The Final Days: How to Know When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

 

older_vizslaFour years ago on a cool grey winter’s morning, the sky was hinting at drizzle and the phone in my pocket began to vibrate. I was startled and slightly irritated by the interruption and reluctantly reached in and pulled it out. It read “MOM” illuminated brightly on the cold black screen. When my mom calls it is rarely anything bad, rather, it is normal mom stuff:  “I miss you.”  “How are the grands?” “Did you hear…?” “Did you know…?”, but when it starts with “I have a question for you.”  I have an instant mix of emotion. On the one hand, I realize I am a man with wisdom and knowledge and I know things my mom does not.  On the other hand, I’m scared because of the exact same reason.  It started to drizzle. I couldn’t hear it, but I could see the tiny drops begin to converge on my car.

“Yah sure, what’s up?”, I faked confidence and asked.

“How do you know when it is time to put a dog down?”

Now I heard the rain.  I knew she was asking about Skipper our family dog who had been filling the empty nest after my brothers and I left the house.  We have had a dog my entire life.  There was one waiting for me the day I came home from the hospital on my OB (original birthday) and I had one thereafter, with me at every single life event.  The deaths of my furry best friends were never easy and I was never ready for it.  This was the first time she was having to do it alone and she was calling because I am the supposed “expert”.  In my job I am so blessed to meet and care for thousands of dogs every year.  Dogs, simply, make everything better.  If you don’t have a dog, just stop reading because you will not understand. The major downside of my job is I have to watch puppies age into decrepitude and finally pass away.  These feel like they are my dogs too, so it hurts me.  I have had my own dogs over the years live their life and then go.  I know pain and loss, but how does one CHOOSE the time, if they won’t or fate doesn’t step in and take them in a second?  Thunder rolled in the distance.

“What is going on?  How is he?”, I asked.  I knew the answers.  He was old.  He was lost in his body, but his mind was still there.  He wanted so badly to chase, play, come, go for a ride and lay in the sun.  He could not. Every move caused pain enough that he whimpered when trying to just be.  He had a look in his eye when he realized he had gone to the bathroom again… in the house.  He still wanted to be near and to be touched.  His tail still wagged when he felt that you were close.  He still had love to take and to give. “How do you know when it is time?” reverberated through my mind as she mournfully told me what I knew. Summary: Not good and I am NOT ready to say goodbye.

I have been in her shoes a few times.  I have seen more dogs than you can imagine and their owners in her shoes.  It sucks and it always sucks. Dogs are the bookends in your life.  When one comes and then goes they bookend that part of your life.  Sometimes it is only a few years and sometimes it is over 15 years…I always get sad when I get near the end of a book…especially on a cold rainy morning.

So here it is folks.  The answer to “When to say goodbye?”  It is painfully simple and cold and rainy, but there is a blue sky.  The answer is:  When you see suffering. When you see no quality of life.  When you see your companion look up at you and say, “I love you.  Thanks for the great time, you were the best.” You have to remember that they were a big part of your life, but to them, you were their entire life.  Let them go for them and do not hold on to them for you…and then…get another dog to bring the sun back.  Don’t wait because you need it, and they want you to have it.  That’s what I told my mom…

 

By | 2017-05-07T17:16:40+00:00 February 10th, 2015|death of a dog, Older Dogs|10 Comments

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10 Comments

  1. Tess Rodriguez February 10, 2015 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    So beautifully written Bart…I knew the exact moment Celis was ready. He let me know. It’s still so painful, but I’ve been volunteering with APA to help me heal. I’ll have another soon, but not right now. I miss DogBoy’s 🙂

  2. Tess Rodriguez February 10, 2015 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    So beautifully written Bart…I knew the exact moment Celis was ready. He let me know. It’s still so painful, but I’ve been volunteering with APA to help me heal. I’ll have another soon, but not right now. I miss DogBoy’s 🙂

  3. linda February 10, 2015 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Oh my I was sitting here in tears before I saw this as I just made the decision about 2 hours ago to have my dog put down in the morning for all the reasons that you mentioned. Thanks.

  4. linda February 10, 2015 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Oh my I was sitting here in tears before I saw this as I just made the decision about 2 hours ago to have my dog put down in the morning for all the reasons that you mentioned. Thanks.

  5. Ray Nation February 10, 2015 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Beautifully written and all so true. It’s never easy to say goodbye.

  6. Ray Nation February 10, 2015 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Beautifully written and all so true. It’s never easy to say goodbye.

  7. Cliff Tyllick March 12, 2015 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Perfectly put, Bart. You never knew our dog before Buddy. His name was Andy, and we weren’t wise enough to listen to our vet when she said he had cancer and his life would never again be better from one day to the next. “If he were my dog, I would put him down now,” she said. But things didn’t seem so bad at the time.

    Looking back, we can see that she was telling us that each day would get worse. We could make ourselves feel heroic, even angelic, by helping him along. But, really, we had only the power to ensure that he died happy. Not stressed that he wouldn’t be able to hold it. Not tortured by the progression of the disease. Not weakened by his slowly failing organs.

    We couldn’t stop his death. We could only reduce the amount of misery he experienced.

    Next time, we’ll still do all we can for our dog’s health and comfort. But as the light of life begins to fade, we will ask purselves that most important question: “Why are we doing this? So the dog will feel better? Or so we will?”

    And whatever action we take, it will be for the dog.

  8. Cliff Tyllick March 12, 2015 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Perfectly put, Bart. You never knew our dog before Buddy. His name was Andy, and we weren’t wise enough to listen to our vet when she said he had cancer and his life would never again be better from one day to the next. “If he were my dog, I would put him down now,” she said. But things didn’t seem so bad at the time.

    Looking back, we can see that she was telling us that each day would get worse. We could make ourselves feel heroic, even angelic, by helping him along. But, really, we had only the power to ensure that he died happy. Not stressed that he wouldn’t be able to hold it. Not tortured by the progression of the disease. Not weakened by his slowly failing organs.

    We couldn’t stop his death. We could only reduce the amount of misery he experienced.

    Next time, we’ll still do all we can for our dog’s health and comfort. But as the light of life begins to fade, we will ask purselves that most important question: “Why are we doing this? So the dog will feel better? Or so we will?”

    And whatever action we take, it will be for the dog.

  9. Jenny Stedman March 13, 2015 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    This article hit very close to home after putting Gracie (my first and only dog) to sleep last month after having her in my life for all of her 13 years. Many thanks to DogBoys for helping me to be the best dog owner I could be and for all the love and joy they gave Gracie.

    A professor once told me that there’s a fine line between “preserving life” and “prolonging death. When our wonderful dogs slip past that subtle line, then I think that it’s time to let them go…

  10. Jenny Stedman March 13, 2015 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    This article hit very close to home after putting Gracie (my first and only dog) to sleep last month after having her in my life for all of her 13 years. Many thanks to DogBoys for helping me to be the best dog owner I could be and for all the love and joy they gave Gracie.

    A professor once told me that there’s a fine line between “preserving life” and “prolonging death. When our wonderful dogs slip past that subtle line, then I think that it’s time to let them go…

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