How to survive saying goodbye
January 24, 2018 7:08 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I agreed that the quality of life for our sweet 14 year old puppy is getting pretty bad and we need to put her to sleep. My rational brain knows this is the right thing. As the date gets closer, I feel like a prisoner in the Tower waiting for the gallows. How do I even do this?

Of course it's not a simple decision. Our yellow lab puppers has been going more and more lame over the last three years - she can't use her back legs well and falls a lot. We haven't been able to go for walks for at least a year. Walking all the way around the house is a marathon. We've kept close tabs with the vet and I feel she's had/has good pain management, although she's also very mellow so it's hard to tell. It's as though she doesn't know she has arthritis and still tries to jump up and down everytime she's excited to see us. She would go for a marathon walk with us anyway, stumbling along. She is still extremely excited about all things food. She still seems so soooooo happy all the time. But.

She's been fecally incontinent for at least a year and now she's starting to pee on the floor too. We just can't have her in our living space because it will permanently ruin the floors. Even if that weren't true, we spend hours cleaning and she's still not staying all that clean. I'm ashamed of how we have to keep her in the basement and so she's probably lonely. I'm ashamed of how ineffective we are at keeping her clean. There's no way I can get her 60+ lbs in a bathtub after every poo event. If I didn't have to go to work, if I didn't care about the floors, if I just took better care of her. I'm wracked with this guilt that we wouldn't have to put her down if I could just do a better job.

And my husband is doing twice as much as me, just because of our schedules etc, so it's not like I just need extra help. Even together, we are just not able to do this.

So I am able to look at this rationally some of the time but at this rate, when the appointment gets close enough, I'm going to have a nervous breakdown or cancel the whole thing. Was it like this for you? Is there any way through?
posted by Tandem Affinity to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I am so sorry! I've been there with an aging unwell pet with a fecal issue and the guilt I felt -- feel -- over my feelings about it all.

You are both pouring out for her, taking great care. Letting her go will be a kind thing for her. It would be worse to wait until she is clearly miserable.

In the meantime, spoil her. Spend every possible -- note I said possible -- minute with her. Lavish her with physical affection. Take selfies. You and your husband spoil yourself a as well.

You have done a great job and it is hard, hard work to take care of a an ill aging pet, especially a large one. You've given her a great life -- she clearly loves you.

Can you move up the date? Perhaps it would be best if you could.
posted by jgirl at 7:24 PM on January 24, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm always the one that had to do this in my family. There is no easy way. Hard as it is, you just have to go through the motions and get it done. Know that she has had a wonderful life and would thank you if she could. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 7:31 PM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

My heart goes out to you.

This was me, this past year and my old girl exhibited so many of the same symptoms. I regret not giving her peace earlier. I took wonderful care of her, just like you did, but I should’ve set the date earlier.

If you have a vet who will come to your house, I can’t recommend that enough. Makes the whole painful thing so much less painful.

I thought I would flip out after, but I felt such a relief my sweet puppy wasn’t suffering. I was sad and I miss her so much, but she wasn’t enjoying life and was scared so often. I’m going to guess you will feel the same bittersweet relief. You can get through it. You will be surprised at how much you can get through it.

My dog was sick for a long time too and there was a big hole in my life when she was gone. There was so much caretaking. It takes a while.

I wish you so much luck! You sound like wonderful pet parents.
posted by Zosia Blue at 7:31 PM on January 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

My parents went through this, only with a Pomeranian. He stopped being able to walk and had to be carried and cleaned up after every urinary or fecal event. They kept him going for about two years that way.

My parents both say now that they really regret letting him go that long. It was such poor quality of life for him that they felt really guilty about it for a long time. There were a lot of extenuating circumstances in their case, but they are very clear in wishing they had let him go a lot earlier.

