The inevitable, painful truth about being a pet parent is that we are, in all likeliness, going to outlive our dogs. While this eventuality and the associated pain is easier to just ignore, for our dog’s sake it’s important for us to spare it some thought. That’s because we might be called upon to take some difficult decisions on behalf of our dogs and the emotionally-charged state that we are likely to be in at the time is not ideal to think through something so profound.
The first thing we need to understand is that, as difficult as it is for us, the decision to end our pet’s life falls squarely on our shoulders. No one else can bear this burden for us and no one should. Dr Kay, in her book Speaking for Spot says, “People who relinquish responsibility seem to have the greatest difficulty moving through the grieving process. They experience lingering doubt and inordinate guilt, wonder if the decision was made prematurely, or if euthanasia was the right choice at all. So try to stay tough and continue to struggle with the task at hand – your dog needs you to do this. It’s payback time for all that companionship and unconditional love your buddy has provided you over the years.”
We can however enlist the help of a few people in taking this decision. The first will of course be the dog’s primary vet. If ever there was a time for second opinions, this would be it. If there is even a modicum of doubt or any unanswered questions in your mind, aggressively pursue answers. This is the time to gain as much clarity as possible on the diagnosis and prognosis for your dog. Don’t let your vet push you in either direction without engaging in an open discussion.
Enlist the help of a good friend as well. The friend you seek out should be non-judgmental, unbiased and supportive. The role of your friend is NOT to give suggestions and advice. The role of your friend is to help identify the questions you need to ask to help you take the decision and help you find answers. Your friend should support your decision, regardless of his/ her own beliefs on the subject. Stay away from anyone judgmental at this point in your life.
Be thorough with the questions you ask. Ask if treatment is possible for the condition in any part of the world. While the cost may limit what you can achieve, you will be surprised with the doors that can open up, if you keep seeking. I was once told that the world expert we were seeking was actually travelling to India when we needed him. If the dog is being treated for terminal or chronic illness, get an idea of how much discomfort your dog is in. Look to your dog for signs of “love for life”. Journal extensively to get an objective idea of how many good and bad days your dog is really having. Your friend and vet should help you put all these answers together too.
If you decide to let your pet go, plan that too. What would you like the last few days to be like? Where should the last few hours be spent? Which vet will do it the way you want? And what “letting go” rituals do you want to observe? It’s these details that will help you achieve closure on the decision you take. And remember, whatever you do, your dog will love you forever. Don’t ever question that.