Be sure to cross-link to “5 Things We Did Right” article here: https://goodbyedeardog.com/?page_id=248&preview=true
One of the most important decisions you’ll make as a Dog Parent is deciding to euthanize your Dear Dog.
No matter what you do, you may wonder if there was more you could have done. This second-guessing yourself makes it hard to let go of the guilt and regret that plagues us when we end a loved one’s life.
My husband, Mike, and I both experienced guilt after putting down our Dear Dog Kali. Two days after Kali’s death, Mike wrote in his journal:
“I have guilt about putting her to sleep. That voice would use the word ‘kill’ instead of ‘put down’ or ‘end her suffering.’ Yesterday, just before we euthanized Kali, this voice said, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to kill your dog!’ This morning I looked at the spot on the living room floor where we put her to sleep and I thought, ‘Wow, so that’s where you killed your dog.’ These flashes of guilt are brief, but painful.”
A year later Mike says, “I don’t have many regrets. I think we did the best we could for Kali for as long as we could.” He feels we euthanized her at the right time.
It’s taken me longer to reach that level of peace with our decision.
[NEEDS EDIT]I’m left wishing Mike and I had handled a few things differently. At the same time, enough time has passed for me to see that we handle several things really well.
I thought it might be helpful to share both with you.
5 Things We Wish We’d Done Differently
Kali was our first dog as adults and as much as I hate to admit it, she was kind of our practice dog. I learned not only how to care for and train a dog, but also about dog health issues and veterinary care options. I tried to treat her myself a lot with various supplements and herbal remedies. Guess we’ll never know how much that helped, or perhaps even hurt. Most of our friends were always amazed, though, at how long her life was and how good of shape she seemed up until those last few months. So maybe I did the right thing? I’ll never know.
Now that I’ve had a chance to get some distance from Kali’s death, to reflect on what she was experiencing and what I was feeling, I know there are several things I wish Mike and I had done differently. I’ll share them with you now.
1. Gotten a second opinion
If you can afford it, we highly recommend getting a second opinion from another veterinarian about your Dear Dog’s health before deciding to euthanize. We didn’t do this and it’s the one thing that both Mike and I regret.
We had just moved to a new town and didn’t have an established relationship with a vet yet when Kali started declining. Since we didn’t know any people in town to ask for a referral, we ended up picking a nearby vet with good Yelp ratings. In the perfect world we would have been working with a vet we had an established relationship with, like the one we left behind when we moved. We had great rapport with her and trusted her implicitly. She knew Kali well and remembered her as the friendly, smart cattle dog she was—not the deaf, old sick dog she’d become.
We’ll never know if the vet we found in our new town gave us the most accurate diagnosis or best treatment plan. That not knowing is almost unbearable. Hearing from a second vet would have helped us with the doubt—if the prognosis was the same, we would have felt more peace with our final decision. If it had been different, we would have explored more treatment options for Kali.
If you already trust your vet implicitly, getting a second opinion may not be as helpful for you. I still encourage you to consider doing it, though. It’s strange what tricks grief plays on your mind in the days and weeks after your Dear Dog dies.
Either way, we’ve created a printable worksheet/guide/list of questions to help you know what to ask your vet and then record what s/he says.
2. Spent more time with Kali in her last few months
I was traveling a lot for various reasons, which sure seemed important to me at the time. For two months I commuted back and forth to L.A. one day a week for a class.
A few weeks before Kali’s death I attended a conference and was gone for 10 days. When I returned home I only had six more days with her.
The day before Kali’s death I actually went to a frickin’ workshop! Halfway through I came to my senses and walked out. I’m glad I did—Mike and I ended up having a special afternoon with Kali.
On some level I feel like I checked out when she needed me most. Or maybe I did it for myself because I couldn’t face losing her?
An unexpected positive result of all that travel was that spending time away from her allowed me to think a bit more objectively and clearly about her situation. I woke up on a Saturday while away and a voice in my head said, “It’s time to let Kali go.” Was that my rational mind or my intuitive heart? Doesn’t matter – I could feel the truth of it in my bones.
Mike and I talked on the phone later that day and agreed. We chose a day and he then started making the arrangements. I am sad he had to do all that on his own, however.
I would have liked to have spent more time just sitting quietly with Kali, or laying down next to her, looking into her big brown eyes, petting her soft fur and telling her how much I loved her.
How much time with her would have been enough, though, I wonder? Since we can’t possibly know that, my best advice for you is to start spending time with your Dear Dog right now while you still can. Just a few minutes each day, cuddling, talking, petting, and looking into each other’s eyes. Your Dear Dog is probably just as scared and confused as you are. Give him the reassurance of your calm presence—that’s really all he needs from you.
You’ll be happy you did.
