By Kater Leatherman

            People are spending thousands of dollars to prolong the lives of their pets.  Instead of making them comfortable, we are seeking cures for their old age, ultimately changing the natural course of things. At some point, we have to ask ourselves: What are we gaining in the process?

Many of us remember a time before leash laws when pets were allowed to roam free. Some pets would simply wander off when they were ready to die. Others were killed by automobiles or stolen. Different circumstances warrant different choices and, more and more, we find ourselves having to make the awful decision to terminate the life of a pet.

It is estimated that 27 percent of the population now lives alone. Social media and television never quite fill the void of loneliness and, for some people, pets are the only real bond. We are the center of their universe. When you consider their unmatched loyalty and unconditional love as well as their ability to forgive, this is not an easy reality to face.

Are we terrified of a grief so intense that we may never fully recover after we lose our beloved pets? Singer songwriter Judy Collins describes deep grief as having the “power of gale winds, the force of earthquakes, the fire of tempest.” This might be the other thing that motivates us to prolong the loss. We’re so attached that we can’t imagine our lives without them. Yet, keeping a pet alive when it is ready to die is worse.

A few years ago, my sister finally put her dog down. Her only regret was that he suffered longer than necessary because she and her husband couldn’t bear to end his life. When it finally happened, they were so devastated that it took them a month before they could do anything beyond shop for groceries, get the mail and answer phone messages.

So, how do we know when it’s time? I have a client who asked her dog to give her a sign. She finally got one when he refused to eat for three days. Beyond asking for a sign, there is no one single rule. However, most vets agree that the quality of a pet’s life is a major consideration.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the illness recurring or getting worse, thereby threatening your finances?
  • Are you compromising the health of your back by having to carry your pet up and down the stairs?
  • Is caring for your chronically ill pet causing stress for you and your family?  

Aging or sick pets have good days and bad days.  To monitor this, mark your calendar for one month.  If they’ve had more bad days than good, then you’ll know.

While your pet can’t talk to you, there are clues such as personality changes and odd behaviors. Some will begin to lose interest in their owners. Others, when they are ready to say goodbye, will sleep in dark corners or on hard surfaces, have trouble breathing, experience muscle twitching, or pace a lot. One friend told me that every time she walked into a room, her dog would move to another room.  Instinctively, he was trying to separate himself from “the pack” (you are the leader of the pack) so as not to slow the pack down in the wild.

It’s hard to know if a pet will die naturally or have to be assisted with his demise but, either way, it’s important to prepare for the separation both logistically and emotionally. As they age, we have the opportunity to grieve our pets in bits and pieces so we don’t feel emotionally overwhelmed when they finally go. If you love your pet, and it is terminally ill or in chronic pain, then let it go with some dignity.  No doubt they have lived a long, full life while enhancing yours with love, pleasure and companionship. Euthanasia, administered at the right time, is a blessing to your pet, as well as to yourself.

Kater Leatherman is a professional organizer/home stager, yoga teacher and self-published author who inspires others to live better. Visit her website at www.katerleatherman.com or email [email protected]            






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