It Has a Sad Ending


There, you’ve had a moment to click away if necessary, if you really can’t stomach it right now. Just know that a brief education on this aspect of pet ownership is essential; otherwise, you’re going to be blindsided when it’s eventually time for a parting of the ways with your beloved companion.

When we fall for an animal, we sign a contract that can’t be undone. He is going to give and give from a bottomless supply of unconditional love for some heretofore unspecified period of time, often 11-15 years. At the conclusion of the term, he will leave, because the magic to make him stay forever has yet to be imagined. When the contract expires, you will allow him to complete his duties and move on. This will feel terrible. You will grieve and be angry and try desperately to file an appeal, but the contract is binding. A tiny part of you will look back bitterly on the day you signed it, even though you got a really good deal. He gave everything he had for years, and you needed only to arrange a decent departure. On paper, it looks pretty manageable. At the end, though, it’s often very difficult to see straight.

That brings me to the most agonizing decision many of us will ever face. Should I take my pet to the vet and have him put to sleep, or should I just wait at home until he dies a natural death? “Dying a natural death” has certainly been around a long time, but the process hasn’t improved at all. It virtually never unfolds like what you’ve seen in the movies. According to all of our favorite films and TV, those who live the most honorable lives are destined to finish them in a peaceful and dignified way. Our precious dogs and cats are nothing if not honorable; unfortunately, exit sequences are bestowed by the Law of the Jungle and not by the Way of Disney. Please allow me to leave it at this—natural deaths can be chaotic and very unkind.

Making your departure escorted by a caring veterinary team is another story entirely. It’s scary going to the clinic, but not more scary than all the times you went for your annual checkup—better, in fact, because Mom and Dad both came. Your brief visit with the IV team is pretty much exactly like the times you had to give a blood sample in previous years. Then it’s back to the exam room for a cuddle. Looks like the family might need another one of your famous pep talks. Doc comes in, but she promises that your nails don’t need a trim. Wrapped in a soft blanket and showered with compliments, you can’t seem to stay awake to hear the comforting murmur of their voices.

That’s it. The contract clearly states that this will be a painful day for humans, but it’s barely a nuisance for the cherished pet. Someday, in another piece, we’ll discuss how to select the “right” time for this daunting event.

Dr. M.S. Regan