Just last week, while I was performing euthanasia for a critically ill patient, the pet’s owner looked at me and said, “I bet this is the hardest part of your job.” That gave me pause. For me, putting animals to sleep is not one of the hardest parts of being a veterinarian. That’s because euthanasia is often a blessing and gift to a suffering animal. In my experience, the hardest part of being a veterinarian is telling owners that their beloved pet has a terminal illness and will soon be leaving this world. The emotions that pass across their faces, even if they have suspected the worst for some time, are heart-wrenching.

It’s Never Easy I still remember the first person I had to share this terrible news with. He was a nice, middle-aged man with two small children and an 8-year-old Rottweiler named Stone. Stone was a member of the family, and when he started to limp, his owner brought him straight in to be checked out. Stone was a wonderful dog at home, but he was not a fan of the veterinary clinic. My best dog treats did nothing to warm his heart, and when I manipulated his painful left shoulder, well… that ended our chances of being best friends. Even though Stone was not an admirer of mine, I liked him, and I really liked his owner. That made it so much harder to discuss his diagnosis: osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is a painful bone tumor that responds poorly to treatment. In some cases, treatments involving limb amputation and/or radiation therapy can be beneficial. In Stone’s case, these options were not feasible. Together, Stone’s owner and I decided to provide him with the best palliative care we could, and we promised each other that we would not let Stone suffer. When the time came, we would do the right – if tough – thing and put him to sleep rather than allow him to live in increasing pain.

Stone’s owner was the first person I ever had an end-of-life discussion with, and he was also the first person to ask me a question I have heard hundreds of times since: “How will I know when it’s time?” The most recent person to ask me this question was my own mother. Her Miniature Schnauzer has battled long-term health problems and was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Unfortunately, she initially responded poorly to treatment. She lost her love of food, began soiling her bed and was generally acting pitiful.

How to Decide Over the past few years, I’ve heard a lot of veterinarians give wonderful advice to people who are wondering when it is time to give their pets the gift of a peaceful passing. Here are four of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard, and they are the same ones I passed on to my own mother for her consideration.

Every pet, illness and situation is different. There is no single rule that can be followed for when it is time to help your best friend “cross the rainbow bridge.” Getting input from your veterinarian on the specific medical conditions that your loved one may face is vital for doing what is best for your pet. You may also benefit from having a caring friend who is not as emotionally involved in the situation as you are to help you gain perspective and really “see” what is happening with your pet.

Remember that pets live in the moment. One of the most wonderful things about animals is how they embrace the present. Every time I walk into my house, my faithful Vizsla throws a one-dog ticker tape parade. The fact that I have entered the house thousands of times before, or that I will leave again in a few hours, means nothing. All that matters to him is the joy that he feels right now. When our pets are suffering, they don’t reflect on all the great days they have had before, or ponder what the future will bring. All they know is how they feel today. By considering this perspective, we can see the world more clearly through their eyes. And their eyes are what matter.

Ask yourself important questions. Sometimes, articulating or writing down your thoughts can make the right path more apparent. Some questions that help pet owners struggling with this decision include:

  • Why do I think it might be time to euthanize?
  • What are my fears and concerns about euthanizing?
  • Whose interests, besides those of my pet, am I taking into account?
  • What are the concerns of the people around me?
  • Am I making this decision because it is best for my pet, or because it is best for me because I’m not ready to let go?

Measure their quality of life. This is no more than trying to determine how good or bad our pet’s life is at this moment. Trying to assess this can be difficult, but there are some ways you can try and evaluate it. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorites in the next section.

Is Life a Joy or a Drag? Our pets may not be able to talk to us and tell us how they are doing, but if we pay close attention, there are many clues that can help us answer that question.

The Rule ofFive Good Things”: Pick the top five things that your pet loves to do. Write them down. When he or she can no longer do three or more of them, quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.

Good Days vs. Bad: When pets have “good days and bad days,” it can be difficult to see how their condition is progressing over time. Actually tracking the days when your pet is feeling good as well as the days when he or she is not feeling well can be helpful. A check mark for good days and an X for bad days on your calendar can help you determine when a loved one is having more bad days than good.

HHHHHMM: Doctor Alice Villalobos is a well-known veterinary oncologist. Her “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale is another useful tool. The five H’s and two M’s are: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene (the ability to keep the pet clean from bodily waste), Mobility and More (as in, more good days than bad). Dr. Villalobos recommends grading each category on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being poorest quality of life and 10 being best). If the majority of categories are ranked as 5 or above, continuing with supportive care is acceptable.

