Saying Goodbye to Your Best Friend
Admittedly, I have had a rough year; my father died a couple of months ago and the day before I was leaving to find a new place to live in Virginia my dog was diagnosed with bone cancer and given 6 weeks to live. Sometimes it feels like life isn’t fair, however since I can’t hide from the pain and my responsibilities anymore I decided perhaps it would be cathartic to write about my experience to help anyone else struggling through the pain of losing their best friend.
What I have realized these past couple of weeks is that he has had a blessed and charmed life. Instead of focusing on not having him around soon, I am trying to remember the good days and make sure that these next few weeks are full of cherished memories and joy. Now is the time to get those professional photographs I have been putting off, to take him to the beach as often as I can and to let him eat a little more than usual! I am also going to paint his paws and have him walk all over a canvas to create his own masterpiece that I can always cherish. I even had his paw print tattooed on my arm.
It is helpful to me to prepare and find some old photographs of him throughout the years we have spent together and give them a place of honor in my home. He is the very first dog that I have had that has earned so many obedience titles and blue ribbons. He was also my first demonstration dog for my nonprofit and a wonderful Service Dog, he did therapy work for the elderly in nursing homes, for children in a reading therapy program and for adults in hospitals. Everyone who meets my Mr. Snitch has fallen in love with his kind character and loving attitude toward each person he meets.
One of my favorite stories of him was when he was about a year old; I was training him as a demonstration dog for my Service Dog organization and so I had him out at the theatre with me. I had left him on a dog stay over by the wall and bathroom area while I got in line to get some popcorn and treats and when I turned around he had flipped upside down on his back, his belly fully exposed and a little girl about 3 was giving him zurberts on his tummy. I had never had children of my own so he had no real experience with kids getting quite this personal, but the look on his face when I saw them was priceless “MOM!!!! Can we keep her?” Thankfully in the past year he has finally gotten the children that he has always wanted in his life!
Memories are a powerful experience and a tool that I use to help ease some of the pain.
Now the reason I am writing this, is because I know from past experiences how hard it is to know when to say goodbye. Losing an animal is like losing a family member. They provide us with unconditional love and acceptance in a world that is not usually so kind. But I believe it is important to give them dignity as their time comes.
First is their quality of life, this is the biggest determination factor in my opinion, are they having more good days than bad days and are they still happy. When the things that use to make them happy don’t bring them joy anymore, when they are having more bad or painful days than they are having good days, and often when they refuse to eat it is time to seriously consider the quality of their life and giving them the gift of release.
I believe that euthanasia is a gift, it is sad and hard for us and we definitely mourn their loss, however we can end their suffering and pain when it is no longer able to be controlled. Having worked in a vet clinic and having had to put to sleep several of my own animals in the past due to disease and old age, I know that it can truly be a gift to them. There is no suffering, an anesthetic is given as an overdose which goes to the brain first so any sounds or movement they make afterwards is not something that is felt by them. Some veterinarians will do in home euthanasia.
Spend as much time with your pet as you can, making memories and monitoring his/her health and attitude. When you have concerns, talk to your vet. Your vet will let you know what services they offer and they can help to give you advice and can even point you in the direction of local support groups. When pain becomes a factor for your best friend, take him in or give them a call so that a different or more effective drug can be utilized. Many dogs are euthanized because of pain and there are numerous new protocols that can help lengthen the time your dog can spend living fairly pain free.
The other piece of wisdom is that you will know when it is time to say goodbye. I feel that each time I have had to make that difficult decision I have made the correct choice. Never second guess yourself that doesn’t do any good. Just make a pact to not let your pet suffer.
Do not allow him/her to lose so much weight they lose all their muscle mass or to let them go past the point they can get up and move around. The worst cases I have seen are the dogs that come in that should be 100# and they are around 50#, they are urine scalded and unable to get up, pick their heads up or move on their own…this is past the point of having any quality in their lives.
Give your pet the dignity he/she deserves and I believe, although it is hard, it is best to be there for them. I always go to McDonalds and order a cheeseburger plain to let them have a last tempting treat and then I hold them and pet them and whisper to them as they go. I try to give them the comfort they would give to me if they could and honor them in their last moments.
It is always difficult and it never gets easier, but I believe if you focus on the memories and the here and now and do all that you can to control their pain and their quality of life, you can give them the dignity that they deserve at the last moment. Then it is time to allow yourself the time that you need to mourn their passing. We all mourn in different ways and that is acceptable and understandable give yourself the time that you need and know that this is a normal part of losing anyone that is close to you.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.