I don't like euphemisms. But I still feel better saying "to sleep" in this blog post title than "euthanize," which is what we had done to our beloved dog Serena today.
It's a really tough decision. I miss her a lot. It wouldn't take much for the tears to return. But one way I cope with emotional pain is writing about it. So, I will.
Partly because I want to share some thoughts that might help others deal with a similar situation. Before I do that, I'll share a bit of what this article says:
Here’s what you need to know about putting a dog to sleep. Veterinarian Marie Haynes shares the most important criteria for putting a dog down and offers help for healing.
Are you confused about putting a dog to sleep? You’re not alone if you feel devastated, guilty, sad, and lost. This information about pet euthanasia is from a veterinarian who had to put her own dog to sleep. She shares her story, and offers general information about the process of putting a dog to sleep.
Here’s the most important thing to remember: ”If you can save your dog or cat even one day of discomfort, you must,” says Dr Haynes.
That’s the number one, most important criteria for deciding you should put your dog down. If he or she is suffering in any way, then it’s time to say good-bye.
Our 14-year old dog, Serena, wasn't in great physical pain.
Being a Shepherd/Lab mix, she was suffering from a form of hip dysplasia -- a common problem in older German Shepherds. She could still walk, but if she lost her balance and sat down often she needed help to get up again.
Going down stairs, Serena was like a runaway train, unable to slow herself. Going up them, she was like the Little Engine That Could: Serena usually could make it to the top, but not easily. We worried that one day she'd fall and break a leg.
Then there was her fecal incontinence.
Serena's vet thought she had some feeling left in her anal area, but that older dogs with weak hind legs find it difficult to squat for very long. So they just poop standing up, wherever they are.
Which, Serena did.
We've done a lot of poop cleaning-up inside our house the past few months. Once I spent almost two hours in the downstairs dog room cleaning an amazing nightime mess that I can only describe as a "poop explosion."
Serena had left semi-wet poop in many different places, then stepped in it, laid in it, and spread it over virtually the entire room. Where much of it had dried. Cleaning it up was an experience that made me feel both compassionate and frustrated in equal measure.
Several weeks ago it made us feel better to hear from our vet, "You've put up with Serena's fecal incontinence for a lot longer than most people would have."
Well, for quite a while we weren't sure what to do. A friend wisely said, "When the time is right, you'll know." A few days ago, we knew.
Serena's rear legs were getting weaker. She hadn't been herself for quite a while, having joined the ranks of dogs with senile dementia. I'd open a door to let her out and she would walk to the other side where the hinge was, pressing her head against the wall, seemingly wondering why she wasn't getting anywhere.
She spent a lot of time blankly staring out of windows. Normally an affectionate dog, Serena often would walk away when we tried to pat her. In the evening she would pace around the house, unable to settle down.
Here's what did the most to change my mind about euthanizing Serena. Maybe other pet owners will find this helpful in making their own tough "put to sleep" decision.
During a visit to the veterinary clinic after Serena had gotten diarrhea to go with her fecal incontinence (the cause of her aforementioned "poop explosion"), I told the vet, "I'm hoping that one morning I'll go down to the dog room to get Serena, and she won't wake up -- having peacefully died in her sleep."
He replied, "Usually it doesn't work that way. Dogs typically go through a protracted difficult dying process."
Not good to hear. But those words didn't really sink in until Serena and I were on one of our slow-motion evening dog walks.
I was thinking about what the vet had said. Then I realized that the euthanasia I'd been resisting up to then was almost exactly like the "going to sleep and not waking up" that struck me as such a good way for our old dog to die.
OK, maybe this seems obvious to you. But it wasn't obvious to me until something clicked in my mind.
I didn't want Serena to suffer before she died. I wanted her to go out like how I and most other people want to die: suddenly, while still in pretty good health, not after a period of protracted illness and pain.
So today we did the deed. Yes, there were a lot of tears. Yet it felt at the time like the right thing to do, and still does.
We had some good days with Serena the past week. She could still go on walks with us and her younger "sister dog," Zu Zu. Today she put up with patting for a considerably longer time than she usually did. When the vet walked in, she said "Looks like Serena is ready to go."
Maybe the vet says this to every grieving person who has asked for a pet to be euthanized. Regardless, it seemed true, not just kind words.
I'd thought to bring Serena's favorite pad, where she had spent so many hours sleeping or resting on while we watched TV in the evening. Good decision. She seemed comfortable as she "went to sleep."
We were also, even through the tears. Can't ask for more than that.