rituals of remembrances e.g. funerals. Pet death is particularly complicated as there are no traditional socially accepted ways of mourning the death of a pet. Pet funerals may be viewed by some people as pathological, “odd” or even amusing, but rituals enabling celebration of the relationship shared, acknowledging the importance of the life and death of a pet, can be powerful in the healing process.

Euthanasia

Euthanasia is a unique aspect of pet bereavement. One of the most significant differences between human and pet bereavement is the existence of the option of euthanasia in veterinary practice. The term euthanasia literally means ‘good death’ or ‘mercy killing’. Despite on-going intense ethical debate, human euthanasia is illegal throughout most of the world, with a few exceptions (e.g. in The Netherlands). Although we hope our pets will die naturally, in reality this is rarely the case, particularly for dogs.

Euthanasia related grief is distinct because it involves making an active choice to end a pet’s life and accepting personal responsibility for this decision. This can feel very awkward and often people talk about feeling guilty about having their pet euthanased to describe the discomfort involved in accepting this responsibility. It is essential to understand these feelings are normal and do not mean that the decision was wrong.

 

Euthanasia in veterinary medicine is sometimes referred to as “putting to sleep” – a gentle euphemism to describe an injection a veterinary surgeon administers to bring about a painless, quick death where an animal has incurable disease or injury or is suffering in old age. Euthanasia prevents suffering and distress; it is a final act of kindness. To prevent natural feelings of doubt regarding the appropriateness of euthanasia it can helpful to map out on a piece of paper all of the reasons why your vet advised euthanasia as the most humane option for your pet and then map out your own reasons for accepting this based on your lived knowledge of your pet – for example a pet having poor quality of life as a result chronic pain; not being able to go for walks, unable to play, losing interest in food and losing weight, becoming weak, being incontinent.

 

Assessing quality of life is very difficult as a pet may be happy and content in older age or illness not doing things they previously enjoyed, this is why it is important where possible to have a pre-euthanasia discussion with your vet and assess from different perspectives your pet’s quality of life and prognosis. Sometimes this may not be possible (such as a road traffic accident) and decisions will need to be made more quickly to prevent a pet from suffering.

Euthanasia decisions are never easy, but it may help to remember that this is a shared decision: your veterinary surgeon has professional responsibility for advising you from a medical perspective and you have personal responsibility for the decision as the pet’s owner.

 

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