To think about putting your pet to sleep is something no one wants to think about.
With my first dog, it was something that haunted me for years. Working in veterinary medicine means you see people dealing with this every day — and facing the hard truth that someday it will be you in their position.
Loving and caring for our pets means at some point we will have to let them go. I have been present for many a pet’s passing in my veterinary career. There are days in the hospital when I have so many sick pets to care for that I must stay strong so that, when I leave that room, I can continue care for others in the hospital.
But then there are days when it all hits you: the reminder of the magnitude of what is about to happen and the great loss that someone is about to go through.
Grief Is Expected
Euthanasia is perhaps one of the most difficult things you will do as a pet caretaker.
To make the decision to end another’s life is not something people take lightly. And yet we know we all have a fixed amount of time on this earth, and our pets have short lifespans in comparison to humans.
Eventually, the time will come when you have to say goodbye.
My role in this moment is to provide comfort, care and respect to both the patient and their person. And although this is a sad and unfortunate reality of my job, I’ve always felt a sort of reverence and humility in these situations.
People at first are always so concerned about revealing their emotions, being vulnerable in front of a stranger. But grief is something we cannot avoid. I want people to know that I understand, I have been there both with my own pet, and also for so many others, and it’s ok — in fact, it’s completely normal to be upset in this moment.
A Compounded Loss
Once, an elderly lady had come in to put her dog down, and she had just lost her husband the week before. I remember looking at her and thinking she just looked so broken.
At one point, I said, “I don’t want you to have to go home alone,” to which she replied, “I don’t either.”
This was the dog who stood by her side through her husband’s illness, a steady companion to help her get through the days, weeks and months. And then, so suddenly, she had to say goodbye to someone else so close to her. I still think about her to this day.
I once had a person tell me, “If only we could all go so easily.” The simple truth of this statement struck me: Death is so final and painful for us all.
You’ll Know When It’s Time
For our pets, when we know their time has come, when we know there is nothing left to be done, we have the ability to spare them that pain and suffering. Euthanasia is the final gift of a peaceful, painless passing.
For someone who may be struggling with this decision, the one thing people always want to know is how they will know when it’s time.
What I can tell you is simply this: You will know.
While this advice may seem lacking at first, you know your pet better than anyone. The day will come when you look at them, and you can see the fight is over. And I’m fairly certain, if you ask anyone who has had to experience the loss of a pet, they will tell you the same.
Euthanasia is undoubtedly one of the most difficult aspects of my job, but it has also been one of the most valuable. It has taught me the power of the human spirit. It has shown me that, as human beings, we have a capacity to love far beyond ourselves.
I am a better pet caretaker, veterinary nurse and individual because of these experiences.
And although I wish no one would ever experience this, please know that when the time comes for you to say goodbye to your own pet, someone like me will be there to help guide you through, to care for your pet in their final moments and to help you say goodbye.
This pet health content was reviewed for accuracy by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed and updated Aug. 14, 2018.