Pet Hospice Journal: Keeping a journal of your pet’s condition, behavior, appetite, etc., can be extremely valuable in evaluating quality of life over time.

A Tale of Two “Endings” Thankfully, my mother’s Schnauzer, Zoe, eventually responded to her therapy. As a perpetual optimist, I like to think that she may be with us for some time to come. Still, the reality of having older pets is that we must be vigilant in their care and aware that every day is a gift. In the case of my long-ago patient, Stone, with whom I first walked this path, I am glad to say that he did not suffer unnecessarily with osteosarcoma. His owner made a good decision, and Stone crossed the rainbow bridge while in the loving arms of his people. He was remembered by them as a strong, loving protector of the children in his family, and I will always remember his owner for having the strength and wisdom I hope we’ll all have when the time comes to say that final goodbye.

By Dr. Andy Roark | vetstreet.com | Pets – Mon, Apr 22, 2013 12:21 PM EDT


Euthanasia: Your head says one thing but your heart says another

Euthanasia: Why some owners choose to stay and some choose to go


Grief over the death of a beloved pet can be devastating
Ellie advises a reader who can’t recover from the death of a dog/best friend, killed by a pitbull in its owner’s presence.

By: Ellie Advice, Published on Thu Mar 14 2013



Q: Last September, I lost my 3-year-old dog/best friend in a pitbull attack. While I was bruised and bloodied, I felt severe guilt over falling apart instead of finding a way to help him. I’ve sought counselling, focused mostly on anxiety, for which I’m already medicated.

My family and friends are a great support but no one totally understands my grief. I’ve read self-help books on pet loss, but none deal with such traumatic loss.

The pitbull owners were my neighbors, who had several prior citations, had already had one dog confiscated, and were all-around irresponsible and cruel to their pets. They moved away.

There’s little I can do legally. I’ve already tried counselling, prayer, group meetings, Internet searches. What else can I do to ease my pain?

A: All grief is personal and arouses anxieties, fears and other feelings of loss. With traumatic loss such as yours — sudden and violent — you feel powerless. The fact that it’s a pet is for you no different than a child because you felt the dog was in your care and your responsibility. So continue with the counselling, especially as you’ve been prone to anxiety. Coordinate your psychological therapy with your doctor, regarding the medication you’re already on, in case something else would be more effective through this period.

My suggestion: Perhaps a fund-raising event toward a pet-related charity, in your dog’s honour, might take you outside your grief, and give purpose to the pleasure/companionship your dog gave you.

Q.  I was wondering, is it normal to grieve over the loss of a pet more than the loss of a family member? Here’s the deal I lost my cat to a seizure about a week ago. I was devastated, I mean, I’m still grieving,it’s just about as bad as when I lost my dad. Since my cat was chosen out by my dad. (Long story)

Anyways, my grandmother died today, and she lived to be 87. I haven’t really cried that much, I don’t know if I’m still in shock, but I just don’t feel sad about it. I mean, I miss her, but I don’t feel sad like I did about my cat or about my dad. Why is this? Is it also normal for me to be grieving more about my cat than my grandma or is there something abnormal about me?

A.  It makes perfect sense. Losing the cat is like losing the last living part of your father.  At the same time, a pet is dependent on you, so you were a kind of mom to the cat.

Many believe that losing a child (which is what your cat was to you) is the worst pain a parent can experience. It’s partly the strength of the parent-child bond, and partly because the child didn’t get to live a long, full life. Your grandmother did have a long (and we hope fulfilling) life, so it isn’t a case of a life cut short.

However, do NOT express this last part out loud, especially to your family. However true it may be, people don’t like hear that one death is not as big a tragedy as another.

And do not worry that your feelings aren’t normal. A lot of people react in predictable ways, which is why the funeral business is such a money-maker. If you grieve in a different way, well, don’t let anybody tell you that it isn’t right or normal. You don’t need to validate anybody else’s manner of grieving.

