What is so Broken in people that causes us to often hold onto suffering animals for too long?

One of the biggest challenges of animal stewardship is to let them go when their quality of life diminishes. It can diminish with age, disease, injury or lack of adoption if they are living in poor quality conditions while they wait.

It is NEVER when we want to accept it has diminished.

Our pets and companion animals do not dream about tomorrow. I think most of us know better than that. They live in the here, the now. They try to survive because biology begs them to do so from a time when their species’ or ancestors’ survival meant they limped along regardless of life quality on their own, in the wild. Look into nature now if you have doubts about whether this is true.

Not to diminish the value of the lives of our dogs, cats, horses and so forth, but they do not set goals they work to achieve through their lives. They do not dream of spending their golden years with grandchildren, children or the like. They do not worry about what happens in the afterlife. They do not worry about how we will go on without them. These are reasons people cling even when they suffer, if they do at all.

Our animals live in the yesterday and the today. If the current days are painful, but the people who ‘own’ them or are owned by them keep searching for ways to manage their pain or keep them breathing, the animal is not a beneficiary, usually. Some are entirely unable to see their pets without rose colored glasses when they are chronically ill or so aged they are slipping away slowly, only being held on by a person’s sheer will to never let them go.

Sometimes in rescue, rescuers know better, but the donors and public push them to save the animals at all costs. . .often at the cost of the dignity of the animal. I’ve seen posts about extremely senior animals in questionable body condition having strokes with rescuers saying, “She isn’t ready, yet.” But some of us know better. Sadly, this type of story resonates with donors who are commenting and giving without trying to consider what a tragedy is unfolding.

Personally and in rescue, I watch these heart-rending stories take place so often, it breaks my heart and makes me question humanity sometimes because I’ve seen truly inhumane things take place in the name of rescue and “saving.”

Each time I see this, animals pay the price of a person’s wild idealism and lack of fortitude.

We are generally apt to outlive our animals. Being able to make the right call is something we need to decide if we can do early on. This means before we go into rescue, too.

That old saying. . .”Better a day early than a minute too late” could not be more true.

Animals suffer, and in the rescue community, the small amount of resources donated to organizations are spent in unwise ways to save the unsave-able  or those that would, if asked, rather not be kept alive given their degree of suffering. . . while animals that could be saved with a great life quality die alone, unloved and unaided. Over and over again. This doesn’t mean to not spend a lot of money to save the obviously savable or even the likely savable. And this isn’t black and white. There is a grey area, and I LEAVE that to you, those that know the animal and the experts in the vet world.

I speak not only of physical health. I speak about mental health, as well. To put an animal through years of living in a crate alone hoping someone will some day come to adopt, to put them through months of painful recovery with a small chance recovery will ever come offering good life quality. . .to limp them along in their old age when their backs and bodies and hearts are failing because WE can’t let go. . .these are injustices. These are about human weakness, and we need to ask ourselves why we do it. Why? It would tell us a lot about who we are, really. We probably need to know why.

Animals depend on us to make the hard choices they are powerless to make for themselves. How can we make smart, decent and kind choices for humanity if we can’t do so for our pets or our rescued creatures? Of course, some say let nature take its course in these cases, but I think we know that isn’t kind, if we are fair. If we don’t see that, it is a whole other debate for another time.

We know factually that many chronically ill humans and elderly humans beg to just be let go and while this isn’t about human choice in that matter, we are aware that even with the weight of the afterlife on their minds, the heaviness of their dreams, their children, their tomorrows on their minds. . .pain and suffering, even when managed, becomes too great in people. How much more it must be for the animals living only in the yesterday and today? How much greater in animals biologically designed for a millennia to hide pain at all costs for self preservation. . .

I think back on a rescue Pyr I loved dearly. Carly began wasting away before my eyes. We tested her for everything our vet recommended. We tried everything as she wasted away and became a shell. I will always feel I waited too long, though some would say I called it too soon. I know better. The vet said we could open her up and search more, and I looked at her body that had shed 40lbs in a month, and I said, “No.” It was enough. She didn’t know what was happening. She was scared. Someone who was weak might not have been able to see it, but I knew. I could do no more to her. I never had an answer, but I let her go with tears and hugs and kisses galore. I wish I could have been stronger to not worry her with even that show of emotion. It was selfish to worry her in the last moments with tears. She didn’t understand. Some would say I should have kept on and on. . .and that is the crux of the issue. It would have been for me at that point, not her. . . to keep on searching.

While it isn’t entirely black and white, and sometimes your gut says something you need to listen to beyond reason, this isn’t typical. Sometimes it is right and the odds are beat and many years of amazing life quality if achieved, but all I am asking is we really, really pause and ask ourselves is it something in ourselves that is pushing for more days, months or years out of the animal we share our lives with or rescued?

