Our beloved dog Barkley was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma of the spleen. We gave him as much supportive care as we could through chemotherapy, and he dealt with it well, until the cancer came back. The hardest part for us was trying to figure out when it was time. Do you have any advice to help owners with dogs that are going through a terminal illness? How do you know when to make the tough decisions, and when it’s time?
Ricky and Amy
Dear Ricky and Amy,
My heart goes out to you, and to all dog owners who have to deal with the terrible decision and its remorse-filled aftermath. I don’t think anybody loved his work more than I did as a dog trainer, yet I had several incredibly dire, dreadful days every year.
Of my more than 800 training appointments per year, about half were for problem dogs, and aggression is usually the biggest problem. We don’t have mental institutions for dogs as we do for people, and I’ve met my share of seriously dangerous dogs, resulting in my needing to tell two to four families per year that their dog needed to be euthanized. When I knew in my heart that it was the right decision, and I had to be the professional and make that decision, it was still agonizing.
How do I tell a family to kill their dog? That’s why I’ve given the “when and how to say goodbye” a lot of thought, be it for disease, injury, or behavior. For the sick dog, the “when” is a total judgment call based on your observations. If Bowser is either crying in pain or unconscious from the painkillers, the decision is a little easier.
It’s when he’s “hangin’ in,” still getting some enjoyment from life, that the “when” can be really difficult. Really hard.
When my beloved pharaoh hound Cheta-Ann stopped eating dog food, I went to steak, chicken, and eggs. When she stopped drinking, I did what I had to do. You observe Bowser’s discomfort, and when your heart tells you it’s time, don’t bull____ yourself, DO IT.
As for the “how,” how to make it least stressful for Bowser, the first thing I’d suggest is, Don’t share your depression with him. There’s no domestic animal that reads the body language of a human better than a dog. He reads your voice, your eyes, your whole body. Don’t add to his discomfort; rather love him with happy hugs and pointing out the beauty of being alive and enjoying the sunny day or brisk breeze, or whatever.
If the vet can come to you, great. A pill to get him nice and relaxed. If he’s amenable, perhaps a delicious piece of food to joyfully munch on as he gets the shot. My beautiful Cavalier King Charles spaniel Tri Guy died with his tail wagging furiously as he was eating a chocolate bar.
Then mourn till you can’t mourn anymore.
Hope this helps.
P.S. Almost every family thanked me for taking the decision out of their hands and relieving them of the stress of living in fear for their dog.
P.P.S. To my readers — would love it if you followed me on Instagram at @dogtrainerdiaries.