Pet Euthanasia: When Is the Right Time?

Recently we had to say goodbye to a beloved family member. Junior was a sweet old dog who lived a good life. He told us when it was time to go. We didn’t want to hear it, but the message was loud and clear. He had a boatload of health issues, all of which we were willing to help him with for as long as he was willing to fight the good fight. But now he had stopped eating and drinking and could barely get up on all fours. It was time.

This is not the first dog I’ve had to put to sleep. It probably won’t be the last, either. It’s not an easy choice to make, but often it’s a kindness. It’s always heartbreaking, but often, it’s the right thing to do.

When this subject comes up, the conclusion most of my loved ones seem to make is that it’s related to quality of life. When your pet is no longer experiencing a good quality of life, then it’s time to put them down.

It sounds so simple. But quality of life is pretty darned relative, when you think about it. Some people will put up with a lot more pain and suffering than others will, and they seem to use the same yardstick on their pets. The ultimate choice lies with the pet owner.

Personally, I’ve been horrified to see how long some people will make their dogs suffer, simply because they don’t want to say goodbye. They seem to overlook the fact that it isn’t about them. Or at least it shouldn’t be. No animal should suffer simply because you can’t let go. When you take on the responsibility of pets, you become the arbiter of their well-being.

Let’s talk about heroic measures for a minute. Certainly, if there is a treatment that will cure your dog’s ailment completely, then definitely go for it. But I’ve seen people put dogs through chemotherapy for a cancer that is so far advanced that these treatments will simply prolong the animal’s suffering without preventing the inevitable. I’ve seen dogs reduced to a wailing bundle of skin and bones for no good reason at all. That’s just cruel and selfish.

I wish euthanasia were more acceptable for humans, if I’m honest. I watched my mother suffer needlessly for two long years before she finally died. Most of the time, especially toward the end, she was so tranked out on morphine that she didn’t know where she was or who we were. I wouldn’t have treated a dog the way my mother was treated.

Ultimately, with pets, the decision is yours. It’s a good idea to consider the counsel of your veterinarian and your loved ones, as you may not be seeing things clearly through your profound distress. But in the end, this is a choice only you can make. And unfortunately, it’s a rare occasion when you can feel confident that you didn’t act too quickly or not quickly enough. The second guessing can be the worst part of all, but it’s your burden to bear.

My best piece of advice is to take you and your emotions out of the equation. Look into your pet’s eyes. Imagine what they’re experiencing. And then ask yourself whether you’d want to live like that.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve made this final choice for the dogs I’ve loved.

  • Mocha had a cancerous tumor on her side that was the size of a cantaloupe. It was so fast growing that it hadn’t been there a few weeks before. For a short time, it didn’t seem to bother her. But then it did, and she told me so.

  • Sugar was extremely old, had had several strokes, lost the function of her back legs, and had to be carried outside for her frequent need to urinate. I was happy to do that for her, but she’d have suffered needlessly while I was at work.

  • Charley had bone cancer, and while she was fine part of the time, when the pain came it was excruciating, and nothing the vet tried helped.

  • When I took Karenin into the vet, thinking he had a bad cold or something, they determined that he had lost 70 percent of his liver function.

  • Blue had hemolytic anemia that wasn’t responding to treatment, and he was rapidly wasting away.

  • The sac around Devo’s heart had filled with blood. They said he wasn’t in pain, but he became increasingly sleepy and nonresponsive as he was struggling to get oxygen. They said they could drain the sac, but it would fill up again. I think he died of a broken heart due to the loss of his best friend Blue.

If you are reading this because you have to make this hard choice, I’m sorry. Please remember that your pet knows he or she is loved. Please put their needs ahead of your own. Make an informed decision. Definitely fight the good fight with your furry friend. But know that surrender may ultimately be the greatest gift and the most loving act you can perform.

Looking Back at Junior
Rest in Peace, Junior. We love you.

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So Glad My Dog Can’t Talk

My dog wakes me up every morning around 5 am to go outside and do his business. Who am I to complain? I have to get up at least once myself, most nights. So, on days when I’m not working the day shift, I get up, shuffle to the door, let him out, doze off a little while leaning on the door frame, let him back in, then go back to bed.

His method of rousing me is to either do a little shake and rattle his collar, or he’ll hop down onto the wood floor and do a tap dance. Click, click, click… “All right, already! Jeez…”

Even if I do get back to sleep, he has decided that I cannot, under any circumstances, sleep past 9 o’clock. He’ll hop up on the bed and lick my face. I’ll roll over. He’ll run to the other side and do it again. I’ll cover my head with a blanket. Then he’ll lick my hand. I’ll say uncharitable things to him. He’ll ignore me. By then I’m so annoyed I can’t get back to sleep anyway.

I love my dog. But he’s the bane of my existence. It could be worse, though. He could talk.

