Sadie was beautiful. I can’t think of a better word to describe her because everything about her was beautiful. Her fur was the color of deep chocolate, and her eyes were dark and kind. She loved everyone, even my cat Angelica, who just tolerated her presence. Sadie was just a happy girl, and from the moment she entered our house she knew she was loved.
Sadie was 5 years old when she came to us and enjoyed a wonderful life. However, when she turned 16, the arthritis that we had been managing with diet, exercise, natural remedies and medication kicked into high gear. It laughed in the face of everything we were throwing at it, and even though we were providing our beloved dog some relief, I knew she was in discomfort. I constantly worried about her quality of life even though she was still spry for her age, slept soundly and had a good appetite.
When people say you will know it’s time — that’s not necessarily true. Certain cases are indeed clear, but we ached over the decision. Sadie would be seemingly pain-free one day and hardly move the next, but how could we euthanize a dog who still wanted to go on walks and loved her food? We didn’t want to wait until she was utterly miserable, but it still seemed too early.
As a general rule there are a few indicators you should look out for, but be warned that they don’t all happen together and will fluctuate depending on the day. These are:
✔ Sustained loss of appetite
✔ Restlessness and inability to settle, likely due to pain and anxiety
✔ Avoiding company of people and other dogs
✔ Urinary incontinence and loss of bowel function
✔ Difficulty walking and collapse
However much you agonize over the decision, euthanasia is a blessed release for dogs who are suffering. We decided to have Sadie released at home surrounded by all the people who loved her. She received the first sedation as she was eating delicious steak and liver, and as she became sleepy we guided her to her bed and lay down next to her. Our beautiful, brown girl drifted off into a deep sleep with her head next to ours as we massaged her beautiful chocolate brown fur and told her how much we loved her. I placed my hand on Sadie’s heart as the veterinarian administered the last injection, and I felt it slow down until it stopped beating altogether. At that moment I felt like my heart would break into a thousand pieces. Our big, brown dog had gone.
I’m often asked if other dogs should be present during euthanasia. All I can say is that it is a personal decision, but I wanted my Chihuahua Jasmine to be present during the procedure. She sat on my friend’s lap while Sadie drifted off to sleep and once she had gone, jumped off and climbed onto Sadie’s large body and lay down. That was how my dogs slept and spent their days — Jasmine sitting next to or lying on top of Sadie where she felt safe. This time Jasmine just sighed and laid her head down between her front legs. She stayed there until it was time to take Sadie’s body away. Jasmine seemed to know that her best friend was gone.
We made arrangements with a pet crematorium to take Sadie’s body away for cremation, and they waited outside until it was time. My husband carried Sadie’s body to their van and laid her down on the blankets they provided. We said goodbye for the last time.
I picked up Sadie’s ashes from the crematorium the next day. The staff was so kind, and I took her into the car she so loved to ride in and hugged the box tight. I don’t know how long I sat there, but it must have been a while, because it was dark outside when I drove away.
People who have never loved a dog might think it odd that I gain comfort knowing Sadie’s ashes are with us in the living room where she loved to spend time. The gifts and artwork of Sadie that people have given us over the years adorn our walls and sit on our shelves. I miss my big, brown dog every day, and whenever I see a Chocolate Labrador, my heart goes into my mouth. One day I will spread Sadie’s ashes in the mountains she so loved to run in, but I can’t do that yet — I’m just not ready.
Sadie is with Angelica the cat and all the other animals who have walked over the Rainbow Bridge. She is running free with no pain and nothing to stop her boundless energy and joy. Our hearts still break at her loss, but what a blessing it is to have shared so many wonderful years with her. I miss you every day, Sadie. Thank you for loving us and bringing such joy into our lives. We will love you forever.
Thumbnail: Photography by Victoria Stilwell
Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer, TV personality, author and public speaker, is best known as the star of the TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the media, she’s widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, is editor-in-chief of positively.com, CEO of the VSPDT network of licensed trainers and the founder of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior — the leader in dog trainer education. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter at @victorias.