This is often an incredibly difficult topic to breach; the emotional strain of facing the loss of our best friend can become unbearable. Our animal companions provide so much unconditional love – they offer friendship, affection, love and understanding where human relationships often fall short. They become part of our heart and soul, they are as important as our children, equal members of the family. People that don't have pets sometimes don't understand this depth.
My strong spirituality has supported me through my journey of letting animals go. Before vet school, in 1996 I became a certified euthanasia technician working at an animal shelter; needless to say I have quite a bit of experience.
I always ask pet owners to consider quality of life. Does their pet have more good days than bad, or even more good moments than bad?
Pain is difficult to assess, animals have different ways of dealing with pain. They don't often vocalize or cry out unless it is very intense and acute (quick and immediate). More often, they tend to sleep more. They rest or seek out heat or cold to remedy their discomfort, but they don't often complain about it. I am not sure that animals sit around thinking “this stinks, I wish I didn't feel like this” - and resist how they feel as much as we might in the same situation. I feel they may be more accepting or “present” to their current condition and always look to something better - “A walk?” or “treat” or “dinner” or “mom's home” or whatever it is they love. I feel that may be their gift to us.
I also think of the euthanasia decision from the perspective that we live in a very “man-made” world. We have created a very artificial environment for all of us to exist very comfortably. The diets are processed for convenience out of bags and cans. We vaccinate them, they never have to hunt to eat without starving. There are few if any, big stressor's in our companion animals' lives. It takes a long time for a surviving body to shut itself all the way down naturally. It can be done and I have guided many clients through that transition, but that also can be very difficult. Euthanasia to me is a kind way to release them. I work hard to make it not scary, but comfortable and loving.
There really is no “right time” or “wrong time”. I feel it's so important take the time we need to emotionally process the loss – while always providing the highest level of care while they are with us, through pain medication if needed, diets that are easy to digest, etc. And then let them go when we have taken into account all the facts, realize they will not be getting better or improving, and feel we don't want them to have any less quality of life. That moment is different for every single animal and their guardian. When their person says it's right – I fully support that time; it takes a lot to come to that decision. I always trust the owner to make the highest decision (and will offer advice if needed), but owners are the ones providing sometimes extensive care, hospice and having to deal with their pets situation every single day. Remembering that immense freedom that comes with allowing an animal to pass with dignity for both animal and owner can help make the decision more bearable.
On another level, I feel pain, discomfort or disease is an opportunity to address whatever it is that needs to be addressed. I also feel that animals come into our lives to help us on our own journey. What is it about our own selves that we need to address? How does addressing our own discomfort, pain (physical and emotional) help them? I believe they can sense it – they can sense energy far more than we even understand. They can be our guides to improve our own lives. And when we do, it improved all those around us. Sometimes we will do for ourselves more because of our pets than we would if we didn't have them to care for.
Lastly, I have known pets that have been able to let go on their own after their owners address and “got” what it was their pet was here to “tell” them, after their pet was quite aged but lived a full, well-loved and cared-for life. If you feel your animal is close, you may consider providing a celebration of life to allow them to journey on their own. When you get to the place of truly experiencing them gone, brave all the emotions, and know they are well taken care of on the other side – be completely at peace – (and they know you know), they may then take that journey.
A large portion of my service is end of life. I honor this time. It is nothing short of a blessing to allow a gentle, peaceful passing in a space of profound love. If we can be of service, please do not hesitate to call.