We try very hard, and sometimes we do fail, to be sure that the choices we make at Heart of Phoenix have the animal’s long term interests at and in “our” hearts. We look for a high quality of life that is lived pain free and the ability to have a  life where their environment is healthy, kind and secure.

67 thoughts on “What is so Broken in people that causes us to often hold onto suffering animals for too long?

  1. I believe it’s because we are selfish and lack the fortitude to the right thing. We worry how it’s going to make us feel, not what the animal is feeling. Still it’s always a heartbreaking decision.

    1. Same reason we let our loved ones suffer in nursing homes in advanced stages of dementia where they can’t move, eat or enjoy life. At least we have the option of letting our pets go humanely..

  2. Wonderful article and wondering if I am quirky of this now since having a 15 yr old Chihuahua who is healthy except his tract is collapsing from old age. They cannot operate with his age. He coughs when excited, jumping around. Has a great appetite and has a fleshy lump on his chest. I hear the fluid building up but he’s so close to me and happy that I am confused. Vets tell me that Buddy will tell me when he’s ready but I can’t see it. Am I keeping him alive for me..wondering.

    1. Dolly, I do think if your guy plays, eats and enjoys the things he has through his life with little impairment and if your vet feels the condition is not painful, you shouldn’t feel you’re guilty, and I sure hope he has more good years left with you.

    2. You will know when it is time. Trust me. We had a 16 year old lab/setter/newfoundland mix. Mongo lost the use of his back legs before we had to do something. He had his good days and bad days. But you don’t want them to be in pain.

      1. This post is comforting to me as I just went through the same thing mid-december. I made the final decision for our 17 year old dog when he finally could not walk. I’d been helping him move to go outside to do his business with a sling for a couple of months. It was hard when he still took an interest in life, still just wanted to be where I was and still had a good appetite. I don’t think I waited too long. I wonder if I should have waited another day. Maybe it would have been a better one. No matter how you look at it, there is no easy way out.

    3. Not all pets give their owners ‘the sign’. Some refuse to give into their illnesses.

      There is no shame in letting your pet go when you know that it is only going to get worse. You would rather have him leave this world on a good note than struggling to breathe or in a panicked state. Have a bucket list, do them all, have a party, let him do all those things you never let him do.. then give him the ultimate gift.

      1. Last month, my 9 year old rescued Pit Bull bulged a disc. Not a good surgical candidate, we tried drug therapy. There was good improvement the first 2 weeks, then lost control of bodily functions. She was not in pain, but had no quality of life. She was mortified at the accidents she had no control over, and could not stand. I chose to euthanize her.

        10 days later, my 16 year old dog, refused to get up. When I helped him up, he was obviously in pain. I gave him heavy pain meds overnight and was the first client at the vet the next morning. His hips were “shot.” He had done an excellent job of masking his pain ( just 2 days prior, he was following the tractor as I did my daily chores). The loss of his friend made it easier for him to let go. I held him while he was euthanized, as I had his friend 10 days prior.

        My house is so empty, but I made the right choice for both my pets.

    4. I empathize w/your obvious pain. I lost my Chi-X last Feb at almost 19, and I know I waited too long. I feel ashamed and oh-so-guilty that I kept him going as long as I did, b/c I know his pain was very great. I had many “reasons” that really don’t excuse it, and I know I’m going to try my very best never to do that again to another animal. I hope I can measure up. And as the article’s wise author describes, we see it more than we should in rescue. Perhaps (at least partly) b/c those of us attracted to rescue are, at some level, trying to overcome our own “broken” pieces. But it doesn’t help to beat ourselves up about it; rather, we can learn from the experience and try to grow into a better person for our current and future animals’ benefit. (She said, while looking at her 10-y-o GSD w/arthritis and a once-broken, but untreated hind leg. Sigh!)

    5. I don’t care about this artical, most pet owners know when it is time, and you will know when it is your Chihuahua’s time so don’t beat yourself up it’s hard enough as it is.

      1. One of the most harmful concepts is one which says most owners know. Talk to a few vets, and you will learn quickly this is far, far from the truth.

  3. Tinia , you are so right! As hard as it was I have never regretted my decision for my Puddin. For two days he hadn’t been able to rest for coughing and the steroids weren’t controlling the issue any longer. I miss that boy every day, but I know at the end he knew I loved him and is waiting patiently as I am to be together again!

