This blog post is really hard to write. But I know this information will be helpful to so many pet parents out there who have already euthanized a pet or will in the near future. Most pet parents go through this very difficult process one day.
It has been almost 8 months since it happened and I still have horrific memories of the last moments of Chilly’s life. It went so fast, too fast. Sumit and I understood how the euthanasia process worked, but we could not have planned for the emotional and mental part of it. To be honest, it was absolutely gut wrenching for so many reasons. We knew he would pass away sometime soon, so we tried to prepare for it as much as we could. But it did not matter. Many of you who have been through this probably remember how painful it was to carry through with the process. I personally found this extremely hard and I am not sure how I can go through it again if we adopt another dog.
As a caretaker, to make the decision to end a life is the complete opposite of the role we fulfilled. Think about it. We spend years taking care of our beloved pet, making sure he or she is happy and healthy. To go from making sure they are okay to ending their life is paradoxical.
Sumit and I spent the last 3 years of Chilly’s life making sure he lived a fulfilling healthy life while he was battling kidney and heart disease. He was watched 24/7. He basically became the center of our lives. And we enjoyed it because he kept living happily beyond the vet’s prognosis. So we thought we were doing a good job of caring for him. After 1 year beyond his prognosis, he was still with us which was unbelievable. Then after 2 years, we were ecstatic. And then 3 years later, we were so shocked. Chilly kept pushing on. But then after Christmas 2019 and New Years, his health started to decline quickly. It’s not that we blame ourselves for his decline, but we wondered what else we needed to do to make sure he would be okay. As caretakers, you want to do everything in your power to help your pet. You want to be helpful, not helpless. We tried everything, but knew that we needed to follow a quality of life checklist for Chilly. Eventually, in February 2020, Chilly’s health got worse and we checked off almost every box on the checklist. Then we knew it was time to take him in.
This is the worst part. As I write this, I have to pause and come back to this later…(I paused for a month before continuing, that is how hard this is to write.)
I became numb the moment we bundled him up in a blanket and got in the car to drive to the vet hospital. We did one last stop on the way at his favorite bakery next to his favorite park. This was double checking the last item on the checklist to see if he would eat one of his favorite foods. When we presented him with the apple cinnamon muffin that he loved, nothing happened. He did not sniff, make any head or eye movement, or anything. So we continued onto the vet hospital. We then checked in. They took us to a private room in the back near the ER and explained the process. Then, they gave us a few moments with him and took him to another room to insert the needle into his arm before bringing him back to us. When they brought him back into the room, he perked up,sniffed and looked around for us. He knew he was back in the room with us. I thought that was a sign and he’s not ready to go. Sumit reminded me of the checklist that he had not eaten or drank anything in two days, and could not move anymore. But I just did not think this was the right decision. I started hesitating.
When I realized this is it. This is the very last moment and so many thoughts and feelings flowed through my head. The rush of emotions was like a river flooding my body. I did not know what to do. It’s overwhelming. I had prepared for this, or I thought I did, by spending almost every second with Chilly in the weeks leading up to his final breath. I spent almost everyday with him in the past 3 years to take care of him. And I had him for almost 17 years so you would think I’ve had a sufficient amount of time with him. You would think I’ve done a good job making him a priority as my son and done a good job as his mom and caretaker. But is that it? Is there no more time with Chilly? And is this the way it’s going to end? It’s absolutely horrible.
I know there is no good way to pass away. It's the end no matter what. When I was 23, I watched my mom pass away holding her hand as she took her last breaths. That wasn’t easy, but she battled breast cancer and it eventually took over other organs. After struggling with cancer for a while, it was time for her to go. It sucked because there was no going back.
It was so, so hard to make the decision to tell the vet it’s time to inject Chilly to put him to sleep forever. I have regrets. I wished I could have held him longer. It happened so fast. There was no reason why we could not have sat there longer with him before it happened. The vet wasn’t rushing us, but she also did not suggest we have more time. It wasn’t her fault, but I would encourage everyone to take as much time as you need to go through this process if permitted by the vet.
So she injected him as I held him in my arms and he was gone, forever, within seconds. There is no reversing it. That was it. I was so numb. My husband could not look. The vet took Chilly out of my arms right away and left with his little body. And that was the most shocking part. I was numb and walked out to the car. Shortly afterwards, I realized I wanted more time with him again. I wanted to hold him even if he was gone, I just wanted to hold his body. I should have asked for more time. But I did not know I could do that, so that’s a regret I have.
The theme here is more time. You want as much time as you can get it does not exist in the euthanasia process. More time just does not exist in death.
Days, weeks and months later, the whole euthanasia process still haunted me. I wish I had more time to hold him before and afterwards. I wish I knew how emotional and mentally draining it was going to be and the effect after the event. I felt like I had killed him. He was my baby. But we made the decision to end his suffering. Euthanasia literally means painless killing. So you have to emotionally and mentally process that as a caretaker. It’s caring to end their pain by killing them through euthanasia. It’s paradoxical and confusing. It will probably be the hardest part of owning a pet. And it is such a painful, dark way to end a beautiful tactile relationship. Thankfully, the relationship and connection still exists in our spirit, soul, and in our hearts.
I feel the euthanasia process adds another level to our grieving process. On top of mourning the loss of our beloved pet, we have to also handle the difficulties of making the decision to end the life of the pet that we took care of for so long. I would say this has been one of the hardest parts to work through as I grieve Chilly. I felt some guilt, regret, and anger over the decision. As time has passed, I feel a little better, but it was traumatic.
I empathize with anyone who has been through this process and I also understand not everyone will feel the same way about it as me. I have a friend who said the euthanasia process felt like a relief for her. She walked away feeling very sad, but it gave her closure. Then I had a client who struggled with the decision to end his dog’s life for years. His dog was his best friend and like a son to him, so it felt gut-wrenching and wrong. It was very traumatic for him and I can understand why. I am working with him to reduce his feelings of guilt and regret.
I do not believe you can fully plan for the last moments of your pet’s life. No matter how much you think you can plan for it in your mind, it will always feel and look different. My tip is to walk into the process with acceptance and an open heart. We have to accept that it is going to be painful for a while and it’s unavoidable. And know that this feels different for everyone and if you go through this a few times, it will also feel different each time. My wish is for all pet parents to have compassion for themselves during this process. It’s raw, very difficult and traumatic. Self-compassion is important and helps us to not judge ourselves or be overly critical. We are caretakers ending the lives of our pets and should enter this process with love, compassion and acceptance. Enter the darkness of pain knowing you will come out of the other side. And knowing the pain means love exists and will remain in our hearts forever.