I have helped more clients than I can count make the difficult decision to euthanize a beloved pet. Even when I know euthanasia is in the pet’s best interests, letting him or her go is heartbreaking. Invariably, by the end of these conversations everyone in the room, including me, is crying.
A comment that I frequently hear from clients during these times is that the decision is “just so hard.” I agree but remind them that simply because something is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s not right. In fact, some of the most meaningful things we do in life are difficult — raising children, staying with a spouse through thick and thin, honoring our responsibilities, and being with loved ones during their last moments.
The poem The Last Battle does a wonderful job expressing the idea that euthanizing a pet who is suffering (or when suffering is imminent) should be viewed as the ultimate expression of love. Beware, it’s a tearjerker.
The Last Battle
If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can't be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don't let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.
We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn't want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they'll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don't grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We've been so close — we two — these years,
Don't let your heart hold any tears.
Another important piece of information I convey to owners who are struggling during this time is this: In over 14 years of being a veterinarian I have never had an owner tell me that that they regretted the decision to euthanize.
Grief is different than regret. We all grieve when a loved one is no longer physically present, but once the raw emotions of the immediate loss have passed, owners report a sense of peace, knowing that they were there for their companions when they needed them most. With time, the happy memories of lives shared are what endure.
To quote Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Dr. Jennifer Coates