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How to Euthanize a Dog - the Right Way

Updated on January 11, 2015
Hamlet loved the grandkids.
Hamlet loved the grandkids. | Source

A Dog’s Love

There’s nothing in the world quite like a dog’s love. Being loved by other people is wonderful, of course, but it’s a little different than being loved by a canine. Doggie love is unconditional, so they love you no matter what. They rarely get mad with their humans, and even if and when they do, it’s usually short lived. After a few minutes of pouting, they’re over it and once again ready to shower you with affection. For many people, a dog becomes a member of the family, almost like a child. You care for the pooch every day, as it looks to you for all its needs. It sees you as its special god, and it loves you more than anything in the world. In your dog’s eyes, you are perfect. Other than the basic necessities of life, it wants nothing more than to be close to you. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve owned, bred, and worked with many dogs over the years, and it hurt terribly when each one left this earthly domain. Earlier this week, I had to say goodbye to Hamlet, the best dog I’ve ever had. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I think we did it the best way possible. In my humble opinion, it’s how to euthanize a dog - the way to do it with as much comfort as possible.

The first day we brought Hamlet home.
The first day we brought Hamlet home. | Source

Inside Dog vs. Outside Dog

I think we dog-lovers get closer to inside dogs – the ones who live in our homes with us. I’m not saying you can’t get extremely close to dogs that live outdoors, but it’s just not quite the same. It’s natural to have more interaction with an indoor dog because most of us spend more time inside our homes than we do outside our homes. In my case, Hamlet was by my side almost 24/7 because I’m retired. While everyone else in the house was at work and the kids were at school, Hamlet was my only company. He slept in my bed with me every night until a few months ago, when arthritis in his hips and hind legs prevented him from jumping onto the bed. At that point, he began sleeping on a doggie bed that was placed at the foot of my bed.

When we ate, Hamlet ate. When we laughed, Hamlet laughed with us in his canine way. When we were sad, he tried to comfort us. When we were worried about something, he sensed it. I grew closer to Hamlet than I had to any other pet – ever. I thought putting him down was going to kill me. And at the time, I almost wished I could die with him.

He really was the world's best dog.
He really was the world's best dog. | Source
Hamlet, on his eighth birthday.
Hamlet, on his eighth birthday. | Source

World’s Best Dog

Hamlet was the best dog in the world. For one thing, he was the smartest dog I’ve ever known. He had a huge list of commands he readily obeyed. A few were taught, but he learned most of them on his own, just by being in almost constant contact with me. He was extremely easy to train, not only because he was so smart, but also because he was so willing. He wanted to learn because he wanted so badly to please me.

Hamlet was also a wonderful guardian. A Great Dane, Hammie was huge and imposing, with a deep, menacing sounding bark and growl. Even so, he wasn’t at all aggressive – unless he thought I was in danger. When a strange person or animal approached, he got as close to me as he could, placing himself between me and the other entity. He’d stand there, growling, until I told him everything was okay. When he knew I was safe, he loved everybody and everything. He was gentle with our cats and with other dogs he met.

Hammie was the most human-like dog I’ve ever known. He seemed to understand almost everything I said, and he always sensed how I felt. When I was sad or upset, he’d rub his big head against me and give me that special look that only a dog can give. When I was sick and bedridden, he rarely left my side. He’d get up only to relieve himself and to drink water. Hubby used to tease me that he was going to buy Hamlet a nurse’s cap.

Although he loved everyone, Hamlet was totally my dog. He never wanted to leave my side. He’d often ignore voice commands from my husband and from other humans, but he always obeyed me instantly. He did everything in his power to make me happy. Never in my life have I had any creature – animal or human – so devoted and loving.

Hamlet was always part of our celebrations.
Hamlet was always part of our celebrations. | Source
We knew in our hearts it was time to let our old friend go.
We knew in our hearts it was time to let our old friend go. | Source

When to Say Goodbye

The average life expectancy of a Great Dane is six to eight years. We celebrated his eighth birthday this past November, and I knew our time together was growing short. By the first of December, he was losing weight at an alarming rate, and he developed a painful knot on his front right wrist. We took him to the vet, and the vet gave us some anti-inflammatories to try. He told us if they didn’t help, we needed to bring Hamlet back to the clinic.

