November 16, 2015
In July 2015, the Inquisitive Canine team supported CEO Poncho the dog’s entrepreneurial decision to start his own ventures in the great beyond. A philanthropic pooch through and through, he left behind a letter to his dear readers and fellow inquisitive canines, along with a three-part series in his Last Woof & Testament that generously included the following valuable advice for dog parents and their inquisitive canines.
Greetings, inquisitive canines and dog parents!
What follows is the most personal and difficult post I’ve ever had to write in my blogging career, let alone in this Great Beyond series. That’s because it’s about learning to let go of earthly life, which I know firsthand isn’t easy to do.
If you’re struggling with an end-of-life decision about your companion animal, it’s likely you’ve gone back and forth about whether it’s the right time to help your best fur friend transition. Just know that it’s normal to be unsure. It’s normal to waver. It’s even normal to throw your hands up in the air out of frustration and start sobbing. So just how do you know when it’s time to let your beloved companion animal go?
How You Know It’s Time
People kept saying to my parents, “You’ll just know,” and they didn’t understand the concept at first — since it’s such an individual decision — but they eventually found it to be true.
A good starting point is to think of any and all behaviors your dog engages in that many humans would describe as “annoying.” Things like:
- pulling on leash
- excessive barking
- jumping up
- nipping at people’s feet
- chasing after trucks
- barking at delivery people
These common canine behaviors are helpful in determining overall quality of life, because you can use them as your baseline at first, and then later as your litmus test when they develop symptoms. If your dog used to do any of these habits, and then the habits suddenly stopped – and that stoppage isn’t part of a training plan – that could be an indicator of illness. It’s like parents of human children getting suspicious when the house is suddenly quiet: “What are they up to?” Something must be wrong.
Next, think about your dog’s daily routine and the things he or she loves to do. Does your dog want to play anymore? Does your dog enjoy the same activities he or she always has? Or does it seem as though your dog prefers to spend time in hiding or wanting to be alone? I’m sure that more than anything, you’d like your dog to want to do all the things they’ve always enjoyed doing. For example, my parents wanted so badly for me to enjoy romps at the beach again, wanted me to snuggle or play kissy face like always, and wanted me to keep on weight.
Like many of my fellow canines, my decline was mostly age related. I started to experience the chronic physical ailments that often come with the territory. Sight loss, hearing loss, kidney issues and tummy troubles were the major culprits, but my mom said I never lost my personality or my appetite. (What can I say? I’ve always been a foodie!)
Seeing symptoms like the ones I’ve described above are always difficult for pet parents. No one wants to see animals suffer, especially their loved ones. Oftentimes though, it’s more painful for the parents than for the animal. Try your best to determine your animal’s quality of life. But how do you do that when your dog can’t verbally express to you everything he or she is feeling? Body language is a great and useful tool.
In addition, here’s what helped my parents: The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s quality-of-life scale for determining end-of-life decisions. Searching for help in trying to determine what “You’ll just know” really means, my mom found this document online and she and my dad took the test a month before helping me transition.
The questionnaire takes you through 25 descriptions of common symptoms (ex. “… is sleeping more than usual”) that you can chart to varying degrees. Notice that all the points to consider on the chart use the phrase “it may be time to discuss euthanasia.” The key word here is may, because every animal is different, and it’s an extremely individual decision that no one else can make for you.
“Taking the test was a wakeup call, because you don’t see it on your own,” my mom said. “You spend so much time trying to help your animal, constantly focusing on a he’s-going-to-get better mentality.”
Helpful Tip: Come to a Consensus
One of the most effective ways to make such an important decision is to ensure that everyone in the family is in agreement. Otherwise, you risk someone experiencing feelings of resentment that almost always bubble up to the surface after the fact.
A month before I passed, my specialist said to my parents, “I think he’s checked out. There’s always more things we can do, but if pursuing those options creates more stress for him, I will support your decision to help him transition.”
When my parents said they’d rather leave the decision up to me, the specialist cautioned them that canines are not wired to make the decision, because it’s instinctual for us to do all we can to survive and not let on that we’re declining (just like it’s in our DNA to not let predators know we’re ill). She went on to say that few canines pass quietly in their sleep, and that if it gets to the point where a dog decides to die on his own, it’s a certain indicator he is suffering.
After taking all this in, my parents wanted to wait for my regular vet to return from vacation. In the meantime, they saw a grief counselor, who advised that they should allow me to pass with dignity. Even though I was ready to go, my parents weren’t quite ready. It was as though I needed to teach them to be strong. I was trying to hang on for them.
Slowly, I stopped being so generous with kisses and stopped trying to cuddle. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it took energy to do so, and I could feel myself pulling away. I wasn’t in pain; something inside was simply telling me to withdraw. I had fulfilled my destiny on Earth and it was time for me to move on.
If you ask my parents, they’ll say that my eyes looked past them, that I’d face them but wouldn’t make eye contact. I stopped smiling and stopped wanting to interact. Even though they lovingly tended to my every need, including administering multiple medications twice a day, I appeared as though I wanted to be on my own.
When my vet returned from vacation, everyone agreed it was time. My mom made me a tasty roasted pork chop and I went to sleep. I couldn’t have asked for a better transition into the great beyond.
Important Resources: Pet Loss Recovery Counseling
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my parents sought solace in an animal grief-counseling group lead by Kathleen Ayl, Psy.D. A pet grief counselor can help answer questions regarding how to know when the time is right and also teach you about helping your pets die with dignity. These group sessions helped with both anticipatory grief and connected my parents with other wonderfully supportive parents. Look for pet loss recovery specialists and pet grief-counseling groups near you for both pre- and post-loss support.
Hopefully this 3-part series has helped those of you facing pet loss or those in pet loss recovery. I’m looking forward to sharing more wisdom in the topics to come. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching over all you inquisitive canines and your families as I bound around the fields of grass in the great beyond. Watch out for falling tennis balls!