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family pets
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old dog
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best interest
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When Your Pet Dies
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When Your Pet Dies

We woke up yesterday morning to a lethargic, bloated 15 year old dog named Rexy - our pet for 14 years. Needless to say, it was decision making time. A sad time to make decisions. We had committed to an honorable life, and we committed to the same basis of decision making when death came calling.

Over the years of his life, and all of our family members, we had been judicious regarding medications; meaning, we avoid them through healthy diet and exercise. But now a decision would have to be made for the comfort of our aging pet.

The first step was to decide where we would draw the line with regard to invasive medical work. We made the appointment with our vet, but first, we discussed how far we would go to save the dog. His comfort was our primary concern, not our attachment to him. This was where the difficulty would arise as the vet's business would push us to an extreme where pain and death would surround us. Just notice the hyper-emotional comments people make when their pets are ill. I feel this is not in the best interest of the pet, this hysteria.

I'll digress for a moment and give this background. I have rescued many dogs. I have fostered a few. With our family pets, they were exercised at least once a day, but for the first eight years, they were exercised twice a day. We have been buying expensive healthy food for twelve years. A few years ago, our eight year old pit bull blew out his knee and needed a $3,500 plate. I asked the vet if he would live much longer. This comment had the vet looking at me like I had knifed his mother. I told him frankly that our attachment to our pet had driven us to make the best choices his whole life, and money would not be a primary concern here. But I was still prudent and would not be bullied by my vet.

Oddly enough, with our Cocker, we had no choice. The vet did not leverage our tears. She advised us to put the dog down at once. That was startling. She gave us a choice, but suggested for the sake of the dog, that he be euthanized. And so we said goodbye to our little furry friend.

Losing a family pet is sad because of the routines that make them a hassle at times. All the walks in the rain and snow, the walks after tiresome days at work, figuring out what to do when you want to vacation (we never boarded our pets.) All the feeding, picking up pounds and pounds of stinking poop - all left me terribly sad. Sad because the involvement was over. We had surmounted mountains, oftentimes with me carrying little Rexy. But the daily chores and involvement made the goodbye so painful.

I also believe there is a deeply spiritual bent to caring for a pet. So in addition to the daily routine, despite the lack of a constant desire, there is a feeling that one is "doing something good." And we really don't have many opportunities to do good in our busy lives (we who board people for free, feed the kids who don't have food, and spend all of our free time with our kids.) Taking care of something feels right, as though there is something bigger than the pet, in this case, that is benefiting.

But caring for a pet, loving a pet, picking up its poop, always felt special. Yes, picking up poop felt bigger than the chore itself. What's more, the trust that is required runs deep into one's being. As someone who enjoys the big picture, I have to wonder if caring for those lives that would otherwise have no life without a person is getting close to God. A big question that will go unanswered like the other big questions, but that certainly feels right.

Losing a pet hurts in various ways, and there is no one size fits all for healing, as with any deep experience. But acknowledging the hurt, feeling the loss, and carrying that sense feels right. I am certain there will come a time when the pain is gone and the memories are of photographs. But until that time, I feel the loss, the feeling of longing, and love that was evoked by one who trusted me.

As for my pit bull's knee surgury - we paid the $3,500 and three years later, he's as healthy as ever. And I am grateful that we took the time and reflected prior to making our decision. And I'm sure the "wrong" decision is made daily. But what was important is that we did not keep a being alive to make us feel good at the pets' discomfort.

When your pet dies a part of us dies too, and knowing that should not make a person avoid the decision. A decision must be made outside ourselves. And that is the painful part, where the trust is reversed, and one's faith is engaged.


Street Talk

"His comfort was our primary concern, not our attachment to him". Wise wise words. This is when we let go of our old cattle dog. We realised keeping her was for our emotional benefit and not the best thing for her comfort.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Heather, I have no idea if what we did was good, bad, or otherwise. Questions like these are so incredibly difficult. But whether we keep them alive, or do otherwise, Love prevailed, as it did with your decision. And I don't think anymore can be asked of us.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Your article returns me in some parts at a time when my sweet Pekingese dog Mini died. She died by natural death more than a year ago, and it still hurts as that happened yesterday. I have a strong feeling that I will never forget her. I agree that when our pet dies a part of us dies too. Loss of someone who loved us so uncompromisingly is a very big loss and the fact is that the comfort of our pets is our primary concern but not our emotions and feeling of loss. These are difficult and painful decisions, but right ones, precisely due of our deep feelings for our beloved pets. Thank you Dale, for this excellent article!

Reply
  about 6 years ago

"...who loved us so uncompromisingly....precisely due of our deep feelings for our beloved pets..." I could not agree more. Loving people doing loving things is always good to hear. Thank you

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Outstanding article. It hit right at home for me. We had to put our Golden Retreiver to sleep on Apr 21 2011 and it still hurts so much. The empty days of not seeing him. They are a part of the family. I will never forget him.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

What an article, I agree with you with all my heart, pets a God given companion for us to enjoy and protect. Their love eternal, even if mistreated, a sign from above. Great article, I love it.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thank you, Rob.

Reply
  about 6 years ago
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