  4. I’ve been struggling with this very issue for many months. Even as I write this, I do so with tears in my eyes because I feel guilty more than anything else. I have a 16 yr old miniature schnauzer/bichon. He has been such a beautiful dog for us and I could never ask for anything better. But in the last few months, he’s just been getting weaker.. his back legs are giving out. He can’t do stairs anymore. He can’t even scratch like he used to. I miss his old spirit so much and came to the realization the other day that he is in palliative care. He’s on prednisone and gabapentin so he spends a great deal of his day sleeping and usually wakes up at night with us having to clean up after him. But I just can’t say good bye to him yet. I keep thinking he will go when he’s ready but who knows when that will happen and night don’t want him in pain. Sigh. Life is really difficult right now. 🙁

    1. I recommend listening to your gut. I had a rescue pom. She was 13 when she passed away this May of congestive heart failure. She was her normal self until the morning she passed away. She was always a little sluggish and hacked when mobile, but she was so joyful and sweet. That morning she wouldn’t eat, drink, walk…We had know her time was limited because we found her on the side of the road in critical shape and didn’t expect her to make it through the night let alone 3 years. She was a momma at a puppy mill(vet guess) and had been horrible neglected! I took my daughter with me to the vet that morning anticipating we would have to say goodbye to our 7 pound cluffy ball of sass since she could no longer hold her head up. They kept her all day in an oxygen tank. When we came back that evening she was like herself again! She was up and sassy as ever! I asked them if she was going to be okay on medication and they said yes. We were THRILLED!! We got her home and she wasn’t home 15 minutes before she collapsed again. Of course we had picked her up at closing time so our vet wasn’t open. I called around trying to find an animal hospital that would work with me on the bill because I had spent so much at the vet earlier that day. No one would. Our Susie girl suffered for hours before she finally had a heart attack and passed away. We were absolutelyheart broken, but the most difficult part is knowing she was suffering. It still just breaks my heart and brings me to tears as I share this with you! Letting go is so hard, but watching them suffer is the worst!! 💔

    2. Do not allow yourself to feel that guilt. You were hoping that things would get better. Now you are realizing they won’t, and you need to come to that realization that it is time, and give yourself the opportunity to begin to let go.

      End of life is not pretty, and often waiting for the pet to ‘go when he’s ready’ means the pet suffers. You should have another conversation with your vet about quality of life

    3. Im very sorry but even more difficult for your pup.You need to do the right thing..mourn the loss of a beautiful dog, part of the family and never leaving your memories but PLEASE dont let the little one suffer anymore!! I hope this comes easier from a stranger, and if you need to vent your anger towards me ..I dont mind..just end his suffering..you are being selfish Im afraid..
      needed to be blunt…my thoughts go out to you.

    4. Karen, I’m so sorry for what you are going through right now with your little guy. Releasing a loved pet from their suffering is a very personal decision, and an incredibly difficult one. I’ve been through it several times and I’m facing that right now with a 10-year-old boxer. What I have found makes the decision easier is the question of dignity. A dog who can’t play, even though they want to, may still have some quality in their life. But a dog who can’t relieve itself without laying in its own filth, or a pet that can’t potty without falling over does not have dignity. I wouldn’t want to live like that and I wouldn’t want my dog to either. I will do everything in my power to find relief for my dog, but when my dog’s joy is gone and when his dignity is threatened, then I know I have to do the kindest thing for the animal I love and let him go.

    5. If watching your dog live his life in this state is making you sad and depressed, it’s a sign it is time to let him go. I went through this not long ago with my beautiful 16 3/4 yr old Russian Blue cat that had been on sub q fluids every day for two years with kidney disease. Her quality of life was no longer good and she stopped eating. Kidney disease when in the final stages is painful, the cat not eating meant she was nauseated most of the time, her stool became so hard that she had difficulty defecating, and she was unstable walking. She slept comfortably and in those moments I couldn’t bear the thought of putting her down, I waited a few days too long to do it, but think of the quality of life your dog is having lying in it’s own excrement, in pain to the point it can’t do stairs…that’s what is happening and it’s making you feel pain for his condition. It’s time.

    6. Do the right thing. Don’t prolong his suffering for your comfort. Be selfless. It sounds like you know it’s time but can’t let go.

  5. It is so hard to ‘give up’. we are conditioned to fight for life at every turn, and if there is hope of quality of life we do not want to let that hope go.

    There is also the fear we are ‘killing’ out of ‘convenience’, which couldn’t be further from the truth, but still it is there.

    And even when we know it is time, even when we know it is the right decision, there is something primal about ending the life of another. it is hard, as it should be.

    We need to make it easier for those of us facing end of life. We need to stand there with people and say over and over “it is better to be a week too soon than a minute too late” we need to tell them this is hard but this is right. And we need to tell them that even though it feels so very wrong, it is the right decision. We also need to rebuff those people who would feed the guilt and the shame of euthanizing an animal, either a personal pet or a shelter one.

