When Is It Time to Say Goodbye?

April 14, 2003 – November 19, 2011

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had a number of friends and clients contact me asking, “How do I know when it’s time to let my dog go?”  A year ago tomorrow we had to make that same decision with our incredibly wonderful Aussie, Gibson. He was fine one morning, then in severe respiratory distress five hours later.  After numerous visits to local vets and the University of Georgia over the course of two weeks, it was believed he had hemangiosarcoma, for which there is no treatment, no cure and is the leading cause of sudden death in dogs.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our dogs is to be able to let them go without pain.  After a wonderful morning stroll around our pasture, Gibson dined on a hand-fed, seared steak breakfast served on a silver platter as he looked over his kingdom. Shortly afterwards, Gibson crossed over the Rainbow Bridge in the loving arms of both Brad and I and in the comfort of our own home, thanks to Dr. Becky Stone.

When to euthanize a beloved pet? It’s such a hard decision, isn’t it?  My heart aches for you if you’re at that point in time.

Watching our parents and our dogs in elderly states can be so painfully difficult. My mother, after years of decline and being bed ridden, finally died in her sleep, but had she or I been able to do so, both of our choices would have been euthanasia as she just had no true quality of life (yes, we often talked about it).

Our 13 year old girl, Abbey the Angel Dog, developed Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome and declined steadily during the last year of her life until we finally began talking about “when” it would be time to help her cross over. She didn’t seem to be uncomfortable, but during the last month of her life she went downhill dramatically and ended up dying a natural, but painful death because the vet couldn’t get here in time to euthanize her. Hindsight being what it is, we should have made the decision many weeks before her death.

For me personally, when I begin to wonder about the “when” of euthanizing an animal, I realize that’s a message to look inside myself and examine my feelings about my desire to keep a beloved companion in my life vs. their own quality of life. With Abbey, the first time I thought about “when” was probably the right time. But that’s me….it’s different for each one of us.

With Gibson, it was so painful because his cancer was hidden. We couldn’t see it, but after spending $6,000 on trying to make him well only to have the internal abdominal and chest fluids returning, we knew surgery wasn’t the answer…euthanasia was.

If the animal’s quality of life has declined and you’re beginning to wonder “when,” then the time may be drawing near. It’s never easy, but it’s the ONE thing we know we CAN do to help them out of pain vs. keeping them alive selfishly for our own needs.  Who really knows about The Rainbow Bridge?  I choose to believe it really does exist.

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, a dog*tec Certified Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina.  She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S.   www.coldnosecollege.com


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