In many cases, we know the time is coming. It allows us the opportunity to make some decisions in advance. Should we have him euthanized at home or the vet's office? Should our other dog come with? Should we cremate him or bury him in the backyard?
You are at the vet's practically paralyzed with fear as you listen to the words you aren't ready to hear. Nothing more can be done. It's time start thinking about what's best for your pet.
Often, desperation takes over. You aren't ready to give up the fight. Let's try more drugs. Let's hire a massage therapist. Second opinions? How about a physio therapist? You try everything, but you really know you are just stalling.
It is time. Decisions need to be made.
At Home or At the Vet's (Practical decisions)
This is a big decision and one that needs to be thought through. Try and think pragmatically instead of emotionally. Can you deal with having a spot in your house that will forever remind you of your pet's death? Some find it comforting while others may think they can deal with it, but find out afterwards they can't.
What is the downside of going to the vet's office? In my case I didn't want to have to walk through a waiting room full of happy people and their pets knowing I would walk in with a dog but walk out with my heart ripped apart.
Another option may be available. I arranged that when I felt it was time, the vet would come to our house. I had hoped for a beautiful day so Jake could be outside and peacefully drift off while under his favorite apple tree.
What about other family Pets?
What about the other family pets? Should you let them be there? It might be very comforting for the pet who is being euthanized. However, you really need to think about the surviving pet. We decided the decision was best left up to our other pet. He will let you know what he wants to do. Don't force the issue. It's his decision and he will make the right one for him.
What to do with his remains?
Another decision is what to do with his remains? There are pet cemeteries. Look into this option and decide if it is the right one for you.
Depending on where you live and your living situation, another option is to bury your pet in a special place on your property. Is it winter? If so digging a hole deep enough could be difficult. If you are ordering a casket, order it in advance and make sure the hole you dig is the right size to fit the casket you have chosen. I will tell you that digging a hole in advance is extremely emotional.
If you decide to bury your pet in your yard, check with the town hall to make sure there were no rules against burying an animal on your property.
Once again you need to set your own emotional needs aside and think of this from a practical point of view. Will other family pets realize the pet was buried there? Will they be able to smell that the pet is buried there? If so, how will they handle it? What happens when it's time to move? Can you move away leaving your pet behind? Do you need to legally disclose to the new buyers that your pet is buried in the yard?
Cremation is another option? We finally decided this was the best option for us. I researched and found that there are two type of cremation. One was a private creation meaning that the ashes returned would be Jake's. The other type was a group cremation that meant some of the ashes would be Jake's? The cost was higher but emotionally I wanted to know the ashes I had belonged to Jake.
How do you pick the day? What do you want the last day to be like? Do you want visitors? Do you want a quiet day with just you and your pet? Telling everyone in advance often leads to a lot of stress. Everyone has their own opinion and it might be easier not to tell family and friends until after your pet has passed away.
Plan B - Murphy's Law has shown you should always have a backup plan
All the planning, researching and organizing, means nothing if your pet tells you he needs to go now; not tomorrow as you had planned. In my case our dog Jake made the decision for us. He quickly went downhill and was in tremendous pain. He made the decision for us. It had to be now.
Murphy's law kicked in. We weren't ready. We thought we had more time. Our vet was not in and her office tried to reach her to no avail. The only vet on call was booked solid and couldn't come over for many hours. Jake was in severe pain and his comfort trumped my plans. I tossed the plans out the window and moved quickly to plan B. Be prepared to have to quickly jump to Plan B. Even more important, know what your plan B will be.
We still had to decide whether our other pet should come with us. In our case Couper stared at us with fear in his eyes. We tried to see if he would come with us but he ran into the bedroom and refused to move. He too had made the decision for us ... he would not be coming with. Please respect your other pet's decisions. Let them make their own decision and honor and respect it.
Ask in advance how your vet handles the emotional and financial side of this. I did not and therefore fully expected to have to walk through a waiting room full of people when we arrived.
We had called in advance to let them know we were on our way. When we arrived two techs immediately came out with a stretcher for Jake. I walked in and realized the place was empty. They had emptied the waiting room in anticipation of our arrival. Bless their thoughtfulness!
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Ask them to explain what will happen and what to expect. If needed, ask the vet to leave so you can have a few more moments alone with your pet. Say everything you want to say to your beloved pet. People sometimes regret afterwards that they forgot to say certain things.
Another decision now needs to be made. Do you stay in the room or leave? I remember reading something years ago that said please don't let your dog die alone. He needs you to be there. I know Jake was comforted by our presence and we knew we needed to be in the room for his sake as well as ours. If you are unable to handle being in the room, please ask someone else to be there in place of you. Someone who your pet is comfortable with. I was glad I was there, both for Jake's sake, and for mine. He looked so peaceful and I needed to have that as my final memory.
Keep your pet calm, stroke his head or body, tell him he's a good boy and don't stop until the vet tells you your pet has passed.
Afterwards ask if you can spend a few minutes alone with your pet. You may prefer to just leave and that's fine too. We gave him one last hug and kiss and headed home to deal with our surviving dog Couper.
My vet refused to let us pay that day and instead told us to come back in a few days. Ask what your vet's policy is. Some people find it easier to pay a few days in advance rather than paying that day.
Be prepared for this empty feeling. I remember driving home and all I could think about was the puppy who captured my heart 11 years ago was gone. Now is a good time for you to start joining some online pet loss forums, create an online memorial tribute, search for pet loss memorial products, or even hire a counsellor who specializes in pet loss bereavement.
If you have other pets at home, be prepared for them being depressed and in mourning. Know in advance how to deal with a pet in mourning. More about this in my blog called A Dog In Mourning.