3. Been able to see her beautiful face while she died
Because the vet wanted us sitting on either side of Kali, with Kali laying down between us and facing the vet, Mike and I didn’t get a chance to look at Kali’s face while she passed away. The vet used an anesthetic first, so Kali “went to sleep” before the vet administered the euthanasia solution that actually stopped her heart. As the anesthesia kicked in, Kali nodded off, her head slowly dropping to the floor.
Rationally I understand we wouldn’t have been able to look into Kali’s eyes anyway because she partially closed them after that first injection. I still wanted to see my Baby Girl’s face, though, you know?
That’s one of those things you don’t even think about beforehand, especially never having gone through a euthanasia before. I suggest you talk to your vet several days beforehand so you know what to expect, how the euthanasia process works (every vet does it differently), so you have some time to think about what might be important to you and your family, and then be sure to share that with your vet.
4. Asked the vet more questions
Because we were new to town, we didn’t have an established relationship with a vet yet when our Dear Dog Kali started declining. The vet we randomly chose turned out to be nice but not the greatest communicator. He’d tell me something and I wouldn’t really understand it, and I felt stupid asking the same questions again and again.
However, as Kali’s Dog Mom I had every right to ask as many questions as I needed to understand her condition. In retrospect, I wish I would have asked the vet pointblank, “Is Kali dying?” and “If she was your dog, what would you do?”
I felt too timid to ask though, too worried about appearing stupid or pushy or a pain in the ass.
I look back at that now and realize, “Who the hell cares if a vet thinks I’m pushy or stupid? This is my Dear Dog’s LIFE we’re talking about here! It’s my responsibility to look out for her, to advocate for her!”
I understand how emotional you might feel right now, though. All that worry over your Dear Dog makes it hard to think clearly. That’s why Mike and I created a “How to Talk to Your Vet” guide to walk you through the questions to ask when talking to your vet. [Link] We hope you find it helpful.
I also found these handouts from Lap of Love to be helpful in understanding common pet diseases: http://www.lapoflove.com/Education/Common-Diseases They explain what it is, how it’s treated, and what the prognosis is. Most helpful, though, was Dr. Ron Hines’ very comprehensive site: http://www.2ndchance.info/ACC.htm [Mike, is there a way to have our link go down to the dog section?] [NO – NO ANCHOR IN SOURCE]
Dr. Hines explained what congestive heart failure is and how it progresses. His articles helped me understand just how dire Kali’s health really was, and woke me up out of my denial.
Of course, nothing can replace an old-fashioned heart-to-heart with your Dear Dog’s vet about if you’re fortunate enough to have that kind of rapport.
5. Involved a family member or friend sooner in the vet visits
I had always handled our Dear Dogs’ vet visits. My schedule during the day was often more flexible than my husband Mike’s. Plus I enjoyed being a Dog Mom and running Kali and Jenna to their vet appointments was a big part of that role.
As Kali’s health declined, though, I couldn’t do it all on my own. Don’t get me wrong—I thought I could and did so for several months. And then finally the pressures caught up to me: the stress of moving to a new town, Mike starting a new job, me trying to make new friends, all while working with a new vet to decide how to treat Kali’s new heart failure while managing her pre-existing kidney failure.
It was just too much.
I was emotionally fragile and because of that, I wasn’t thinking clearly. But you know what? Even if you hadn’t just gone through a bunch of stressful life transitions like I had, more than likely you’ll still feel emotionally fragile when facing your Dear Dog’s death. How could you not, right?
For that reason, I highly recommend you bring along a family member or friend to your next vet appointment. [Link to talk to vet page here too?] Let them ask some questions. Let them take some notes. Let them support you.
When I finally brought Mike along, I realized I had been carrying the weight of deciding Kali’s fate on my shoulders without even knowing it. I guess I had thought, as her Dog Mom, it was my responsibility to keep her safe and healthy forever. And that’s just not how it works with our Dear Dogs, is it? They live such short lives that we will eventually face losing them, no matter how well we cared for them.
Giving Your Dear Dog (and Yourself) Peace
Several months after Kali’s death, I just couldn’t let go. Did we make the right decision? Did we do all we could have done? I talked to Mike endlessly, almost obsessively, about this. He tried to be patient, knowing we all grieve and process at our own pace. Eventually, though, all this rehashing and second-guessing wore him down. He said to me with the utmost gentleness:
“Thea, we were in a no-win situation. Kali was dying. We all die. She was 16 and had been sick for a while. It was her time no matter what we did. Maybe we could have bought her a couple more months if we had done things differently? More time of WHAT? Living in pain? Barely able to move? Sad and confused? No. That is not what we wanted for her. We did the most loving thing we could have done for her.”
Kali was suffering and we gave her peace. We are good Dog Parents. You are too, and you will do the right thing for your dog when the time comes. Trust that bond of love.