Pet Euthanasia Guilt: The Feeling I Didn’t Expect to Feel

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Our 12-year-old pet dog Eddie was having more and more accidents by the week. And I’ll be honest, I was not happy to be cleaning up more messes in the house when I already had a 3-year-old and 5-year-old making messes in nearly every single room. He stumbled and slipped down the stairs almost daily to the point of us having to lift his 70 lbs. body off the ground and have him stand upright. He was clumsy and often bumping into the kids on busy mornings and just generally acting strange. He no longer wanted to go for long walks, and his hips would get so stiff after exercise that it was painful for him to sit or lay down. We brought him to the Vet for a checkup, and she stated he had a brain tumor, kidney failure, and he was almost completely blind.

petI was in disbelief that so much had gone wrong in a year since his last visit. To top it all off, he had lost almost 10 lbs. and we didn’t even notice. My heart sank, and I began to cry because I felt like such an awful pet owner. Who doesn’t notice a 10 lb. weight difference?  My dog was my world before having kids, and I would have noticed any hair out of place on his fluffy auburn coat. The veterinarian continued on “His quality of life is not good, and these are things we are not able to treat. His condition will worsen, and he won’t live more than another six months to a year. This is the kind of pet we would consider euthanizing.” My husband asked her what she would do if it were her dog, but she gave another vague answer, and it was clear she wasn’t going to tell us what to do. She sent us home with a quality-of-life checklist which indicated a score of 5 or below should consider euthanasia. I just sobbed an ugly sob and felt sick to my stomach at the thought of all this. Being the impatient kind of person I am, I immediately did the checklist upon returning home and got a score of 5 for Eddie. Crap.

My husband was clear that this was the right choice, and while I agreed logically, it was so hard to get my heart to follow. I eventually came around, and we decided to euthanize Eddie. We told the kids, and they cried and pleaded with us to help him stay on earth. We read the saddest and sweetest books about dog heaven, and I don’t think I ever got through a book without crying. My youngest reassured me that it would all be ok and then begged me to allow him to watch the angels carry Eddie’s body away when he died. (He has a morbid fascination with the afterlife). They gave him lots of hugs, cuddles, and tons of thinly sliced deli meat. And then the day came.

I wanted so badly to explain to Eddie what was going to happen and to let him know this was our last moments together, but I couldn’t. We walked into the veterinarian’s office, and he wagged his tail upon entering the euthanasia room with fluffy dog beds, candles, and poems about saying goodbye to pets. He had no idea what was coming, and there was nothing I could do to prepare him. The Vet gave him a sedative, and Eddie slowly fell asleep on the oversized dog bed. I laid my head on his head and cried, asking him to forgive me for not being as attentive of a dog owner. I let him know he was the best dog in the world, thanked him for being protective of our kids, and told him we’d always love him. I studied every mark on his sweet face and all the beautiful colors of his fur so I wouldn’t forget it. We left the room as the Vet performed the euthanasia procedure and then returned a few moments later for more crying and more petting. I stared at him and couldn’t believe he wasn’t alive anymore. I slipped off his dog collar and held it tight to my chest as we left the room.

It’s been 2 months since we euthanized Eddie, and I still feel waves of guilt. Did I make the right call for him? Should I have let him live longer until it was blatantly obvious, he was miserable? I also beat myself up for the lack of attention I gave him after we had kids. Most days, I felt like I was on autopilot, and he became a checkmark on a list to take care of rather than my BFF. There is overwhelming guilt in being the one to decide when to end your pet’s life-I don’t think I was prepared for that. I thought it would be a clear-cut choice, and it wasn’t. My husband reminded me that Eddie lived a great life, and he knew he was loved. He got less attention, but he was also less interested in socializing in his old age. Once I made the decision, I thought I’d just move into sadness and grief, but the guilt still lingers here. Grief is a strange process, and I wasn’t prepared for such complex feelings. Hug your furry friends a little tighter and give them all the love you can while you still have them here.

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