Some responses by readers:

  1. Just Thinking:   I think you are being to hard on yourself. Grieving is different for all people and varies in degrees depending on many different factors. I would suggest that you have been in a state of grief and this is now added and so you have gone into shock? Try to be kind to yourself, the loss of your cat after the death of your father and the connection you have with the cat from your father is going to be very strong, possibly stronger than the relationship to your grandmother, there is nothing wrong or unnatural about that, the loss of your cat is like losing your father a second time?
  2. TM:   You know I don’t think its that crazy but I would feel the same if the same thing happened to me. I hate saying that but its true. I think you might be a little in shock and if your already grieving its hard to figure out who your grieving for. Its normal to not be devastated I think over a grandparent. For one they are older so it is expected,plus unless you live with them, the older you get the less attached you are too them.
  3. xxraeofsun:   You may have been closer to your cat than your grandma or maybe you weren’t seeing your cat’s death coming
  4. Ash:    Wow,you are definitely going through a lot right now and you shouldn’t feel bad that you aren’t “grieving” per se, but maybe you are still in shock and this is just a way of your emotional self to protect yourself. All of this loss at once is sure to confuse anyone about their emotions. You seem to connect your cat (how you described it) to your dad, (since he picked it out and all) so the loss of your cat is probably bringing back the pain of loosing your father. Don’t feel abnormal about any of this, or bad about grieving for your grandmother differently. This much stress can really mess with a person. Best wishes and sorry for your losses.

Daily Bible Study with SEEDS OF THE KINGDOM
Updated: Saturday, 19 December 2009, 8:26 (GMT)

17 December 2009 | Expressing Grief

Jesus wept. John 11:35, NIV

Our young grandson has just experienced his first loss of a pet.This nearly three-year old hamster died over the weekend and he was heartbroken. His parents handled it well. His dad asked him if he wanted to hold it, which he didn’t, but together they went and buried it in the garden. He spent a tearful evening with both of them and the next morning said to his mum,”I don’t know how I am supposed to feel”, possibly thinking that it was “only” a hamster and should he be feeling so upset. Her reply was that it was quite all right for him to feel sad and that it was natural to miss the little creature for a time. I have prayed with many people who experienced the loss of a close relative, sometimes a parent, when they were very young and were never able to grieve. Now, as adults, they have discovered a well of untapped grief which they have never expressed. Probably the adults around them at the time wanted to spare them the pain of loss and so from the best of motives they didn’t encourage the expression of grief. But now the buried feelings have either come to the surface or else all emotions have become trapped under a layer of concrete. Jesus freely expressed His emotions. On two occasions we read that He wept, once when He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus back to life and once over Jerusalem. He was not ashamed of His tears, nor of people seeing Him crying. Children should be encouraged to grieve, to know that people, and creatures, that they love are going to die sometime,and that they should not bury their feelings.


Heavenly Father, Thank You that You have given me emotions through which I can experience the fullness of life. Please help me to express them all in a right way and not bury the uncomfortable ones. Amen.

Today’s Writer

Angela Weir has been associated with Ellel Ministries from the very beginning, first as an associate member of the ministry team and later as an associate teacher. She trained as an actress and after her marriage and move to Cumbria, taught drama in a girls’ school.

Aultman game wins over kids experiencing loss

By Cheryl Powell Beacon Journal medical writer
POSTED: 12:00 p.m. EDT, May 05, 2010

CANTON: Dealing with the death of a loved one is hardly child’s play. But a Northeast Ohio hospital is marketing a new board game designed to help children share their emotions in a nonthreatening way. Aultman Health Foundation’s Grief Services recently began selling its Doggone Grief game to counselors, schools, funeral homes, support groups, families and other customers nationwide. The colorful board game features photos of about 100 dogs submitted by Aultman employees. The pooches’ pictures represent four basic emotions that players are asked to discuss: sad, mad, scared and happy.

”The game just opens the door and helps them feel more comfortable,” said Brenda Brown, director of Aultman Grief Services. Compassion Books Inc., a national company based in North Carolina, is selling Doggone Grief on its Web site and through its catalog, which is distributed to about 40,000 to 50,000 people nationwide. The 20-year-old company sells books, CDs, videos and other resources to help people deal with death or other losses. Compassion Books Director Bruce Greene said the company opted to sell the board game because it’s ”really well thought out and appealing to kids.

” ”There have been various board games that have come out to use in schools and things like that, but most of them are pretty minimal,” he said. ”We didn’t really want to carry one until we saw this one. . . . It just had more substance than the others I had seen.” Brown came up with the idea for the game several years ago after trying unsuccessfully to find a game to use with children during grief support groups she leads in Canton-area schools. ”I knew that playing a game or something fun or interesting would grab their attention and get them to talk,” she said. ”I thought, ‘We’ll just make our own.’ ” After getting the go-ahead from her boss, Brown enlisted graphic artists in Aultman’s media department to help design the game board and cards. The Canton-based health system contracted with a Las Vegas company called Board Game Design to produce the game, which is manufactured in China. A $3,000 donation from Dr. William Wallace and his wife, Candy, helped fund some of the upfront cost for the project. Brown, a dog lover, decided to feature canines in the game as a fun way to get kids to open up about their feelings.

