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Mourning a Pet’s Death & Celebrating Their Life

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Mourning a Pet’s Death & Celebrating Their Life

As an emergency critical care specialist, I end up euthanizing a lot of dogs and cats in the ER and ICU. If I had to guess, approximately 30 percent of my patients end up being humanely “put to sleep” within a 24-hour window of seeing me. Why? Because animals often present for end-stage disease or cancer, and by the time they show symptoms, it’s often too late.

With that, I’ve developed my “euthanasia spiel,” so I can explain the whole process in a compassionate, empathetic way to grieving, stressed pet owners. Check out “Euthanasias gone bad,” and you’ll better understand why I think it’s so important that the last memories of a pet’s life be preserved in the most beautiful, compassionate, dignified manner.

With JP, I was “lucky.” I was able to determine and control many aspects of his euthanasia process: where, when and why I was doing it. On July 4th, I finally put JP to sleep — after 370 days of being cancer-free.

As heartbreaking as it was to euthanize JP, I was so glad I did it in the comfort of my own home. No stressful car ride, no stressful visit to the vet clinic, no strange, metallic table … just a familiar place, while resting on the same beat-up old sleeping bag that he was used to snuggling on. One of my colleagues came over and humanely euthanized JP while my ex-partner and I fed him sausages and hot dogs, and surrounded him with love (and tears).

The impact afterward was profound, as it is to any pet owner who has lost a beloved four-legged or feline friend. The hardest thing for me was thinking about the veterinary medical aspect — having to deal with the mental image that my dog was in a heavy duty, black plastic bag, lying in the cooler somewhere, instead of lying in bed with me.

My only comfort? Knowing that it was just JP’s physical body that had departed. As traumatic a memory this morgue-image was, I tried to push it out of my head, knowing that “all dogs go to heaven” and that it was just a physical remnant left behind. As a pastor’s kid, I had confirmation from a legit source that all dogs do indeed go to heaven (If there are snakes, lions and lambs up there, you can bet there are dogs too…)

Next Page: What I’ve learned from my loss

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Dogs, Pet Health, Pets, , , , ,

By Dr. Justine Lee, PetMD

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Nicolas, selected from petMD

petMD is a leading online resource focused solely on the health and well-being of pets. The site maintains the world's largest pet health library, written and approved by a network of trusted veterinarians. petMD was founded to inspire pet owners to provide an ever-increasing quality of life for their pets and to connect pet owners with pet experts and other animal lovers. For more information, visit petMD.com.

447 comments

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5:35AM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

I totally agree with you! I wish more people would be able to do this in their own home. W.O.L.F Sanctuary does this with all their rescues. Not only that, they allow the pact mates to say their own goodbyes. Afterwards, they have a beautiful ceremony celebrating their life. A memorial is then placed in a special spot.

1:49PM PST on Nov 18, 2013

"With dignity"....sorry, but I'm still a mess!

1:45PM PST on Nov 18, 2013

I know this response to this post is not timely but I had to put down my wise and beautiful 16 year old dog Rebecca today... .she was one of my best friends..my other best friend is Max her buddy....it was one of the hardest things to do....Max cried...and actually jumped into her grave before burial. Of course, I was a complete mess! But it is not about me. It was the best thing for Becca.....The tears are still flowing and will for awhile.....she is now in peace without pain and dignity...she had incurable cancer. Becca will always be with me....in my heart.....my soul.....and I know I will see her again. Thank you for posting and listening.

6:49PM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

jamas desaparece el recuerdo pasan los dias, los meses, años.. y ellos siguen en nuestros recuerdos todos los dias :`D , muy bueno el articulo, me hace recordar momentos dificiles ..

3:08PM PDT on Jun 8, 2013

I lost my female leopard gecko to old age on Monday this past week. While I realize that many people think that non-furry critters aren't as easy to bond with, I must disagree. You can hold a gecko in your hand and pet it. It's not like a fish that lives in a tank and you have to keep it in water all the time. I sympathize with everyone else who has lost a beloved pet.

12:19PM PDT on May 31, 2013

Our 10 yr old Papillon passed away in her sleep on 5/23/13. We had her for 9 years. She was the first pet we had and lost.

A house is not a home without a pet. We will adopt again, but each family member is unique and a new one doesn't replace a lost.

My heart goes out to any family who loses a pet.

2:43AM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

4:35AM PDT on Apr 16, 2013

Kathy;I am so totally sorry about what happened to your baby! What an awfull thing for you both; I hope you will find peace knowing it was not your fault

7:15PM PDT on Apr 15, 2013

Not too long ago, I found out one of my cats, a beautiful white female age 13, had terminal skin cancer. I had been unaware that white cats frequently get skin cancer because their skin lacks melanin, which blocks out some of the sun. When I first took her to the vet for a wound on her head, the vet said she might have cancer, but recommended treatment with antibiotics and a multipurpose cream. Nothing helped. I took her back and the vet pointed out that she had a mass in her neck. Within two weeks, the mass had grown to four to five times what it had been. She stopped eating, though she seemed okay, though quiet. Finally, I decided to have her put down because I could bear to see her decline and suffer.
On the last ride to the vet, I held her and she purred the whole way. I couldn't bear to put her in the carrier, which she hated. When we got to the vet, I began to cry and cry. The vet prepared her and left the room. When she came back, she proceeded, not realizing the I.V. had slipped out of the vein, so the "medicine" did not enter her vein, but her tissue. In horror, I watched as my baby began to struggle and complain. It was horrible. I am furious with the vet for having allowed something to distract her instead of attending to my cat. Needless to say, I will never go back to that vet again. All I wanted for my little girl was a peaceful, painless passing - and that's exactly what she didn't have.
I like the stress in this story of celebrating a beloved pet's life. I

3:28AM PDT on Mar 17, 2013

thanks

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