Pet Loss: How Do We Say Good-Bye?

by DFS-Pet-Blog on October 14, 2009

**Guest post from Monica S.**

How do we say good-bye? How do we look into the trusting eyes of our companion and say “I love you. Please don’t hurt anymore.”? How do we prepare ourselves for that day?

Jericho, happy & healthy in 2002 & with my dad, saying their goodbyes in 2005

Jericho, happy & healthy in 2002 & with my dad, saying their goodbyes in 2005

Every person that makes the commitment to love a pet will some day have to make this decision. While it’s never an easy one to make (no one wants their best friend to leave), you also don’t want to see them suffer. A battle with a long term disease or a terrible accident that has left our friend suffering with no quality of life left makes the decision easier to bear.

These have been the experiences that I have faced as a pet owner.

I had a 3-year-old Siamese mix, Hef, with squamus cell carcinoma in the jaw. It was two weeks from diagnosis to when his quality of life had declined so much it was time to let him go. Only two weeks to prepare myself. I have never doubted my decision.

My 10-year-old Alaskan Malamute, Jericho, was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in April of 2005. Prednisone held the cancer at bay for 3 months. I checked his lymph nodes daily for signs of the impending tumors. I found a lump in his throat on a Thursday night. By Sunday it was the size of a nerf football. The following Friday, we said our goodbyes. I loved that dog with my whole heart (still do), but it was the right decision. Only 3 months to prepare myself. I have never doubted my decision.

Sheba, fall of 2004

Sheba, fall of 2004

This past winter, January 30th to be exact, I was on my way from work to the barn to meet the vet for my horses’ yearly Coggins test, when my cell phone rang. It was a fellow boarder that had beat me to the barn and was calling to tell me that my 17-year-old Anglo-Arab mare, Sheba, was colicing. While the mention of the word colic sends shivers down any horse owner’s spine, I thought we were in luck. Horses NEVER colic when the vet is already on the way to see them, and time was on our side.

Dr. Graper arrived ahead of me & administered the banamine injection to ease her pain and allow him to do an examination. Then we continued walking. This is the best thing you can do for a colicing horse, keep them moving and do NOT let them lay down and roll. After Dr. Graper had finished drawing all the samples for the Coggins tests, he did another examination on Sheba, said she should pass the stool in a few hours and to call him if we needed him.

Back to walking. And more walking. And then some more walking. Thankfully, I had help. Sue, the barn owner, and her daughter Whitney stayed out there with me the entire night, taking turns walking her while someone ran into the tack room to warm up. After it was all done, I figured out that we had walked my poor mare for 7 HOURS!

At about 8:15 PM, we called the vet. Sheba seemed to be increasing in pain and it was getting harder to keep her on her feet. She’d gone down a few times and it was very hard to get her back up. Thankfully, Dr. Graper doesn’t live far from the barn, and he was back within 20 minutes. He did another examination, turned to me with a frown and said “Something’s not right here. I need to do an ultra-sound.” A few minutes into the ultra-sound, without Dr. Graper ever saying a word, I knew things were NOT going to turn out the way I wanted them to. You could see lots of unusual twists in her intestines and there were three pockets that appeared to be filled with fluid.

Sheba, fall of 2007

Sheba, fall of 2007

He then explained to me that what Sheba was experiencing wasn’t a normal colic. She had tumors in the lining of her intestines that had twisted and pinched off the blood supply to certain areas. She also had three pockets that were filled with fluid that was turning rancid as it had no way of leaving her body. He said that it wasn’t something that he could fix and that her best chance would be to trailer her to the University of Wisconsin – Madison veterinary hospital. But he didn’t think that she would be able to survive the drive. Madison is approximately 3 hours away, and that’s in a car, not hauling a trailer, with a sick horse trying to roll in it, in the dead of winter.

I knew that Sheba would not want to suffer any longer if it was up to her. I looked into my beautiful mare’s big brown eyes, hugged her close and whispered “I love you. I’m sorry that I can’t fix you” then told Dr. Graper to do what he had to. Fifteen minutes later, my beautiful mare was peaceful, without pain. Fifteen minutes was all I had to prepare myself. And while this decision was by far the hardest that I have had to make, I have never doubted my decision.

I love all of my pets. And while the previous situations were incredibly hard for me to be in, I know that I did the right thing. There comes a time when we have to put aside our feelings and hurts, and think about what is best for our beloved animals. We can not let them suffer to ease our pain.

Related articles:
Loss and Gain – After losing one dog to bone cancer, this dog owner describes the grief of the loss, and then the joy of bonding with a her new Newfoundland puppy.
Keep That Joy Your Pet Gave You Alive – Veterinarian Holly Nash shares memories of her dog, and discusses grieving pet loss.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellen B. October 16, 2009 at 8:12 am

Monica, thanks for sharing your stories. The love and energy that a pet brings to a family is priceless, but it sure is hard to have to say good bye. I think anyone who lost a pet can relate to your words.

