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Posts Tagged ‘putting a dog to sleep’

The burden of euthanizing an aggressive dog

August 12, 2013 179 comments

Jack Russell Terrier SnarlingYesterday I read a painfully poignant post by Phyllis DeGioia about her dog, Dodger and her decision to put him down due to his aggression (“Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes It’s the Best Choice“). Her words were not only  powerful because they came from her own experience, but also because they so clearly articulated the conflicting emotions and guilt one feels when faced with euthanizing a dog due to aggression.

Societally, it is so much more acceptable to euthanize a dog for old age or illness than it is for a dog with behavioral issues.  And yet, many a pet owner has had to face making this type of decision.  I admire Phyllis for her courage in writing about her decision to euthanize Dodger.

In 2011, I wrote about a dog park friend who had to make this difficult decision after her cream-colored Golden Retriever showed serious signs of aggression at just 11 months old. After trying to resolve the issues herself, then seeking out a trainer, and finally taking Sally to a veterinarian animal behaviorist at the University of Minnesota, she was faced with two options, constantly supervise and manage Sally around her two young children or put her to sleep. The veterinarian made it very clear that Sally’s aggression was not something that would ever get better. It was not her or her husband’s fault. There was simply something wrong with her wiring. And so, she made the difficult decision to put her to sleep. I cried with her as she walked with Sally one last time around the dog park. It was a heartbreaking a decision, but I supported her.

Sometimes something just goes wrong with a dog. He is born with genetically bad wiring or is mentally ill or has suffered so much from abuse, that euthanizing him is almost a kindness rather than a cruelty.

I feel for the pet parent who has ever had to make this type of decision. It’s never an easy one. There is so much guilt, shame and fear. Guilt because you feel like there was something more you could have done or that you somehow failed your dog. Shame that others will think you a bad pet owner. Fear at what might have happened if you hadn’t made such a difficult decision.

I used to be one of those people who thought every dog could be saved, but my experience as a shelter volunteer has taught me otherwise. Probably one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make was to recommend a dog I loved, one I had worked with for weeks, be put to sleep. His  aggression had reached such a level that even I, the one who loved him most, became afraid of him.

Phyllis’ own words from her experience with Dodger summed up exactly my last experience with him – “Being attacked by someone you love is a visceral slam to your gut. For a short while, rational thought is gone. It happens so quickly. Your body shakes, and your heart pounds as the instinctive fight-or-flight response is set off.”  My recommendation to euthanize him was not an easy one, but I don’t doubt my decision to do so. Sometimes, the most difficult decision is the right one.

Reading Phyllis’ piece made me think of one I had recently read on Patricia McConnell’s blog titled, “Love, Guilt & Putting Dogs Down.” Although Patricia’s post was addressing the guilt we all feel as pet owners when we have to say goodbye to beloved pets, I think these words were particularly applicable to those who must make the difficult decision to put an aggressive or damaged dog down.

“It is easier to believe that we are always responsible (‘if only I had done/not done this one thing….’) than it is to accept this painful truth: We are not in control of the world. Stuff happens. Bad stuff. As brilliant and responsible and hard-working and control-freaky that we are, sometimes, bad stuff just happens. Good people die when they shouldn’t. Gorgeous dogs brimming with health, except for that tumor or those crappy kidneys, die long before their time. Dogs who are otherwise healthy but are a severe health risk to others end up being put down. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it hurts like hell. But please please, if you’ve moved heaven and earth to save a dog and haven’t been able to… just remember:  Stuff happens. We can’t control everything. (Difficult words to dog trainers I know. . . Aren’t we all control freaks to some extent?) You didn’t fail. You tried as hard as you could. It’s okay.” (“Love, Guilt & Putting Dogs Down“, by Patricia McConnell, The Other End of the Leash)

If you have ever had to euthanize a pet for reasons other than illness or old age, I feel for you. You carry a burden that is more difficult to bear than most. It’s hard enough to euthanize a pet when they are ill and you know that you are easing their pain, but harder still to do so when it involves dog aggression or mental illness. Shame and guilt might be feelings you have, but they have no place here.

Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes doing everything you can to save a dog is just not enough. You did your best.  You did not fail.

If you are facing a difficult decision about your dog, consider looking at this list of resources first. There are some great people doing great things with dogs these days. All is not lost. My thanks to SlimDoggy for putting this list together.

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Do pets really tell you when it’s time to say goodbye?

October 9, 2011 292 comments

I recently had a conversation with a friend who said that pets always tell you when it’s time to say goodbye. I had to be completely honest and tell her that I had yet to experience a dog telling me it was time.

