am asked quite often, "How do you know when it is time to put
your best friend to sleep?"
This aspect of owning and loving dogs makes this decision one of
the hardest we will ever have to make. I do not think there is one
answer that is right for all people. I do not know if there really
is a right answer. I think we must all search deep in our hearts
for the answer that is right for each of us. One thing I know for
certain is that there is no one who is more capable about this decision
than the person who loves the dog. I know that the decision should
be made out of true love for your friend. I have had to make this
decision quite a few times in the past. It was never easy, and I
shed a lot of tears hoping I was doing the right thing.
The friend I had the
most agony over was my beloved Stride. I could not even imagine,
at any time during his life, that one day I might be faced with
this decision. I know it was not very realistic to leave this possibility
from my consciousness. Stride was such a big part of my soul and
life without him had never occurred to me. As I watched him getting
older, I never saw him as an old dog. The light in his eyes was
all I had ever seen. Even today it is this light in his eyes I remember.
It is the love between us that I revel in. Dogs give us so much
and ask for so little in return. When the nightmare began, and my
first awareness of reality occurred, the death of Stride became
inevitable. I still could not comprehend it. As I watched this noble
dog begin to show the symptoms of the brain tumor, the realization
slowly started to sink in. For the first time in my life, I knew
I might to have to end the life of someone I loved with all my heart.
I did not think I was capable of making this awful decision. I did
not want the responsibility and prayed that I would not have to
end Stride's life. Deep in my heart, I knew that when it was
time I would do the right thing for my beloved Stride. I knew the
decision would be made with love and full awareness of the choice.
I would like to share with each of you what I use as my criteria
for this decision. Again, these are my own thoughts and may not
be right for you. It has taken me a long time to be able to write
this, but I have a strong desire to share our story with each of
you. I hope by sharing my own personal story that this will help
you when you are faced with the horror. The first part of this article
will be geared with the criteria I used. In the second part, I will
share with you what I did with the rest of the dogs in the house,
after Stride was gone. I think it is important for the rest of the
dogs to know what happened and to help them deal with it.
Stride had a brain tumor.
It was inoperable, and he was not a candidate for radiation. The
tumor was in a deep part of the brain and effected his balance and
esophagus. He was treated with steroids and lived four months after
the diagnosis. The last few weeks of his life had me beginning to
understand that I may have to make this choice. I could not even
fathom how I would do this. I prayed that he would die on his own.
I asked the vet in Boston if this were possible. He told me that
I would probably have to make the decision; as to let Stride die
on his own would be a horrible death. I dont know how many
tears I cried.
The last week, things
started to go wrong. He had nosebleeds and stomach swelling from
the air he swallowed when eating or drinking. He required a lot
of care, but I did not mind at all. I slept on the floor with him.
He still had a good appetite; although, I had to hand feed him everything
he ate or drank. He was continent. He still knew who I was and responded
to my voice and presence. He needed help with the stairs and did
a lot of sleeping. I never left his side. I loved taking care of
him and spent hours-saying goodbye. On Friday, he did not eat and
seemed to be distressed. I called my vet and asked her to come to
the house and put him to sleep. She was busy but said she could
come later that night, about ten o clock. I told her OK, as I would
have time to say my last good by. I spent the rest of the time talking
and stroking my friend. I did a lot of laughing about all the funny
things we did together, thanking him for sharing my life and making
it so much better. About nine thirty he got up and wanted to eat.
I made him a steak and ate it all. He wanted to go out and potty.
He did that and needed some help relieving the gas. As I was massaging
his belly, the doorbell rang, and it was my vet.
All of a sudden panic
came over me and this did not seem right. Stride was better and
was quietly lying at my feet. I asked her to wait a while, as I
was not sure this was the right thing to do. She said yes, and we
sat and talked about him. She told me I was making the right decision.
She spent four hours with me, but I could not do it. I know she
thought I was doing this for myself and not for Stride. Something
inside me just knew this was not the right time. She left, and as
soon as she did, I wondered if I was right. Fear swept over me.
I was afraid something would happen in the middle of the night.
I slept on the floor with him, and we had a quiet night.