Tina October 16, 2009 at 11:04 am

Wow Monica, I cried when I read your post. Your pets are so lucky to have you, it is obvious that you love them very much. I am glad that you were able to be strong for them and make such difficult decisions.

Barb October 16, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Monica – I remember when Sheba passed, as well as your other four-footed family members. Your post expresses your feelings so eloquently. Sometimes the hardest part of euthanizing a pet is the doubt, which can be paralyzing. Your strength is an inspiration to many people who must make this decision. Thank you for posting this.

Keri T. October 16, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Having time to prepare for these events somehow doesn’t make it any easier. Last year, it was so hard for me to accept the fact that I was holding on to one of my ferrets for my own sake, not for his. You’re very brave… I don’t think I could write a whole post about that struggle even now!

Zed October 18, 2009 at 4:35 am

I’m sorry that you have had to let your furry family go. Just remember that they were lucky to have you & you were blessed to have them.
Glad you were able to share a bit about them with us.

We lost Tomarra almost a year ago & we still sometimes think that we hear her little feet dancing on the tile floor. It was so sad to let her go but, there was no choice.

The link under my name is the letter from Tomarra to her best girl Cait. Cait was gone to her dads when Tomarra got sick so, mom wrote the letter just as she thought Tomarra would have.

Monica S. October 19, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Thanks for the comments. It was very hard to write the post, but very healing. I love my ‘fur-kids’ like family, and it was very hard to make every decision, but for their sakes, it had to be made. If only they could talk, it would make some things so much easier.

Phyllis Smith October 21, 2009 at 10:29 am

I fully understand your actions.We love our animals so much,sometimes we want to keep them with us,no matter what! You are brave and you did the right thing! I hope when my wonderful Pug,Churchill is ready to cross over,I will be as brave! Thanks for the article.

Monica S. October 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Phyllis,

Thank you for the kind words. Sounds to me like you already know what needs to be done and will be strong for Churchill when the time is right. They really do let you know. Its hadr to explain, but when it happens, you’ll know. Love him while he’s here, and remember him when he’s gone. Take care.

Brandon October 23, 2009 at 7:30 pm

My wife and I had a conversation about this topic yesterday. I was always a dog person growing up, but I fell in love with the cat that my wife brought into my life. I was devastated when that cat died (after 16 happy years). When she wanted a second cat, I said no way … too hard to go through that over and over again. But when you consider the joy these animals bring into our lives, you just have to take the plunge again. We are on our second cat now, and she is the second feline love of my life.

Becky October 30, 2009 at 12:43 am

I am a huge animal lover and have instilled this in my kids. Within the last 15 years we have had 5 cats and all but two have passed away. When they passed away my kids had a difficult time not having their beloved pets around. One day, after our favorite cat Sox passed away (ran over by a car), my little girl asked if she would ever see Sox again. I honestly didn’t know the answer to this question which really frustrated me. I found comfort in Susi Pittman’s book titled, “Animals in Heave? Catholics Want to Know!” since it provides well biblical research on the subject and provides considerable evidence that animals do go to heave. I now fully believe that we will see our animals in heaven… and I believe that you will see yours too.

polly December 1, 2009 at 9:43 am

Monica-we lost our beloved 18 year-old MoJo last week . All of us are in a desperate state of grief, including the cats who used to sleep and eat with MoJo. She suffered heart failure about a month ago and her quality of life declined rapidly in the last 4 weeks. She ended up having a minor seizure followed by a major one I witnessed on the morning of her death. We had prayed that she would just go in her sleep because none of us felt capable to decide and make the call to put her down. After her major seizure last Sunday, we felt that we owed it to our sweet girl not to have to put her through this again. She had also stopped eating a couple of days prior. The guilt we feel is not easy to describe now. All the what ifs, all the second thoughts. All the feelings of “did she have some life left in her” and “did we give up on her”…What has made it harder is that we have very few friends who understand the love we had for this member of our family.
I keep walking by her things which I don’t have the heart to remove or put away. I keep thinking I am hearing her breathe. I keep having visions of the somber vet entering our home in his black pants on a cold and rainy Sunday, carrying nothing but a vial and a syringe. Our hearts are empty, so is our home. We have had MoJO since she was a 10 week-old puppy, and I took care of her pretty much full-time in the last couple of months-we moved her inside. As her caregiver I feel empty too, and our 11 year-old child is having a hard time dealing with the loss. We only had 30 minutes to prepare between the time we made the call and the time the vet came over…our only source of relief is knowing that MoJo won’t ever have to be in pain again, or be scared and lost during a seizure.

Monica S. December 2, 2009 at 8:36 am

Brandon, I know exactly where you are coming from. It took me 3 years to be able to bring another dog into my family. I knew that I would, just needed the time to be right and the wounds to have healed. I’m so glad that I did though. Rosco truly makes the house a home.