    1. You said exactly what i am thinking. I am so tired. Cannot imagine putting her down. I know i am going to have too. She is in no pain,but dementia has set in,and it is aweful to watch. She lost her sight at the same time. All her blood tests are fine. I know she is in no pain. I dont even know if she knows she is alive.

      1. That must be so hard. There may not be any pain, but I can’t imagine there being any quality of life left. It sounds like being a prisoner of the mind to have dementia and blindness at the same time.

  6. I went through this with my sweet Evangeline. She wasted inf ront of me, and I kept thinking IO had more time than I did. She died in my lap on the way to a “second” opinion, and I was left with vet bills and life long guilt for not easing her suffering sooner. 🙁

  7. I have a St. Bernard that turned 11 in November. He has DM, so he was losing use of his rear legs, just last week out of no where it appears the DM has spread to his front legs and he is no longer walking. He is about 140 lbs. I am struggling to let him go, this week my husband and I keep pondering the idea is it time. He is completely healthy other than his legs, I feel like we are quitting on him because he is so large and when my husband returns to work next week, I will not be able to lift him. My husband built a cart for him where I can lay him down and we can get him out to the grass. This just happen last week, so this article is so helpful to me. I thank you. I am struggling because I have people saying well as long as he is happy and eating, well with DM he may always eat and be himself because he is not in pain per the vet. It is just his legs that quit. We originally considered this upcoming weekend to possibly let him go and run again……and someone texted me after seeing him and said they thought I should wait. Agh, they have no idea how hard it is to move him to get him to go to the bathroom, he does not want to go on himself. I understand looking from the outside in, I must look selfish to even consider letting him go. But I do not think his quality of life moving from bed to bed and sleeping all day is a good life. It is what I have thought about all day, and night for the last week. I know I need to make a decision, it is so heartbreaking. But helpful to know that it is ok to let them go when their mind is still there but they body is completely quitting. Thanks to all who shared their heartbreaking stories, it helps others more than you can imagine. Prayers Hugs to all the pet parents…..I hope I can come to peace with what I think I should do for him.

    1. My dog has DM and is currently getting around with my help using a help em up harness. I also purchased a cart for his back end that we use for our long walks.

      In my mind is always something I read this past summer: Living Life to the Fullest, and Living Life to be Alive, are not the same thing.

      I am hoping I can live up to this for my boy.

    2. I’m so sorry. It’s so heartbreaking to see your baby in pain and not playing like they would normally do. My lab had hip dysplasia and he had no problems at all until age 10 and it started slowly with a limp after playing hard. Vet gave him meds to help the pain and inflammation and that helped for about 2 years. But then his hips started going on him, he would have good days and bad, but when it got to the point he couldn’t go outside to use the bathroom and didn’t even want us to help him up to go outside, I knew then and there it was time. It was so sad because other than his hips he was in great health. That was the hardest decision of my life. Our vet was great! She came to our house and my Gus was happy as a lark laying on the deck getting lovings from everyone. It was actually a very peaceful thing, thank goodness. I knew it was the right decision but I cried like a baby!

    3. Your dog can’t walk, can’t move and your wondering if it is time? Sorry but I work with laboratory animals and animals that can’t walk get one of the highest “pain scores” possible and need to be euthanized within an hour. I’ve seen some horrendous things working with lab animals but what is even more horrible is sometimes hearing of pet animals that get less consideration than a lab mouse. Give your dog a huge meal, find a vet to come to your house and do the right thing. Sorry to be so harsh.

  8. I have an almost-16 yr old miniature American Eskimo. Her health started fading & I’m at the point where I think she’s at the top of the hill, so to speak, and am confused if this is the time I should put her down or wait until her health is more obviously pained. She’s cresting on that hill and bound to progressively go down from here. But how long do I crest with her for? She’s become incontinent -approx 4 months now (she knows she’s doing it, but lacks motivation to wander outside most times. She doesn’t stay laying in it or anything….a question asked by the vet), cataracts, half her hearing is gone, and her hind legs are slightly arthritic so can’t walk down stairs any longer (up is fine). But bloodwork is good, spirits are good (for her age), enjoys walks still – we go around the block & she gets tired but I can see she’s happy), healthy appetite, and doesn’t wince in pain unless picked up too quickly. She’s just old, and I accept that. This week I put her on an anti inflammatory/pain med to help with arthritis. Seems to be working but I acknowledge it’s not the answer and may affect liver down the road. Do I put her down while her spirit is still “with it”? She may have many more months of decent health left. She doesn’t have that look in her eye that makes it obvious she wants to leave this world and I don’t want to take her out of it too soon. I am prepared to put her down when the time is right. Is it now…or when her quality of life is much more obviously below par?