If I were in your position, I’d let her go as soon as you can. We just had to let our elderly Cat go on Sunday, so I know how gut wrenching it is and how utterly sad and devastating. My thoughts are with your family.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:33 PM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I went through a similar thing with my dog. She had arthritis. She may or may or may not have had a melanoma, the vets disagreed. I wanted to do my best for her, and I did, but when the time finally came that I had to put her down, she let me know in no uncertain terms that it was OK. And I realized afterward that really, I hadn't been doing for her, she'd been doing for me. She'd been in a lot of pain for a long time, but dogs don't show anything but extreme pain. I needed her and she stuck around until *I* could let go. You're doing the right thing.
posted by bricoleur at 7:35 PM on January 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Just went through this on Friday with our sweet 14-year-old dog. It was/is hard. Our vet came to the house, which helped a lot, because our dog always got stressed at the office. I would recommend that if it is available to you.

The other thing that helped me a lot was that our vet was very supportive about our decision. She even said that giving our dog a dignified and calm death was a gift to her. I believe that was true. Maybe thinking of it that way will help you a little.
posted by tuesdayschild at 7:38 PM on January 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

Another voice urging you to see if your vet can come to your house, if at all possible. (And if your vet doesn't make this sort of house call, ask if they can give you a referral to someone who does.) It will be much more peaceful for all of you, and will make a big difference for you and your husband to be in your home immediately afterwards, rather than having to drive home.

My heart goes out to you. I've been there, brokenhearted, and will be there again one of these days down the road. Lots of hugs to you, if you'd like them.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 7:55 PM on January 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

It is terrible and gut-wrenching and yet it must be done. I read once the following, written by a vet - If you don't have any doubt, you have waited too long.

There is never a good time. So, so awful to say goodbye. It's been over a year for our boy who was really my first and dearest.

I still feel guilty sometimes, but I don't think it's avoidable. More than guilt though, I am glad he got a peaceful sendoff and did not suffer through another horrible health emergency. We want to help them live much longer than they are able, and we can't and we feel guilty that we can't.

The vet came out, and we said goodbye. It was peaceful. And terrible. So sorry about your girl.
posted by Glinn at 8:06 PM on January 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

I lost my sweet baby cat a little over a year ago, and it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I'm so sorry for what you're going through with your pup. The thing that made it less difficult to decide is that she was having accidents and it was obviously distressing and surprising to her. We wanted to let her go peacefully without more distress and pain. I never thought I would be able to make that choice but I looked at it as because she was my baby, I had to take that on for her.
That helped me a lot actually, to look at it as making the kindest choice for my girl. We also had a vet come to the house which was better for our girl because going in a car was always very upsetting for her, and for us because then we could just grieve. I highly recommend this option - it was about $100 more but the peace and dignity it brought was extremely meaningful to us. We called a service and the vet was so steady and deeply kind.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:51 PM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Please please don't feel guilty about this. You are doing your very best and it's more than most people would do. Your sweet pupper won't know what's happening and ultimately she won't be in pain anymore - and that's the thing that matters...she doesn't know why she hurts, or falls over, or has accidents in the house and you can't explain it to her. Letting her go is the best thing for her. In addition, your quality of life will improve. It's a positive outcome for everyone, even though it doesn't feel like it now, and it might not feel that way for a long time. *hugs*
posted by elsietheeel at 8:53 PM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

How you do this is by womaning up and doing the last, best thing you can do for your friend because she is dependent on you to do this. Dogs are pack animals. Living in the basement, apart from her people, means it is time for this last, most selfless act of love.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:56 PM on January 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

One of the hardest and scariest parts of losing a pupper is the feeling of losing the goodness and sweetness and joy she brought into your lives.

But really, her goodness and sweetness and joy is the inheritance she left for you. Know that you gave her a lot of love and in exchange, her happiness is now a permanent part of you. So keep her close to you by simply being more like her -- warm, open, loving, generous. You will find a surprising number of ways to keep her goodness and sweetness alive in the world.
posted by mochapickle at 9:59 PM on January 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

I am so sorry you all are going through this. It’s heart wrenching and making these decisions never gets easier. My heart hurts for you.

