I received a call from Hampton, New Hampshire the other day. The person on the other end of the line was in crisis. She had an appointment the next day to have her 10 year old German Shepherd euthanized and she just knew that she would change her mind at the last minute. How could she be sure that this was the right time? How in the world would she have enough strength to do this last act of love? Why wouldn't either her dog or God give her a sign?
This conversation is typical of the many calls and e-mail messages I receive at my Pet Loss Support and Bereavement Center in Milwaukee. I can remember asking myself these very same questions the day I took my 15 year old animal companion, Buffy, to the veterinarian for euthanasia. Who was I to determine that the time was right to have my best friend euthanized?
There is no easy answer to these questions. I wish God gave us signs; I wish our animals gave us signs that they were ready for our assistance in dying. But, alas, neither do.
We, as responsible and loving human companions have to make this decision. Even though the decision is a very difficult one, it does not have to be made in the dark. Carole Fudin, a fellow pet loss counselor, has developed some important questions that we can ask ourselves regarding the validity of euthanasia.
1. Is the animal's illness serious - either chronic or terminal?
2. Is the animal getting any better with treatment?
3. Is the animal in pain and/or suffering?
4. Will the animal be able to enjoy life ever again?
5. Will the animal have the same personality as before?
6. And perhaps the most difficult question of all - Am I having trouble with this decision because I just can't let go. In other words, am I keeping the animal alive for my own sake?
This is one of the hardest decisions that a person has to make. The result of this decision will very possibly leave the decision maker in grief. This grief needs to be taken seriously for a significant love relationship has been severed and the person has the right to grieve.
Some of the ways that others can help the person grieving include giving that person assurance that his/her feelings are normal. Try to get the person to talk about the relationship he/she had with their animal companion. It is never helpful to avoid talking about the importance the animal had in the person's life. It is extremely important for the person to say goodbye to the animal. Never force another animal onto the grieving person. Be accepting and supportive. The loss is very real and the pain hurts. After all, the person has just lost their best friend.
"Celebrate with our animals...and know that when the time comes for them to move on, they will leave blessed, while we remain enriched." Julie Adams Church, Joy in a Wooly Coat
The Rainbow Passage Homepage:
1528 E. River Rd.
Grafton, WI 53024