Becky, Thank you for sharing your story and the suggestion of the book. I’m sure many readers will be glad to know of a source like that. I can’t imagine trying to explain this to children. Sounds like you did a great job!

Polly, I am truly sorry for your loss. The only advice I have to give is to let yourself grieve when you need to and remember the love and joy that Mojo brought into your lives always. Time heals all wounds. You are correct in knowing that Mojo is no longer hurting or scared. Hang in there.

LINDA Y March 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I JUST LOSS MY PET ON JAN 28TH 2010. I CAN HARDLY WRITE THIS THROUGH THE TEARS. IT DOESN’T GET BETTER. SHE HAD CUSHING DISEASE. I THINK SHE HAD IT FOR AT LEAST 1 YEAR BEFORE SHE WAS EVER TREATED. I KEPT TELLING THE VET SHE KEEPS PANTING. NO TESTING WAS DONE TILL I FINALLY TOOK HER AND SAID SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT. WELL WE WENT THROUGH THE TESTING AND WAS TOLD SHE HAD CUSHINGS. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT THAT. SHE WAS TREATING HER FOR THYROID, AND I TOLD THEM OVER AND OVER THE PILLS WERE NOT HELPING. THIS WAS MY 3RD VET FOR HER. SO SHE STARTED MEDS,AND AFTER 1MONTH SEEMED ALITTLE BETTER. SHE WENT FOR WALKS AGAIN AND PLAYED WITH HER TOYS AFTER A YEAR. I WAS SO HAPPY. I EVEN TOOK HER TO ACCUPUNTURE TO HELP HER. THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN THINGS WENT DOWNHILL. SHE RAN AROUND CRYING AND DID NOT SLEEP FOR DAYS. I JUST COULD NOT KEEP PUTTING HER THROUGH THE TESTING ANYMORE. FOR WHAT? THEY NEVER HELPED HER. THE VET NEVER EVEN EXPLAINED WHAT IT WAS. I LEARNED ON THE COMPUTER WHAT IT WAS. NOW MY CASEY IS GONE AND I AM ALONE!!!

Monica S. March 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Linda,
I am so sorry for your loss. Its hard enough to lose a friend when we understand the condition, but even worse when we are left with the wonder of “Could I have done something different had I known?”

Rest assured, Casey is in a better place and fully understands what you had to do. I truly believe that our animals know when we are trying our hardest to help them. When I told Sheba what I had to do, I held her beautiful head in my arms & whispered I love you, I am so sorry that I cannot fix this, and she let out a huge sigh & rested her head into my chest. I fully believe that was her saying “I know mom, I love you too. Thank you for trying.”

Cushings is a tricky disease, some horses can live with it indefinitely, while others can not. I doesn’t seem like it now, but it will slowly get better. Every day will be just a tiny bit easier. I still tear up, as a matter of fact, I am right now as I write this, but even this helps to heal the pain a bit. When the time is right, Casey will bring a new friend into your life that will help you along on your journey.

Hold on to your memories, but don’t be afraid to love again.

Nancy Moss November 26, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Wow these are such heart rendering stories of love and the finall decision we all have to make. I lost my wonderfull tabby cat last Sunday. He was the joy of my life and he brought such wonderfull fullfilment to me. i loved him from the first time i seen him. There is no greater happiness in this world then the love of an animal and that is what he brought to me each and every day of his life. Oh if you could have seen him and got to know him you would know what i meant. He was so full of love and boy did he love his food bowl. Last Saturday evening he was laying beside me on the couch under the covers and when i got up to go to bed he led me to his food bowl with his little meow he had. Come Sunday morning when i got up he had passed away. I am so lost with out him and my heart just breaks every day and i miss him so much. But then i think about the happy times i had with him aand it eases the pain some what and i know he is in heaven with the good lord just waiting for the day we can be together again.

missy February 19, 2015 at 11:27 pm

Hi my name is Missy from n.c I have a 12 year old female lab mix that is licking her backside alot and has a few baseball size knots on her belly an hip she was spaded at the age of 8 months an now she has started peeing on herself.I know this is not a good sign if anyone has any info plz email me.

Briana J. February 20, 2015 at 8:52 am

Hi Missy. Thanks for contacting Drs. Foster and Smith with your concerns. We would recommend having your pet examined by your veterinarian to determine what the “knots” are on her abdomen and hip. It sounds like you are describing masses or growths on her body. Your veterinarian may want to do a test called a fine needle aspirate where he will take some cells out of the growths and examine them under a microscope to determine what the masses are and what the best course of treatment would be. Your veterinarian may also want to check blood and urine samples to find out the reason she is urinating on herself. It may be that she is becoming incontinent as she ages, but medical conditions such as Diabetes, urinary tract infections, kidney disease, and many others can cause changes in urination. Once the underlying cause is determined, your veterinarian will be able to prescribe medication that should help resolve the issue.

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