How can I help my friend cope and accept her dogs death?
July 17, 2013 3:46 PM   Subscribe

One of my best friends is having a really hard time with her dying canine. She has had this dog since I have know her (14 years) and since the dog was a puppy. She has had some tough times in the years I have known her, and this dog has been her constant companion and helped her power through those times when she struggled even to get out of bed in the morning. She is (rightfully) having a really hard time letting go, though at this point it is the right thing to do.

This once vital and extremely active dog, is now dying of kidney failure. She is doing all of the veterinary things that she can to help her, but it isn't enough at this point. There is no way she is going to spring back. For weeks she has been very very sick. She cannot get up on her own, and more often than not cannot walk on her own. She doesn't seem to want to eat or drink on her own either. She is consequently frail and thin. She mostly lays around and shakes, though not from cold, and it is hard to say why, but the guess is out of pain. She is very very clearly suffering, but she has moments when she is able to stand up and walk around, may show some interest in being petted or playing with a ball (previously her favorite activity in the world). It is because of those moments that my friend is having a hard time letting her go. They seem to come and go without any real reason, but are becoming less frequent. Her vet has been urging her to let her go for a week plus.

I am a big time dog lover myself, and know the difficulty of this situation. I have always hoped I do not have to make that decision for my dog, but I hope that I would do what is right when the time comes, although I could guarantee nothing. I feel like it has now become routine to deal with the dogs illness that it is becoming less significant and will only draw it out even farther. I also feel like if she is able to let her go, once over the initial grief, she will feel so much better and happier. Not to mention my friend has a lot of other stressors and things going on in her life, that this is just adding to. She has scheduled appointments for her to be put down several times and canceled them at the last minute.

Any advice on how I can help her come to terms with this and stop second guessing herself? Like myself she is prone to over think things, and second guess her decisions, so I think that is making it worse. I have already tried things like, pointing out that she is suffering, and asking her to look at it clinically, or look at it from the dogs perspective, but to very little effect. I know that I cannot (nor can anyone else) make this decision for her, but is there anything that anyone can think of to do that will help her see through her emotions?

Throw away email -
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Remind her that helping her dog to die with dignity is the last and most caring act of friendship she can perform.

And if that doesn't work, tell her flatly she's being completely selfish and torturing her helpless, dependent dog.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:55 PM on July 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Just tell her that its time and offer to go with her. My sister and parents all went to see Audrey off when her time came. It was hard, but having everyone there telling her what a good dog she was made it a bit easier.

So sorry, but it's the right thing to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:56 PM on July 17, 2013

I totally understand. I have been through some serious dog trauma and had to choose to put a dog down. It was awful, and I got through it.

That said, she's being selfish by putting her own emotional needs above her dog's pain.

My ex-girlfriend was a vet tech, and she thought most people prolonged their pet's suffering in situations like this.
posted by O9scar at 4:00 PM on July 17, 2013

We had to let our dog go this weekend -- a year to the day after we had to say goodbye to our other dog. Lots of tears around casa de scody lately, lemme tell you.

Here's what finally made my decision for me: it wasn't just that I didn't want him to suffer any more, it was that I knew it was getting to the point (he was having seizures and trouble walking) that it was likely something could happen to him where he would die alone, panicked, and in pain without me. No animal deserves to die that way -- and I had the opportunity to give him instead the gift of a peaceful, painless, gentle exit in his own bed while being petted by the people he loved.

There was nothing more loving I could do than that. And if I had kept him alive longer -- that would mean I was choosing to let him suffer purely for my own selfish reasons of wanting to put off my own grief.

There was really no choice after I saw it that way.
posted by scody at 4:00 PM on July 17, 2013 [28 favorites]

Animals can't talk, so sometimes we have to do the talking for them. Ask your friend: If her little friend could talk, what would she say?

It might also be reassuring to remind your friend that she gave the dog a healthy, full life -- the best life she could -- and the dog was lucky to have her as a friend and champion.
posted by mochapickle at 4:03 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Remind her that the important thing is that the dog doesn't suffer, not that she doesn't feel bad. Our vet always gives us un-sugar coated advice when it comes to our cats, maybe she can have a frank talk with her/him.
posted by pibeandres at 4:04 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of my biggest regrets in life is waiting too long. 9 years later I still wake up in the middle of the night gutted over the fact that I am a dog torturer. I abused an animal I was in a position to help because I was too weak to do the right thing. I don't expect to ever get over it; I don't deserve to.

