I remember the conversation like it happened yesterday. My husband called me to let me know I needed to hurry home. My boys and I had stayed at the beach a couple of extra days and he was at home with our elderly dog who he had picked up from the kennel. “You should head home. I think it’s time,” he said.
With those words, we piled in the car and headed home, our hearts heavy, knowing what was to come. We allowed our boys to say goodbye, and then began what felt like the most surreal experience of our lives. The drive to the vet. My husband carrying our sweet, old golden into the waiting room of the clinic. The knowing, sympathetic looks on the staff’s faces as they nodded to a back room where we waited for the doctor.
It can be so hard to know when “it’s time.” Our pets cannot tell us when they are just too weary to go on - when they are not enjoying life like they once did. For us, it was our dog’s third bout with vertigo...and the call from a caring friend that started the ball rolling. I will be forever indebted to that friend, who, looking out her window, saw Summer struggling just to go potty in the yard. She was so off-balance she tipped over and slipped down the small hill in our yard. My friend called my husband and told him she was worried about Summer’s quality of life, that she just did not look like herself.
Our dog’s quality of life was slipping away before our eyes. If it weren’t for the kindness of this friend reaching out, I am not sure we would have been able to admit that prolonging her life was not only unfair to her, but selfish of us. We wanted her around because we just could not imagine life without her. She’d been our sidekick for the past 16 years. But she was not enjoying life quite like she used to, and it was time to say goodbye. So how do you know when “it’s time?”
Talk to your veterinarian
When your pet is suffering, euthanasia can be the kindest decision you make for him/her. Even though the decision is ultimately up to you, the pet owner, it can be helpful to bring your pet’s doctor into your decision-making process. Your vet has likely been with you and your pet through sickness and health, and knows your pet well enough to help you make an informed decision about whether to continue to try to keep your pet comfortable or to help humanely end his suffering.
Ask yourself a few questions
A few questions you can ask yourself when determining whether it’s time are…
- Is it possible for my pet to recover using a treatment plan I can commit to physically, mentally, and financially?
- Is my pet able to take care of his immediate needs (eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, enjoying human interaction)?
- Does my pet have more good days than bad?
It can be difficult to truthfully answer these questions, especially when we are caught up in the emotions involved in letting go of a pet. Thankfully, Dr. Alice Villalobos has developed the “Quality of Life Scale,” which can be very helpful in determining whether the time is right to say goodbye. This scale measures Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More Good Days Than Bad (or HHHHHMM) on a scale of 1-10 to help you evaluate your pet’s quality of life.
Saying goodbye to your pet
If you have decided to put your dog or cat down, it can be helpful to weigh your options in terms of how you go about it. For us, our vet was the way to go. They knew our sweet dog, and we knew they’d be respectful and wonderful throughout the process. We got a clay pawprint as a keepsake and they sent us a sweet book with a personal note inside letting us know they would miss Summer, too. If you worry the trip to the vet will stress your pet, you might opt for an in-home euthanasia. An in-home procedure allows for your dog to pass peacefully, in the comfort of his/her home.
However you choose to memorialize a pet, our pets make marks on our hearts. Our Summerdog is certainly still a part of us. I’ll never forget as we sat in our playroom the night we had to put her down and my husband said the first chapter of Summer's life was over, but now we begin the second chapter. The one of our memories with her, that will live on forever.