This is a tough topic. It's why it's late.
I thought long and hard before hitting the send button. Ultimately, I decided the questions I’ve asked for the past fifteen years have tremendous practical value.
I pray that sharing the rawness of my grief conveys that I fully understand how easy it is to write an email and how profoundly difficult it is to follow through.
A Tale of Two Dogs
Years ago, I had a cantankerous Lhasa Apso. We called him Moose. I came home from work one day, and he couldn’t walk.
The next day, I took him to our family veterinarian clinic.
The prognosis wasn’t good. Dr. Michael gave me some pain meds — for him, not me! — and told me to take him home and enjoy him for a few more days.
He improved, so when I took him in to say goodbye, Dr. Michael stopped me as I tried to talk myself out of the final step of our plan.
Michael asked, “What activities make him most happy?”
His next question nearly broke me. “Can he do those things in this condition?”
My eyes filled with tears and told Michael to do what must be done.
After a few months without Moose, I was ready for a new dog. At a crowded shelter across the state line — the Poteau Valley Humane Society — a black-on-white Shi Tzu mix demanded our attention.
It was love at first sight. We brought home a joy-filled 2-year-old force of nature.
Remembering Dr. Michael's words a few months before, I made it a habit to make mental notes about:
- Activities he loved.
- His pain tolerance.
- How he moves when he’s happy, anxious, or frustrated.
January 1, 2023, we celebrated Winnie's fifteenth “Gotcha” Day. Aside from sensory issues, he was still happy. He loved going for walks, playing with toys, and pestering us for treats.
Even in his old age, Winchester was still an ever-present source of joy in our household.
Three weeks into our sixteenth year together, a string of issues over a 3-day timespan told me it was time.
My conversation with Dr. Michael all those years ago made for an easy -- yet incredibly painful -- decision.
It’s been two weeks since his passing, and the void hurts even more. We still hear him at the door, demanding treats, and lapping up food in his "dining room."
Even so, I’m satisfied that — when the joy faded — he went out of this world with the sun in his face.
Still with me? Let’s get practical.
Know Your Beloved: 3 Constant Questions
What brings your pet joy?
When your pet no longer participates in these things, it's time to keep a close eye on their quality of life.
Winchester loved to play fetch with a tennis ball. As he lost his eyesight, he still enjoyed playing with his ball. We modified the play to suit his needs. He still had fun.
In his final ten days or so, he wanted to want to play. But his attempts at play lasted a few seconds before he laid down next to his favorite stuffed animal and went to sleep.
How do they move when they are happy?
- Specific tail movements
- The sound of their vocalizations
- How they beg for treats, demand playtime, and let you know it’s walk time
How do they behave when they are uncomfortable or in pain?
Mr. Winchester had a high pain tolerance, making it even more important for us to understand when he was having fun and when he was in pain.
- Withdrawing from regular routines
- Protecting a specific area you suspect may be injured
These observations throughout our time with Mr. Winchester helped so much. I pray this perspective may also ease your heart.
Reframing the Decision
As the end nears, understand the difficult decision you must make isn't about you. It’s a painful truth I continue to tell myself as we grieve his loss.
The final decision is 100 percent about your pet.
The bargain is that they give us a lifetime of companionship.
The Pet Owner’s Code requires us to let go when they no longer enjoy the activities that brought them -- and us -- great happiness.
Thank you for reading.
Next time, let's return to the joys of journaling.