On the three occasions I’ve had to do this, I’ve found that I always move from “I love this animal so much that I can’t possibly do this” to “It’s because I love this animal so much that I know I NEED to do this.”

It sounds like you know in your heart that it’s time. Cancelling or rescheduling is only delaying what you know needs to be done. And as odd or wrong as it may seem, in my experience, you will probably feel a big portion of relief mixed in with your grief. Please be kind to yourselves afterwards and try not to feel guilt over feeling relief mixed with your sadness—this is a totally normal reaction and its completely OK.
posted by bookmammal at 2:47 AM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

If anything I would move the appointment up. You’re in distress and puppy is uncomfortable, the waiting for an end date is just devastating. You’re absolutely making the right choice but you’re making it harder emotionally by having scheduled it out so far in the future.

Spoil her, be with her, love on her, then let yourself let go. I’m so sorry, losing a pet is so hard sometimes precisely because we have this level of control over it and we drive ourselves mad with guilt and grief.
posted by lydhre at 2:56 AM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

When we put our sweet, loving 10 year old dog down, we did it because while there was uncertainty about whether he might get better - we could have sent him to a doggie specialist - we knew we would have done that for US and not for him. As his people, we knew that the kindest - and hardest - thing we could do was let him go calmly and peacefully. Both my husband and I were with him, patting him and telling him he was a good boy. I am crying on the subway writing this now. It was and still is heart wrenching. My heart is bigger for having had the privilege to share it with a good dog. As the one with the thumbs in this relationship, I had to make the tough call. Dogs are the most selfless beings (except when there is food to steal) - they love you for being you. This is the one time I could be selfless for him. I wish you peace, photos, and amazing memories. The pain will ease.
posted by teragram at 4:58 AM on January 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think people often underestimate the impact of incontinence on a pet's quality of life. It feels like it is solely your problem, and that you are being selfish and spoiled for considering it a reason for euthanasia. I disagree with that, and I know many veterinary professionals that do as well.

Think of it from an animal behavior point of view. Proper elimination is often the first thing a pet is trained to do. Even if they get no other training, almost all pets are housebroken, even if they have occasional accidents (often due to a failure on their people's part, like not cleaning the litter box or not taking them for a walk in time). When a pet is no longer able to eliminate as they have been trained, that is a major negative impact on their mental health. This is their most basic responsibility, and now they are consistently failing at it. I'm anthropomorphizing a bit here, but I think that must feel terrible for them. That's not to mention the unpleasant smells and skin irritation that come with incontinence.

In-home euthanasia is increasingly popular, and many people prefer it greatly to going to the clinic to have it done. If your vet doesn't offer it, they will likely be happy to refer you to someone who does. Many people chose to have euthanasia done by someone other than their regular vet, so as not to associate those sad memories with someone they have a continuing relationship with.

You are doing the right thing. I wish you peace and strength.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:58 AM on January 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

What my vet said: "It's not a bad way to go, after a long life and in the arms of your favorite person."

I agree with maybe moving it up. It always seems too soon, but then afterwards you always think you waited too long. It's in the nature of the thing; it feels strange to choose the moment. It can help to plan something for a bit later, a memorial or a donation in your pet's name. I dropped by the vet hospital with a thank you letter and a small donation to the fund for people having trouble paying their bills.
posted by BibiRose at 8:22 AM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am where you are right now with my sweet kitty. I have an appointment to have her euthanized next Thursday. One thing that helped me make the decision was to search "euthanasia" on the green. You will find a lot of specific questions that don't exactly apply to you and a lot of thoughtful, kind answers that do. You will find a number of stories from people who waited too long and regretted it. This is what made me finally decide - the image of my cat being terrified, yowling and forced to ride in the dreaded car in an emergency situation in the last hour of her life (and since we're in snow country, possibly a situation where driving will be dangerous).

I have been working with a terrific mobile vet who does hospice care. She came over earlier this week, and we had a long conversation, after which I made the final decision. I asked her what she would do if it were her cat, and she said that she would not euthanize yet, but she is a vet who could euthanize an animal quickly in an emergency. I can't do that. I agree a thousand times that you want a vet who will come to the house. If your vet doesn't do house calls, try Googling "mobile vet" with your city.

