The Hard Decision
My dog, Scooby, will be 16 years old in July. By all appearances, Scooby is a happy senior pup; he’s got skin issues and some gross warts, but he seems bright and alert. So why am I having quality of life discussions with his vet?
If a stranger looks at him, they don’t know what those close to him do. They don’t recognize the slow deterioration of his mental state or see the subtle changes in his walk. There are obvious signs of health issues: his back-end shakes and every once in awhile he stumbles. I watch the little changes in Scooby and justify them. “It’s colder today than yesterday, that’s why he’s shaking more.” Or, “oh, those are just normal signs of age.” I don’t want to accept that Scoo can’t live as long as I do. He’s my family and I don’t want to think about the day when I’ll have to say, “goodbye.”
As a member of an incredible animal clinic, I remind myself of the candle we use when a client has made this painful decision. I think of words I say more than I’d like: this is the most difficult but loving thing you can do for your pet. When my girlfriend and I walked into the exam room and discussed quality of life with his veterinarian, I repeated those words. We had no intention of euthanizing Scooby that day or even that month, but we needed to be prepared. Even as a member of a medical team, I needed an objective point of view. My partner and I needed to be able to tell a professional our observations and concerns so we could be prepared. In Scooby’s case, when do we know he’s in pain (and his medications are no longer working)? Are there specific signs that might tell us we’re dealing with an emergency? We discussed the details/process of the euthanasia itself.
During the appointment, our veterinarian said something very important. She told us that she supported us and our decision. In that moment, I snapped out of client and into medical professional. I wondered how many clients worry about what we think. I thought of all the clients who say they don’t know how we do our jobs. And I remembered the situations when we had no relationship with a pet and had to examine it first. What must go on in our clients minds? I want to tell you what my veterinarian told us: we support you. We are always going to be advocates for the animal first and foremost— that is why we are in this profession. But through the laughter and tears, we’ll be by your side.
If you or someone you know is preparing for your dog or cat’s end of life, we have resources available:
And for those of you who ask how we do our jobs: there are certainly cases and days when these appointments are overwhelming. We need each other, our loved ones, or a distraction to help us afterward; but we can do it because when we chose to get into this field, we agreed to protect and heal animals through all stages of their lives. This is one of the most profound stages and we owe it to the pet (and you) to protect them from pain and heal them one last time.