I looked up from the front-office switchboard just as the young woman stumbled through the front door. She stood blinded by her tears in the middle of the shelter lobby, immobilized by her distress. I quickly slipped from behind the counter and approached her. “Can I help you?” I asked kindly, suspecting what she was about to say.
Instead of speaking, the woman thrust her hand forward. I removed the slip of paper from her clenched fingers and read it silently. “I have to put my dog Molly to sleep” she had written. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk when I got here, so I wrote this note.”
Tears welled in my own eyes. I reached out to touch her shoulder in sympathy and she flung her arms around my neck, sobbing. “It’s okay to cry,” I assured her. I hugged her for a long moment, then, with my arm still around her shoulders, I gently guided her to a small room just off the lobby and sat next to her. With as much compassion as possible, tears spilling down my cheeks, too, I asked her the questions that had to be answered, and filled out the necessary form. What kind of dog was Molly? (Oh, Pomeranians are wonderful dogs, I have one myself. I know how hard this must be for you…) How old is she? (Eighteen years? How lucky she is to have had such a long life with you. Still, it’s never long enough….) Why does she need to be euthanized? (Cancer. I’m so sorry…) I worked at the Humane Society for 20 years. Almost daily, owners brought their old, ill, injured, and infirm dogs to the shelter so we could end their pets’ suffering. It never got easier. Molly and her owner came to the shelter in the last month of my employment there. The woman’s pain pierced my heart just as sharply as the pain of the first owner whose request for euthanasia I had heard 20 years before.
Anyone who has ever had to make that incredibly difficult decision to end a canine, cat, horse, whatever type of animal or other cherished pets life knows how all-consuming that grief can be-how deeply it penetrates your soul, and how close to the surface the pain lingers, even years after the loss.
The Last Kind Thing
Euthanasia literally means “good death,” from the Greek words eu (“good) and thanatos (“death”). Euthanasia by injection is the method considered the most humane by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and all major animal- protection groups. It is a combination of injecting an overdose of an anesthesia drug- sodium pentobarbital into the animal’s vein or, in some cases abdominal cavity. After the drug has been administered, the animal lapses into unconsciousness within seconds, and death follows shortly after. If you have ever been anesthetized for surgery, you know what an animal experiences during euthanasia: One moment you are conscious, and the doctor is telling you to count backwards from 100, and then you’re out. The difference, of course, is that you wake up in the recovery room later, remembering almost nothing of what happened during the relatively short time that you were unconscious.
We use euphemisms for the act of ending our pets’ lives, because we don’t want to say that we killed them. We “Put Them To Sleep.” We “send them to the Rainbow Bridge.” We need to believe we aren’t killing them. You are not. Websters dictionary defines killing as “depriving life.” When its time for your pet to die because of old age, untreatable disease, injury, or even serious behavior problems, you aren’t depriving him of life as much as you are giving him a gift. You are relieving his suffering and easing a passage that every living creature will eventually and inevitably face. You are doing the last kind thing for him after a lifetime of loving kindness. You are giving him the privilege of a good death.
Take the time to say good-bye in a way that you would like to remember.
When you know in your heart that it is time , don’t let anyone talk you out of it. If your veterinarian tells you he can keep your pet alive for three more weeks with a new treatment, but your instincts tell you differently, or your resources are stretched to thin and you have already mentally prepared yourself for the death, you don’t have to succumb to the “life at any cost” temptation.
Your best friend may tell you that your pet doesn’t look so bad, but follow your own truths. She doesn’t know your pet like you do. She may not see how depressed the animal is, or understand how humiliated she feels when she soils herself. You kn ow what’s right for your pet. From Pat Miller and my own perspective, as I have always honored the love of my pets, and my instincts on when they have had enough. You know the end is now. When bad days start to out number the good, try to choose a good day for her final one. That way in your last memories of her, she still has some wag in her tail and some sparkle in her eye.
Know that all living things cross over to the other side. Home. In fact…they become young and full of what we remember, and they wait for us. They are the first for us to see when our turn to cross over is. The light that brought us into this life, awaits ever brither upon our return, and a soft, bundle of wet kisses, and wagging tails are the very thing to take us back. With their unconditional love….who better to help us know where we are going. And with endless and unconditional love they do.
Written by Pat Miller, with additional comments by Vicki Monroe.