As I started to write this blog about my new book, ‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – Preparing for the Transition of Your Beloved Pet’, I received a phone call from a friend. As soon as she started talking I knew she was going to give sad news – I could hear the distress in her voice. Unexpectedly one of her two whippets had been taken ill and had to be put to sleep just a few days earlier. My heart went out to her. Anyone who has been through the loss of a beloved pet knows what it can be like. I listened as she told me the details and was thankful that her pet’s illness had been brief and that she was able to be with her little dog as she said her final goodbye to her companion of 11 years. I’d been through the same process with my own dog a few months earlier. I knew what she was going through – seeing the empty space where his bed used to be at home and missing all his little endearing ways, and trying to avoid other people when out walking in case they say, “Where’s your dog?” Animal bereavement is a tough journey, and it’s not something anyone should have to do on their own. That is why I am so glad to have written this book – it’s somewhere for people to go, to find information, guidance, ideas, support and the warmth of being understood as they traverse the twists and turns of their own particular journey during their beloved pet’s end of life.
In my friend’s case, the lead up to her dog’s death had been short and the decision to have him put to sleep clear-cut. But, often this is not the case, and finding the right time to say goodbye can be fraught with anxiety and stress, as well as emotionally overwhelming. To share some insights about this area, here is an extract from the book:
People often say to those going through this process, “Oh, you’ll know when the time is right.” Certainly, you may know at the point; however, trying to decide when to have a much-loved companion animal put to sleep can present a myriad of uncertainties. Because of the emotional and mental turmoil, it can be difficult to quiet your mind and listen to your instinct. On the one hand, you want whatever is best for your pet; on the other, this is an irrevocable decision.
You may worry about having your pet put to sleep too soon and, therefore, depriving them of time. Or you may be anxious to ensure that they don’t get to a stage when they start to suffer. The thing to remember is that you do not have to work this out totally on your own. While the final decision has to be made by you, the vet professionals are there to offer vital information and guidance.
One way of thinking about when to consider euthanasia is that it can be done to prevent suffering rather than to end suffering.
I remember a few years ago going through this myself with an elderly guinea pig. Beryl had been a wonderful companion who had played a crucial role in educational sessions for a school programme called “Being Kind to Animals”, before retiring at around four or five years of age. When she reached the grand age of eight years, which is good going for a guinea pig, I noticed some changes in her demeanour and body condition that made me think she wasn’t feeling as well as normal.
I was determined that this little life wasn’t going to suffer unnecessarily, and am firmly of the mind that a little too soon is definitely better than a little too late. So I took her to the vet for a check-up and asked outright whether I needed to consider having her put to sleep in the near future. I explained that I was anxious to ensure that she didn’t suffer; she’d had as comfortable a life as I could offer her, and I wanted to ensure that she had a comfortable death.
The vet gave her a thorough examination and reassured me that she was in good health and would probably go on for another year! She also told me what to look out for that would indicate that Beryl was losing condition.
I was pleased and relieved and arranged to take her every six months for an assessment, or sooner if I had any concerns. A year later, Beryl’s condition suddenly deteriorated, and despite the fact that she kept eating, I knew that it was time for her to be gently put to sleep. The vet agreed, and I said my goodbye to this beloved guinea pig who had reached the grand age of nine.
My point in sharing this story is to show that rather than inwardly fretting and worrying, I discussed my concerns with the vet and got professional guidance and information, then, having been reassured, I was able to enjoy the time we had left together.
There is no doubt that it is incredibly difficult to be objective about your pet’s quality of life when emotions are running wild; therefore, a methodical system to gather information will help you stay grounded and be realistic. Keeping a diary of your pet’s general condition and behaviour will enable you to keep track of any changes that may not be obvious when you see them every day.
This activity is to help you work out a system to recognize important changes as they occur and to know what to do about them.
Recognizing Important Changes in Your Pet’s Well-Being
Ask your vet for guidance on how to measure changes in your pet’s well-being. The list below offers suggestions, but it will depend on the type of animal and what you and your vet decide about your particular pet’s needs. Leave space beside each point to write down what to do:
What to Look Out For
1. Behaving differently, such as:
• Having out-of-character reactions, such as aggression
• Being listless
• Avoiding people or hiding
• Being disoriented or confused
2. Are they:
• Losing weight?
• Off their food?
3. Should I take a photo each week to notice gradual changes?
4. Does their fur or feathers look any different?
5. Have they got any new lumps or bumps?
6. Are they struggling to stand up or lie down, or finding it difficult to walk or move about?
7. Are they coughing or being sick?
8. Do they seem in pain?
9. Are they crying, moaning or breathing heavily and/or quickly?
10. When would I need to contact the vet urgently?
11. There may be other things which you or your vet could add to this list.
This focused and practical approach should give you some peace of mind, as you are more likely to recognize a gradual or sudden worsening of your pet’s condition and will know what to do about it.
There are many different aspects which caring guardians may have to work through in the lead up to their loss, and then afterwards as they cope with the loss of their beloved pet. Wherever the reader is in the process, the book aims to gently support the sacredness of their individual human-animal relationship as they face the inevitable separation within the physical world.
‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye’ by Angela Garner, is now available to order from all major bookstores: https://petlosspress.com/