    1. Don’t wait for “that look in the eye” that look means they are dying right there in front of you. My father held onto his 17 year old incontinent yellow lab forever, and she ended up dying in his arms right after he picked her up from the kennel he put her in for a week so he could go visit his daughter in another state for Christmas, knowing full well ahead of time that her time was near (it was past time in my opinion). She did not have a good quality of life for months, but my Dad is rather narcissistic I think, and he wouldn’t let her go. The dog used to come up to me and put her head in my lap like she was pleading with me to do something about her, but that’s just how I felt about the whole thing. It’s very hard, but think of your dog and quality of life. If it’s not there, put her out of her pain, it will never feel like the right time, it won’t feel good at all for you. I’m sorry.

      1. Thank you for your compassionate comments. I appreciate the time you took and your opinion. The end is nearing. Just giving it a little bit to spend with her and have some good last moments.

  9. I am an animal cruelty investigator and I have to deal with this issue with horse owners. They are not bad people but they can’t bear to let go of a horse they have owned it’s entire life when the horse gets to the point of suffering. it is heart breaking for all.

    1. It’s also different for horse owners as there are more limits on what one can do with their body when the horse has been put down. Not many people have the land to bury a loved horse on. Sending it to the slaughter house is not desirable, or even feasible any longer. And it is expensive to have the horse put down, and then the body moved from the property to either a pet/equine cemetery or crematory. And stressful for the animal to bring it some place to then have a vet humanely put the horse down.

      I am facing putting my 21 yr old TB down this year. His knee is not going to get better. And while he isnt in obvious discomfort, it eating, drinking, etc etc etc I worry about him daily. I worry that the knee will give out one day. so I have looked into my options. He will not ever be put on a trailer to a slaughter pen. There are no longer people with trucks, land and back hoes that will take him and bury him for a small fee. And the pet/equine cemeteries require that the horse be put down on their property. Adding to the stress of an already emotional day, for myself. And I know my horse will pick up on it. So that leaves cremation. Putting him down in the mid field. Hopefully when the weather is nice and the grass has come back and is green. Peacefully. With me by his side as he has been by mine. It will be over two thousand dollars. So many other people, that love their horses. Are also faced with this decision simply do not have that money. And no. It is not as simple as “If you don’t have the money to be able to put them down humanely then you shouldnt have a horse.” Because you never know what’s coming your way. All it takes is a moment to lose your health and income. And some of us still manage to fight, save and give up other things, to take care of our partners.

    2. I am also a Cruelty Investigator and you’re right. Part of the problem with horse owners is the cost of euthanasia and disposal of the body. Private cremation of a 1000 lb horse here in Washington state is about $1200.

      My department received a grant from a private foundation for what we are calling the Equine Peaceful Passing Fund. Using the grant, vets are able to euthanize an equine for whom they believe euthanasia is appropriate, but the cost is too high for the owner to afford. The grant covers both the euthanasia and disposal (not cremation). The program started in November 2016, and is only for equines I’m Pierce County, WA, but 8 horses have been humanely released from their suffering or poor quality of life.

  10. The hardest decisions I have made in rescue are not those involving letting animals go due to ill physical health. Having to euthanize a physically well dog that has become behaviorally unsafe for adoption or become mentally unstable by being in a kennel waiting for a home that isn’t coming, these are the decisions I have had to make that scar my soul. In the end, you do the best you can. You be there with them until their last breath and above all else let them leave this world hearing they are a “”good boy”.

  11. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have owned cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens. When their quality of life is no more, I make the hard decision and cry my heart out. But, I KNOW what I did was right FOR THEM. I had a beautiful cat that I adored, she was my very first cat. For as long as I was privileged to call her mine, she was a very active indoor/outdoor cat. She was a hunter and you were not going to stop her. The last year of her life, she slept on my bed, barely getting off it to eat or use her litter box. This cat, who HAD to be outside, showed no interest in that any more. I took her to the Vet’s and we had her tested. We could put her on meds, they said, special food, they said, prolong her life, they said. I looked at her and said, NO. Her quality of life was no more. She wasn’t a free spirit, hunting and loving. She was sleeping what was left of her life away — THAT was not a quality of life, as far as I was concerned. I had her put down that day, holding her and crying for my loss, not hers. In her honor, and after an appropriate amount of time, I adopted another cat and gave her a good life too.

  12. I have worried about this too, as someone who is involved in making decisions about when to spend our rescues money. We want to do what is best for our dogs. But we also must be good stewards of the money people donate to us. We are spending other people’s money and I do not take this responsibility lightly.

  13. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. This. All of this 1,000 times over. I have been saying this for years and years. There are just some cases that are unfair to the animal to keep trying. To keep doing surgeries, to put them through painful recoveries with little chance of significant improvement. There are cases in which the long term prognosis is filled with expensive meds that have terrible side effects, there are cases in which psychologically the animal will suffer forever, be it from extremely weak nerves, OCD, or unpredictable aggression.

