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A reader sends the above photo:

I usually can’t stomach stories about losing a pet, but I’ve been reading each one on this beautiful thread. Thanks.

Many more reflect on the need for selflessness when it comes to confronting our pets’ mortality:

Your love for them compels you to let them die with dignity in their own time and not on our time.  When their bodies fail them, they are telling you in their own way to let go.  I have learned this lesson the hard way when I kept my dog alive (with numerous surgeries and excessive medications) way longer than I should have.  I have held two loving companions as they took their last breath.  I cried for days on both occasions, but for different reasons.  The first was due to guilt because I kept my canine companion around for selfish reasons such as that I couldn’t bear to live without them.  The second time was due to the loss of my canine companion.  The second loss has been much easier on me in the long run.

Another reader:

Our Sunny, a 16-year-old beagle, died in March. She was deaf, half-blind, crippled with arthritis … even maybe a little demented, since I don’t know if she really knew who my husband and I were anymore. But what told us that the time had come were her cries of pain. They weren’t whines or howls, just almost human cries. Our attending veterinarian and her husband were lovely and compassionate. We held our dog and told her how much we loved her and that she was going to be free of pain very soon. I wish I could say we would be free as well, but it is a better pain to grieve for a friend who’d given us so much rather than to endure the guilt of keeping her with us one more day because of our own selfishness.

I will be thinking of you, Andrew. You’ll know when it is time. God bless you.

Another:

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I recently lost a dear pet, Tobias the Shetland Sheepdog. My wife and I loved him dearly, so we clung to him long after we should have made the rational choice. He suffered from arthritis and was mostly blind and deaf, to the point he wouldn’t go outside except in bright daylight. Still, he was the best little dog a human being could ask for. He had the most pettable ears. It’s very difficult to let go of a beloved pet. I just wanted you know you’re not alone.

Another:

I hope that both you and Dusty will be fortunate enough for her to pass away peacefully in her sleep. But if that is not to be, take comfort in the blessing of being able to ease her suffering. My beloved beagle developed lymphoma at the age of 14. I made the seemingly impossible decision to put him to sleep when he reached the point that the tumors in his neck were so large that he could no longer drink water. The alternative for him was an excruciating death from dehydration. He was so sick and weak that when the drugs were administered he simply relaxed and was gone. He died in my arms, surrounded by people who loved him. We should all be so lucky.

Months later, I came across the Villalobos Quality of Life Scale, which is used to help owners understand when euthanasia may be the right choice for their pet. I scored my dog and was surprised and almost relieved to see that, at my most generous, I could maybe give him a score of 15 in his final days. Euthanasia was the most compassionate and loving choice I could have made. It’s been two and a half years, and I still miss him every day.

More readers:

I just read your thread on putting down dogs.  I went through this on April 30 of this year.  Redding was my companion for 13 years.  He was as handsome as he was sweet.  He started to show his age a couple of years ago, around 11.  So I had this two-year waiting period of wondering what you are going through with Dusty as he got slower and more fatty tumors popped up.  He had been limping for a couple of weeks and the vet could not figure out what was wrong so we decided to keep an eye on it.  One Saturday night he came into our bedroom just panting.  It hurt him too much to sit or lay down so he just stood there.  Panting.  That was the sign that it was time to let him go.  We got through Sunday and Monday I took him to the vet.  For me it was a relief to see him pain free.  My wife came with me to drive me home, but at that point she was more upset than I was.  So I drove.

I was surprised that I felt what I was feeling.  I was happy that my boy was no longer miserable and in pain, but kind of numb to the loss.  I made arrangements with the vet to have him cremated.  And over the next couple of weeks I would get sad when I walked in the house and looked at the couch, but did not see him there.  I would tear up when people let me know what a good dog he was and that he is the reason they themselves got dogs.  But it really hit me in the parking lot after I picked up his ashes.  I had one of those good deep sobbing cries.  It hits me now and again.  I still find myself looking for him in his usual spots.