“Ma. Ma. MA! Wake UP! I’ve gotta go! I mean, I really, really, really have to… oh. You’re up. Cool. Come on. Hurry. I’m not kidding. I really have to go.”

“Squirrel! SQUIRREL! Oh. No. That was just a leaf. Sorry. But it looked just like…SQUIRREL!”

“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you!”

“I’m hungry. Starving. Feed me. I want food. Food. Yeah. What you’re having. That would be great. Food. Why won’t you feed me?”

“INTRUDER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!! This is bad! This is really, really, really, really bad. So very bad. Time to panic!”

“Can I come in? Can I come in? Hey! Can I come in? Can I?”

“Pet me. Pay attention. Scratch me right there. Hey. Why are you staring at that screen? I’m right here!”

I love my little Quagmire, but if he could talk, he’d drive me up a wall.

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My Dog Would Make a Great Boyfriend

The other night it was cold and rainy and I just wanted to get into my sweatpants and watch Hulu. So I did. I was settled in bed, when along came Quagmire, my faithful dachshund. He immediately crawled under the blankets and curled up beside me. Family night.

I really can’t think of a better feeling in the world. He’s my best friend. He never judges. And he’s soft and puts out a delightful amount of body heat.

He has other amazing qualities as well. If I could find a man like Quagmire, life would be perfect. Here are some of Quagmire’s many pluses:

  • He doesn’t fight over the remote control.

  • If I want to go somewhere, he’s more than happy to tag along.

  • He’s also cool with giving me my space.

  • He makes me laugh.

  • He listens. (Although his level of understanding is questionable.)

  • He is very protective of me.

  • He’s more than happy to clean up if I spill food.

  • He doesn’t laugh at me in the morning when I’ve fallen asleep with wet hair.

  • He’s an amazing snuggler.

  • He rarely snores.

  • He’s always happy to see me.

  • He thinks I’m the best.

  • He doesn’t care what I wear or weigh or look like.

  • He loves a good nap as much as I do.

  • He doesn’t complain.

  • He can be quite charming.

  • He sometimes brings me presents. Just because.

  • He’s cute.

  • He doesn’t take up much space.

  • He enjoys kissing me. (Perhaps a bit too much.)

  • He has his issues, so he’s cool with mine.

  • As long as he’s fed and treated fairly, his love is unconditional.

What a guy! Now, if he’d only get a job and do half the housework.

Quagmire Best Pic

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Traveling with Quagmire

Way back in March (my, how time flies) I adopted a little black Dachshund and named him Quagmire. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with him ever since. To say that this dog has issues would be putting it mildly.

First of all, I had no idea how stubborn Dachshunds are as a breed. But then add on top of it that this particular dog was abandoned to wander the streets of Olympia, where he was found dirty and half starved, and then, from his perspective, he was put into puppy prison for God knows how long before I came to his rescue.

What you get is a headstrong dog who finds it nearly impossible to trust, and even less possible to relax. He is extremely territorial. If someone even walks down the street in front of the house, he barks incessantly. And for such a little dog, he has a big, deep, “I’m really a Rottweiler” kind of bark, which is impossible to ignore.

He once busted through the screen door and nipped a cop on the ankle. Well, actually he gummed him on the ankle. He has no front teeth. When I adopted him I discovered they were all cracked and had to be removed. Still, I’m amazed he survived that one.

He also barks and lunges at what few visitors I have. This does not make for a warm welcome.(As if I didn’t already have a hard enough time finding a boyfriend.)

When I come home, even after a short absence, he’s hysterical with joy. He’ll throw himself into my arms, wrap his paws around my neck and press his forehead firmly against my lips, all while crying. He sticks to me like glue. He has to come into the bathroom while I shower or he’ll stand outside the door and cry. He spoons with me in bed. When I’m lying there working on my laptop, he sort of perches on my shoulder and the pillows, presses his ear against my cheek and watches the screen intently.

Quagmire is the neediest creature on the face of the earth.

When it’s just the two of us, I don’t really mind. He’s a love sponge. And since there’s really no way to explain to him that he’s safe, he’s home, and he’ll never be abandoned again, I just do my best to reassure him. I know what it’s like to have been through a lot. I know what it’s like to have been let down. I know what it’s like to want nothing more than to be loved.

I just could do with a little less barking. And I wish he wasn’t such a bully to my other dog, Devo, who is sweet beyond words and wants nothing more than to be Quagmire’s friend. And I’ll probably never travel with him again.

I took them both with me recently, for a vacation on the Oregon coast. It was a 6 ½ hour drive. For the first 3 ½ hours, Quagmire sat in the back seat and whistle/cried. The first hour I tried ignoring him in hopes that he would settle down and fall asleep, which is what Devo always does. That didn’t work. Then I tried shouting “No!” That only encouraged him. I tried singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall in hopes of drowning him out, but by about bottle 63, I realized that it was a futile endeavor. I was beginning to see why someone abandoned his annoying little ass. I thought I was going to lose my mind.

