Saying Goodbye

Rainbow after a storm

Rainbow after a storm

Okay so this will not be the cheerful, fun post we usually have but it is a necessary part of pet ownership. We all know that eventually the end must come for all of us and as a responsible pet owner we need to be able to make this decision with love, thoughtfulness, and compassion.

This is the hardest decision you will ever make but it is also the most loving decision. Our pets are living longer and longer lives due to better health care and education. We are able to diagnose and treat conditions more than we ever could before but with this new knowledge comes a heavy price tag on our hearts.

Everybody hopes that when the day comes the pet will just go quietly in their sleep — some do but in my experience we, as pet owners, are having to make the decision more often than not. As a veterinarian, I have seen pets that the owners have held on longer than they should because the owner was unable to let go and I have also seen the flip side where people let go too soon.

When it comes time to make the decision we all worry whether it is the right one or not, did we give them enough time to improve, were we just too impatient, did we do everything we could — this is all a normal part of the process. The five stages of grief found in human medicine can also apply to our pets. The five stages are denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

Every time I have to help a pet out of this existence the owner asks if this is the right decision; sometimes I can answer unequivocally yes but other times I offer other options such as trying medication for a few days and then making the decision.

As you all know I lost my hound of 16 years a few months ago and Miss Vicki was the epitome of trying to figure out whether it was time.

Miss Vicki had at least 3 separate vascular incidents and each time I would give her a day or two to improve. Each incident she had Miss Vicki would be unable to walk, would urinate and defecate without knowing it and would be anorexic (which for a hound is unheard of). On the third day I would load her in the car with the intention that this would be the last time, I would pull into the clinic and the other veterinarian would carry her in while I parked the car. Each time I would walk in to the room with the thought that it was time and she would be standing up, walking around, and begging for food. This happened 3 times and when the last “stroke” came, she just looked and me and let me know that it was time to let her go.

It was horrible — that dog drove me absolutely crazy with her panting, pacing, eating everything, not minding, litter box surfing, you name it but when the time came I didn’t want to let her go. I knew that I was going to miss this pain in the butt dog immensely — how could I not — she had stomped on my feet and heart for 16 years.

The criteria I tell owners is that when the pet no longer wants to be with the family, they are not eating or drinking well, they are depressed, and don’t seem to enjoy things anymore. It is a fine line to monitor and it is a difficult one. You should always consult with someone you trust on whether you are making the right decision — family members, friends, veterinarian and you should always bring someone with you for the afterwards part. It is an emotional thing — very emotional and you need someone to help you through the tough part.

As the owner of senior pets I know that my day is eventually coming and I try each day to make sure that I am not keeping the pet going just for my sake. As hard as these decisions are there are a couple more you need to consider — do you want to be present for the end and what should be done with the remains? These two questions are hard enough without being there in the moment. Most places have a few options for the remains and you should call ahead for the details.

I have been with many pets and owners as they have passed on into another place — it is heart wrenching but I try to make each passing as kind and gentle as possible. It is the last gift I can give as a veterinarian and friend. I hear owners say each time that they will never own another pet — they never owned a pet anyway — they held a family member.

Blessings to you all.

This post is dedicated to Crumpet — you are missed. Run girl run!

Crumpet in her life vest getting ready for underwater treadmill

Crumpet in her life vest getting ready for underwater treadmill

2 Responses to Saying Goodbye

  • Dicki, that brought tears to my eyes. It’s been about a year since we had to make the one way trip with our beloved Niles. Like you, we took him in beforehand and talked with our vet to see if it was time. We did not want to be premature, but we did not want him in pain. She offered up a solution and a week to spend with him knowing it would be our last. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I know he runs free his friends who went before.

    • Dr. Dicki Kennedy says:

      Sorry for the tears — it does the same to me each time I read it even though I wrote it. It is the hardest decision but again it is made with love. ((())) — sorry for your loss.

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