It’s hard to know when a beloved pet is ready to pass, and sometimes we wait too long. This is an excellent article by our shelter director, Dr. E.J. Finocchio, about knowing when it’s time.
We have all thought of that dreadful moment – when is the right time? At least some of us have. This is a sensitive subject that is not meant to offend anyone but to enlighten them. Often times, I am asked to humanely end an animal’s life because of the infirmities of old age. I see up close and personal the anguish, sorrow and tears. Unfortunately for me, each passing of a pet reminds me of the day when I will have to part with my dog, Marvin. What grieves me now is the condition some of these beloved pets are in when they are brought to me. I ask myself how someone could allow their best friend to get in such a deplorable state and tell me they do not want their pet to suffer. To literally describe the condition of some of these pets would be too graphic and disturbing.
A few months ago, I had to put my mom and dad’s sixteen year old poodle to rest. You can imagine the loss to them, being in their eighties; not that being younger makes it any easier. The dog had been failing for months but in their hearts they wanted to wait, in hopes that tomorrow would be a better day. Unfortunately, there comes a time when the tomorrows are no longer better days, only the yesterdays were. I often wonder if the time will come when I will not see the suffering or refuse to accept it because I don’t want to let go.
Personally, I believe in the quality of life more than life itself, but that’s just me. What matters to your pet is also the quality of life, not the length of life because they have no concept of the future.
My time with Marvin is not measured in seconds, hours, days or years. It’s measured in the times we spend down by the river watching the water cascading over the small waterfall, chasing a tennis ball until either I can’t throw it any more or he refuses to bring it back from exhaustion, tracking deer tracks through the snow in hopes of seeing one, or just lying out in the pasture on an Indian summer day watching clouds pass by.
The unconditional love, companionship and friendship they give us for years should be rewarded by a peaceful and dignified ending without suffering. There will always be a feeling of guilt for thinking we could have done better or did we make the right decision. Feelings of guilt, indecision and soul-searching are what I have come to learn is how most people feel and it is okay. What isn’t okay is not letting go because of how you feel and hoping that tomorrow will be a better day.
We all hope that our pets will leave us peacefully in their sleep but that isn’t always the way. Many people have said to me “but I think there is still some life left” and there may very well be depending on how you look upon life. It is amazing how two little words, “let go,” could have such a big meaning. When the time comes for letting go, will you let go? I hope I will, for Marvin’s sake.
Humane Euthanasia and Cremation
The Rhode Island SPCA offers humane euthanasia and cremation services for elderly and severely ill pets. Please contact the RISPCA for costs and more information.
What to Do When a Pet Dies
We are so deeply sorry if you have lost your beloved pet. Our animal companions are not “just animals”. They are family members, children, and best friends. The love that they give us has no strings attached or conditions to be met. They do not judge. They listen to our heartaches, make us laugh with their antics, and wiggle their way firmly into our hearts. Don’t let anyone tell you that it wasn’t a great loss.
What to Expect
There is no right or wrong way to grieve your companion. Each person experiences loss in his or her own way. Tears may be enough to then move on. Sometimes the tears may last for weeks or months. And sometimes one may feel a sort of numbness until grief is triggered by a reminder of your pet. There may be feelings of guilt that you didn’t see warning signs or that you held on too long. There may be feelings of denial that this hasn’t happened and it will all be a bad dream. There may be feelings of anger that this happened at all. There may be sleeplessness, loss of energy and appetite. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way. Seek out friends and family who are able and willing to hear how much you miss your companion and how the loss is affecting you. Sometimes being able to talk and express your grief helps you to let go of it. Trying to ignore your grief may result in lengthening your healing time. If people around you are unable to be supportive because they just don’t understand, seek out pet loss hotlines and pet loss support groups.
Many people find comfort in being able to hold a funeral or memorial service for their pet, in the same way that a funeral can provide closure for a human loss. Surrounded by just a few friends and family, you might share memories of your pet and express your feelings of love and loss. You might plant a tree or a flower bush over your companion’s burial site, or spread his ashes in his favorite spot in the garden. You might create a photo album or little decoupaged box to hold your pet’s collar or a snip of his fur. This kind of closure can be particularly important for a child so that he or she can express grief and understand that the pet’s loss is permanent. Coping with the loss of a pet can be particularly hard for seniors, as well. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness. The pet’s death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind caregivers of their own mortality.
Some people are able to resolve their grief by providing a home and love to a new animal as quickly as possible. For others, they need time to grieve for their lost pet before being able to open their hearts and homes to a new one. Listen to your own heart to know when you’re ready.
Pet Loss Support Hotlines
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University (508) 839-7966 M-F 6 to 9pm
The ASPCA (877) 474-3310 Seven days a week
Websites That Offer Pet Loss Support
Reading for Children
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (Judith Viorst)
When a Pet Dies (Fred Rogers)
Reading for Adults
Goodbye My Friend: Your Aging Pet and a Final Act of Caring (Mary & Herb Montgomery)
Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die (Jon Katz)
Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet (Moira Allen)
Grieving the Death of a Pet (Betty Carmack)
When Only Love Remains: The Pain of Pet Loss (Emily Sturparyk)
When Your Pet Dies: How to Cope with Your Feelings (Jamie Quackenbush & Denise Graveline)
Blessing the Bridge (Rita Reynolds)
Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet (Gary Kowalski)