Last summer, I was forced to acknowledge the reality that my beloved Roxy, our 16-year-old Rat Terrier, was not long for this world. Like any good millennial, I perused the internet looking for help dealing with the death of a pet.
My searches included:
- How will I know when it’s time to let my dog pass?
- I think my dog is dying, what should I do?
- Is there hospice for dogs?
Thankfully, I stumbled across a few posts offering compassionate and helpful insight into the death of a pet. Between reading these, talking with friends, and consulting our trusted veterinarian, I was (eventually) able to come to terms with the fact it was time to let Roxy go. In doing so, I was able to also give her the best death possible.
If your family is like mine (and let’s face it, this is Portland, so it probably is), your pet is family. For my husband and I, our dogs have been a massive part of our lives for most of our relationship. They were in our holiday photos, at our wedding, and an integral part of our family. Mendel is our vivacious little Chorkie, and Roxy was our sweet-souled Rat Terrier.
How to know when it’s time to say goodbye to the family pet
The hardest part of caring for an aging and increasingly ailing pet is knowing when the “right time” will be. The majority of pet parents keep euthanasia out of mind for as long as possible. Most people wish for an idealized death of a pet that includes them passing “naturally” in their sleep. Odds are though, they would be in a great deal of pain by that point.
While I’ve had pets throughout my life, this was the first time I had to make the call. Would she give me a sign? Should I “just know?” For some, this may be true, but for me, I sought out research. I found pets’ experiences are different than ours. They don’t have the same perception of memories we do as humans, instead, they tend to live in the present. This means their current condition is their focus. When it comes to euthanasia and your pet, their quality of life should be your primary consideration.
This scale was developed to help families put a quantitative perspective on the quality of life of their pet. Essentially, it comes down to whether your pet is (mostly) comfortable and happy. Are they able to get around? Can they still do the things that bring them joy?
For me, the results of the quiz spoke for themselves. Roxy was unable to hear and was going blind. She couldn’t jump or use the stairs anymore. When we moved houses, she paced around aimlessly, getting stuck many times behind the couch and unable to find her way out without help.
The most telling sign was she couldn’t chase after her tennis ball anymore. That was the one thing she LOVED most. Even as a senior dog, she would spend hours chasing the ball and bringing it back, impatiently barking if we took a moment too long to chuck it across the field again. When I realized our final fetch session had already passed, it broke my heart.
Helping Roxy cross the rainbow bridge
I chose to use a local at-home pet euthanasia service, and I’m so thankful I did. Roxy was scared of going to the vet, but beyond that, she only seemed to feel safe in her doggie bed at home. So that’s how we said goodbye.
My husband took our kids (who were too young to participate), and I was able to focus on giving all of my love and attention to Roxy. Our other dog, Mendel, was able to be there, too. The vet who came to our house allowed me to hold her and stroke her neck the whole time. I wanted her to know, despite her lack of hearing and sight, that she was loved and I would be by her side until the very end.
The vet was incredibly kind and patient. She administered two shots; one put Roxy in a deep sleep and one allowed her to pass. After letting me hold her a little longer, the vet carefully wrapped her in a flowery blanket and took her where she would be cremated.
It was the most gentle and dignified pet death I could image. Saying goodbye was still very hard, but I took solace in the fact I gave Roxy the best death I could.