One day, we may be faced with the decision to put our dog to sleep.
In this post I want to talk about how to deal with putting your dog down and what I went through the first time I had to make the decision to put one of my dogs to sleep.
If you’re reading this post, you may have thought about putting your dog down but feel guilty. You may feel you are giving up on your best friend; I know it’s hard but try not to think that way.
I did feel guilty for putting my dog to sleep and lived with that feeling for weeks.
Being faced with the decision to put your dog or cat down (or “put to sleep”) is an impossible decision you may have to make.
You may feel your dog or cat is very sad and wished you didn’t end their life. You’ll find yourself bargaining with the vet, as if they have some secret power to stop death.
When you are faced with the decision to put your dog to down, spending money becomes a non-issue, whether you have the money or not.
You will find yourself spending money you don’t have to buy more time for your dog or cat, and, also bargaining with God.
You will feel guilty after putting your dog or cat down
If you decide to put your pet down / put to sleep, feelings of guilt will haunt you in a big way. It’s hard for me to say this, but, don’t feel that way. I know it’s impossible to think otherwise; I was there.
NOTHING could stop the black emptiness and guilt I felt coming home to a dog-less house, the first few weeks after putting my dog to sleep. It was torture.
That first day coming home from work without my dog to greet me was torture. I couldn’t be in the house. I actually looked for her in her usual spots, hoping she would be there, thinking she might be there.
I had to leave the house and go for a walk every day for the first week she was gone. I couldn’t bare to see the vacant places in the house she would always reside.
THE JOURNEY WITH ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS
In 2002 I came home to my dog-less apartment to a thought. “What if I got a dog?” My parents always had a dog and we grew up with dogs.
I knew the responsibility in having a dog was huge, especially since I have a day job, as most people do.
I wanted a smaller dog but not too small. I loved the look and personality of cairn terriers.
Entering a pet store, my eyes locked with a cute little light brown and tan cairn terrier baby. Her ears perked up, as if she was waiting for me. I knew before I held her, she was the one.
Roxy was a cairn terrier of 10 weeks old. I took her home that night. This girl was such a sweet baby and we did everything together. She slept in the bed with me on the 3rd night.
Her first trip to the vet
As Roxy and I sat in the waiting room at the veterinarian, I heard a woman crying from inside one of the examination rooms.
Minutes later, she left the vet clinic without her dog. I knew what happened…her dog had passed. Holding Roxy on my lap, I whispered in her ear, “I’m glad that’s not us.”
I knew that day would come for us, but, dismissed the thought immediately.
A couple years later, I added a 2nd cairn terrier, Jack, to our home. Roxy and Jack got along great. Roxy maintained the lead of the pack, next to me.
Having two dogs in the house is amazing and very loving, in case you are thinking about it.
Money was tight but I made it work. Having two dogs is really something great.
Roxy loved laying by me, curling up right next to me on the couch most days. It was especially great when Jack curled up on the other side. You can’t buy happiness like that.
As years went on, Roxy got older, and eventually was unable to jump up on the couch. She stood with her front paws on the couch, with a short little bark to say “daddy pick me up.”
Fast forward to 14 years of age, Roxy is slower. The evening of October 4th 2016, she went to bed and all was well.
The next morning, before leaving for work, I let both dogs out, as I always do.
Roxy stumbled and couldn’t keep her balanced. She fell on her side in the grass, not able to stand. Her muscles were tight and not too functional. She was very lethargic.
As I held her, she slouched backwards, as if asleep. I gave her mouth to nose CPR and that woke her up a bit. I knew I wasn’t going to work that day.
My wife said Roxy doesn’t look good at all and is probably dying. I shot that down right away with “are you nuts? She’s just sick or something.”
The vet said they needed to do an x-ray and blood work. I thought maybe it was some sugar crash diabetic thing? The x-ray showed an enlarged mass. It was her pancreas.
The veterinarian said surgery would be $2,000 with no guarantees. They said she would more than likely die during surgery and if she lived, she may have 4 months.
We took her home and I laid with her for the remainder of the day in her bed. I was in denial, hoping she would get better.
She started to vomit and couldn’t hold food or water down, but was hungry. She wasn’t walking or responding, just laying and breathing fast and shallow.
