I’d like to pose two questions that seem to be on the minds of a lot of people who contact me. When is it okay to euthanize a pet? And, what reasons are legitimate in ending a pet’s life? As someone who has had to put a few pets to sleep over the years, I can tell you that there are no clear, easy answers to these questions. And that’s the way it should be. After all, we’re talking about our faithful companions who’ve loved us unconditionally and accepted us without question. Thinking of ending their lives should never be easy or without some doubts. But neither should euthanasia be considered unreasonable or out of the realm of possibilities when making critical decisions about our pet’s health and/or behavior. We are still the ones in charge of our lives. We make the decisions that run a household, raise our children, hold down a job and plan for our futures. We know what goes on in our homes, what our struggles are and what we need to change in order to improve our daily lives. And sometimes, this means changing how we approach the care of our pets.
It’s good for us to remember that animals don’t think about death the same way we do. For them it’s just a passing from one life to the next. Of course our pets don’t want to leave us for a variety of reasons, but they’re generally not afraid of dying because they know there’s more life to come. Humans like to hang on. We like to keep trying and trying in order to keep our pets with us for as long as we can. Hanging on can be extremely difficult on everyone in the family… especially our pet. And yet, we can’t let go. Our pores overflow with the guilt we feel for admitting we’re tired of giving shots, changing bandages, cleaning up yet another pee stain on the family room carpet, tolerating yet another cat bite from Fluffy and spending everything we earn on veterinary bills, food and cleaning products. We even go so far as to think our pets expect that we will do whatever it takes and spend whatever money it costs in order to keep them with us. We’ve created an atmosphere of unreasonable pet care that is almost impossible for some pet owners to live up to. Because of these expectations, there is much confusion as to when enough is enough and when it’s okay to stop.
My thoughts on this are simple. When we take a pet into our home to love, cherish and share our life with, we do not sign a contract that says we have to sacrifice everything in order to provide care. We are not obligated to break the bank, to use up our retirement savings or to put our pet’s medical care ahead of our own or that of our children. We can not be expected to tolerate our pets peeing around the house for several years destroying carpeting and furniture. And we cannot have an animal around our children who is unpredictable or intolerant. It’s just too dangerous. We have to be willing to admit that the veterinary care, the classes, the behaviorists and all of the exercises we tried simply didn’t work.
Friends want to be helpful when you explain your pet woes to them. “Why don’t you find another home for your pet if you can’t take care of them anymore?” That’s easier said than done. Full disclosure is the name-of-the-game when you’re considering re-homing your pet. It’s not fair to advertise your pet as being loving, cuddly, kind and obedient if you don’t mention that he’s in chronic kidney failure and the cost of his special diet is prohibitive for you. It would be unforgivable to adopt your dog to a nice family and not tell them that Fluffy has snapped at and almost bitten your children. And it would be cruel to give your cat to an older woman as a companion and not tell her that Kitty pees outside of his litter box several times each day. We would be appalled if someone did that to us. It’s not fair and it’s not right.
We love our pets and sometimes we love them to distraction so we don’t see the real picture that’s right in front of us. If we live with a pet who has one or many problems on a day-to-day basis – problems that require us to provide care, medicine, special diet, shots, carpet cleaners, etc. – it’s our choice as to whether or not we want and can provide the care that is needed emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. We live with this pet. We know what it takes to care for him. We have the right to say enough is enough and it’s time to stop.