Listen to your dog.
Our animal friends give, receive, and exude love and joy. Their antics bring smiles, groans, and frustration, though the smiles usually win out. For many of us, a treasured animal is an enormous part of our world—considered family, even. Pets and other animal companions depend on us for food, shelter, care, and attention. They also depend on us to know when it's time to say goodbye, something we're never truly ready to do.
Over the past decade, I've said goodbye to three of my own beloved Salukis and others who passed on too soon, shared advice with friends facing sad decisions regarding their pups, cried on a shoulder and been a shoulder to cry on, and sought (and am forever grateful for) the counsel and friendship of our veterinarian. And throughout it all, I've lived this and offered it as advice: "Listen to your dog."
Perhaps your dog is elderly, and less and less able to do what he or she has always loved. Perhaps you're dealing with a medical condition, an illness, a cancer that will not be resolved. Perhaps she's gone quickly from losing the spring in her step to barely mobile; perhaps it's all you can do to coax him to eat even the tiniest bit of food. Perhaps you've realized it's time to talk with your veterinarian (and loved ones) about euthanasia. Consider your dog's happiness, comfort, and quality of life. Consider whether your pup is still alive or merely existing, knowing you love him and his presence. Be watchful. Be mindful. Listen. Your dog will tell you when it's time; be ready to hear him.
If your pet gets nervous about seeing the vet—more often because of the building and its sounds and scents—ask your vet about a possible home visit to make the last moments more comfortable. Or have your vet step outside and euthanize your pet in your vehicle, avoiding the office. When my first Saluki had to be euthanized at 14, our vet came outside to give Dusty his injection. The other Salukis were with us. He was surrounded by those he loved and was loved by, and they would realize he wasn't coming home. They needed to know he was gone.
Last year, my beautiful Zayn went from strong and healthy to devastated by cancer, within a short time. I again talked with my vet (and a specialist) and listened to my dog. When it became obvious there was no hope for improvement or recovery and comfort was waning, our vet arranged to meet us at his practice during a quiet time, when we all bid Zayn farewell. As much as my heart broke—because he was no longer with us, not because we kindly helped him from his hurt—I'm grateful I was there to hold him and say goodbye and let him know he was always loved. I had to be there for him.
That our animal companions live relatively short lives is a sad, inevitable truth, yet we gain such love, friendship, and lessons along the way. That we're able to make a decision that could release them from suffering is a great gift to them. Take comfort in your finest, happiest memories of your pet; cherish everything that you love about him. You made certain he had a fine life and a dignified, safe death.
Written by: Amy L Charles is West Michigan Woman's editorial director. Her dogs are dear friends, and those who've gone before them are loved every bit as much.