I took her to the vet again later that afternoon. She was declining fast. My wife said her body is shutting down and that really upset me to hear. I was in denial.
The veterinarian reminded me if we went with surgery, there is a very good chance she could die on the operating table. I didn’t want her to suffer, but also didn’t want to lose her.
One of the worst parts of this day was that the veterinarian we always see was out of town. I wished he could have been there, instead of a different veterinarian I have never worked with before. It would have eased me a bit since our veterinarian knew Roxy since she was a puppy.
I’m a fighter and NEVER give up. I suppose I’m selfish as well. I asked if there were meds to ease her pain or make it better. Anything to lower the size of the inflamed organ.
I was trying to buy time to research and make things right because I refused to put my dog down.
Bargaining for my dog’s life made sense at the time. My wife said it’s time to let her go but I couldn’t. I told her there is no way that’s going to happen. I was not going to make the decision to put my dog down.
As I held Roxy, she was becoming more lifeless. Roxy couldn’t move or stand and was very lethargic. At that moment I knew.
The thought of not being with my dog anymore was not something I was ready for. She was with me through so much.
The thing with death is, it’s never the right time, you’re not ready for it, and you go into shock and denial.
I had flashes of memories Roxy and I shared. Even though I had 14 years with her I felt we were just starting out and got very mad over this.
When I was potty training her, I’d put her inside my coat when she was a puppy to keep her warm during the trek down the long sidewalk at the old apartment in the winter.
Decision to put my dog down
When the vet returned to the room, I asked through tears what anesthesia is all about and what the process of putting your dog to sleep is. I asked the vet if he would recommend it, given her state.
A vet will rarely give their opinion but I couldn’t make the call. I felt like I was being forced to do something I didn’t want to do at all.
The veterinarian said it is up to me, but, given the circumstances, it doesn’t look good. I agreed but found it near impossible to utter the words, ok, let’s do it.
I didn’t want to let my best friend go and felt incredibly guilty for even thinking of putting my dog down. I couldn’t make a decision to end something I never wanted to end.
Animals, in my book, are so much better than most people. Dogs love you unconditionally and are perfect gifts from God. As they say, “God spelled backwards is Dog.”
Luckily, Roxy’s state of being helped me with the decision. She couldn’t go to the washroom, couldn’t eat and nothing was going to save her.
Some people have decided to put their dog to sleep when the dog is still coherent. This could be due to cancer or bad hind legs (terrible arthritis or hip dysplasia.) This makes it much more difficult to put your dog to sleep. I would be saying…see, she’s fine…she sees and hears me.
Sometimes though, be it cancer, bad arthritis or something else, the decision to put your dog to sleep should be made.
I Didn’t know how they put a Dog down but was about to find out
The vet returned to take Roxy to a back room for prepping, which is putting a cathedar in her leg. He said it was really difficult to get that going since her veins were very narrow. That comforted me a bit; another sign it was time.
Part of my decision to put my dog down: I would rather her pass away with me holding her than to get news that she died alone while I was at work, or, alone on the operating table.
While the process of putting my dog to sleep started, I felt a rushing of emotions all at once. I was going through an emotional rollercoaster second by second, just following the veterinarian’s lead.
When I was ready, the veterinarian injected her with a mild sedative to put her in a sleep state, as if she was going to have surgery. They don’t put your dog down all in one shot.
Once she was in a sleep state, the veterinarian asked me if I was ready and I said “no. I will never be ready.”
A few minutes later I said ok and he injected the dose of anesthetic to stop her heart. A few seconds later he said quietly, “she’s gone.”
At that moment I felt nothing. I wasn’t relieved and I wasn’t upset. I just felt nothing.
The painful decision to put my dog down was instantly lifted once her heart stopped and I felt a little bit of peace for her and guilt.
There was no more thinking needed after putting my best friend to sleep because she was gone.
Typing this makes me tear up and it’s been 9 months already. She was gone and out of pain, but her body was still warm. A part of me, for an instant, felt ok, knowing she was out of pain.
The veterinarian told me to take as much time with Roxy as I needed. I talked to her and pet her for about 2 hours; I just couldn’t leave. After about an hour of putting Roxy to sleep, her body was noticeably colder.
