Admitting That It’s Time to Let a Best Friend Find Peace

Putting your pet to sleep is a terrifying peek into the real world. As a faithful pet owner, one of the most agonizing decisions comes when you must decide if it’s that time.  The time to let your beloved dog finally be at peace. Although perhaps not equivalent to losing a family member, the loss is nevertheless profound and the responsibility great.

Lately my family has been pondering if it’s “that time” for our family dog, Gracey, as she is nearing the final active days of her life. This is the strife that every pet owner faces at some point. Although many pet owners know that their pets could probably live on uncomfortably for months or even years, when is it actually time to euthanize your precious furry friend?

Miami veterinarian Jon Rappaport answers pet owners’ questions at the website PetPlace.com. There, he suggests what to consider when contemplating euthanizing a pet: “I believe quality of life means that the pet is eating, drinking, maintaining their body weight and does things that suggest they are enjoying life, such as walk outside to go to the bathroom or maybe even play a little.”

We all have childhood memories of the overflowing joy when you got your first puppy, but when your lifetime pal slowly but surely nears the end of his or her life, all the joy turns to reminiscing and sorrow. 

Euthanizing a pet involves professional veterinarians putting injured or suffering animals to sleep humanely, rather than letting them die naturally, which can be a long, painful process for both the pet and the owner. Although dogs can’t vocally communicate with their guardians, they can communicate through body language. If a dog’s tail enthusiastically thumps the ground, you believe he or she is doggone happy. But these signs can be difficult to distinguish for the owner, depending on how well the owner knows his or her dog. Even if a faithful pet owner can tell when a dog is unhappily moping around, the main problem is deciding when to finally let go.

Being a family in this process is absolutely agonizing. When your 45-pound standard poodle who has never failed to bring a smile to the faces of many approaches 16 years old, there are some things to take into account. I am constantly getting lost in the abyss of what if. Miracles do happen. What if one day she springs from her dark and dreary state and acts like a puppy again? 

The most unbearable, agonizing decision ever is that stage when you don’t know if your pet is suffering so much that euthanasia is the right decision, or if he or she enjoys life enough to stay on earth and prosper. 

“Hannah, she is just old, and it’s almost time for her to go,” my mother says. Her piercing words make me cringe, and silence is my loudest cry. Her words crush all my hope, and I accept that it’s time to face the facts.

Most would say it’s for the better because no pet owner wants a dog to live in misery. But losing a pet is like losing a family member, someone dear to your heart. It’s not easy, especially because it can also be a young person’s first experience with death. In a way, our pets serve us even as they die by helping us prepare for future losses.

 Loyal pet owners look at their dogs as more than just furry canines; some look at their pets as younger siblings, which is why they are known as man’s best friend. I have begun to believe that in due time a man can be a dog’s best friend, too. There comes a time when even best friends have to part their separate ways and say goodbye.

A version of this article appeared in print on 15 January 2013, on page 5 of the Shakerite.

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