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

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is the author of The Original Rocket Recall™: Teach Your Dog to Come. She’s a CPDT-KA, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), a Pat Miller Certified Trainer Level 2, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training and Behavior, a dog*tec Certified Professional Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. The company’s trainers enjoy providing virtual behavior consulting and training solutions to clients around the globe and offers coaching, mentoring and behavior case support for pet professionals. www.coldnosecollege.com


9 thoughts on “When Is It Time to Say Goodbye?”

  1. Yes, sniff, sniff, thanks for this post. Thanks to my fellow dog lover friend Leslie Valentine Dopp for sharing this with me after having made the decision to let go of our beloved dog Zoe the day before yesterday. :(…..

    1. Hi Anne, I’m so very sorry for your loss. There are just no words to express the sorrow we feel when we lose a beloved companion. I can only imagine that Zoe thought she lived in nirvana with you, even before she crossed over that Rainbow Bridge. I happen to believe that only their physical body leaves us and their spirit continues to walk by our side. Zoe will live on in all the other dogs who come into your life. Peace be with you.

  2. Greyt article Lisa. All rings true as I have 2 seniors right now that down the road will be thinking of this.

  3. Whether our pup is young and never ill a day of her life except for the last week (as was my Shimmer) or elderly and frail, it does seem that one way to look at is that we’ve most likely had an amazing life with our pets and we would not want them to suffer for even a moment. I said when I put her down that we had 3 amazing years together. What more could I have asked for? It still brings tears to my eyes to think of those 3 minutes but I knew in my heart it was the right thing for her. Look for a sense of peace in your decision and that will help guide your human footsteps! Thanks Lisa

  4. I have had to make that decision twice and it never gets easy. They will let you know and that is the time. I am approaching that time again with my 20-year old who was born here and had been a good farm dog for all that time. He still tries to follow me on the farm and walks out to the barn in the evenings to feed. Then I spend quality time with him and feed him. He has his “room” in the carport storage room with a heat lamp, heater and bed. In the winter, he has a tarp over the door to keep out the cold wind. He is somewhat incontinent so he cannot stay inside. And until about a year ago he thought the house would eat him anyway!!

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