Good luck. This is super hard, and I'm not happy about losing my cat, but it is the right thing to do.
posted by FencingGal at 11:54 AM on January 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Move up the date. Look into in-home euthanasia. Take the day off, have a slumber party in the basement, and spoil the heck out of your pupper before it's time for her to go. Feel grief, but not guilt. A good, peaceful death is the greatest gift you can give her and your final act of love and responsibility as a pet owner.

When it comes to saying goodbye to a declining pet, I have never regretted "too soon". I have ALWAYS regretted "too late".
posted by Wossname at 12:03 PM on January 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I once had a very obnoxious roommate who did say one useful thing: that to our pets, we take on the responsibility of replacing the nature they would otherwise live in, providing the food, water, shelter, etc. that they would otherwise have to take from it. When they get ill, nature would provide them with a relatively quick death, too; and so we have to, as well.

Honestly, a dog who dies painlessly after a good day surrounded by love dies better than many many many humans do, and I'm only talking about natural deaths.
posted by praemunire at 12:07 PM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a mostly fecal-incontinent 12-year-old Great Dane who doesn't have much use of her hind legs, so this question pierced my heart. She sounds a lot like your puppo — she would love to go for a walk with me if I asked her to (I don't, because she can't), and she is so psyched to eat her food and have biscuits or a Kong stuffed with PB and see loved ones. Our vet and a small army of specialists don't think she's in too much pain, other than strain on her front from putting up with mostly useless back legs, so I take comfort in that and she gets massages from a wonderful pro as often as I can afford it.

So, you can see that I think we're in a similar situation except for one thing. My very compassionate vet said that we should consider urinary incontinence to be a pretty big sign that it's time to say goodbye because it affects quality of life so much. My dog isn't there yet and oddly enough I find managing the poop not really that big of a deal, but urine is another thing — it's stressful for the pup, and it can lead to infections or bed sores. (Though I'm wondering if you've had any luck with diapers? Forgive me for asking, mine wears them sometimes and I'm shocked at how easy they are to deal with, but she's a short haired dog so undoubtedly that helps.)

I'm so sorry. I wept reading your question and all the answers. The guilt is the worst part, one of the specialists I took my dog to wanted to try a $1500 MRI followed by a $6000 surgery and I am wrecked because I said no to that, even though if I had the money I realize that a 12-year-old giant dog having spinal surgery is actually a ridiculous idea. I'm sure you have the same thoughts about ways you might have cured your pup but I have to constantly remind myself that you can't buy immortality. Your lovely dog must have had a great life to have enjoyed 14 years of life!

The thing I can do is to give my dog the Best Day Ever as often as I can, and I hope you can spend a lot of time with your sweet dog and do all the fun things she loves. If it means moving the appointment up, it's so worth it if you can let her spend a bunch of time with you instead of in the basement. (No judgement at all if coming upstairs isn't possible.)
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 9:12 PM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

First, I really feel for you. This is so hard, and I know for me this question seemed insurmountable.

I would say that you don't have to choose between being "rational" and feeling emotional. Both of those feelings can exist at the same time, and both are valid.

Then I would say that it sounds like you have been such great dog parents. You have given her 14 years of a great life, full of walks and love. As her health has declined, you've cared for her in all sorts of ways. She knows that, and she would tell you she's grateful if she could. Now, at this point in her life, you have an opportunity to give her one more act of love, by letting her go and easing her pain. This isn't admitting defeat, and it's not something to feel guilty about--you've done absolutely everything in your power to give her the best life, and now you're making the best decision for her well-being that you can. If she could talk, I know she would thank you.

Sending the three of you warm thoughts. I hope you find peace soon.
posted by soonertbone at 12:45 PM on January 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for answers and sharing your stories. You were all right...and it was still so painful. I have it pretty compartmentalized for now, so not too much to add, but thank you.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:52 PM on February 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

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