When to Say Goodbye

Posted: Apr 20, 2015
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My recent experience saying goodbye to our pug Lucy led me to the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Program and Enid Traisman, program director and certified grief counselor.

Ron: I work in a building where end of life for animals is a reality. We see pet parents struggle with the decision to euthanize their beloved companions. Whether their pet has been battling a disease for years or suffered a recent injury, it is never easy. But when is it time to say "goodbye"? Medically, we can discuss all the statistics, survival rates, treatment options and pain the pet is experiencing. But the decision is ultimately in the pet parents' hands. 

Enid: It is unfortunate that our companion animal life spans are not as long as ours, thus many of us are faced with very difficult end-of-life issues. People often feel that they have been put unfairly in a God-like position, having to decide between life and death for someone they love and are responsible for. As compassionate guardians we are very concerned about whether our animal is suffering or has lost quality of life.

Ron: With more than a decade as CEO of an emergency veterinary hospital, I still struggle just as others do when facing my pet's life coming to a close. Our dearest Lucy had been living with diabetes for almost five years. The reality is that DoveLewis was able to give us so much more time with her than we imagined after learning of her disease, and we are grateful for that. But as a family, we started talking about euthanasia after diabetes took her vision and we had multiple hospital visits in a short period of time. 

Enid: Many people ask me how they will know if it is time to choose euthanasia for their companion animal. The term "euthanasia" means "the good death", a death without pain and suffering. To choose this for a pet is both an honor and a burden. I tell them to first consult with their veterinary professional about prognosis and then to trust their hearts and intuition which is based on the bond they share and the unspoken communication they have with their pet. I tell them to talk with their family and friends. As  difficult as it is, it's important to express feelings, observations and philosophies about quality of life. Doing this until they identify a "signal" from their pet letting them know it is time can be helpful in making that final decision. For some folks, life is life. For others, if their pet can no longer enjoy his or her normal activitites, quality of life has been lost. There is no right or wrong answer; everyone has a unique perspective.

Ron: When we came to the decision in December to let Lucy go somewhere she could see again and feel no pain, we knew it was the right thing to do. The selfless thing to do. Just as my family did, there are so many emotions that people coming through our hospital doors go through.

Enid: In pet loss groups we often discuss the "5 Stages of Grief". Specifically, when euthanasia is involved, we discuss feelings of guilt, which I see as anger turned inward. This is a normal part of the grieving process. We do this because in loving and grieving our pets, we wish we could have done more. Releasing that guilt doesn't mean that we didn't care for our pet, instead it allows us to freely tap into all the wonderful memories of a lifetime shared.