It’s true. I have never had a dog or cat tell me when it was time. Not that I doubt that it happens. I’m sure it does. It’s just that I’ve never experienced it myself.

A friend of mine is going through this very same situation right now. Every time she starts to think it’s time to say goodbye, her dog rallies and makes a comeback. There is nothing like a dog rallying back from illness or death to make you doubt yourself and your decision-making process.

I have experienced this very same thing with each of my dogs. Every time I would be ready to say goodbye, they would rally back. The worst is when they are still there in spirit, but their body is failing them. I am always filled with doubt – Is NOW the right time? Is it too early? What if I’m missing something else that is wrong with them and I say goodbye too soon?

Part of me wonders… Am I just too close to the situation to see the signs? Do I refuse to see what they are telling me because I don’t want to see it? It’s definitely a possibility. And yet, when I look back I can honestly say that none of my dogs “told” me that it was time. I always felt like I had to make the decision for them, and each time it devastated me.

So, I want to hear from you. How did you know it was the right time to say goodbye to your pet? Did your pet tell you? And, if so, how did they tell you?

 

Note: This post has taken on a life of its own since I first posted it back in 2011. I am grateful for those of you have comforted others and helped them to know when was the right time. One reader shared this in the comments section. I have shared it with many a friend who told me later that it was helpful. I encourage you to read it if you are struggling with this question too.

Here is the link to that article:  How to Know When It’s Time to Euthanize Your Pet

 

It appears the link to the article has been recycled, so I am sharing the words here. I would give full credit to who wrote it, but Yahoo took their name down as well. I hope it will help you as you make the difficult decision to say goodbye. Thank you to Coni for sharing it first.

Remember that pets live in the moment. One of the most wonderful things about animals is how they embrace the present. Every time I walk into my house, my faithful Vizsla throws a one-dog ticker tape parade. The fact that I have entered the house thousands of times before, or that I will leave again in a few hours, means nothing. All that matters to him is the joy that he feels right now.

When our pets are suffering, they don’t reflect on all the great days they have had before, or ponder what the future will bring. All they know is how they feel today. By considering this perspective, we can see the world more clearly through their eyes. And their eyes are what matter.

Ask yourself important questions. Sometimes, articulating or writing down your thoughts can make the right path more apparent. Some questions that help pet owners struggling with this decision include:
• Why do I think it might be time to euthanize?
• What are my fears and concerns about euthanizing?
• Whose interests, besides those of my pet, am I taking into account?
• What are the concerns of the people around me?
• Am I making this decision because it is best for my pet, or because it is best for me because I’m not ready to let go?

Measure their quality of life. This is no more than trying to determine how good or bad our pet’s life is at this moment. Trying to assess this can be difficult, but there are some ways you can try and evaluate it. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorites in the next section.

Is Life a Joy or a Drag?

Our pets may not be able to talk to us and tell us how they are doing, but if we pay close attention, there are many clues that can help us answer that question.

The Rule of “Five Good Things”: Pick the top five things that your pet loves to do. Write them down. When he or she can no longer do three or more of them, quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.

Good Days vs. Bad: When pets have “good days and bad days,” it can be difficult to see how their condition is progressing over time. Actually tracking the days when your pet is feeling good as well as the days when he or she is not feeling well can be helpful. A check mark for good days and an X for bad days on your calendar can help you determine when a loved one is having more bad days than good.

HHHHHMM: Doctor Alice Villalobos is a well-known veterinary oncologist. Her “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale is another useful tool. The five H’s and two M’s are: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene (the ability to keep the pet clean from bodily waste), Mobility and More (as in, more good days than bad). Dr. Villalobos recommends grading each category on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being poorest quality of life and 10 being best). If the majority of categories are ranked as 5 or above, continuing with supportive care is acceptable.
Pet Hospice Journal: Keeping a journal of your pet’s condition, behavior, appetite, etc., can be extremely valuable in evaluating quality of life over time.

A Tale of Two “Endings”
The reality of having older pets is that we must be vigilant in their care and aware that every day is a gift.
In the case of my long-ago patient, Stone, with whom I first walked this path, I am glad to say that he did not suffer unnecessarily with osteosarcoma. His owner made a good decision, and Stone crossed the rainbow bridge while in the loving arms of his people. He was remembered by them as a strong, loving protector of the children in his family, and I will always remember his owner for having the strength and wisdom I hope we’ll all have when the time comes to say that final goodbye.
http://shine.yahoo.com/pets/know-time-euthanize-pet-162100593.html

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