The Responsibility No Pet Owner Wants–But Must Accept

by Lisa Stahr

             I want to talk a minute about responsibility.  “Big snooze,” you think, and part of me agrees.  But we’re all adults here and we understand that responsibility is just one of those things that comes with the territory. 
            As pet owners, we understand responsibility.  And for those of us with a special needs pet, we’ve accepted even more responsibility than most pet guardians.  We’ve agreed to help our pets walk when they can’t walk on their own, to express their bladders when neurological damage robs them of that capability, to see that they get the medications, food, and therapies they need to remain comfortable, functional, and happy. 
            By agreeing to share our lives with dogs and cats, we accept the responsibility to care for them properly.  And sometimes—almost always—that means making the extremely difficult decision to euthanize them when the time has come.  Like it or not, it is our responsibility.
            At Scout’s House, we’ve talked with many clients over the years about when it’s time to make that horrible decision.  Because we see the pets so frequently, we’re well aware when they’ve started to decline, how quickly and how far they’ve gone, and whether there’s a road back again.  Our policy has always been to gently initiate a conversation about it with our clients and give them a copy of our “When Is It Time?” quality of life scale, but ultimately we leave the decision up to them and their vets. 
            There are times, though, when clients “just can’t” make the decision, no matter how much input we or their veterinarians offer.  I understand how hard it is—I’ve had to make the decision for six of my pets and I’m here to tell you it is not easy.  It is always heartrending and you are always filled with doubt, no matter how obvious it is that the time is right. 
            But saying you “just can’t” does not excuse you from the responsibility.  If your pet is suffering—like the dog in the final stages of degenerative myelopathy who’s having trouble breathing or the dog who refuses to eat or drink, can’t walk anymore, and doesn’t show any joy for life—it is unconscionable to prolong that animal’s life because you “just can’t” make the decision. 
            This is your responsibility—one you took on when you agreed to share your life with your pet—and telling everyone you “just can’t” make the decision does not excuse you from the responsibility.  (By the way, if you “just can’t” make the decision, then you probably know it’s time—you just don’t want to do it.) 
            So, if you think that the time might be coming for your dog or cat, start preparing yourself.  Recognize that it’s one of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever have to make.  Ask your veterinarian for guidance.  Take our “When Is It Time?” evaluation.  Read as much as you can about how to make the decision (Dr. Nancy Kay’s book “Speaking for Spot” has an excellent section on euthanasia).  Talk to your family and friends.  But don’t stall and don’t run the pros and cons over and over in your head while your pet endures a miserable quality of life. 
            Be a responsible adult and make the damned decision.

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