The pills didn’t help, and in fact, the knot got bigger and more painful. We took him back to the vet last Wednesday, and x-rays and other tests were performed. We had to leave Hammie at the clinic. Not long after hubby and I got home, the vet called with devastating news: Hamlet had bone cancer, and it had already spread. Nothing could be done to treat the disease. Our veterinarian told us how painful the cancer was and suggested euthanasia.

I was completely heartbroken and devastated. How could I let my wonderful boy go? I tried to look at the situation objectively and decide what was best for my devoted companion. As I said, he had terrible arthritis in his back end, and now it was very painful for him to put weight on his front right leg. Yet, he insisted on getting up and following me, no matter where I went in the house. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I realize his devotion to me was adding to his agony.

Our vet also said that with bone cancer, the bones become very brittle and can be easily broken. What if Hamlet suffered a fracture? What if it happened in the middle of the night or on a weekend? In either case, Hammie would be in a lot of pain before we could get a vet to see him. The vet said with enough pain meds, we might be able to keep Hamlet alive for three or four more weeks - maybe.

How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye to your pet? Believe me – it’s not easy. Try to look realistically at your furkid’s life. How much pain is it in? Is it a struggle just to eat, drink, and potty? How much enjoyment of life is your furry companion really getting? Try not to think about how the loss is going to affect you. Put your pet’s best interest first. He or she can’t tell you how it feels, and most animals are good at not displaying pain symptoms. Your vet should be able to offer some advice, too.

I thought and thought about what to do, and I finally decided that I didn’t want Hamlet to suffer through more weeks of pain. This type of cancer is very aggressive, and it makes breathing difficult when it spreads to the lungs. My boy had been such a wonderful companion, I didn’t think he deserved that sort of death.

Hamlet's last hour was spent with love and in comfort.
Hamlet's last hour was spent with love and in comfort. | Source

Best Way to Euthanize a Dog

Hamlet was terrified of the vet’s office. When we had taken him on Wednesday, he tried his best to claw himself out the door. I hated the thought of having him put down at the clinic, as I didn’t want him to die being so afraid. We picked him up that afternoon and brought him home, with some pain medications. We wanted his last hours with us to be as pain-free as possible.

That evening, I made him a special dinner – rice, gravy, and chicken. The grandchildren I live with all loved on Hamlet and told him goodbye. My middle daughter and her family came over and did the same. Hamlet had always been especially fond of my grandchildren. Our best friends came over to visit their old pal, too. They brought him some cookies and fed them to him. We took lots of photos with our furkid. My youngest daughter brought Hammie some ice cream, and I decided to save that for breakfast.

The next morning, we arranged for our vet to come to our house to do the job. That way, Hamlet wouldn’t have to be taken to the veterinary clinic. He could die at home, where he was happy. Hubby went to the vet’s office and came home with some pills to relax Hamlet, and we gave them to him after his ice cream breakfast. We wanted to make the experience as peaceful as possible for our beloved pet.

When dogs are euthanized, they often empty their bowels, so we placed a large plastic sheet on the living room floor. In the center of the plastic, we placed Hamlet’s bed and his favorite blanket. Once he’d taken the pills, we got him to lie on his bed, and we got on the floor with him. We stroked him and told him how much we loved him and what a good dog he’d always been.

The vet and a helper arrived at 11:00 a.m. Hamlet was so relaxed he didn’t even acknowledge their presence. He didn’t so much as flinch when the needle was inserted, either. He just drifted off and stopped breathing. Our beautiful boy was gone, but he died without fear and without pain, and with lots of love. Don’t you think that’s the best way to euthanize a pet?