Hard truth: the dog's not going to know that it's dead. If she buys into a different philosophy, then the dog will know why she did it once he's in dog heaven. There will be no grudge from the dog for putting it down. Keeping a suffering animal alive when it is legal and relatively affordable to end its suffering is a human behavior. A selfish human behavior.

Ask her what it is she expects to gain from waiting. I think people default to "it's bad to put an animal down for inconvenience," but inconvenience means it doesn't match the sofa. It doesn't mean you need to wait until the day before the dog would die naturally. That's too long. When an animal can't walk or feed/water itself, it is too too late. Something needs to be done today, or first thing in the morning.

And if she can't bring herself to do it, can and will you do it for her? My mom did that for a neighbor who knew it was time but just couldn't put the dog in the car. As soon as mom offered, she broke down and said yes, please, let me say goodbye and then you can go.

Losing a pet sucks. I don't look forward to when the rest of mine go. But it's what you do because it's the agreement you made when you took them.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:04 PM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Although it is evidently the case that the majority of people say that, with hindsight, they regret waiting as long as they did to put their animal down, I had the exact opposite experience. I put my cat down too soon. It was inevitable, but my timing was just awful. And I regretted it with an absolutely broken heart for well over a year. Not to say that I don't still regret it, but I was able to come to terms with my decision a couple of years ago.

My best friend lost his dog this year, and he and I had a number of conversations about timing and actions before she died. He's one of the most rational people I know, and also the one of the kindest, and Misty was his last link to his parents (his mother had adopted her about six months before Mother died, and then his father had been the custodial parent until he died, and then my friend took her in as her last living relative). Afterwards, he told me about a conversation with another friend that I think is important here. His friend, speaking about her own dog's death, said, "I'm glad to not have to clean up blood all the time. But I would have happily cleaned blood up for the rest of my life for my dog."

If your friend is asking you your opinion on whether she should put her dog down, in your shoes, honestly, I would use these words, "If she were my dog, I would put her down now. But you will know when it's the right time."

Your friend's dog will die. The way she makes her decision about timing, and whether she chooses to have her dog put down or whether she lets her die on her own is unique to her, and really, really, the best thing you can do is to support her in whatever her choices are.

I think you think that her grieving only begins when her dog dies and that it lasts for a specific amount of time after the event. In fact, what you are watching is her grieving process. It's messy, it's hard work, and it's confusing. But putting the dog down won't stop it from being messy, confusing hard work. It might, on the other hand, make the work harder, if she isn't fully decided when she does it.

You're such a good friend for her to have. It's great that you are there for her to reach out to. Make sure that she thinks about mementos, like the dog's ashes, if she's cremated, or making a pawprint pendant, as a friend of mine did (I saw it first after I put my cat down, and burst into tears because I couldn't do it for my cat. Instead, I have a small pendant in which some of his fur resides), or a keepsake box for her leash and collar, or a piece of jewelry with her picture(s) on it. There's a specific site that I want to link here, for the jewelry, because I used them for a necklace with my cat's photo, but I've blanked on the name. I'll post it when my brain wakes up.

In any event, I am sending her, her dog, and you lots of love.
posted by janey47 at 4:07 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Shadow's Story

Letting a pet go, and taking the human and HUMANE course of action, is one of the hardest things to do in this world if you ask me. But it's part of the role we agree to take on when we become responsible for a pet... a soul that depends solely on us.

Offer to go with your friend and help in any way, but that poor dog needs to stop suffering. Perhaps it's up to you to help her see that.
posted by matty at 4:08 PM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would offer to accompany her when the time feels right. Having another person there as support would make a huge difference to me. Beyond that, I'm not sure that there's much you can do. I have a relative who doesn't believe in euthanasia and he had multiple people tell him it was time to let his dog, who was no longer eating and whose body was littered with cancer, go. He wouldn't, and he still complains about other people pushing him to do something that was against his ethical beliefs. It's awful, but you can't change her mind if she doesn't want to do it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:10 PM on July 17, 2013

I too am a big fan of the pawprints and wished I'd known about them for my oldest pets. I got one - unrequested and unexpected - from the crematorium the first time I could afford the more expensive individual cremation with return, with the ashes in a cedar box. I got the same for all my subsequent pets, and it's a creepy little collection but I'm not sorry.

