As dog parents one of the most difficult things we face is making the heart breaking decision to say goodbye to our dogs. I get asked quite often "How do I know when it's time?" - this is such a difficult question to answer so I will attempt to do so drawing from my own experiences.
One of the reasons I wanted to be a provider of dog incontinence & mobility products is to help prevent unnecessary euthanizing of dogs. Too often people would assume that if their dog started having accidents or if they were having trouble walking that it meant it was time to put them down. Over time and as we increase awareness, people are now seeing that these conditions can be be managed and in some cases even treated; allowing dogs to live wonderful, happy lives. I believe that pet parents are becoming much more informed these days and my hope is that the percentage of euthanized dogs for these reasons has been dramatically reduced. So it goes without saying that I will never ever say goodbye to my dog because they may need help with incontinence or their mobility.
I strongly believe that our dogs tell us when it's time. One of the most difficult times in my life happened when Paige, my French Bulldog, became deathly sick and was in ICU for a week being treated for a rare form of lymphoma that was causing her liver to fail. The majority of the week we were not seeing any improvement and I remember thinking that any minute one of the specialists was going to sit me down and tell me to let her go. I feared this so much because Paige still had such a light in her eyes and every time I saw her she looked at me as if to say "I want to go home". There was nothing in her that was saying that her fight was over and it was time to say goodbye. She was not ready to leave and I was so scared that they were going to make me decide against what my heart felt.
Fortunately I didn't have to make this decision since Paige bounced back enough to come home.She was only home for a few weeks before the cancer became too much for her little body and when it started to fail I no longer saw that light in her eyes and I knew 100% what she was telling me. She could not fight anymore and now it was time for her to be at peace. While I am still heart broken I am grateful that I let her go when she was ready.
Mackenzie was my first Pug and lived until he was almost 16 and had a long list of medical conditions including a stroke and a long term infection. Since Mackenzie was the biggest food monster I have ever known, I told myself that when he stops eating I will know. When he did not fully recover from his stroke, which left him unable to walk or stand on his own, my vet gave me the "talk" about putting him down, but he was still eating like a horse, enjoying his long drinks of water and wagging his tail so I knew it was not time. With some support from me to help him with his mobility we were able to still enjoy our time together.
Eventually his infection became untreatable since it had mutated into a super bug and he stopped doing what he loved to do which was eat. I hung on for a miracle but it quickly became came clear that to hang on any longer was for purely selfish reasons because Mackenzie was telling me it was his time. Again I knew.
Churchill was my first French Bulldog, my little protector and as I have always said, the love of my life. He had back problems and when I had him tested to see if he could handle an MRI in hopes that we could find a way to improve his mobility, they discovered a tumor in his heart. Inoperable, we chose to live life to its fullest knowing that our time together was limited. He like Paige had such a zest for life that he fought so hard to stay with me and when he could fight no longer, he died in my arms at home before I could even bring him to my vet. Knowing who he was I think he was right where he needed to be when it happened.
Every loss is absolutely heart breaking, but there is some degree of comfort when you feel certain your decision to say goodbye is the right decision for your four-legged family member. We always need to find the balance between not giving up too soon and not holding on too long, which is not always easy because we want nothing more than to have more time together. We can only do our best to look out for them and read the messages they are sending us. Don't be influenced by those who do not know your dog like you do. You know your dog best and may be the only one that can truly understand when they are telling you it's time. Trust yourself and you will make the right decision.
Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.