No one who really loves a dog wants to part with him. Sadly, dogs don’t live as long as we do, and the majority of them don’t die in their sleep.
Three of my four German Shepherds had to be put to sleep. Each experience was agonizing. I clearly remember crying and screaming, and then staggering out of the vet’s office that first time and throwing up in the bushes. I didn’t get out of bed for three days.
But I have learned valuable lessons each time. Here are five ways you can give your beloved canine the best death possible.
1. Choose the time, if possible, and don’t wait too long
I had a friend years ago who let her dog live, in my opinion, too long. Like many Shepherds, his back end wore out before the rest of him. It was obvious he was in pain in his last year. In his last months, he dragged his legs behind him and was constantly soiling himself. He often smelled strongly of urine and feces.
I tried to convince her more than once that it was time to let him go. Seeing this proud Shepherd struck down and brought low in his last months broke my heart. Dogs give us their best every single day that they’re alive. And they deserve our best every day, but especially when the end comes. No one wants to part with a dog too early, but please don’t wait too long.
2. Choose the right location
It used to be that you had one choice: Take your dogs to the vet and have them put to sleep. Vets will now make house and other location calls so that your dog may leave this earth in a location of your choosing. This could be in his bed in your living room or a field in which she loves to run. If you don’t want your dog to die at the vet’s office, make sure you discuss this option with your vet in advance.
3. Stay with your dog!
I just don’t understand those people who drop a dog off at the vet to have her put to sleep or don’t go into the room with the dog. I knew a guy who turned his dog in as a stray so they would put the dog down and he wouldn’t have to be involved. Horrible. If you could be with any loved one at his end, you probably would. Many people agonize over not being there when a loved one dies, and it haunts them afterward. Why would you not be with your dog? In her last moments, your dog should be comforted by the person she loved best, not left with strangers.
4. Make it as easy as possible
I was gutted the morning I woke to find my first Shepherd, Pasha, who I raised from 6 1/2 weeks old to 9 1/2 years, in crisis. Although her hips and back had started to be trouble for her, she was healthy and had regular checkups. However, a tumor that had never showed itself burst, rupturing her spleen, and she was bleeding internally. The vet said, “You’ll have to put her down. She likely wouldn’t survive the surgery, and if that’s cancer, it has already metastasized.”
I was in shock for a few minutes. And while they had her in the back giving her fluids, I took a moment to go outside and just bawl. Then I suddenly had this clear thought: “These next moments are not about me. They are about her. I can curl up and die later. I owe her the best I can give her right now. And that means comforting her and giving her as peaceful a death as possible.”
5. Make it as good as it can be
When I realized I had to part with Pasha and decided the situation wasn’t about me, I did what I could to make it better for her. I sent a friend to a nearby convenience store for honey-roasted peanuts, which Pasha loved but didn’t get very often, and a HUGE chocolate bar. We all know dogs love chocolate but that it’s not OK for them, right? Well, I figured since she was dying anyway, she might as well have it.
And the beautiful girl who didn’t eat her breakfast or her biscuits at home that morning wolfed down those peanuts and that chocolate so fast that I almost wavered at that point about my decision, temporarily thinking it meant she’d be OK. After the chocolate, though, she sighed and leaned into me, almost like she was saying thanks and that she was ready to go. I held her while the vet gave her the shot, singing her puppy song to her and telling her how much I loved her. I held her until she started to go cold. And I didn’t cry or scream or act like a crazy person until I knew she was gone.
My second Shepherd, Ellie, was a serious food hound. (OK, that’s probably most Shepherds.) When she blew out a knee at nearly 15 years of age, she had to be put to sleep. She had been battling cancer, and winning, for more than a year, but her back and hips were failing fast, so the now incredibly painful knee was literally the last straw.
Knowing how she felt about food and treats, my vet mixed her up a giant bowl of dry and canned food, and while she was wolfing it down with me holding her head and the bowl, he put the sedative in her back leg. She nodded off in the dish, and I smile to this day thinking about how she likely approved. Might as well go doing something you love, no?
There is time for tears afterward. When the time comes, forget about yourself and do right by your dog.