Losing a pet

Pet ownership is not without trial by fire …

by Karen Hirst

Much has been written about having pets in our lives whether we be single, married, young or old, whether the pet will be part of a family or a partner in work.

Somewhere along the line we often find ourselves making the decision about which pet best suits who we are, how we live, the level of comfort and commitment that we can offer… at least the experts advise us to give consideration to these many questions before bringing a pet into our lives.

Ken and I have successfully had two sets of Siamese cats as part of our family life, albeit they mostly could be labelled as more mine than his, but despite no great affinity for the feline species, his expansive, soft heart found moments for shared love with all of them.

As life’s impermanent nature would have it, we lost Cindy early in her life to congestive heart failure, her sister Sou-Sou died a natural death of old age and more recently both Cassie and her brother Brewster succumbed to renal failure. In all cases their deaths resonated a great loss and change within our family unit.

We twice attempted to bring a dog into our family. In our earlier lives we made the mistake that so many have made by bringing a dog into environments unsuitable for their needs leaving all parties frustrated and unhappy and eventually having to impose the pain of parting company for both owner and pets alike … a rambunctious poodle and a retriever don’t fair well in a small apartment above a funeral home.

It wasn’t until eleven years ago that the stars aligned perfectly for ownership of a dog. We resided year round in our cottage home on the shores of Three Mile Bay, White Lake. Ken had taken early retirement and was at home full time. Miss Abigail was a small, sweet-tempered Shih-tzu/Maltese mixed breed. She was to become the recipient of love at first sight, hands-on care and attention, the focus of both doting owners.

Along with her Master they walked miles several times a day so we missed the paper training exercises completely. Her vet commented that she was so healthy with all the walking that she’d likely live forever. A good eater, a champion cuddler and sleeper ( if it included being in your bed), an accomplished road tripper and she could shop til she dropped, held in her Poppa’s arms. Everyone became familiar with Abigail…she was the perfect fit, at the perfect time in our lives. Where we went, Abigail was in tow. If she couldn’t go, we seldom did either.

Until … until it wasn’t going to be any longer.

Until time couldn’t be stopped in its tracks, or the inevitable held back, it couldn’t be negotiated to be something different with a changed outcome….our Miss Abigail was very ill, she was dying.

We had made hard decisions before with Cassie and Brewster. We knew the pain of parting with beloved pets, questioning our right to rob them of time, weighing their remaining quality of life against the height of their previous well-being and asking over and over is the time now, if not, when?

The choice to euthanize is a process many often face when beloved pets become ill. I can only say that it is paramount that the beloved pet remain the focus of the decision-making process … if based on the owner’s needs, we’d never let go and that would potentially be a cruel, undignified result for the pet. We never wanted Abigail to suffer in any way or to lose the dignity she possessed.

I believe the pet themselves will guide us through the process if the owner remains alert to the progression of change … changes in behaviour, changes to the pet’s normal level of functioning and routine, changes in overall health status, changes that signify that their quality of life is so diminished that they no longer find much pleasure in rising to meet the day, changes that suggest a depth of tiredness and need to be at rest.

It was an awareness of these changes in our precious, much loved Abigail that allowed us to part with her.

Our love guaranteed us an empty, broken heart that hurts deeply with every thought of her … however, we know that in choosing to euthanize Abigail at the appropriate hour we accepted to bear that suffering as a token of the depth of our love, caring and respect that we had for her.