    We can’t save them all and the pious chorus of people insisting that we should try need to take a long hard look in the mirror at themselves rather than chastising those who place the animals quality of life up for an honest evaluation and make the tough decisions.

  14. We were faced with this very heartbreaking decision 5 months ago. Our 15yo Manchester Terrier/daucshund mix was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and progressing heart disease. In all other aspects his body was that of 7-8 yr old dog. We put him on heart meds. Vet told us 6-12 months. We got 18 good months. 1 questionable. The last week he would be up most of the night with his coughing fits and rarely coming out from under the bed. Something changed in him. But then he would dance for treats and get excited to walk, etc. In our hearts we had to let
    Him go. Hardest thing I have done and I still wonder sometimes if it as too soon. He walked into the vet wagging his tail, happy to be there, not knowing he wasn’t going home. That broke me. The vet told
    Me that Guinness would likely always have that response as his brain was fine, he didn’t know what was happening to his body. That it was better to let him go like this, then the alternative which was a painful heart attack. I agree and I know she is right. But it doesn’t make the choice we made that day any easier. This article does help with perspective that we did do what was best for our little old man. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Thank you! I remember a story that was all over social media about this “wonderful man” who took his senior dog into the water to ease his arthritis suffering. Everyone was rambling on and on about how wonderful he was to do this for his dog. I thought it was awful. I love my pets – they are my kids, but if one of mine is so miserable that he needs to be brought into the water every day to ease his suffering – it is selfish to keep him alive and suffering. Our pets let us know when it is time – we just need to accept what they are telling us and put their needs above our own.

  16. I’m having the same battle now. My beagle Baron is 13. He has a mass in his abdomen and can’t keep anything but water and a tiny nibble of food. At times he brightens up and gives a tail wag to me. Everyone says he’ll let you know when it’s time. I think it’s time now but just not sure.

    1. Do you know what the mass is? Is it cancer. If he’s stopped eating and is throwing everything up he needs to see a VET. The vet will be able to tell you if it’s time, it sure sounds like it is, but time for some medical attention first.

      1. He’s been to the vet twice. It’s near his spleen. He said to take him home and love him until it’s time. He said operating on it would be worse because of his age and position of the mass.

  17. you have a title and you indicated you do not want comments that pretty much don’t agree with you, so I won’t. While what you said I agree with a little, but you do not know all people nor their animals. I will always give 100% to my dogs until God tells me otherwise. No one person can make me kill my dogs. I have had 100 at one time, they were rescue and dogs with no home. I had them for 15 years,. I do not regret any of it.
    later they died. I buried them all

      1. I am also a Cruelty Investigator and you’re right. Part of the problem with horse owners is the cost of euthanasia and disposal of the body. Private cremation of a 1000 lb horse here in Washington state is about $1200.

        My department received a grant from a private foundation for what we are calling the Equine Peaceful Passing Fund. Using the grant, vets are able to euthanize an equine for whom they believe euthanasia is appropriate, but the cost is too high for the owner to afford. The grant covers both the euthanasia and disposal (not cremation). The program started in November 2016, and is only for equines in Pierce County, WA, but 8 horses have been humanely released from their suffering or poor quality of life.

      2. Agreed.

        People who say they are “letting nature take its course” don’t have a clue what nature really is. To allow nature to take its course, is to allow your ailing animal to be in the wild, where it will become dinner for a predator or die of dehydration or starvation within days.

        If you care for your animal, allow them the dignity and caring of a humane, peaceful death.

  18. My sister’s dog had 13 puppies. I was babysitting my niece and nephew when the pups were 5.5 weeks old and one of them was really tiny and his siblings were using him as a toy. They were 2 to 3 pounds each. He was 7.5 ounces. His siblings wouldn’t let him eat. I took him home and took him to my vet. He said that he probably wouldn’t last the week. His name was PeeWee and he grew to be a lean 34 pounds. The vet said he wouldn’t get more than 12 to 14 pounds. He was my sweet, gentle, loving boy for 16 years. He started growing a tumor on his shoulder toward the end of his 15th year but his doctor was concerned with him being put under to remove it because of his age. On memorial day 3 years ago, it was time to say goodbye to my sweet boy. The tumor had grown more and he was licking at it the past few days. I knew that it was hurting him at that point. We went to the vet and I held him as he breathed his last breath. Dad and I buried him in the back yard and Dad said ” He was always a good boy”. I will always miss him but I knew that I couldn’t keep him with me just to suffer. He really was always a good boy.