Her body temperature and stillness was a little soothing; it made me realize she is gone and in a much better place (although I was still filled with pain and guilt.)
I would never see her again for as long as I walk this earth. Maybe I sound a little dramatic but this pain hurts and it hurts BAD.
As my veterinarian said later on, “I’ve seen some of most muscle-headed tough guys cry like a baby over the death of their dog.” A dog’s love is amazing.
The hardest part of putting my dog down was making the decision to do it.
My wife was home with the kids since she didn’t want them seeing the act. They were there before, saying their goodbyes. I wore my sunglasses so they wouldn’t see me cry, which was useless, as I was pretty bad.
When Roxy became stiff and cool to the touch I decided it was time to leave. I was there for a total of 3 hours.
Arriving home, my youngest asked where Roxy was. A knife through the chest. I said, in heaven. My 2nd dog, Jack, greeted me, and looked for his sister, who wasn’t there. The next day, Jack continued to look for Roxy.
I cried the entire way to work and back the next day. Once I got home, I couldn’t stay in the house. I found myself looking for Roxy, hoping she would be in her favorite spots.
I know how death works, but when you’re involved, it doesn’t make sense. Roxy wasn’t in her normal spots and that drove me mad.
Mourning the loss of a loved one is really difficult because you can’t physically do anything to make it better. Only time will heal wounds.
You just want your dog / cat back.
How I felt after I put my dog down
After putting my dog to sleep, I couldn’t be in that house. I went for a walk alone every day for a week after work.
The first few days were impossible to get through after I put my dog to sleep. A week felt like a month.
A week after putting my dog down, my wife brought the box home with Roxy’s ashes (I refused to go to the veterinarian to pick up her ashes.)
I have yet to open the box and see the urn I purchased that terrible night. I chose to have her cremated alone.
Dogs are usually cremated with many other dogs, so the ashes you get are not all from your dog, but a mix of other dog.
For more money they will cremate your dog, alone, and you get all the ashes. That is what I did.
Maybe to some it wouldn’t matter if the ashes of other dogs were mixed in, but it matters to me.
I felt that not mixing Roxy in with other dogs somehow gave her a sense of a personal final resting, so I paid the extra $75 for that.
If the crematory was crooked, I could still very well have other dogs mixed in with her ashes, but it’s peace of mind for me.
9 months later and I still have no idea what the urn looks like. I keep her favorite small stuffed animal squirrel toy on my night stand. That was her baby and she loved it from the day I brought her home as a puppy.
I tell you this long story so you know you aren’t alone when you put your dog or cat to sleep.
I couldn’t make the decision to put my dog to sleep.
I was willing to spend money I don’t have because I felt bad for making the decision to put my dog down. I did feel a lot of guilt for the first few weeks.
The only thing that made me feel “ok” with the process of putting my dog to sleep was her final state of life. She was in no condition to do anything and her body was shutting down fast.
In the end, we all know everything lives and dies. That’s how life is. That’s how life works. But, when we’re in that situation of having to decide to put your dog down, you feel like you’re the only one dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Right now there are millions of people at their jobs, going out for lunch, planning a party, doing whatever, while someone is in the hospital with their pet or spouse or mother or father, with a terrible decision to make.
Time seems to stop for those in terrible situations and the world becomes a very dark place. We may hate seeing people happy…I know I did. I wanted to be alone and didn’t want anyone to talk to me.
Death is never easy to deal with. It is a part of life but I know it doesn’t seem like it while you are going through it. I’ve also had to deal with the loss of family and close friends. It really takes its toll on you.
My brother had to make the decision to put his dog down 3 months later
My brother called me at 2am. He was in the veterinarian ER with his 16 year old maltese. He found himself bargaining as well, with the veterinarian, as I listened in on speakerphone. He put his best friend to sleep that night. It was hard to hear my brother going through that pain but was glad I could be there for him over the phone to guide him.
At the time of writing this, Jack is still with us and is now 13. He has diabetes and has lost his vision because of it. He is on a strict diet and gets insulin shots twice a day. Jack also has cushings disease, which came about a few months before diabetes. That’s a monthly medication he needs to be on.
