A bitter sweet mercy and how to deal with it


It’s a subject that many cannot stomach, only talking about it in hushed tones. It is easy to stow any thought about it far off at the very back of your mind, when your beloved dog is still a puppy full of life and enthusiasm. However, as your dog starts to age, thoughts of your dog’s inevitable death start to permeate your everyday thoughts as if steeling yourself against the inevitable. It is at this point that first time dog owners start to seriously think about the unsavoury topic of euthanasia.

As people speak of it from under their breath a deep feeling of guilt starts seeping in and engulfs their conscience as they imagine themselves giving that definite nod that will signify the end of their dog’s life through a merciful, painless death. Who are we to decide on the life of a living being? Why is it us that needs to shoulder the responsibility of our beloved dog’s life? Why can’t nature allow for living beings to die peacefully in their sleep? It’s nasty business, and this article is an attempt to discuss this unsavoury topic and to help make sense of it.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the process by which death is facilitated. This is done on animals that are either going through their last agonies of their lives, or those that are living with serious chronic pain or discomfort. The process of euthanasia might not be something that a lot of people agree with, but a lot accept it as a necessary evil. People might find it problematic to wrap their heads around euthanasia because in most countries ethics in human medicine dictate that human life is indispensable and that one should always seek to preserve it … sometimes even at the cost of suffering of the afflicted person. When pets are an integral part of our lives, for some people they become no less precious than even members of their own family.

Euthanasia can also take a toll on the medical practitioner. It is feared that a doctor exposed too frequently to the process of mercifully ending his patients’ lives will become insensitive to death and think less of human life. This kind of rationale does not seem to apply when dealing with our animal companions. This might be because our pets seem to be more engaged in the present, and seem to not be concerned with abstract ideas of the future plans and aspirations. For our pets, pain and discomfort is immediate, and they have very limited reasons to anticipate anything positive in the future if they are suffering in the present. Therefore, the concept of a merciful, painless death meets less opposition when it comes to dealing with animals.

When to resort to euthanasia?

This is the most common question asked by dog owners. The ambiguity of the decision often leads dog owners making a leap of faith and take extreme positions about the subject. One can rest assured that the veterinarian will usually let you know his opinion about whether he thinks that a dog is a candidate for euthanasia or not. It is best to listen to your veterinarian. Veterinarians are trained to find out if your dog’s condition is significantly affecting your dog’s quality of life, and will use this information as the foundation for such a decision. Newer owners panicked in fear of their pet’s suffering, often panic and would want to put their dog down even when the dog can recover quite easily. It is therefore important to approach every situation in a level headed way, and recommended that you get professional advice before taking the decision. It is also important for owners to listen to their trusted veterinarian, because some forget that a certain degree of suffering is also part of the healing process. Failing to recognise this will often lead owners to jump to conclusions thinking that they are doing something in their dog’s best interest.

Usually euthanasia is a last resort approach done in hopeless situations where nothing much can be done to improve the dog’s living condition. It is also done in cases where a dog suffers from a chronic condition that will negatively affect the dog’s quality of life in a significant way where there are no positive points to balance out the suffering. Dogs like these often stop eating and give the impression that they have lost all motivation to live. In these cases, euthanasia is the most merciful and least painful thing to do.

How to go about this decision?

This decision is a tough pill to swallow for every dog owner. It is also a decision that most dog owners end up having to do sooner or later in their life. It is therefore useful to have thought about this situation beforehand so that you can handle the situation more gracefully and make the right decision without prolonging your dog’s suffering unnecessarily.

Different veterinarians may have slightly different criteria by which they decide that a dog is unfit to continue living. As mentioned above, the most important criterion is the dog’s apparent unwillingness to live. This is usually seen as a complete lack of appetite, no drinking and the lack of interest in or the inability to do anything that the dog usually enjoyed doing. These are clear signs that the dog has lost its will to live, and that unless indicated otherwise by a veterinarian it is better to give your poor dog the opportunity to be humanely put out of its misery.

It is often that owners end up spending too much time thinking about things that they could have done wrong throughout the dog’s life. This is a futile, fruitless exercise and does nothing to help you or your dog. Such owners must keep in mind that dogs do not require us to live up to high standards, and that in all probability the simple fact that you offered a home, daily good food, care and affection already exceeds any expectations that a dog might have had for their own lives.

Helping your dog finally find rest from a painful, uncomfortable existence while preserving a healthy conscience goes a long way in helping you get through this harrowing experience. Take your time to grieve, and do things that will help you piece yourself together. Keep in mind that you meant the world to your dog, and that helping your dog rest from suffering is the best and most noble decision for someone that offered you nothing but unconditional love.

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