Hamlet and Grendel, as puppies.
Hamlet and Grendel, as puppies. | Source
Hamlet and Grendel, in their prime.
Hamlet and Grendel, in their prime. | Source

Dealing with Pet Loss

We’re never ready to say goodbye to our pets. We want them to live forever, or at least for as long as we live. Sadly, that’s not the way nature works. Compared to us, most animals have short life spans, and Great Danes have one of the shortest of all dog breeds. You don’t know how hard it was to let Hamlet go. Seriously, I thought it was going to kill me, and I’m still aching inside. But I know in my heart that we did the kindest thing we could. Hamlet had a wonderful life and a peaceful, painless death. I wish my own death could be like Hamlet’s.

From the time I learned about the bone cancer until Friday morning, I cried nonstop. My chest hurt, and I could barely breathe. I couldn’t eat. I just couldn’t imagine a life without my fur baby. For me, the worst was the next morning after he died. We always greeted each other the first thing every morning, and he wasn’t there at the foot of my bed, and he never would be again. That first night without him was tough, too. Before I went to bed every night, I hugged Hamlet and told him I loved him, but his bed was gone, and so was he.

There were several times when I wished we’d never gotten Hamlet. If I’d never known him, I wouldn’t be in so much pain. I’ve never experienced such agonizing emotional pain in my life, not even when my parents died. Maybe I’m not normal to mourn a pet so much, but I can’t help it. Fortunately, I have people around me who understand how important my Hammie was to me. I have three daughters, and I think Hamlet was like the son I never had. He was so much more than a dog to me.

By noon on Friday, I finally stopped crying. It didn’t last long, though. We had Hamlet cremated, and hubby brought home the ashes in an urn at lunchtime, and the tears came back. As I lovingly held the urn, I had a hard time imagining that such an amazing animal could be nothing more than grey ash. On the other hand, it was comforting for me to know that my boy’s remains were with me instead of in the cold, uncaring hands of some stranger.

Most people feel better after a “good cry,” so I didn’t even want to repress my tears. I wanted to cry. I wanted to wallow in my grief. I went through every photograph we’d ever taken of Hamlet, from the first day we brought him home to the day he died. I remembered as many happy days as I could – days we’d spent together. I even watched sad videos and listened to sad songs to keep the tears flowing.

I’m not ashamed of my tears. When friends and family members came over yesterday to check on me, I cried openly in front of them. They understood. I talked about Hamlet – what a wonderful dog he was and how much I missed him. My daughter made a memorial brochure about Hamlet, and I look at it frequently. I also sleep with Hamlet’s collar in my hand. It makes me feel closer to him, somehow.

Everyone grieves differently, so there’s no “right way” to grieve for your deceased pet. For me, crying was and still is cathartic. Staying busy helps, too. I’ve also found that talking to others who’ve lost beloved pets helps. I’m not the only human who’s had to endure this sort of emotional pain, even though I feel like no one ever loved an animal as much as I loved Hamlet. Of course, I’m sure many other people who’ve lost a dog or other pet feel the same way. Also, don’t let anyone belittle the way you feel. Some humans might think or even say you’re being silly to mourn an animal in such a way. Don’t listen to them. You know how you felt about your pet – they don’t. Your grief is personal, and it’s yours. Do what feels right for you.

If you're a writer like I am, writing down your feelings might help you deal with them. You might want to write down some of your favorite memories involving your pet, or you might prefer creating a poem or a special tribute. Just writing this article was cathartic for me. I'm also an artist, and I painted a portrait of Hamlet when I knew his days were numbered. Something else you might consider doing is creating a scrapbook or photo album in memory of your animal family member.

And, believe it or not, time does help you heal. I was almost – but not quite - as upset when we lost our other Great Dane, Grendel, in May. I cried for days at first, but over time, the tears tapered off, and I was able to enjoy thinking of the good times I had with Grendel – memories with smiles instead of tears. This hasn’t really happened yet with Hamlet’s death, but I feel sure that it will at some point. I’ll always miss him, though, and he’ll always have a powerful hold on my heart. I’ve never had a dog like Hamlet, and I know I’ll never have another pet that even comes close. He was a once-in-a-lifetime fur baby, and I was blessed to have had him for over eight wonderful years.

Rainbow Bridge

Finding Peace When Your Pet Dies


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