”There are times that dogs make you happier than nobody else can, because they love you unconditionally,” she said. As players move their dog-shaped game piece around the board, they land on spaces and pick up a corresponding sad, mad, scared or happy card. Each of the cards includes an employee’s pet depicting the emotion and a question for the player to answer. One of the sad cards, for example, states: ”Sadie has a blank look on her face like everything is just fine, even though it’s not. Do you have times you pretend that everything is just fine, too? Please share.

” On a recent morning, seven students in a weekly grief support group at Lehman Middle School in Canton shared a mixture of laughter and sadness while playing Doggone Grief. After drawing the emotion cards, the children talked openly about everything from how they deal with anger to the things they miss about their deceased loved one. ”The thing I miss the most is her saying ‘goodbye’ when I go to school,” said eighth-grader Cody Warehime, 14, whose mother died in October. ”It’s the little things you miss,” agreed seventh-grader Jessica Coram, 13, who had two relatives pass away.

Amy Harrison, a counseling intern at the school from Walsh University, said several of the children in the group refused to talk about their feelings until they started playing the game. ”It’s a tool that we can use to help the kids,” she said. ”I definitely saw them open up more when we started playing the game. They would answer questions during the game that they wouldn’t answer without playing the game.” Seventh-grader Amanda Stamper, 13, said the game helped her talk about her father, who died when she was 4.

”When I came in, I used to not talk about what happened, because it was too hard to talk,” she said. Brown said the game can be played with all ages, but it’s primarily marketed for children. Doggone Grief retails for $35 and is available in the Aultman Hospital gift shop,Some national distributors, including Compassion Books (http://www.compassionbooks.com/products/Doggone-Grief-Board-Game.html) also are starting to sell the game. So far, nearly 200 of the first 1,000 games produced have been sold nationwide and in Canada. Proceeds are used to support Aultman Grief Services, which offers support groups, school programs and other services to help people experiencing loss.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or chpowell@thebeaconjournal.com.

Having a pet can meet many human psycho-social needs and has been undervalued in the field of mental health, says the author of a comprehensive review of human-pet bonds published today in the journal Family Process.

The research, by Dr. From a Walsh of the Center for Family Health at the University of Chicago, finds that pets provide stress reduction, companionship, affection, comfort, security and unconditional love to their owners. Having a pet can even confer physical health benefits. For example, heart attack survivors who have pets are likely to live longer if they have a pet. Pets can become so entwined in family dynamics that they are often the source of conflict in divorces. Some women have refused to leave a partner who is abusive if she thinks the pet will be harmed in her absence, Walsh said. Other studies in recent years show that many animals possess a strong ability to connect emotionally with humans and communicate with them, in their own ways, of course. Thus, relationships with pets help people through hard times and provide connectedness in an era when family connections are fragmented.

Mental health professionals, however, often ignore the role of pets when assessing emotional health or relationships, Walsh said. Grief over the loss of a pet, moreover, is trivialized. And people who seem overly attached to their pets are sometimes viewed as strange, dysfunctional or lacking in social skills.

But, Walsh wrote: “As researchers have seriously examined human-animal bonds in their own right their findings suggest that feeling even closer to a pet than to others is not uncommon, and the vast majority of pet lovers are not socially inept or trying to replace their human companions. Most people who connect strongly with animals also have a large capacity for love, empathy and compassion.”

More than 63% of U.S. households — and 75% of households with children — have at least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn. National Pet Owners Survey.

— Shari Roan

Photo credit: Michael Chow  /  The Arizona Republic  /  Associated Press

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pet Loss: Good-bye Dear Jake

It is good to be back in Michigan!  In December Peter and I  loaded Jake, our 15 yr old Lab/Shepard mix, in  the car and drove to our new winter home: Tucson, AZ.

We were concerned about Jake’s comfort and ability to make the trip, but he tolerated it well and seemed revived soaking up the sun in our new yard.

It was hard to watch him lose the strength to get in the car, the ability to manage stairs, the comfort of being around other animals.  As his senses faded his anxiety escalated.

Our vet helped us assess his  condition and needs.  We had hoped he could make it back to Michigan, but by April we knew it was time to euthanize him.

We have had other pets euthanized–it is never an easy decision.

The reason I decided to write about Jake’s death here is this:  Reactions to the loss of a beloved pet is  as multi-faceted as any other loss.  Everyone is entitled to view their animals, and the loss of them, however they want.   I caution you though to not make assumptions about what that loss is like for others.

