I only regret one thing in my life so far: not having been there for my dog when he passed. It’s been two years since my parents put my dog to sleep, and every single day, when I see a dog on the street, I regret not being with him when he left. Though my dog was rather old, his death still took me by surprise. A few months before his birthday (he was about to turn 21), my parents decided to let him rest finally. Now, even though it's been two years, and I’ve been coping with the pain and sorrow, to recall the day he died and the fact that I didn’t have the chance to hug him one last time still brings tears to my eyes.
My Dog And His Delusions Of Grandeur
My dog was a small breed, playful, obedient, loving, and incredibly intelligent and independent. He greeted us every time we came home, he jumped and barked and did tricks to grab our attention. He had “the small breed complex:” he loved to bark at big dogs and had quite an appetite, a trait that made him earn the affection of my dad right away (when my dog passed, my dad referred to him as the best friend he ever had). As time went by, my dog began to gain weight, became slower, slept more, and got fussier (he couldn’t stand kids, for instance). My brothers and I left home for college eventually, so seeing our dog was a once-in-a-month event. It was so hard to see how, in just a few years, his body, mind, and spirit deteriorated; he got sicker, blind, and in his last years, he developed senile dementia. We talked about the possibility of putting him down that summer, but none of us wanted to. Then, our vet sent us painkillers and told us that due to his age and heart problems, it wouldn’t be long for him to pass in his sleep.
One Tuesday afternoon, during finals, I received a call from my mother. She sounded calm, but I could tell she was sad and these were bad news. “He passed. We put him to sleep. We’re sorry.” I gasped and burst into tears. I hadn't realized how much I loved him until that moment; it felt as if one of my siblings had died. The last time I saw him, two weeks before that call, I could tell he was already in too much pain. My parents wanted to wait for us to get home and say goodbye, but it was finals and a Tuesday afternoon; it’d have been too cruel, too selfish to keep him in pain just for us to pet him one last time. My dad called the vet and both my parents stood by my dog’s side in his last moments. They told him how much we’ve loved him, how perfect he had been, and that we were never going to forget him.
Was It The Right Time To Say Goodbye?
Though I hold a grudge with my parents for making that choice without even considering us, I know they did the best for my dog, and they showed him their love one last time. However, now I feel bad for letting him suffer so many months. We thought he was strong enough and that he was making some progress with his medication, but in reality, his good days were just a few. How did we know? My parents knew him better, so one day when he was doing okay they just knew that that was going to be the last day they’d see him lucid and happy. It was “something in his face,” my mother told me during that call.
Since dogs cannot “verbally” communicate, they will let you know by their behavior or gestures that they are in pain and it’s time to let them go, that is, to choose pet euthanasia. There’s one tool (that I hope my parents and I had known before) you could use to see if what your pet is going through can be cured or treated, or if it’s time to let them rest for good: the HHHHHMM Scale. This acronym stands for hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and more good days than bad days. Each element should be put in perspective according to the things your dog loves to do and graded on a scale of 0 to 10 (5 still being an acceptable grade in quality of life according to Dr. Alice Villalobos). Consider the following:
Hurt: The ability to breathe should be at the top of these list of aches. Also, consider changes in behavior and lack of appetite as a sign of pain.
Hunger: Your pet must be able to eat without any complications.
Hydration: Your pet must be able to drink the right amount of water by itself.
Hygiene: Ask yourself, is your pet able keep itself clean?
Happiness: Is your pet able to find joy? When was the last time you saw it happy and playful?
Mobility: Is your pet able to move by itself to fulfill its basic needs?
More Good Days Than Bad Days: How many good days a week do they have? How many of these happen in a row? (Good days are those when your pet is able to do the things he loves without discomfort).
The scale facilitates the decision because sometimes, as result of our emotions, we may not see clearly and look for the well-being of our beloved friends. Also, the scale should be graded by both you and your veterinarian.
Why Stay By Their Side?
For my parents, being there when he passed sure was one of the most painful experiences they’ve ever had. But, as time passed, I realized they handled grief differently. I can tell their grieving process has been faster. They accepted the fact it was the nicest way to prove their love and compassion for their beloved furry child. On the other side, for me and my brothers, dealing with the loss has been a long and slow process. Not being by his side when he died brings a sense of “detachment” from reality. For example, whenever we go back home, we still look for him, we wait for his paws to sound on the tiles at lunchtime, we look at his favorite spots to pet him, we even hear him knocking on the door sometimes (he did that when he needed to pee).
To be by your pet's side is the healthiest thing for both of you. My parents got over the loss faster. They were scared to see him fade away, but the truth is that they sacrificed their comfort for his; they didn’t want him to be alone. They wanted to be there, to be the first and last faces he saw just like when he arrived as a pup. Some people think they’re going to break, to cry their eyes out and upset their pet and be counterproductive, but actually, dogs tend to be more scared when they’re left alone at the vet’s. Also, something that some veterinarians have stated that it's more common for people to regret not being there rather than the procedure itself. Remain calm once they're perform the procedure. Your veterinarian is going to be there for you to answer as many questions as you have and to allow you to take your time. As a side note, consider paying in advance; no one likes to handle money after moments like these, and if you plan to do it at the vet’s, ask a close friend or relative to drive you there and back.
I’m Not Ready For Another Dog Yet
After our pets are gone, each one of us knows the void they leave behind. Though it’s been more than two years, I still can't see myself adopting another dog. I’ve considered adopting one, but I just can’t help but feel like I'm betraying or forgetting my dog, as if I were replacing him. Certainly, not being there by his side and not saying goodbye has made my process of grieving him long and slow. I’ll heal eventually. I just need to understand that it was not my fault I wasn't there and that my parents did the best for all of us.
Everyone has their own process of grieving, so don’t be upset if people move at a different pace. However, after you put your dog to sleep, give yourself some time to heal, to process what happened, and to mourn. We might be vulnerable right after the procedure and would like to fill this void right away. To adopt another dog immediately might be a rash decision, unfair for you and your new pet. Instead, donate some of their belongings and keep those that you feel very close to your heart (like their tag).
When the time comes for you to make this difficult decision, consider that whatever you choose should reflect what’s best for your pet. Don’t be scared of the procedure, it’s painless for them. Arrange the time and place; I’d recommend that you ask the vet to go to your home, a familiar place for your pet. Share your experience with others. Many people have gone through this event and it’s good to listen to other people stories and to see how they’ve coped with their loss. But please stay by their side when it’s time to say goodbye. I know it sounds hard, but you will deal with the pain better instead of feeling guilty about not being there for that last demonstration of love.
Cover photo from Unsplash: Patrick Hendry
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