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Help Me Old Friend, I've Lost My Dignity

by Ms Dany Canino

One of the most difficult things any pet owner has to face is the loss of a beloved pet. Whether this loss was because of an accident or simply old age, the void that is felt by the human companion is still devastating.

Another emotion that is felt by the pet owner that is even stronger is when the owner has to make the decision as to when it´s time to put the family pet to sleep. To have to decide whether it would be kinder to have the dog humanly euthanized or wait until life itself is drained out of the pet is not a simple decision to make.

Part of the reason why we experience an emotional tug of war with this responsibility is that, in doing so, in making this choice, we are playing God.

Pet owners have a problem of separating the family pet from human form. By that I mean, when a pet has been in your family for one year or better, emotionally this is no longer a pet to all that live with it. It is now an integral part of the family. So, when time has caught up with our “family friend” we feel we need to hang on to it as long as we can. No one wants to loose a trusted member of the family.

Perhaps it would help to know what happens in the wilds among animals. An evolving process takes place in the animal kingdom throughout the animal´s lifetime. Every animal of the same species instinctively looks out after each other. Dogs are by instinct pack animals. Whether they are in the wilds or in a domesticated situation, they still think like a pack animal. In the wilds all animals would share some responsibility for the young and for the aging animal. With the young they guard them from predators and teach them how to survive and search for food and, they even teach them how to fight and defend themselves. As the animal ages it´s now up to the younger ones to watch out for and care for them. When the elder animal gets to a point that they appear weak of mind and body all of the healthy animals sense that this elder animal could not defend itself, secure food, or do any of the things that at one time made it purposeful. In a sense, this animal would be loosing its dignity. As the animal became more and more helpless the pack would know it was time to decide this aging animal´s quality of life. Through the pack leaders guidance they would all know that it was time to end this animal´s life.

They would all know that it was their responsibility to see to this before the elder animal suffered any more, or before some predator attacked it in its weakened state. The elder animal would have come to expect (and respect) this natural chain of events to occur as (they) probably were in a position at some time or another to help another aging animal. None of the animals would feel shame, hurt, or guilt for this action. They would all join in on this natural euthanasia process. They would collectively kill the elder dog. Then they might bury this animal or at least form a circle around the dead animal and urinate around it to mark this as their territory so no other animal would touch it.

We pet owning humans represent the pack order to our dogs. They look to us as being a part of a pack.

When an animal looses its dignity they loose their sense of purpose. They also loose their sense of self worth. We´ve all witnessed something that should make this clear to us. Try to remember a time when you´ve seen a dog go to a groomer and get all “prettied up”. That dog steps a little livelier and wags his tail a bit more. Now try to remember the dog that went to the groomer and got all of his hair shaved off (down to the skin) because his owner thought he´d be more comfortable. This dog walks with his head slightly downed and unless he´s being directly addressed, his tail doesn´t wag as happily as it used to.

He has lost his sense of dignity. Now, he will regain this dignity when his hair grows back. But unfortunately being able to regain dignity is not the case of the elderly, sickly dog.

We must remember how this dog used to run outside to go to the bathroom. He ran to the door to let us know that someone was there. He looked forward to going to the park to chase the ball or squirrels. He once experienced a quality of life. I´m not referring to the dog that has simply gotten older and is less active than he used to be. I´m referring to the dog that has lost interest in almost everything. He´s ashamed that he accidentally goes to the bathroom in the house. He´s sorry he can no longer hear that someone is at the front door. He sometimes has a sense memory of a time at the park, but he´s just not interested in doing that anymore.

Perhaps your Veterinarian has told you that it´s time for you to start considering the right time to let your pet go. You tell the Vet that you just couldn´t do that. What most pet owners don´t realize is that (they) are unable to let go because they feel a need to keep the pet alive as long as they can. They don´t really know that they are trying to stretch out this dog´s life for themselves. It is oftentimes a selfish reason to keep this animal alive, not because the dog is asking to stay alive. Your Vet is wise and can sense this from your animal. Another reason we may have difficulty in facing this decision is that it makes us have to face our own mortality. We really know that we can´t live on forever, but when our pets have to die after having lived with us for only ten years or so, it certainly makes us face the fact that we aren’t as infinite as we had hoped.

And so, since we promise to take care of our pets from the minute we take them in as a part of our family, we need to watch for the signs from our pet that says, “…help me old friend, I´ve lost my dignity”. You should always feel comfortable to talk with your Veterinarian. Next to you, he´s your dog´s best friend. No doctor is going to nonchalantly advocate putting your pet to sleep. However, if your dog´s doctor says that putting your pet to sleep would save your pet many months or even days of pain, then it´s time.

I´ve had many people ask if they should stay with their pet when the time comes for the doctor to put the pet to rest. This is difficult to answer, as each person´s emotional makeup is different. I usually suggest that you ask the doctor to give you and your family a few moments to all say your good-byes. Don´t drag this time out, as this will not help you or your pet. A dignified and sincere goodbye is appropriate. Then leave the pet with the doctor and go home. However, if you wish to stay with your pet until he falls into a quiet peaceful sleep, tell the doctor this. The doctor will let you know when your pet has passed on.

The next unnecessary guilt we need to let go of is the arrangements for the pet after it has been put to sleep. Some people are in a comfortable financial position to have their pet buried at a pet cemetery or to have the pet cremated. However, many pet owners cannot afford this and if that´s the case, should not feel guilty. Your pet never governed his love for you because of what you could or could not afford. Your pet loved you because you were kind and loving to him. Don´t feel bad about having the Vet´s office make all the necessary arrangements. You could make up a memorial album of your pet as a remembrance. You could even have a small memorial service inviting people that had a relationship with the pet, to share any experiences they remember. Let them sign the memorial book.

One of the best suggestions I can give a pet owner whose pet is starting to show signs of old age is to get another pet. You´d be amazed at how this helps the aging pet. Also, by bringing in another dog into the household the void doesn´t seem as strong when the elder pet goes.< /p>

As someone who has experienced this decision many times, I feel I can really relate to the pain you are going through. It is different if your pet is suffering from cancer or some inoperable injury that causes great pain on a daily basis. I would certainly hope that any pet owner would not allow their animal to suffer for their own selfish reasons. This article is written more so about the pet that has gotten so old that his quality of life is rapidly leaving him.

I´ve always maintained that owning a pet is a very big responsibility. This responsibility oftentimes makes you have to play the role of God. However, we should never make ourselves feel guilty about this role. Most pet owners don´t take that responsibility lightly. I´ve never found a pet owner that wouldn´t hock anything they had in order to afford a chance to save their pet. So when the time comes to make this decision, do it. Do it with the same dignity that you always loved in your pet.

This pet gave you unconditional love, respect, and devotion. This pet filled your life with memories that will stay with you forever and, a part of this pet will be with you forever. “What can no longer be seen by your eyes will forever be seen by your heart.”