So that is one way you can help your friend, with making arrangements. If your friend absolutely refuses to go through with it, at least make her speak to the vet about a fentanyl patch or other hardcore palliative care. I don't understand how she can just watch her dog tremble in pain and fear.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:12 PM on July 17, 2013

You could also mention to her that there are vets in most areas who will make house calls to perform euthanasias, so her dog can be as comfortable as possible and she won't have to deal with driving her all the way there and getting herself home afterwards. My parents recently had to say goodbye to the cat I grew up with and they were very glad to have the option. It might be more valuable for cats who are freaked out by car rides and strange places under the best of circumstances, but I think it could be a good choice for a dog (and the dog's owner) too.
posted by contraption at 4:14 PM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

This article might be helpful.
posted by kitty teeth at 4:34 PM on July 17, 2013

I've gone through this twice with cats. Both times, I moved from thinking " I love this animal so much I can't possibly make this decision" to "It's BECAUSE I love this animal so much that I KNOW I have to make this decision." Maybe putting it in those terms will somehow help your friend.
posted by bookmammal at 5:13 PM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

You could also mention to her that there are vets in most areas who will make house calls to perform euthanasias, so her dog can be as comfortable as possible and she won't have to deal with driving her all the way there and getting herself home afterwards.

Absolutely. This is what we did with both our furry ones, and it was a GOD.SEND. Seriously, I am not one to toss around the words "angel" or "saint" to describe people, but the vet who came to our house to help us say goodbye to our pups is both an angel AND a saint. (If you're in L.A., or anyone reading this is in L.A., and you need a referral, contact Dr. Robin Holmes.)
posted by scody at 5:15 PM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is one of the hardest things those of us lucky enough to love and be loved by companion animals do. A few thoughts:

1. This is one of those terrible choices between her own needs and those of her dog. She would never opt to be in lasting, persistent pain for the sake of a few moments of petting or play herself, would she? True love is at bottom unselfish, and now is the time when she needs to let her dog go, for love of her dog.

2. It might help a lot if you offered to go with her or, if you are awesome, to take her dog to the vet for her.

3. I know she dreads the hole in her heart and household, but I'll point out that this is also an opening for a completely different animal that needs a home to find one. And that turning her attention soon to adopting may well help her deal with this loss, too, by focusing her on the needs of another loving animal.

Thinking of you and your friend.
posted by bearwife at 5:19 PM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Next time you see her and the dog, I'd say something like this:

"I know that Max's health problems have been weighing on you, and I'm seeing for myself that he's very ill. This is so hard, and I know you're facing an awful decision. There won't ever be a moment in this process where it feels good to have him put down. It will be a painful decision no matter what. But as your friend, and as someone who cares about Max: I think you really need to go through with it. He's suffering, and he's not going to recover. He's been a wonderful dog and companion, and I'm so sad that he's at the end of his life. I want to help. I can go with you to the vet, or help you find someone who can do a house call and be here with you. Would you be open to that?"

I wouldn't try to guilt her about how she's "letting" the dog suffer. I'd focus on the fact that she's waiting for this decision to feel right, and, in a big way, it's never going to feel right. But it's nevertheless the right thing to do.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:51 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am unfortunately very intimately familiar with this difficult situation; I've been working in a companion animal ER since the early eighties, and it's a rare day at work when a difficult decision regarding euthanasia does not come up at least once.
I am also of the opinion that most people wait too long. Not everyone does, but it is so hard to let go. SO HARD. Especially when the old pet seems to have a relatively bright day here and there.
But the situation for the pet is going to trend down and down in this case. She may even die on her own at any time forward. Which I hope your friend does not allow to happen. Saving this pet from experiencing even one more miserable hour is MERCY. Kidney disease/failure sucks. I don't have it and never have, but this poor girl IS suffering, I promise.
Now that is a very hard thing to relate to another person while at the same time trying to spare them the GUILT of already having let it go so long. Gah, it's hard. When people ask me, I tell them to think of the "quality of life" the pet is experiencing ... which means different things to different people, but all that shaking and misery ... poor, old dog. For these old dog/cat cases, I tell people that I personally draw the line when the not eating/drinking phase begins.
You say you have tried to help your friend see it clinically, and to put herself in her pet's position to no effect. Some people just cannot let go and the pet does suffer, then dies miserably, and the owner just cannot see how euthanasia would have been a better choice. Ah, and they are wrecked when the pet does die. Sometimes they do see that later, and if they do, it seems to add to the guilt they experience. It helps me as a vet tech to remember that death is a part of life, we're all only *so far* away from the end every minute of our lives, and the same goes for all of the beloved pets, whatever the circumstance of the question/possibility of the euthanasia.
FWIW, euthanasia does NOT hurt in a physical pain sort of way. In my experience, a strong overdose of an anesthesia drug is used. We give it IV, so it works fast, maybe 15 seconds. It is MERCY to a suffering animal.
Memail me if you want. I'm very sorry for your friend and her beloved pet, and for you. The clay paw paw-prints, return of ashes, and sometimes clipping a bit of the hair to save can sometimes be helpful for many people. Many vets will have a list of resources such as pet-loss support groups, or counselors that specialize in pet-loss therapy.
Good luck to you all.
posted by bebrave! at 5:51 PM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Can you offer to do it for her if you can't get a vet to come to the house? My sister knew her dog was suffering and couldn't go through it herself. She said goodbye at home and a friend who loved her dog did it for her. It was just too overwhelming for my sister to contemplate having to drive home from the vets without her dear Andy.
posted by kanata at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2013

