Going Down

A friend is dealing with the difficult decision of when to put down her beloved dog.  He has cancer and is in obvious pain but is still semi-functional and occasionally tries to rally to play with his owners.

This must be the hardest part of dog ownership (or as they insist in Boulder, CO, “guardianship”): when is the right time to let go?  Some of us have this devastating decision taken out of our hands through accident, sudden illness, or even gentle old age.  But most of us have or will face a time when we must take the dog to the vet and say goodbye for the final time.

There have been some very caring and wise comments left on my friend’s Facebook page, most of which boil down to “the dog will let you know when it’s time” or “you’ll just know when it’s time.”  But can we really be clear when that right time is without question?

When my last Dane was suffering with the end stages of wobbler’s, he had lost control of his bowels but not his bladder.  He could stand but couldn’t walk over slippery floors to the outdoors.  Still, we held onto him even though I cleaned up his bed every morning and had to help a 170 pound dog outdoors several times a day.  While he was still happy and loving—and, the vet assured me, in no pain—it was almost impossible to contemplate having him put down.  But at last the dog found it almost impossible to get up, and I was not finding it easy to lift him.  We were going to be traveling and I couldn’t bear the thought that my boy might die without us there, in the company of a stranger.  And we could never ask a dog-sitter to make the call that the dog was so near his end that he should be helped out of this life. Instead, we chose a sunny day in June to have the vet pay a visit to our house, and were able to be with our dog in his yard as the injections were administered and he died in our arms.

Our dogs have no say in when their lives will be sacrificed.  All the more important that we weigh this decision carefully.  My own view is that, if possible, our dogs deserve a peaceful and dignified death, surrounded by people that love them.  But I cannot judge anyone who would make a different calculation on timing than I would.  It’s just too hard.

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