Just before the sun rose,
I grabbed a couple of quilts and Stride and I went to sit on the
deck. It was freezing, but I wrapped the quilt around us. I was
distraught, and I reached out to God to help me make this decision.
I looked deep in my heart and tried to see if I was keeping him
alive for myself or for him. After a while, calmness came over
me. I knew that I was the only person who could make this choice
for Stride. No one in the world loved him as much as I did. No one
wanted what was best for him more than I did. What constitutes quality
of life, and when is life not worth living? These were the two questions
that I needed the answers for. I looked deep in my heart and out
to God for the answer. My vet had told me that Stride was not happy,
because he could not do the things he was use to doing. The more
I thought about that, the more I realized that each and every one
of us is going to get old and not be able to do what we use to.
This does not mean we should not live.
How does one really know
when death is better than life? All of a sudden an insight came
to me, and the decision was perfectly clear.
I had to use the same
criteria for Stride that I would want for myself. The following
five needs would have to be missing before I would want to die.
I must not be a burden, either financial or emotional, to those
who took care of me. Stride was not a burden and I wanted to take
care of him. I was so happy to be able to give this friend something
back for all he did for me. I was thankful for each moment we shared.
I must be able to communicate with those who loved me. If not verbally,
at least with my eyes and spirit. I must have an interest in the
world around me. Stride was able to communicate until the very end.
He knew Frank and I and wagged his tail whenever we spoke to him.
He played with his toys and still commanded the rest of the dogs
in the house. No one ever tried to alter the order of dominance.
I must not be in agonizing pain all the time. There were times when
Stride was in pain, but it was not constant. These boughs of pain
happened often, but I was always able to make him more comfortable.
He had medicine that helped with the pain and medicine that helped
with the gas.
I must be able to eat and drink and take my medicine in order to
help myself. Stride did eat and take his medicine up until the last
day. His loss of eating was the first sure sign I had and knew that
the time had come. The day he died was the first time I could not
get the medicine into him.
I must have my dignity. I could never lose complete control of all
my bodily functions and want to live. This lost of control would
mean that he would be separated from the life he knew. Stride lived
in the house his whole life and slept in the bedroom with us. I
could never see him laying in his own waste, unable to keep himself
clean. Stride had his dignity until he died.
I promised myself, if
any one of these five criteria were missing, I would put him to
sleep. I knew in my heart that I would keep this promise to myself
and to Stride. I cant tell you the relief that swept over
me once this choice was settled. A feeling of peace set in, and
I knew this was right for us. I dont know how long we were
out on the deck, but all of a sudden I felt the cold. The sun had
risen and Stride looked the best he had in a long time. Frank and
I took Stride for a ride to the water. It was cold and Stride was
excited. He wanted to get out of the car. By this time, he could
not walk to good. I decided to take him out of the car and let him
breathe the fresh air. I put him on the ground and turned my back
for one second, to get a leash. I could not believe it but Stride
was not there. To my utter horror and amazement he was running down
to the water. I chased after him, and caught up to him just as he
was about to go swimming. The water was freezing but this wonderful
dog didn'tt care. He thought we were going swimming and wanted
to be the first one in. He looked wonderful and still had a zest
for life. He taught me that animals are special for they live in
the moment. They dont worry about the future, it is the here
and now that matters. He did not know he was dying and saw only
the wonder of our swimming place. I will never forget chasing after
him and the laughter. This memory will be one of my most cherished
of Stride. The lesson is one I hope to never forget. If I had put
him to sleep the night before, I never would have this memory, or
the lesson. I was so happy that I made the right decision, I just
knew it was not the right time. I was also certain that I would
know when it was the right time for him. The rest of that weekend
went pretty smoothly. We had some wonderful time together. On Monday,
Stride had a bad day. He ate very little and spent most of the day
very quiet. My friend Celeste came down and spent the day with us.
Neither of us talked much and around four o clock, I blurted
it was time. I asked her if she would drive us to the vet. I had
told my vet I would bring him in, and asked her to put him to sleep
in the car. All of a sudden I did not want to see him dead in my
house. I helped him to the car and laid him down on a quilt. Just
as I got in the back with him, Celeste asked, "Terri, do you
think he knows what you are going to do? He looks sad and as if
he understands." I can not tell you how angry I was at Celeste.