After our second dog walk break he finally, finally went to sleep, and a very relieved Devo followed suit. I had tried to sightsee along the way, but Quagmire would bark and lunge at the other sightseers, so I gave up and just continued to our destination. I missed a lot of interesting things because of him.

After venting my frustrations to a friend, she said, “You know, you could always give him back.”

But he’s not a flaming bag of poo. I can’t just drop him on the front steps of animal control and run. I made a commitment to this dog. This is his forever home. I just wish he understood that.

At the end of our vacation, I left them in the room while I packed the car, and this freaked Quagmire out. He must have thought he would be abandoned all over again. So on the last trip from the room to the car, he bolted past me and ran down the stairs.

I dropped everything and chased after him, shouting, “Quagmire! Quagmire!” but he kept running. Now I was the one to be scared. Too scared to think how strange it must have looked to see some frazzled woman running down the street screaming quagmire for no visible reason. (That’s not something I had considered when I named him.)

I didn’t want him to be hurt. He charged around the corner and toward the street. I was sure I’d lost him. Then I rounded the corner and there he was, scratching at the car door, as if to say, “Take me with you.”

We stared at each other for a minute, and then I scooped him up in my arms and said, “I’m never going to leave you. I promise.”

But that didn’t stop the little shit from crying for another 3 ½ hours on the way home.

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Coming to the Rescue

I just had a long talk with my newest dog, Quagmire. Don’t panic. I’m not Son of Sam. I’m willing to acknowledge that the conversation was rather one-sided. But just by being the dog that he is, he was able to tell me quite a bit.

Before I adopted him, he was found dirty, terrified, and on the street. That’s no place for a little Dachshund. He had no microchip or collar, and although the rescue organization kept him for quite some time before putting him up for adoption, no one came for him. That astounds me, because in the short time I’ve had him in my life, I know that this dog is the pure embodiment of love. How could anyone not move heaven and earth to find him?

I will never know his whole story, but it’s clear that he’s been through a lot. I’m beginning to suspect there are health issues that we’ll have to contend with. And he’s the clingiest dog I’ve ever known. He has to sit in the bathroom when I take a shower, or else he’ll stand outside the door and cry. He sticks to me like glue. When I come home from work, he’s practically hysterical with joy. He likes to bury his little head in that space between my shoulder and my ear, deep under my hair.

I will always take good care of Quagmire. I’ll keep him as healthy as I can, and I will always make sure that he feels safe and loved. My life may not be perfect, but I’m going to make his as perfect as it can possibly be.

That’s one of the many joys of rescuing a pet—exercising the ability to give something the perfection that it deserves. Excellence often eludes us. As my mother loved to remind me, life isn’t fair. But when you take on a pet you have the power to give them heaven on earth. You are creating your pet’s entire world, and you can and should make it wonderful. That’s a heady feeling, and there’s no greater gift. For both of you.

Quagmire
“Get off the computer, mama, and give me some love.”

Finding a Lost Pet

Anyone who owns pets knows that they quickly become part of the family. The unconditional love that they provide is priceless. The companionship is irreplaceable.

So if one runs away or is otherwise lost, you will naturally be very upset. This happened to me recently, and I thought I’d lose my mind. Not only was I frantic and in tears, but I also quickly realized that I was totally unprepared for this contingency.

Fortunately, in this digital age you have quite a few options. And after my experience I realized that there’s a lot one can do in advance of a pet loss to prepare for it. (Fortunately my beloved dog was returned to me after 48 of the longest hours of my life.) So what follows is what I learned.

First and foremost, have your vet microchip your pet, and keep your contact information with them up to date. This may seem like an unnecessary expense, but believe me, if you don’t do it, there may come a time when you desperately wish that you had. When shelters receive new animals, the first thing they do is scan them for microchips. If a responsible person finds your pet, they will most likely bring them to a shelter or a vet, and vets can scan for chips as well. You may think that the ID on your pet’s collar is sufficient, but my dog dug out under the backyard fence, and left his collar behind (the doofus).

Next, as soon as you discover that your pet is gone, walk the neighborhood. You may get lucky and Rover is just exploring the trash cans next door or sniffing another person’s pet through the screen door. If, like me, you have amazing friends and neighbors, recruit their help in this as well. Also, and I hate to say this, but if you live near any busy highways, you will need to look on the side of the road and in ditches as well.

If that doesn’t work, the next step is to spread the word in as many ways as you can. The best way is to post a notice on the Lost and Found section of Craig’s List for your area. That is ultimately how the man who found my dog was able to contact me. It’s often one of the first places people will look.

