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You look for signs that he is still having fun. You want to believe that he is. Is that wag of a tail a sign that things are going well, or is it just a reflex? Or an attempt to please you? After all, that’s what he always did – he tried to please you. And he did.
Now you are wondering, should I let him go? This sweet, gentle soul that I love so much, who loved me with all his heart, who saw me through good times and bad and never, ever, even once, stopped loving me with all his heart.
Realistically, finding the right time can be difficult. Hardly anyone ever says, when it comes to euthanizing a beloved dog, “I got the timing exactly right.”
Let me tell you about a friend of mine. Jackie had a Rottweiler, nine years old and full of beans. Emil, the Rott, was given to her by someone who “didn’t have time” for him anymore. Apparently Emil knew that Jackie most definitely did have time for him, because he bonded to her like Crazy Glue. Jackie used to joke, and say she wasn’t Jackie anymore – she was half of the unit known as “EmilandJackie.” They were constantly together.
Then one day, Emil looked a bit off. Jackie thought he was losing weight. She took him to the vet, and he got a clean bill of health. Still, she thought something wasn’t right. Two weeks later, she took him back to the vet, and x-rays revealed what might, or might not, have been a mass on his liver. The vet told her that they could do a liver biopsy, but on a dog of his age (he was 9, which is pretty much the “best before” date for a Rottie), most likely it was cancer.
Jackie had one question. “Will he have to stay overnight?” The vet told her that he would. With tears raining down her cheeks, Jackie said, “I will hold him, and you will put him to sleep now.” I asked her why she made that decision. She told me, “He was old. He was sick. And I always told him that I would never leave him. If they’d done the biopsy, I would have had to leave him.”
It’s so hard knowing when you’ve gotten it right. I think Jackie did. But who knows? I think the main thing you need to consider is whether the fun has gone out of it for the dog, and whether there is any hope for a better life. An old, sick dog has likely come to the end of its “best before” date, and sometimes the kindest thing you can do is let go.
If your dog is in pain, let go. If he is incontinent, you should probably let go – he doesn’t want to mess in the house; he can’t help it. By the same token, if that is the only problem, suck it up. Get some soap and water and deal with it. You would do that for a beloved human, wouldn’t you? If your dog seems depressed and disinterested in the things that he or she once enjoyed, maybe it is time to let go.
Also, as harsh as this may sound, think about the cost of keeping your pet alive. Are you going to spend thousands of dollars to buy a little bit of time? Would you want your loved ones to do that for you? You could practically bankrupt yourself, with all the modern veterinary treatments that are now available, buying nothing more than a week or two for a dog that is well past it. It makes no sense financially, and it probably also makes no sense in terms of the time that you can buy your pet. You need to ask yourself if you are keeping your dog alive for the sake of the dog, or for your own sake.
So, is it time? Honestly, you might not know for sure. The best you can do is, simply stated, the best you can do. You know your dog, and you know when he’s looking “off.” I’ve often found that the best thing you can do is ask your vet, “What would you do if this was your dog?” Most vets will offer an honest answer.
I want you to understand that I’m not trying to sell you something. But Jackie buried Emil in the back yard, where he loved to lie in the sun and chase squeakies. I wanted to memorialize Emil too, and I started shopping for memorial stones. I found one on Amazon that said, “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.” That’s how Jackie felt. I sure love the idea of remembering a good dog.