I asked her how could she say such a thing to me? Dint she
know how awful I felt? You know something; she only said what I
also saw in his eyes. I just did not want to face it. I will always
be thankful that she had the courage to speak her mind. I told her,
she was right and we would just take him for a ride. We stopped
and bought some ice cream. Stride relaxed and ate all of it. We
brought him home and he had a great dinner. Again, it was the wrong
time. We had another quiet night.
The next day was Tuesday,
and Stride slept most of the day. He seemed very comfortable and
only ate a little of what I cooked for him. I tried liver, steak,
and finally ham. He ate the ham and was able to get his medicine.
That night, I knew that the end was near. I slept on the floor with
him and about 4:30 that morning he tried to get up. He could not
seem to stand. I called for Frank and told him Stride wanted to
go out. He carried him out but when he tried to stand him up he
couldt. I told Frank to bring him in and I would call the
vet. She promised me she would come whenever I was ready. As Frank
lay him on the blankets, I called my vet. I told Chris, it was time
for him to go. Just as I said these words, Frank said "Terri
something is wrong." As I looked at Stride, he took two breaths
and died. Very quietly and peacefully, this wonderful dog left this
world. I told Chris that I thought Stride just died. We put our
hands on his chest but there was no beating, in his heart. He was
dead. I do not know why this happened this way. I dont know
why I was so blessed, to have him die on his own, so quietly. All
I can think of is this was the last gift he could give me. The moment
I said it was time for him to go, he went. I have wondered about
this for a long time. There was a connection between us that was
not of this world. Our spirits were joined and when my spirit let
him go, his spirit left. I know that I would have put him to sleep
that morning. There would never have been any guilt. It was the
right time for him. I think I was finally able to accept his death.
I think he was finally ready to return to the universe.
I hung up the phone and
sat on the floor with him. I pet him for a while and quietly thanked
him for sharing my life. I thanked him for this last gift. I told
Frank to let the other dogs out one at a time. The first was Stepper,
and as soon as he walked out, he immediately cringed and wanted
to go outside. Naughty came next, and she slowly walked over to
Stride. She sniffed and lay down next to him. She put her head on
his neck and lay there. Scoop came next, but did not even acknowledge
Stride at all. Stepper came in again and very slowly walked up to
Stride. He sniffed him this time and, then, he too lay down next
to Stride. He was at the rear and put his head on his side. We all
were there for a while, each paying our own respects to this noble
This memory is burned
into my mind. This was the first time that one of my dogs died in
my house. It was the first time my other dogs saw the dog that died.
All my other dogs were taken to the vets. The dogs at home never
knew what happened, the dog never came back. After a few days, the
surviving dogs stopped looking for them. I never really understood
that dogs do understand death, and do pay respect to the dog that
died. This experience made me wonder how little we know about them,
and what they are capable of. That night, another strange occurrence
happened. For the first time there was turmoil in the house. The
dogs were testy with one another. An all-in-out fight happened between
Stepper and Scoop. I realized that the pecking order was not there
any more. Each dog wanted to establish a new order of dominance.
I guess Stride was such a strong figure and when his presence was
gone, the rest of the dogs needed to know who would be boss. I found
this amusing, and even though I understand this about behavior,
to actually see the dynamics happen in life was amazing to me. It
made me appreciate dogs more and seek to understand them to a higher
level. I truly love dogs and am always in awe of how wonderful they
really are. I am happy to share my life with these animals. I know
that there will be more of them lost over my lifetime. I know that
even though the pain is real, the joy far out weights the pain.
I hope that this article may help you deal with the decision we
Believe that you will
know when it is the right choice for you and your friend. When the
decision is made, remember the joy of the dog. Remember the good
times and dont dwell on the sorrow of their death. Smile at
the friendship, and you will keep them alive in your heart. This
will make their life and love worthwhile..
Take a minute, give your dog a hug, appreciate all the love and joy they bring into your life. Time with these friends is so short but the impact they have on you will last your life time.... Terri