All in all, Jack is doing great and romps like a puppy….but his blindness hurts me. I hate that he can’t see me and will never see me again. He gets extra love. I hold him and talk to him a lot.
My dogs are my life and the only bad thing about living with them is facing that unfortunate day when everything comes crashing down at the end.
Time will heal, I promise.
UPDATE 3 YEARS LATER
I can’t believe it’s been 3 years since I wrote this. I made it about half way through the read of this post before I started to cry. I still miss Roxy but daily life has returned with the typical stresses.
Losing your dog or cat is terrible. Since the writing of this post, my brother has lost his maltese, and a couple friends lost their dogs to old age.
Jack is still with us, although moving slower, and we now have a 2 year old German Shepherd, Leia.
We got Leia when she was 8 weeks old. So I’m back to the beginning of the cycle. New puppy gets older and you cherish the time together until that dreaded day.
UPDATE 5 YEARS LATER – 2021
I can’t believe it’s been 5.5 since I had to put Roxy to sleep. I still miss her but there is no pain, just tears of joy at times.
Our German Shepherd, Leia, is now 4 years old (had her since she was 8 weeks old.) Leia has filled in the heartbreaking void; she never leaves my side.
Jack passed away in my arms late one night around 3am due to convulsions. I never had to make the choice to put my dog down when it came to Jack. His passing away in my arms hurt, but was the best place for him to be.
After Jack passed, we only had Leia, and then adopted an 8 week old puppy from a kill shelter; we named him Jake.
Just recently we got another puppy who is now 12 weeks old; his name is Rex. So there are 3 dogs in the house.
Roxy and Jack were my little team and I miss them dearly.
For me it may be a never-ending cycle. I don’t see my life without dogs, even though each time one passes, it gets harder for me to deal with.
Mourning – The outward, public expression of grief and may involve ceremonies and rituals of remembrances e.g. funerals. Pet death is particularly complicated as there are no traditional socially accepted ways of mourning the death of a pet. Pet funerals may be viewed by some people as pathological, “odd” or even amusing, but rituals enabling celebration of the relationship shared, acknowledging the importance of the life and death of a pet, can be powerful in the healing process.
Euthanasia is a unique aspect of pet bereavement. One of the most significant differences between human and pet bereavement is the existence of the option of euthanasia in veterinary practice. The term euthanasia literally means ‘good death’ or ‘mercy killing’. Despite on-going intense ethical debate, human euthanasia is illegal throughout most of the world, with a few exceptions (e.g. in The Netherlands). Although we hope our pets will die naturally, in reality this is rarely the case, particularly for dogs.
Euthanasia related grief is distinct because it involves making an active choice to end a pet’s life and accepting personal responsibility for this decision. This can feel very awkward and often people talk about feeling guilty about having their pet euthanased to describe the discomfort involved in accepting this responsibility. It is essential to understand these feelings are normal and do not mean that the decision was wrong.
Euthanasia in veterinary medicine is sometimes referred to as “putting to sleep” – a gentle euphemism to describe an injection a veterinary surgeon administers to bring about a painless, quick death where an animal has incurable disease or injury or is suffering in old age.
Euthanasia prevents suffering and distress; it is a final act of kindness. To prevent natural feelings of doubt regarding the appropriateness of euthanasia it can helpful to map out on a piece of paper all of the reasons why your vet advised euthanasia as the most humane option for your pet and then map out your own reasons for accepting this based on your lived knowledge of your pet – for example a pet having poor quality of life as a result chronic pain; not being able to go for walks, unable to play, losing interest in food and losing weight, becoming weak, being incontinent.
Assessing quality of life is very difficult as a pet may be happy and content in older age or illness not doing things they previously enjoyed, this is why it is important where possible to have a pre-euthanasia discussion with your vet and assess from different perspectives your pet’s quality of life and prognosis. Sometimes this may not be possible (such as a road traffic accident) and decisions will need to be made more quickly to prevent a pet from suffering.
Euthanasia decisions are never easy, but it may help to remember that this is a shared decision: your veterinary surgeon has professional responsibility for advising you from a medical perspective and you have personal responsibility for the decision as the pet’s owner.