What’s Right For Your Dog’s End-of-Life?

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I don’t want to put our dog, Simon, to sleep. I’m OK with him dying. I will be very sad, but I’ve also seen this coming. I just don’t want to end his life any sooner than he naturally would live unless he really is so close to the end.

I’ve been getting a lot of advice from friends, and many of them suggest we put him to sleep because that is what’s best. My wife even suggests it, though more obliquely. I tell them I will know when, and when I do know, I won’t wait. But it isn’t now.

Simon is a boxer. He’s 11. He has cardiomyopathy, and he really isn’t expected to live much longer. He has slowed a lot in just the past week. He gets winded climbing the stairs and going outside to do his business. He sleeps a lot. I have to carry his 75lb. frame upstairs. Those aren’t reasons to put him to sleep.

For the past few weeks, I’ve tried to think of specific reasons why I struggle with putting him down. The first bit is the euphemisms like putting him “down” or “to sleep.” Doesn’t sound so pleasant? Let’s “put him sleep” like he will just lay down and rest, you know, forever. Or we could put him “down” like any other object we own. How inoffensive. But regardless of what we call it, we are killing our dogs.

So then I thought about the practice of euthanizing a dog, and I listened to the reasons people used. They are all animal lovers, but their reasons ring with a bit of self-preservation and even, dare I say it, convenience. I know in my heart that these well-meaning folks wouldn’t euthanize their pets for convenience, but I can’t shake the idea that someone would. How would I know for sure?

See, I really feel like sometimes we convince ourselves into thinking that it’s the “humane” thing to do; that it somehow eases the dog’s pain. But I really think, in Simon’s case, euthanizing him now would just ease our pain. We have no way to judge his pain. We can only judge ours. Since we humans don’t have control over the end-of-life for our human family, we resort to controlling the end-of-life for our furry family, and assuage our guilt by using euphemisms and platitudes. When in fact we don’t want to bear witness to the deterioration that comes with the end-of-life. We don’t want to see our beloved pet “suffer”. I agree, but this is a decision that isn’t entered into nonchalantly.

I feel there is value in those last few days of life. I have been in the room when three people died. Their last hours, their last gasps for air, we’re truly horrifying for all of us gathered. Honestly, I wouldn’t want everyone sitting in a hospital room staring at me while I was dying, but then again it would be nice to be so loved and cherished that people would want to be with me when I died. Each of those people who died were all enveloped with the love of the people around them. It wasn’t clinical. It wasn’t antiseptic. It was real. It was cathartic.

Simon, who comes from the working dog group, has done his job well. He has provided us with protection, entertainment, and (most importantly) unconditional love and loyalty. I feel I owe him more for his service than to do what’s “best” when it still rings of what’s “convenient.”

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