Next, post the information on your Facebook page so all your friends, especially the local ones, will know. It’s important that you make this post PUBLIC so they can share it with their local friends, and so on. You’d be amazed at how quickly the word spreads. (Six degrees of separation ROCKS!)

Also, search Facebook for groups related to your neighborhood. You’ll find that they mostly will allow you to make this post, even if it’s not exactly their subject matter. I got a lot of feedback from a local Buy/Sell/Trade page, and a Farmer’s Market page. There was even a Lost Dogs Facebook page for my county. Keep track of what Facebook pages you post on, because people will get emotionally invested in your story, and they’ll want an update if your pet is found.

Next, it is important to contact the area pet shelters. Many of these have entered the 21st century, and have ways for you to post reports and pictures on their website. They also may post pictures of found pets on their websites. Others have hotlines where you can hear descriptions of the animals they’ve taken in in the past few days. Don’t count on their descriptions being accurate, though, especially if you have a mixed breed. What they think of as a terrier mix may be your half beagle, half Chihuahua. You never know. It’s best to pay them a visit and have a look and touch base with them.

Remember that there may be more than one shelter in your area. I live on the border of two cities, so if my dog ran south, he’d wind up in one jurisdiction, and if he ran north, he could have been in any of three different facilities. The first shelter you contact will be well aware of others in the area and can give you a list. But think city and county Animal Control, neighboring cities, no-kill shelters, breed rescues, and Humane Societies

There are also all sorts of pet finder websites on line. You can register with any or all of them, but be aware that they’re often trying to get money out of you or spam you within an inch of your life, so choose carefully. Some sites will fax a flyer to all your area vets, often free of charge, which is very helpful. But if you have a good relationship with your vet’s office, contact them as well, because they’ll often do the same thing for you. Failing that, you can always google all veterinarians in your zip code and e-mail them a flyer yourself.

A note about flyers. It is important to include the following information:

  • Lost Dog (or cat or boa constrictor or whatever) in very large font so it can be seen from a distance.
  • The breed of your pet and its weight and coloring.
  • The gender, and in the case of males, whether it has been neutered.
  • Any unique and distinguishing features such as moles. (And note the location of those features NOW. In my agitated state, I couldn’t remember if my dog’s cyst was on his right or left side.)
  • Whether or not your pet was wearing a collar.
  • The date your pet went missing, to avoid getting calls about pets that were recovered before yours disappeared.
  • A recent picture of your pet. (Do you have a recent one? If not, take one now.)
  • Also, include your CELL phone number rather than a land line, because someone might call while you’re out searching.

These unique descriptions help to eliminate many calls about animals that look like yours but aren’t. There’s nothing more upsetting than getting those. Also keep one of your pet’s unique features to yourself, so that if you do get a call and the person says, “How do I know he belongs to you?” You can respond, for example, “He has a white Nike swoosh pattern on his left flank.”

Here’s my flyer for example:

Devo Flyer

Now, print out multiple copies of your flyer, stick each one in a plastic sheet protector to protect them from the rain and weather, and then, armed with a staple gun, post them on telephone poles all over your neighborhood. Also hand flyers to your postman, your local police officers, the fire department, and area churches. Does your grocery store have a community bulletin board? Post one there, too. (You may need to bring your own tacks.)

Here’s something I wish I had done: make a note of every place you’ve posted a flyer so if you do recover your pet, you can take them all back down again. No need having your personal info out there if it’s no longer necessary. Plus, it’s the responsible thing to do from an environmental/good citizen standpoint. It doesn’t do to piss off the neighbors. You might lose your pet again one day and need their help.

Once you have done all that, you’ll be reduced to canvassing the neighborhood, old-school style. Knocking on neighbors’ doors. For that, I suggest you produce a mini-flyer, three per page, that you can hand them so they have your contact information, like this one:

Devo Neighbor

It’s important to appeal to their emotional side. The worst case scenario (aside from the final, unspeakable one) is that your pet may have been stolen, or a kid brought it home and whined, “Ma, can we keep him? Pleeeeeeease?” and the selfish parent doesn’t have the heart to say no. If that’s the case, public pressure is your friend. Your neighbors will keep an eye out. Your internet friends will, too.

Now, if you’re an organized person and want to give a gift to your future, frazzled self, you might want to reread this again, and make a list of all the contacts mentioned above. Then compile the names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mails and websites of the agencies in question for your area. Also keep all needed supplies in a central location (it’s a pain in the behind to have to go buy sheet protectors when you’re hysterical). Even start the bare bones of a flyer in advance and leave it on your computer.

Believe me, I wish I had done all of these things in advance. I also hope that if you have other ideas, you’ll post them in the comments below.

If you’ve lost your pet, I’m very sorry. All you can do is your very best, and hope, like me, that a kind, responsible person has taken him or her in and will contact you. Best of luck.

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Home sweet home and totally unrepentant.