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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Public Art as a Yardstick

I love the fact that I’m now living in a city where public art is the norm. I often pass by sculptures and murals here in Seattle, and they never fail to make me smile. It’s always a pleasure to have a bit of beauty and humor or a dash of whimsy injected into one’s day. I love having my thoughts provoked and my perspectives challenged. And some of these sculptures kind of feel like a part of my family now.

I used to live in Jacksonville, Florida, where public art was rather thin on the ground. It was often viewed as too controversial, or not in keeping with family values. (Though I wonder if their statue of Andrew Jackson astride a stallion still stands? I bet it does.)

Some artists in Jacksonville have been known to go rogue, I think, out of sheer frustration. They’d paint any flat surface they could find. Sadly, they always seemed to be quickly shut down and/or painted over.

Allowing art in one’s city takes a certain level of political courage. (And I’m not talking about historical monuments and statues, here. That’s another debate entirely.) There will always be people who don’t like a particular piece, or they will misinterpret it. It is easier to offend than to delight or inspire, it seems. It’s a confident city council that allows self-deprecation and social commentary to be out in the open, for all to see. It’s a brave mayor that doesn’t see creativity as a threat.

I think one of the many factors one should consider when deciding where to live is the amount of public art in the city in question. That will tell you much about the quality of life that you will experience in that community. It will tell you a great deal about the maturity and emotional health of the municipality as well. These are considerations you should never overlook. The ability to express oneself is the hallmark of civilization.


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Hospice = Hope

Yet again the other day I heard of a family being offered hospice care for a loved one and turning it down. There seems to be this prevailing mythology out there that hospice means you’re giving up hope and trying to rush someone along into the afterlife before his or her time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Accepting hospice for someone who is terminally ill can be the kindest, most compassionate thing you can do for that person and for the family.

First of all, just because your relative is in hospice does not mean they can no longer receive care from their primary care physician. It also doesn’t mean that this person is necessarily going to die. It only means that there has been a diagnosis of terminal illness. If remission occurs, that’s fantastic! People can go in and out of hospice multiple times if needed.

Furthermore, hospice staff is not some type of death squad. They are quite often the most caring and dedicated medical professionals you’ll ever meet. They do not focus on death. On the contrary, they focus on quality of life for everyone involved.

Hospice offers a variety of services, including counseling, pain management, and palliative care. They provide dignity, comfort and emotional support. Their staff includes nurses, doctors, home health aides, social workers, chaplains and bereavement counselors.

At this, the most difficult time in your life, why on earth would you turn down any type of support? Your loved one deserves to live a dignified and comfortable life all the time, even toward the end, if that’s what this happens to be. Hospice means that you want the best for that person. Don’t pass these services up. I’ve never known anyone who wasn’t extremely grateful for them if they chose to take advantage.


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