  19. I read this blog through tears as I completely understand and have had the same inner battle regarding this very subject. I have to say that I understand where the author is coming from and there is something that is broken within- sometimes- that causes us to maybe hang on too long to a beloved pet whose may be suffering. But I don’t think that we can’t nor should we rush to judgement as each situation is different. Most pet owners really love their pets and consider them family members, children. When you have that kind of love, the purest love there is, really, it is hard to let go of it but also there is a strong fear that you may not be doing it at the right time. We have lost three beloved babies within the last 15 months, my 14 year old Persian Kitty Max, My 10 year old Newfoundland Olaf and my 9 1/2 year old Newfoundland Opal. We loved all of them very much and each of them had different degrees of illnesses and we did everything that we could to take the best care of them and to give them the best care available. It was a very difficult decision to let go of them, but when you know that it is time, and that it is the right thing to do because the last thing that you would ever want is for your beloved to suffer, you know that you have to face this scary, daunting, ending. I have one Newfoundland left, my baby girl Gladys and I am terrified about what the future holds. I inspect her every day to make sure she is okay, she has regular massage and acupuncture, chiropractic, wellness exams, etc. But I know that as hard as it will be, because I love her so much, I will always do what is right for her, not for me…it may not be at the exact moment that it ‘should’ be, but I know in my heart and I think most people who have told their stories here feel the same way, that I would never intentionally drag out an illness or a severe ailment in order to make myself feel better. When you look into their eyes and you do not see your beloved any longer, you know what is right. Just my two cents. The love we have for our pets is so special…letting them go is the worst part about having that love in our lives.

  20. part of the commitment to having dominion over the animals we choose to love and care for is the necessity for realistic expectations as to the quantities and qualities of their lives. we, as the caregivers and masters of our pets’ fates, must understand that chances are great that we will, in fact, outlive them. i am cheered by the fact that my fur-babies have no knowledge of tomorrow, do not dream in terms of upcoming plans and are content in the here and now. when that here and/or now becomes torture, agony or unlivable pain for them, i beileve it is duty, as a steward for their fate, to make the rational and sane decision to complete their lives in the dignity and compassion they deserve for their unswerving loyalty and love.

  21. I believe that if the animal really wanted to die they would. I believe in every chance to keep them free of pain, medically or not, and to find an answer. If it means we have to give up part of our live to keep them comfortable I will. Everybody has their own reasons and shouldn’t be judged on the why.

    1. My most recent cat to die, almost a year ago, had cancer. We got the first tumor we found removed with good margins and hoped for the best, but it was back in less than six months. The first time she did pretty OK. Energy good and all the rest. The second time she lost a lot of weight and I caught her peeing by the front door which she never, ever did before. The other cats knew she was on her way out. Most of them got up on the sofa with her the last night she was with us and kept her company for a while. There was nothing she could have done to stay alive. So why didn’t she just die?

      If I’d tried to “keep her comfortable”? She felt like crap. It was obvious. She would have had to have been doped up to the gills and that’s no way for a cat to live. And then she would have died soon anyway.

      I know it’s easier for a non-human animal to die from severe distress and that the human animal is a lot tougher. I think that’s where you’re coming from. But we’re talking about animals that drink antifreeze and eat yarn if you let them. Sleep on car engines. That kind of thing. They don’t always know what’s best for themselves at any given time and of course, all living beings have a survival imperative programmed into them. But sometimes your body is just not going to let you survive. Your opinion on the matter is irrelevant.

      Maybe that’s what’s broken in us. We want to live in a world of lies and fantasies. Reality doesn’t wait for us to catch up. Better to do the kind and necessary thing regardless of how we personally feel about it. The alternative is great suffering, and if you don’t move to stop it, you’re helping to cause it.

  22. I babysit a man with alzheimer’s sometimes and not long ago he let me know in no uncertain terms that he has not given up. That people might think he has but he has not. These animals languishing in shelters don’t want to commit suicide and this is a bullshit article. It’s an argument for disposing of animals which vets will tell you is often not for the good of the animal but for the convenience of humans. I don’t want anyone to kill me before I die and the dogs languishing in shelters want homes no to commit suicide or be murdered.

    1. Personally I think people with dementia are in a bit different situation–a lot of the time it doesn’t seem like they’re suffering, and there are ways to keep them happy. So while some people might want to be put down if they get Alzheimer’s, I wouldn’t support a policy requiring it.

      That said, you cannot just let dogs run around loose, and cats are exotic animals in North America. (Dogs at least are domestic versions of wolves, and we have those here.) If someone’s not going to take them, and they’re having to live in cages or overcrowded stinky conditions with minimal human contact for months or years at a time, that’s not why we have dogs and cats. They’re supposed to be companion animals. If they can’t be anyone’s companion, they’re basically taking up space and eating up someone’s money and time, and they don’t belong in the ecosystem here in the first place, and even dogs get dangerous if you let them go feral long enough. That or something eats the small ones.

