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PawPost Issue 11

Time to say goodbye: A guide to sending your best friend over the rainbow bridge

(article amended from

As some of you may know we recently had to say goodbye to one of our board members, Shivers. Having to say good-bye is something every pet owner faces eventually. It’s the most difficult part of having a four legged family member. We wanted to share some simple steps that can make the process a little easier.

Knowing when it’s time The one question that every pet owner asks themselves after they’ve had to have their pet euthanized is, “Did I do it too early or was I too late?” Although modern veterinary medicine can extend an animal’s life, this isn’t always what’s best for the pet. While they can’t necessarily tell you they are suffering, they can show you that they are not having a good time anymore.

Focusing on the good days versus bad is probably the most objective way a pet owner can make the decision if it time to say goodbye. Make a list of things that your pet enjoys doing, then keep track of how many days they can’t do those things compared to how many days they can.

Prepare yourself Discuss the decision with your vet to euthanize and be sure to ask any questions you have, even if they seem trivial. Remember, you may have never gone through this before, but your vet has to frequently. It’s part of their job. You’ll need to discuss options for palliative care if you want to try to extend your pet’s life, as well as the costs involved. Most vets will be honest and won’t try to sell you on shooting your pet up with painkillers just to give them another month of low-quality life and get more money out of you. No matter how much you love your pet, your choices at this point should reflect what’s best for them, not what you can do to keep them alive for you. Once you and the vet have agreed that euthanasia is the only right decision, it’s time to plan for the procedure and afterwards. If at all possible, have them calculate the costs ahead of time and pay up front — the staff at the clinic are only human, and they don’t want to hand you a bill right after your pet has been put to sleep any more than you want to deal with paying it. This is also the time to decide what should happen to your pet’s remains afterward. The options are mostly the same as with humans — burial or cremation. Organ donation for research or transplantation is also becoming a much more common option, as are less traditional methods. Once the arrangements have been made, the final decision is the time and location of the procedure. Some people prefer (and many vets will perform) euthanasia at the owner’s home so the dog can be in familiar surroundings, if you have an animal who is scared or very anxious this may be your preferred option.

There’s also the question of whether the vet recommends doing the procedure immediately or waiting a few days. If you have the option of waiting, take the opportunity to break out the steak and sweet treats and give your pet a farewell party by letting them do all those things you’ve never let them do before. For Shivers we made sure he got a big play in the reserve and a few puppycinos, cheese slices and Zooper Doopers that week.

The procedure A good vet will let you spend as long as you want alone with your pet both before and after the procedure. One big question people have is whether they want to be there during the euthanasia. It isn’t absolutely necessary and a vet will never require it. There are valid arguments for and against being present, although the most commonly reported negative of not being there is a sense of regret for having abandoned the animal in their final moments. Many pet owners wouldn’t even think of not being there, but it really is a matter of personal preference with no right or wrong choice. There are various steps in the process of euthanasia, although nowadays almost all pets are euthanized by injection. What’s going on and why could be an entire article on its own. The short version, though, is that it is almost always a very peaceful process, although can be a bit confronting if you have not gone through the process with another pet before, a good vet will explain to you what to expect before completing the procedure. If your vet didn’t make a house call, it’s a good idea to arrange for a friend to drive you and any other family members to and from the clinic.

What to do afterwards The most important thing is to not immediately run out and rescue another animal, especially if you only had one. You won’t be in the right emotional state and will be bringing the pet into a place with weak, negative energy — and which still smells strongly of another animal. Give yourself the time and tools to go through the grieving process. If you don’t have other pets but think that you will adopt again eventually, donate your animal’s bedding, toys, bowls, leash, and so on to a shelter now. These will help with the grieving process by not being constant reminders, as well as allow you to start fresh if and when you adopt another pet. Many people do keep their pet’s collar and tags or a favorite toy, though, and these can be a nice memorial touch if you have your dog cremated and the ashes returned to you. Everyone deals with grief in different ways, which you should keep in mind especially if there is more than one human in the household. Some people may seem to get over it quickly, while others may become depressed for weeks or months. A person may even feel like they’re long past the grief, and then a sudden reminder triggers the feelings of loss all over again. The important thing is to not let the feelings of grief turn into anger or resentment toward each other, such as feeling that your partner isn’t sad enough or should have “snapped out of it” by now. If you have children, you’ll also have plenty to deal with in explaining your pet’s death to them. Keep in mind also that the attitudes of people outside your family about losing a pet are different and many of them, especially those without pets, don’t realize that the experience can be just as traumatic as losing a parent or child. If a friend or acquaintance doesn’t seem overly moved, don’t take it personally.

Although saying good-bye is the hardest part of our relationships with our dogs, we can console ourselves by remembering that by taking that pet into our family we gave it a chance at a happy life in the first place — and left us with many pleasant memories. Once you’re done with the grieving and back in a positive place, the best tribute you can pay to a pet that’s passed is to give another animal a second chance.

Remembering your friend

Below are some of the most common ways that you have kept your pets’ memories alive.

Ashes - It’s quite common for people to have their deceased pets cremated, but there are a large variety of ways that people handle the ashes afterwards. For some, scattering them in their pet’s favorite place, like a special spot in the yard or a walking track, is the method of choice.

Special urns and memory boxes are very common, with some unusual variations, including having ashes sewn into soft toys or urns that looks like a rock that can be placed in the garden or under their favorite tree.

Trees - Some prefer to create living memorials to their pets. Some owners like to place their animal's ashes in the hole when planting the tree.
Giving - A number of people have used their pet’s passing as incentive to help others, through businesses, foundations and charities. A great number of owners donate to no-kill rescues and shelters in honor of a lost pet. Remember, donations do not need to be financial, and many shelters have wish-lists of material items that are always necessary. T
Art - In addition to already available memorials, including some mentioned above, a lot of owner’s create their own memorials to their pets, including memory books, photo albums, jewelry, and portraits. Bits of fur, favorite blankets or toys often feature prominently in these memorials, along with lots of pictures. Preserving a pet’s paw print in plaster or as jewelry is also a common form of memorial, and many veterinarians do assist pet lovers in the process. Memorial tattoos seem to be incredibly popular, ranging from a simple name and dates to complete portraits.
Burial - Many people do have their pets buried in pet cemeteries with many of the human traditions of service and headstones. It’s also common in some places to bury pets in their own back yards.
Rescue - Finally, a number of people memorialized their deceased pet by saving a new life, heading to the shelter to give another homeless pet their forever home. While this is probably the most enduring option, it isn’t for everyone — if the family is still grieving and in a place of weak energy, then it’s not the best time to bring a new member into the mix. However, adopting a new pet can be a way to deal with the grieving by rejoicing in a new found friend. It’s important in such situations, though, to do some careful consideration first, and consult with every member of your family.

Whether memorials to our pets are simple or elaborate, they are a very natural part of the entire process of welcoming them into our families and eventually saying good-bye. But the places they had in our lives — and will always have in our hearts — are the greatest memorials of all.

Have you experienced having to euthanize a pet? What helped you to cope with the process? Let us know in the comments.

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