HOW WILL WE KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME?
Maybe we learned most of what we know in kindergarten, but some adult dilemmas seem to have no answers. In fact, I think that’s the very definition of an adult-sized problem-the quandary with no apparent solution. And the one that presents itself in my world over and over again is one that sounds like this: “Dr. Riley, how will we know when it’s the right time to have ‘Justine’ put to sleep?”
The angst reverberates through the words, the tone of voice. Justine may be a venerable old mare, a beloved kitty, a nice elderly Labrador Retriever, or a young pup with cancer. While nobody wants to make the decision, equally so they don’t want to decide and get it wrong.
Recently my fading lady Irish Wolfhound; ‘Alice,’ went to heaven. Each morning I dreaded finding her gone is her sleep, yet yearned not to have to make the decision. How would I know when it was time? Would it be the day she couldn’t keep anything down and felt sick as hell? Or the day her hind legs just didn’t seem to work?
I could only tell myself what I’d told my clients through the years- that one day you’ll wake up, look at Justine and know without a doubt that today is the day. If you have doubts, then today isn’t the day. I reminded myself of this bit of advice that had held up through the years for so many others. People would tell me, “Dr. Riley, I never really understood what you meant but then one day I just knew that I couldn’t let my dog suffer another minute. The loving thing to do was to send her along to heaven that day.”
And so, a couple of weeks ago, after Alice had suffered two days of not eating and scarcely leaving her mattress except for necessity (and she was so ill she didn’t consider drinking a necessity), I awoke to the reality that Friday was the day to say goodbye.
I had a bit of doubt so we took a walk, ate luscious food and had a long ride in the car…all her favourite activities. She couldn’t hold up or enjoy her favourite things, so off to Dr. Lisa we went and she was kind enough to do the deed. Alice’s exit was as smooth as silk. I take that as a sign that she was ready to go. I miss her dearly.
I am grateful we veterinarians have this gift, this awesome power to relieve the suffering of critters. It’s profound responsibility and one I treat with the same respect and care I would give to somebody’s infant. It’s a gift to be nurtured and never abused.
When somebody who is dithering over what to do about their Justine asks, “Dr. Riley, what would you do if Justine were your pet?” I always tell them that Justine isn’t my pet and they are the ones who will have to sleep at night with the decision. However, if they did make the decision to send Justine on to join our Alice, I would be able to sleep with the role I played in getting her there.
And in a sort of toast to Miss Alice Ann the Wolfhound, here is to all the dogs who have gone on before her – and all the dogs to come. As my friend Patty would say, “So many dogs…so little time.”
Unfortunately there comes a time when the decision must be made to euthanize a beloved pet. We can provide you with that service. Whether you accompany your pet on that final journey or not, we leave up to you the owner. Options for after euthanasia include private cremation with the ashes back in a standard or special urn (www.gatewaypetmem.com) , cremation with other pets or you may take the body back home with you for a private burial.
OVC Pet Loss Support Hotline is a telephone hotline manned by a group of veterinary students at the Ontario Veterinary College who are trained to listen and support you through your grief. They provide a non-judgemental forum in which you can express your feelings and concerns surrounding the loss of your pet. They are a resource you can use for information regarding pet loss, euthanasia and the memoralization of your pet. The hotline is actively manned Tuesday through Thursday 6 -9pm. You may also leave a message and your call will be returned. Call 519-824-4120 X 53694 or reach them at www.ovc.uoguelph.ca/petloss