As an animal lover and pet owner, it is likely that you have experienced the difficult decision of having to say goodbye to your pet. The toughest part is when we, humans, must make that decision for our animals by choosing humane euthanasia. It might be an older dog, who is experiencing the effects of Father Time, where his or her quality of life has decreased to the point of little comfort and peace. It might be an animal who has experienced a crisis, ingesting something toxic, being involved in some type of traumatic event (car accident, animal attack, etc.). It could be an animal whose brain is wired wrong and just existing in this world is terribly difficult. It could be a young animal with a chronic condition that will soon lead to tremendous suffering. Whatever the reason for a pet owner to make the decision to euthanize their pet, it is very personal. It is generally not something that someone decides to do on a whim. It’s a decision that is well thought out, regardless of how much time it took to make the decision, and is often a decision made out of love. I, personally, have a much different view on humane euthanasia than most. I see humane euthanasia has a gift we give our pets. In my opinion, there are things worse than death. By choosing humane euthanasia, when the time comes, I give my pet the gift of a dignified death. My pet gets to leave this world before pain completely over takes my pet’s body.
In this modern world with social media, it has become much easier to spread good news and bad news. It has become easier for people to hide behind keyboards and be cruel to others (intentionally and unintentionally). Some people tend to think they can speak, or post, whatever they want with little regard for someone else’s feelings. One of my biggest pet peeves, is when someone broadcasts (posts or tells a group of friends/family) the news of losing a beloved pet, there is ALWAYS at least one person who comments or says:
“Well, isn’t there anything else you could have done?”
While, I assume, this comment is often made out of curiosity, more often than not it comes off as being rude and judgmental. This question is essentially accusing the animal’s owner of purposefully choosing not to do more to “save” their pet. Equally upsetting, are people who offer suggestions as to what could have been done. This comes off just as rude because the well-loved animal is already dead. There is nothing that can change that, so offering such suggestions is just rubbing salt in an already gaping, painful wound. I know of plenty of people who have experience this type of behavior from what I hope are well meaning people.
I experienced this when I had to euthanize Aidan due to hemangiosarcoma. The veterinarian could have done an emergency splenectomy to have stopped the initial bleeding, yes. I could have spent thousands of dollars on chemotherapy for Aidan to try to combat the cancer that had spread throughout his entire chest cavity, sure. But where would it have gotten me? Aidan would have had to recover from a major abdominal surgery, he would have had a decreased quality of life, and 3-6 months later he would have been dead anyway. It did not matter how much love and money I could have thrown towards Aidan’s treatment, he would have still died. In my opinion, it would have been selfish for me to try to treat a very aggressive form of cancer that would end up killing him relatively quickly anyway. I thought through all of the possible ways to extend Aidan’s life, but all the choices, all the paths lead to the same heartbreaking result. At least this way he barely suffered. He had one bad day. He had one day of feeling a little yucky, which in my mind was the kindest gift I could give him for everything he gave me. While I have no problem discussing this now, I felt it was cruel when people asked about my decision at the time.
What about the people who love their animals dearly, but do not have thousands of dollars to treat their animal. Sure, there are fundraisers to help people with their pets’ medical expenses all the time, but there are times when an animal does not have time for fundraising efforts. Signing ownership of the animal over to an animal welfare organization that can cover the medical costs is sometimes an option, but these organizations have a financial limit as well. This does not mean an owner is irresponsible, or they do not love their pet. However, I can assure you, “I couldn’t afford treatment, so I had to euthanize Fido,” is not something most people want to disclose, so don’t put them in that position with your curiosity. Their world is already crumbling around them. It is unfair to also force them to be humiliated, even if they do not publicly disclose their financial constraints.
When someone has decided to share the awful news of losing their beloved pet, regardless of the circumstances, do not judge them! Do not ask if they could have done more to save their pet. Be a shoulder to cry on. Lend an ear. Let your friend or family member take the lead in the discussion and follow it. If appropriate, talk about the good memories you have or maybe the quirky thing that was so endearing about their pet. It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to joke. It’s okay to cry with them. It’s okay not to know what to say. It’s okay to just be there. If the only thing you can offer is judgement, keep it to yourself. Having to say good-bye to your best friend is hard enough, don’t add to someone’s pain. Choose kindness or stay silent!