Editorial August 2016 Issue

Letting Go of the Dogs We Love

Itís never easy when a dog moves out of your life, but itís an inevitable part of life.

My sister and I were having a tearful debate about what’s worse: Preparing oneself emotionally for the death of an old, beloved dog? Or sending puppies that you have raised out into the world for an uncertain future? Neither one of us won the debate; we just boo-hooed and laughed through our tears until we could go on with our day.

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

My sister and her husband have three dogs. Once upon a time, they had three senior dogs at once, and that was a sad time, watching all three decline in mental and physical function, and then dealing with their deaths fairly close together. Today, their dogs’ ages are staggered a bit more, with a three-year-old Jack Russell-mix, a four- or five-year-old Chihuahua-mix (one of my former fosters, actually), and then Bo, a fuzzy gray terrier-mix, about 30 pounds, who is about 15 or 16 years old.

Bo came to them as a golden-years foster dog about five years ago from a friend in crisis. He settled into their household so smoothly, it seems like he’s always been there. Today, though, it seems like he’s not going to be here much longer. He’s had a number of minor strokes lately, and after each one, he’s a little less sharp; his expression looks like he understands less and less of the language being spoken in his household. On the other hand, he still loves to eat, and his elimination habits are still good, so they are just sort of loving him as much as possible and letting him be for the time being. He’s never been my sister’s favorite dog in the house, but now that he’s declining, she’s getting quite emotional about all they have been through together in the past half-decade.

It’s not a competition, but I’m certain that my situation is sadder. Each time I take on a litter of puppies to foster for my local shelter, I say I’m not going to get attached – and it almost seems possible that I could maintain that reserve in the beginning, when the puppies are little poop and pee machines – when I’m exhausted from spending far too much of my day trying to push food into one end of puppies and cleaning up what’s coming out of the other end. Finally, though, they get the eating thing figured out and are able to go more than an hour without making a mess on the floor and they start developing personalities, and before I know it, I have a favorite and a second favorite and actually, come to think of it, every single one of them is a little genius. Darn it!

This week, they officially became up for adoption at the shelter – meaning, I’ve had to take them to the shelter and put them in those concrete runs in that loud building. If there is a dog who can look sadder than a Great Dane puppy, I don’t want to meet him or her; this has been hard. I bring them in with toys and treats, and I stay and play with them for a while. But at some point, I have to kiss them goodbye and wish them luck in finding a family during the day – and then the shelter staffers laugh at me (in a kindly way) as I weepily leave the building.

I can’t leave them there overnight; I just can’t!! So I go back each evening to pick them up and bring them “home” for the night. (That way, they can play outdoors with my adolescent dog and decompress from the stress of the shelter.) There are fewer pups to bring home each evening, and that’s a good thing, I know, I’m happy for them . . . but oh my goodness, it’s hard, too. Dog good-byes are the worst.

great dane puppy

Comments (4)

It is almost a year now that we had to let go of our staffy girl Lilly. She had suffered with IBS for several months, originally it started with just an upset tummy but whatever our vet tried kept failing. Our Lilly was fading away and we feared the worst. However we had some hope left. Seeking a second opinion, having a gut biopsy carried out and another 2 months of forward and backward with immune suppressants and steroids Lilly's health deteriorated fast and we decided to end her suffering. It was the worst thing I ever had to do and I am still sad and miss her dearly but looking back now I think we should have let her go months earlier. My message is....really think what's best for your dog!!! Don't keep them suffering because you can't bear the thought of loosing them!

Posted by: romy | September 11, 2016 6:43 PM    Report this comment

We've adopted many dogs over the years and the hardest ones we've lost have been the ones who have not lived out their natural life spans. In the past year, we've lost three long-term dogs: two who lived longer than their breed's expectations and one who died way too early. The first two were euthanized, as their quality of life dictated that they be spared further suffering. The third one died from a stroke way too young, as she was otherwise healthy, although she had physical limitations that did not impair her enthusiastic quality of life. For her to simply die in front of our eyes as we watched helplessly was so traumatizing that it continues to be a heartache that is only now beginning to ease 10 months later.

Posted by: Penny'sMom | August 18, 2016 11:04 AM    Report this comment

To Rally's Owner,

I've owned cats and dogs for over 40 years and want to caution you and other younger people against prolonging the life of your pet beyond what's reasonable and fair to your pet and what's financially feasible for your family.
Veterinarians are different these days than they were 30 years ago and I don't like what I see. The old-fashioned vets of decades ago would gently tell you that they felt it was time to let you elderly/very ill dog go and the vet would comfort you in your grief. Today's vets, however, in their fancy vet "hospitals" are motivated to pay off their hi-cost equipment and office space.

Three years ago my dog mildly injured her eye but I took her to the vets anyway just to be safe. The cost of two 10-minute veterinarian office visits and one bottle of eye drops? $500.00! My dog's eye probably would have healed without the eyedrops!

Four years ago our beloved 14-yo pit bull was suffering from severe pain and was diagnosed with cancer. The vet's first recommendation? Radiation therapy! For a breed of dog whose life expectancy is only 14 years to begin with! Radiation therapy would only have prolonged June Bug's suffering and would have cost us $1,000s, maybe $10,000s.

My sister's friend spent $25,000 in vet bills for radiation to prolong the life of her elderly cat who died a mere 9 months later, and the poor cat was in severe pain the whole 9 months! My sister's friend is still paying off the $25,000 vet bill and she now also regrets that she prolonged her cat's suffering with radiation therapy rather than having the cat put down when it was first diagnosed.

Don't let the same thing happen to you. We all love our pets and it hurts to let them go--but millions of healthy dogs, desperately in need of a loving home, are euthanized in the US every year simply because no one wants them. I now own a lab mix and a miniature poodle, both originally in high-kill shelters in the southern US. Both would have been euthanized except that non-profit rescue organizations in PA and NJ transported them up east where they had hope of finding adopters.

Posted by: magicbird | July 24, 2016 3:20 PM    Report this comment

I can sympathize with your sister. Saying good-by to older dogs vs a younger (8 year old to severe collapsed trachea) is just as hard. I have adored all of my dogs. They love us; care how we feel; joyfully work with us in obedience, Rally, nose work, etc.; guard us to keep us safe (even the little ones 4-5 pounds!). They are so smart. Right now I am faced with the possibility of my 15 year old miniature poodle not living much longer. He had heart failure several months ago and had IVDD surgery in 2005. He goes for acupuncture more often now, sometimes with laser treatment, to keep him prancing, smiling and wagging his tail. He is always happy, loves his heart pills (He thinks they're treats - I'm so lucky.) and wants to be with me, but I know it is inevitable. He has added so much to the quality of my life and still does. We are like 2 peas in a pod.

Posted by: Dog lady | July 17, 2016 2:47 PM    Report this comment

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