Some of the comments people made when Jake died offended me.  Really, really offended me.  Some of them were made by the professionals who were assisting us with the process, some by friends.

Here are some examples:

—Referring to Jake as my “child”.  NO…he was my loved and valued pet.  He did not come close to being in the same category as my child.
–Questioning our decision to euthanize–some thought we waited too long, others thought we were too hasty.  It is not their business, unless their opinion has been requested.
Telling us their personal stories of pet loss (often the re-telling  proved traumatic for the person and they would then need comforting).  In the midst of trying to make the right decision no one needs to have things complicated by a tearful story.

Pet loss, like other grief, is a personal journey.  Let the person take the lead in conversations.  Listen.  Listen well.

We were lucky to have many, many people do just that.  Let us guide the conversations.

I especially want to thank Dr. Lee Fike (Tucson) http://www.leefike.com/ : Thank you for your compassion, wisdom, guidance and  patience. Your  method  of euthanizing in stages allowed us the opportunity to see Jake at peace to be able say good-bye in our home, as we listened to music that comforted us. Thanks also to our dear friend Helen Costa (Ann Arbor) who was always just an email away, willing to answer questions and help us explore options. And, many others who said just the right thing, at the right time.

Today we will spread Jake’s ashes in Michigan and celebrate his awesome, sweet spirit.

I am glad he is home.

Posted by Klara Lynn Dannar at 7:44 AM

Pet Ohana

For Thursday, November 5, 2009

By Hawaiian Humane Society

QUESTION: Our family cat recently died, and we’re at a loss on how to explain this to our young children. What can we tell them?


ANSWER: If you hide your grief, children could fear that sorrow is unnatural. If you tell them that your cat simply went to sleep forever, they might fear sleep. It’s best to tell them the truth and that it wasn’t anyone’s fault and your pet is no longer in pain. Encourage them to talk about fun and happy times with your pet. Planning a celebration of life is a way for them to make this a happy ending.

The Hawaiian Humane Society welcomes questions by e-mail, hhs@hawaiianhumane.org. Indicate “Pet Ohana” in the subject line.

By Rheyanne Weaver

August 11, 2010 – 11:55pm 1 comments

When you take care of something for months or even years, you can grow attached to it, especially when it brings you happiness. For example, I became attached to several of my pet rats. Of course, the inevitable happened: they died. Although some people didn’t understand, I went through a minor grieving process and even cried over my lost furry friends. Then again, those same people really didn’t understand my intense attachment to my rats while they were still living in the first place.

Disenfranchised grief is generally known as grief that is “less acceptable” by society. Pet loss is an example, since people can reason that pets aren’t human so they don’t matter as much. I’m guessing some pet owners wouldn’t agree, but in general if you show too many emotions over a dead pet, you’ll get puzzled looks and laughs. Even with pets there is a hierarchy. Most people would think something is wrong with you if you cried over a pet fish dying, but it might be different for a dog.

Two employees from Hospice of Palm Beach County in Florida together shared their knowledge of grief through e-mail: Regina Di Pietro, director of supportive services, and Chelsea Johnson, manager of supportive services. “Grief is a normal and natural response to loss,” they said. “It is physiological as well as emotional and spiritual.” It is important to distinguish between the sadness and depressed feelings associated with grief and those of clinical depression, since it’s “not a normal response.”

Culture and religion can play a part in how people grieve, as well as understanding and acceptance. Some cultures may not understand the connection between pets and their owners, and therefore grief may be frowned upon, whereas grieving over a lost child is usually met with empathy and acceptance. Generally, this society expects quick recovery, and long term or complicated grief could be seen as weakness.”

Disenfranchised grief can be harder to recover from and may create feelings of guilt and shame because of the stigma attached to some causes of grief, because we rationalize why we can’t feel, or why we shouldn’t.

I think we have to understand that grief is so personal and so individual that we can’t decide what someone should feel by our own standards. Some of us cry when we watch a sad commercial, while others never shed a tear despite loss and pain. Also, a lot of time with disenfranchised loss, people around you don’t know you’re grieving. This can cause a much slower recovery, as one of the healing parts of grief is the expression of the pain. The recovery process is the same for all types of grief, but sometimes there are support groups for specific causes of grief so people can relate.

Without limits or time expectations, the only way out is…working through the grief. It is what we have to do to really recover. There are no quick fixes, and with respect and working with people who understand…it can make it easier.

So, is grief ever beneficial? The pain is never a good thing, but the response and the emotional process can be healing. If you walk the journey, it can be a good thing when you come out on the other end. We will all grieve at some point. It is something that you can take the good out of…but we would never choose the pain.