by Kathy Dannel Vitcak 5 min read

WHEN TO SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR DOG

Yes, I know, not my usual light-hearted topic. My blog posts are usually if not funny, at least they have some humor interjected into them. Today will be a bit more somber, but incredibly important topic.

How will you know when  to say goodbye to your best friend?

You may not be faced with this decision. One morning you may find your best friend has gently passed away in his sleep. If that happens, he will have died knowing he was fully loved. But all too often we face the decision of WHEN at some point.

HOW DO I KNOW?

You may not have had to face this distressing time yet. But, it is an inevitable one at some point in our lives with dogs. Wiser people than I have waxed eloquently about why dogs lives are so much shorter than ours, all I know is that is not fair!

While this is a deeply personal decision, here are a few changes to watch for in your dog’s behavior that may signal reaching the end.

  • continued incontinence
  • refusal to eat or drink
  • inability to stand on their own
  • refusal to interact with their family

The most conclusive signal, for me, is the loss of sparkle in their eyes. There is an energy or feeling of, “I’m done.”

saying goodbye to dog

HARD LESSON LEARNED THANKS TO A VERY WISE CHINESE SHAR-PEI

Many years ago I had a bear-coat Shar-Pei (they look like a Chow/Shar-Pei cross) named Ruby. She was diagnosed with mast cell cancer, which is extremely aggressive in the Chinese Shar-Pei breed due to their unique skin. 

My vet recommended we amputate her leg and I agreed. She quickly recovered from the surgery and was hopping around within days. Less than a month later the cancer returned. My vet told me to take her home and enjoy the time I had left, but I insisted upon aggressive radiation treatments. Despite the expensive and exhausting treatments Ruby was gone in six weeks. 

A bit later I developed a roll of film containing my last pictures of Ruby (I told you this was a long time ago). When I saw pictures of her right before she passed, I knew I had done the treatments for me, not for her. She was gaunt and had a look in her eyes that spoke volumes. A look that said, "I was ready to go and she won't let me."

Ruby had selflessly and generously taught me a very valuable lesson. From that day on I have stopped and asked myself if the course of action was truly for my dog or for me. Ruby’s loving lesson has served me well since then.

SAYING GOODBYE AS A FAMILY

You may wish to involve other family members in this final decision, and of course, saying goodbye.

A dear friend of mine had one of my French Bulldog girls and when it was time to say goodbye, she and her husband took their boys out of school to go to the vet together and all be with her at the end. 

saying goodbye french bulldogCALL UPON YOUR VETERINARIAN FOR SUPPORT

Your veterinarian should be able to help with the logistics of this last visit. You may be fortunate enough to have a vet who makes house calls for goodbyes, ask if they will. If you will be driving home from the vet after saying goodbye, consider having someone drive you or at least be with you.

When it was time to tell Joker, the Frenchie mentioned earlier, goodbye I called the vet to schedule a farm call for him to come to the house. I was told it would be later that afternoon before he would be able to make it. 

About an hour later, as I was sitting with Joker, telling him what an amazing dog he had been, there was a knock at the door. Dr. Bob was standing there with a sad smile. He said, “I could not stand the thought of you waiting all day for this, I had to come now.” He asked if I needed more time and Joker tottered across the room, stood in front of Dr. Bob and looked him right in the eyes. We had our answer. A quiet country veterinarian generously gave me the gift of kindness that day.

It’S OK TO GO…

My husband tells our dogs it is ok for them to pass on when they are ready, that we will miss them, but we will see them again soon. He says they can pass more peacefully that way, knowing we support them. We usually do this at the very end.

I also ask my dogs to let me know when they are ready to go. Some dogs do this by stopping eating and drinking, others will lie down and not get back up.

Years ago, Steve and I were talking about Joker, the Frenchie I mentioned earlier, and how old he was. Joker was one of those dogs that seemed old from the age of three on, he was a grumpy little dog, with strong opinions! We wondered how would we know when he was ready to go. Joker stood up, walked over to me and put his paws up on my knees and stared me in the face. A few months later, after he had a few bad days, he put his paws on my knees and stared in my face and I knew it was time to say goodbye.

Personal note: Yes, I know, this is very raw and intense for those of us who have senior dogs. It is perfectly acceptable to write your dog a note and not speak your feelings aloud. You can sit and just think of the wonderful life you have had together. Once again, this is to help YOU and your emotional needs during this tough time.

I do believe addressing and then setting the intention of their last time being filled with love and respect makes it a commitment to them and for you.

My fervent wish is that you and your senior dog will enjoy his senior years with good health and vigor. I also hope this part has given you ideas of ways to celebrate your dog’s life and help their passing be smoother, when that time comes.

My husband says the greatest gift we can give any living creature, human or animal is the knowledge they were loved and mattered.

moneyONE LAST SHARING OF A VERY HARD LESSON

When my dog, Money passed I couldn’t bring myself to tell him it was ok to go. Steve kept telling me to tell him it was ok to pass on and that he had been the best dog I could ever ask for. I just wailed that Money would know I was lying and I remember begging him not to die. 

Money struggled and fought against dying at the end and I know it was because I begged him not to go. 

To this day I feel guilty I did not help make his passing easier. Even now I am asking his forgiveness and understanding of my selfishness. 



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