How do you know when it's your pet's "time"?
As a veterinary technician, I deal with pet euthanasia regularly, and sometimes I don't agree with the reasoning for the pet to be euthanized. How do you determine when it's "time"?
This is something I struggled with myself, as I watched my rat terrier grow older and older.
He started losing his hearing at 13, so I taught him hand signals for the commands he knew---and also, one for "I love you", which would bring him close to me for a cuddle.
He started losing his hearing at 14, and by the time he was 16, was completely deaf, and could see very little. He learned to bump his way down the hall to the sunny spot in the kitchen, by walking in a sort of zig-zag, touching the walls with his shoulders to navigate. Sometimes, I'd find him standing in the hall, staring at a wall, and knew he thought he was standing in the office, staring at me, waiting for me to take him outside.
Through all this, I wondered, how will I know when it's time? My friends all told me that I'd know, but honestly, I didn't. Was I being selfish, keeping this poor little guy beyond his time, letting him live on without sight or hearing?
Then, one morning, I knew. I went to get him from his basket, and he'd wet himself. I picked him up, and carried him outside, and he collapsed. He couldn't stand up, and it was clear that one side of him was weak. I knew he'd had a stroke, so I called the vet, and asked to bring him in.
My vet was very gentle with us, as she explained what had happened, and outlined all the options. Dogs can come back from strokes, just like people---but, realistically, a dog who was just short of 18, with no sight or hearing? I just didn't see how we could help him recover, and so, we made the hard choice to let him go.
I really think my friends were right. When the time came, I knew. Even before I called the vet, I knew. I held my little guy for hours before taking him in, and I'm not sorry for making the choice I did. It was obviously his time, and it wasn't right to try to prolong his life further.
As a vet tech you have probably heard of this strategy before, but for some people it is easier to make a decision when you have visual proof of your feelings instead of trying to remember. You put two jars on the counter or table and a bowl of marbles, rocks, or anything small and roughly the same size. One jar is for good days and one is for bad. When your pet is happy and wants attention, or to play, or is just relaxed, you put a marble in the good day jar. When your pet is in a lot of pain or seems anxious, you put one in the bad day jar. Once the bad days start to outnumber the good, it doesn't seem fair to keep your loving pet alive to suffer for the most part. It can be hard to say goodbye, especially if they are having a good day at the time, but wouldn't you rather their last thoughts be happy ones full of love and not scared and in pain? Under some circumstances this strategy may not be very helpful, but especially with older pets that are just starting to give out, it can be a helpful reminder of how your pet is feeling overall, not just how you feel at the moment.
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