      You can get mad if you want but if we’re going to exercise this much control over an animal then we need to go all the way. They didn’t ask us to domesticate them. But here we are, and we’ve got severe dog and cat overpopulation going on. So weed out the unadoptable, incurably unhealthy, and high-maintenance ones, weed out the ones who’ve been in a shelter too long, and free up some space for the rest of them to be happier and healthier. This should be a no-brainer. Going no-kill was the dumbest thing any animal shelter ever did.

  23. Yes, there is a time when a suffering animal needs release but it is not a sound decision just because a healthy, adoptable dog has not found a home yet or stopped generating donations.

    1. So shelter owners/volunteers are just supposed to go shoplift dog and cat food from the store, huh? That “stopped generating donations” actually means something, and it ain’t good.

  24. There are different “gates” for the decision. Too many variables to come up with a “one size fits” about the topic.
    When your IBD dog runs and hides to avoid eating, it might be time to “let go”
    When your dog with DM barely wags their tail on your approach, it might be time.
    When your senior dog is taking more meds than you, it might be time.
    I only know that letting go with some foreknowledge (and a little bit of scheduling), is easier than the crisis letting go. When earlier that day they were (seemingly) fine.

  25. A couple of thoughts based on losing an elderly dog recently. It’s never an easy—or necessarily correct choice as to “when.” On one side, I say “Nature does not provide euthanasia for wild wolves, or any other animal.” “Life is pain.” “We do not euthanize humans.” “God and only God decides when living beings die.” “That’s why suicide is a sin.” “Who are humans to decide what is the ‘quality’ of another animal’s life?” “When it comes to our pets, we are all ‘pro-life.'” “Is this stance necessarily selfish?” I don’t know; but medical technology for animals has advanced apace with medical advances for humans. This fact would argue for pulling the plug later, rather than sooner. On the other side, I say “Needless suffering, with no demonstrated hope for recovery is the right time to euthanize.” My dog died after 4 hours in the best Emergency Pet Clinic for 200 miles around. I’m sure those 4 hours were not fun for my dog. My dog would have died the next day anyhow, in spite of such good ‘care.’ Or the day after that. And, I could have saved $ 2,000. by putting the dog to sleep before taking her to the Emergency Pet Clinic. But, I didn’t. I guess I’m just “selfish.”

  26. Because 18 months ago, I was ready for take him in for euthanasia, but I started giving him white rice and he bounced back. LOVE is why.

    1. White rice would not be nutritionally complete, and there’s no way that sustained him for long. Love or not, it wasn’t going to seriously extend his life.

  27. I just ran into this very very old message board about those people who insist on keeping animals animal despite the pain the animals are suffering. There is someone I know whose spouse refuses to allow the animal to be put down. The animal is blind, fell down a whole flight of stairs and is in tremendous pain. I don’t think this shows benevolence. I think this shows that the person has a mental need to keep the animal around for herself (or even himself), regardless of the pain and suffering she or he is keeping the animal enduring. Pure selfishness on the owner’s part. It’s not the animal’s fault if the human has no friends, for example.

    Another thing – an animal in excruciating pain and suffering is not like a human in a similar condition. It’s completely different. You can communicate 100% with a human. The human might be religious and be able to pray. The human can receive a lot of treatment and not consider it cruel because the human understands that despite the suffering of treatment, it is a form of medical hope. The human can communicate with you as to what he or she wants. These are two different situations. The animal will not understand why he or she is being submitted to such horrible (medical) tortures above and beyond the pain and suffering.

  28. Thank you so much for this article. My 12 year old lab is very visibly slowing down. He has had some large lumps on his body for the last few years, but my ex had made the financial decision years ago (when we had to put him on a high daily dose of Apoquel) to focus on providing him quality of life when he was young and then euthanize once that started to deteriorate, and so now that cancer seems to have caught up and is causing lethargy and daily bouts of nausea (within the last 1 to 2 weeks), I know it’s so far advanced that even if I could afford treatment, it would hardly put a dent on what his body is up against.
    But, I have a coworker whose dog would be experiencing heart failure if not for the miracle of modern medicine and pet insurance and it makes me feel like I’m failing my boy.
    But I REALLY don’t want to prolong his suffering. And I have no idea how effective palliative care would be, and to me it seems like a bandaid on the discomfort just to allow the body to break down slower. And in letting him go, I would only be treating him the way I would want to be treated (that’s the trouble with projection though, when there are so many different ways to view a lived experience!).
    But this helped me feel not so monstrous for viewing things this way, even if it is a minority view. I love my boy, and I don’t want to wait until he’s no longer happy to see me, can’t walk, doesn’t want to eat or can’t go to the bathroom on his own (the signs to euthanize I’ve heard from a friend). What would he be dealing with silently leading up to that point!

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