Friend, I know you will miss Max so very much. But Max needs you to do the right thing. Dogs can't understand illness, and Max needs you to be strong and help her out of her pain. You don't want to remember her being in pain and suffering. You want to remember that you loved her enough to end her suffering. The vet's office has an appointment today at 1. I'll come with you.
posted by theora55 at 6:51 PM on July 17, 2013

I suspect I've posted this advice before, but rather than dig through my own archives, here it is again: the most wonderful advice my vet gave me when I was trying to decide when to euthanize my very beloved dog...

First, make a list of the few (3 to 5) small things the pup is still able to enjoy. This can be very simple, small things. My own list for my dog included resting comfortable, enjoying ear scratches, going outside to smell things, and eating bits of shredded beef (my pup's favorite treat).

Then, be with the pup, and observe their ability to enjoy these things.

When the pup can no longer enjoy, at bare minimum, 1/2 of the things on the list, it's time.

Having some way to measure my dog's enjoyment of her final days was what helped me feel like I was doing the right thing by helping her go. It gave me a way to understand where the line was between her comfort and mine, and to prioritize taking care of her comfort when my emotions were a giant mess.

I hope this helps your friend, too.
posted by amelioration at 6:52 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder if she's possibly waiting for him to die at home, hoping he might die at home? I went through almost exactly the same thing with my kitty who'd been there for me through some horrific years, and she was in the last stages of kidney failure. I spent the whole weekend of her last days praying she would let go and die at home, so I wouldn't have to take her to a scary vet's office and get needles poked into her -- I just couldn't handle more suffering being added on top of her obvious suffering. Of seeing her terrified in her last moments, and in pain. I held her and told her it was OK to let go, hoping she would stop trying so hard to stay alive, but she fought and fought like the brave little girl she was. And I can't help wondering if maybe your friend is doing the same thing.

I don't know what's the right answer. I mean, to this day I feel terrible for making Emma so afraid and adding to her pain. Even though I know it was the right decision. I hope you can just continue to be your friend's ally and help her through it -- she's grieving already. You are kind to be concerned.
posted by emcat8 at 6:58 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

scody has it - At some point, it becomes more about keeping your pet alive to prevent your own sadness. You can tell your friend that, and maybe she'll hear it.

We lost one of our snakes this weekend. We loved him, and spent a huge amount of money on vet bills; and I'm pretty sure I never want to force-feed or give a snake antibiotics or rub stuff on a snake's sore spots again. I realized at some point we were keeping him alive past the point where he'd normally crawl under a rock and die. I agree with emcat8: We hoped we wouldn't have to subject him to the only and horrible way there is to euthanize a snake and wanted him to pass away peacefully. We'll never know how he felt, but we know he hated being forced to live.. So we each held him for one last time and told him it was okay to go, and thankfully he passed by the morning. This past year I made the decision to euthanize one pet that belonged to my in-laws, who grew infirm and either passed or became dependent on care. I cried so much, but I was really crying for how awful it is to make these decisions. Our vet is big on "quality of life" and for that I'm grateful. If a vet is supportive of euthanasia, it makes a difference. Maybe someone there would speak frankly?

