We were lucky. Though we still had to say goodbye to our beloved dog, being able to let her go while in a quiet home setting gave us as much peace as it probably did her. We had a great veterinarian but driving in the car, and any amount of time at the vet stressed our dog out, from day one. When she was younger, driving in the car 20 minutes meant she'd get the chance to spend an hour or two at the beach, one of her favorite places. We felt that type of stress was a fair trade, and I think she did too. Everyone, including our dogs, deserve the chance to die with dignity and in peace.
Sometimes tragedy strikes and a peaceful ending isn't an option, but if you had the chance to give your dog the opportunity to pass on, from their own home, would you take it?
Having "the conversation" with family
End-of-life conversations blow, I'll say this right up front. You have them because you should, not because you want to. We had a very difficult time talking about our dog's demise. We loved Cleo more than anything, I hated embracing this inevitable loss, this void she would leave. But, I also knew that after what we'd been through together, I couldn't let her down. I couldn't give any less fearlessly than she had over these many years. I had to man up and be her guardian to the very end, and that meant talking about her ending.
My husband and I discussed possible experiences and outcomes over many, many months. It look us a long time to come to a decision because I admit that no matter how tough you are, the end-of-life conversation isn't something you can have every day, or in any casual manner. We had to put weeks between our conversations. The emotions we experienced took their toll, and we needed a healthy amount of time between conversations to absorb everything.
Be Kind to Yourself
Our dog suffered from separation anxiety. She would howl if we left her alone for more than five minutes and the house got quiet. I developed the habit of making lots of noises when I was downstairs just so she'd know that I was there, even if not in the same room. During this period of talking about Cleo's end-of-life, I had bouts of separation anxiety. It was a struggle to get to an emotional place where I could accept her departure. Once again I realized my internal struggle was another opportunity for me to learn from my old dog. My empathy and compassion deepened. I understood her desire to feel reassured that her family was close by. We knew that if she could pass on ahead of us, from her own home, surrounded by loved ones, it would be our final gift to her.
Choosing in-home euthanasia
This choice we made for our dog was personal and took awhile before we got there. Besides our own long conversations as a family, we spoke to Cleo's veterinarian, then a veterinarian specializing in home hospice and euthanasia. They were able to talk us through the process, offering us varying degrees of involvement. We knew in advance to have her favorite music playing in the background, and a pile of her favorite salmon and veg treats. We loved on her every second and told her that it was okay, and actually important, that she go on ahead of us. We whispered that we needed her to know what was ahead, so she could report back to each of us when we arrived. I gave her dog treats until she couldn't eat anymore, then put their stinky crumbs near her nose.
Being surrounded by the smells and sounds of love was the best gift we could give our dog at the end. I believe that we made the right choice for Cleo and for us. It's been over a month now, and I'm still grieving, but I can look back on her final time with us and feel good -- that I did right by her. Yes, it was tough to see her pass in front of my eyes, but as they wrapped her up in her blanket, and carried her out on the stretcher to the ambulance, I knew she left in peace. She was cremated in her blanket also.
A Final Gift
It's tough going through this phase but honestly I wouldn't change any of it. The reason is that I feel it's cheating (and selfish) if you think you can have all the amazing love and companionship of a wonderful dog, and skip this critical stage. I truly feel we were lucky to have the chance to give her this final gift -- and that once again, what we gave to her, ultimately benefited us.
Cleo taught me that adoption makes a great first choice, that dogs give fearlessly and that the positive influence of senior dogs is worth any amount of sadness if they pass on ahead of you. And you know, I have a feeling she's not done influencing my life yet. What do you think?