Anyway, just wanted to tell you my story (I believe I wrote in a while ago hoping you would cheer me up).  It is hard and they do let you know, but in my case, there was also a great sense of relief and knowing that I made the right decision and did not hold on to him too long for selfish reasons in the hopes that he would miraculously get better.  He loved and was loved in turn.  He really was a good boy.

Another:

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My family had to put down our lemon beagle, Bruce, a few years ago. He was 12, and it was clearly time; he didn’t have a major sickness, but was extremely frail and completely stopped eating and we didn’t want him to suffer. I couldn’t be there because I was living abroad, but my parents and sister took him to the vet, where they put him to sleep in the courtyard of their small office park, near a fountain. He was a so cute (huge ears that made him look like a puppy well into old age), and the rare dog that actually liked the vet. A few of the assistants even came out to be with him and cried because they loved him too. My sister held his head in her lap as he drifted off.

When it comes time for Dusty, I really, really encourage you to not let her suffer because it’s too hard for you to let her go. I’ve seen this happen way too often and it’s so painful to watch. When the spark has gone out in her eye, you’ll know. Don’t let yourself be blinded by your love and need for her.

Another:

I know you’re getting a ton of emails on this topic, but I have noticed differences in how people respond to their pets’ end of life issues. I’ll preface this with a recent medical scare we had with our 14 lb, Type 2 diabetic Siamese cat. We love him so much that we placated his constant meowing at his food bowl by feeding him too much! Hence we, in a sense, gave him Type 2 diabetes. Diet and two insulin shots a day for two years. Then something very scary happened.

Last week, my wife fed him breakfast and gave him his morning insulin shot. About 10 minutes later, he lost control of his bowels and vomited (poo, pee, and vomit almost simultaneously … an unholy trinity if there ever was one). He then collapsed on the floor. I rushed him to our vet (after giving him some corn syrup) to find out he was in insulin shock and had gone blind.

My wife cried almost the whole day.  Our cat might die, and he was clearly suffering (luckily he recovered and is now in diabetes remission). If the vet told us that he couldn’t be saved, I would have put him down immediately. My wife? Not so much.

It seems many people become wrapped up in their own grief to the detriment of the suffering animal. We keep our animals alive for us not for them. It’s a bit of a paradox. We’re willing to have our animals suffer because we don’t want them to die. We love these family members, but our own feelings of loss lead us to hurt the things we love. I found myself telling my wife that we needed to think of the cat and not about our feelings. I admit that not every case is clear cut, that there’s a waiting game that can happen while treatment occurs. However, some cases are clear, yet many people wait … and wait … until they’re ready for their animal to die, which seems backwards and selfish to me.

Must we control every aspect of our animals’ lives, including making them live too long?

Another reader:

I delayed putting down the first dog my husband and I shared, a black Lab he had before he met me.  He couldn’t bring himself to make the decision and I could not bring myself to push him to do it, even when I knew it was the right thing.  I will never let my own selfish feelings get in the way like that again.  I will never be able to look one of my companions in the eye again and essentially say, “You must suffer because I don’t have the guts to do what is right”.

One more:

I have had the pleasure (if pleasure is ultimately a positive outcome) of being present at the planned final moments of five of our pets, and the agony of two that were unplanned, but should not have been unexpected. One week after 9/11, I awoke to find our black labrador mix Calvin floating lifeless in our swimming pool, no doubt because his poor eyesight and shaky legs doomed him when all he probably wanted was a drink of cool water. He’d been struggling for a while, but we could not bear the thought of putting him down.

About a year before, our beagle Lester (who bore a striking resemblance to Dusty) had a growth on his liver, but we decided to try surgery, even though he was already 13 years old and had other health issues. Whether by fate or the incompetence of the veterinarian, he bled out on the operating table and that is our last memory of him.

In both cases, our own selfishness prolonged their lives beyond what was fair and reasonable. We have learned our lesson, and all our beloved pets since have been showered with love and affection on their final day; we like to think that is what they took with them to their end. You can expect to have reservations when the time comes, but trust your own instincts. Simply imagine how you would want other humans to treat you if you were in a similar situation, and the decision will be clear.