I wrote about our old dog, and I still feel that way - we'd all move heaven and earth to help our pets. Sometimes it's better to just move heaven.
posted by peagood at 7:42 PM on July 17, 2013

Ask her if she's keeping the dog alive for her own good or for the dog's. If she can accept that she's not doing the dog any good, you can get her to accept euthanizing her.

If you can get her to the point of agreeing to euthanasia, find a vet that will make a house call to do it. Then make the call for her, because god damn, that is a hard phone call to make. And be with her when the vet comes.
posted by adamrice at 7:53 PM on July 17, 2013

You could actually say that we let our last dog go earlier than might have been necessary but I don't regret it for one instant.

She was 16 years old and had been having significant respiratory problems for months. This was on top of general age, arthritis, losing half her teeth and a serious back injury that she never fully recovered from (but which didn't dampen her spirits). We'd been giving her medication for inflammation in her chest but it wasn't helping. The cough medication was heavily sedating but without it she was coughing constantly. And it was obviously awful for her, so we took her back to the vet.

Given her age I had a feeling whatever the vet would say wouldn't be good. I pretty much figured she was dying and we would be finding out we only had a little bit of time left. I figured we'd go home and spend our time making her last days as happy and full of love as possible.

We had to wait awhile for the vet to see us and while we were waiting we could hear what was going on in another one of the exam rooms. I don't know the exact circumstances but what I could make out was that the dog in the next room was going to be euthanized. All I could think sitting there was how lucky we were. We'd at least get to take our girl home and have some more time to love her before we'd be in the same position.

Eventually the vet came in and the exam was done. We were told it would be a huge amount of money for more x-rays and such but it was worth it to figure out what we were dealing with. While preparing ourselves for the future that was surely going to be filled with medical bills and a lot of sadness (while trying to keep a brave face for the dog's sake) the vet asked if he could sedate her to actually look in her mouth. She hadn't let anyone look and it was clearly bothering her. Even with the dangers of sedation we agreed because we needed to know.

They sedated her right there on the table and finally saw the problem.

There was a massive tumor in her throat. It was literally taking up half her entire throat.

It had definitely not been there the last time she'd been to the vet which meant it had grown to that size in a matter of months.

They kept trying to tell us we needed to see it but I didn't need to see it, I knew.

She was just lying there asleep, covered up with a towel for warmth I guess, and I knew.

We could have taken her home and kept going as we had been. It probably would have been okay for awhile, maybe even months.

But if we took her home she would be uncomfortable and in pain. Even with medication, it wouldn't be much better. She might choke on her food. Worse, she might just die gasping for air if we couldn't get her to vet quickly enough. Who knew how far the cancer had spread? What if it was in her organs?

She was just lying there and it might not have been what I would have wanted but this was the moment.

I would have loved to have been able to take her home and give her love and just hold onto her as long as possible. I didn't want her to die in the vet's office where she was always scared and frantically looking for the door.

But I couldn't do that to her. I couldn't justify taking her home and putting her through more suffering just because it was what I wanted.

Right now she was totally oblivious and before she'd gone out she knew we were there with her. She knew she was loved. And that was enough.

So, she never did go home with us. We weren't as lucky as I'd hoped we'd be. But I know we did the right thing and even as I was crying all the way home I never once regretted that decision.

I'm positive your friend will regret it for the rest of her life if she lets her dog suffer more than she has to. I don't know if it will help, but you can tell her that her dog has helped her through so much and now it's time for her to return that. It's her turn to help her dog through this.
posted by kassila at 12:54 AM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

I know it sounds simple, but support and level-headed advice from a trusted friend can make a big difference. Tell her it's time, and that you will go with her. Support her and hug her and let her cry. Remind her to remember all the happy times she and the pooch have had together. And give her a hug from me ;(
posted by Diag at 6:10 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

you can tell her that her dog has helped her through so much and now it's time for her to return that. It's her turn to help her dog through this.

This is beautiful. Yes.
posted by scody at 9:08 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

"Not a bad way to go," the vet commented after we put my dog to sleep. "After a long life, in the arms of your favorite person."

That's how I'd like to go out. We don't do it for humans (so much) and I think it is harder for some people to accept the whole idea than it is for others. I'd be hesitant to push it on someone. Sometimes euthanasia is very peaceful but other times not so much, at least not to watch. I think it's still usually better than going on in very poor health and dying at home but still, it can be a difficult experience.
posted by BibiRose at 8:07 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

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