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Your Dog Won’t Hate You. This I Know.

When you have a blog with a name like mine, you get a lot of hits from dog owners doing a Google search for “dog hates me” or similar terms.

Naturally, it’s only people who care about their dogs who worry about such things.

Last week, I got this email from a woman named Dawn:

I saw your blog and I was wondering if you could PLEASE help me.  I just had to put my 16 year old dog down on Monday.  I had Sheba since she was 6 months old and she was my best friend!  She was having issues with arthritis in her back legs and from the way she was acting I knew that it was her time.  I can not seem to make peace with the guilt I feel.  I know in my heart that I did the best thing for her but the guilt is more about “did my dog know that I did this for her” and “was she mad at me”.  When we were getting ready she seemed very unsettled and acted like she wanted to leave.  The vet gave her a sedative that calmed her down but Sheba never really looked at me at the end.  She did give me a quick kiss and then went to sleep.  I am feeling so much guilt that my dog hates me because she didn’t look at me much.  Do you think my dog knew that I loved her?  Do you think that Sheba is in a better place now and is happy and not alone or scared?

In Memoriam -- Sweet Sheba

Every time I read this letter I cry. For the difficulty of the decision Dawn had to make. For her loss. And for the fact Dawn could doubt for even a moment that Sheba knew she loved her.

Dogs may fear people who mistreat them and they may fear people who remind them of people who mistreat them. And the latest research shows they’re capable of a wider range of emotions than we previously thought, including anger and jealousy.

But they’re not capable of hate or revenge or anything that requires complex memory processes to sustain.

And if they were, why on earth would we imagine they could hate the people who loved them for an entire lifetime?

Yet almost all devoted dog owners are capable of the type of painful irrationality and guilt that Dawn experienced.

Even experts in canine cognition. The other day I saw my trainer, Crystal, apologize profusely to her dog, Winnie, when she accidentally touched Winnie’s leg in a tender place. Crystal is a scientist and an expert in reading dog body language. She knows on a rational level that Winnie might respond for a second to a painful stimulus but would never generalize that momentary flinch to fear or dislike of her.  Yet there Crystal was, hugging Winnie and bombarding her with a stream of (to a dog) incomprehensible words.

Faced with the desire to shield those we love from pain, we can’t help ourselves.

But we can see others’ responses more clearly and give solace.  I can (and did) assure Dawn that her instincts that “it was time” were rightfully honored. And that whatever she thought saw on Sheba’s face was, maybe, dislike of being at the vet’s office or of getting an injection. But it was not a fear of death (dogs are very Zen when it comes to living in the moment). And it was never, ever hatred of or anger at Dawn, who faithfully cared for her for 15 1/2 years.

***

As regular readers of this blog know, assurances about an afterlife are not my strong point. But Dr V. over at PawCurious has been writing a wonderful series of posts that pay tribute to Emmett, the dog she lost last year; this is the final one. She is a firm believer in “Kevin” — as her daughter called “heaven” — and all the good company that Emmett (and Sheba) will keep there.

Get out some more tissues before heading over there.

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26 Comments

  1. Posted July 22, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Reading Dawn’s email makes me think of Blitzen, our first Shar-Pei. We had to put him down before he was even four years old because of renal failure. That was almost six years ago. As Amy’s dad reminded us, our dogs have a better than millions of people in this world. Sounds like the same for Sheba. It’s amazing how we torture ourselves over what we could have done better, or different. We have a choice about what we believe. Dawn, I would ask you to choose that Sheba was thankful for the wonderful life you gave her. And that the reason she couldn’t look at you was because she knew how sad you would be once she was gone.

  2. Posted July 22, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Thank you Edie for sharing this. Guess all of us dog lovers have this guilt feeling inside of us when it is about our best friends (actually more the just best friends). And to Dawn who misses Sheba so much. Edie said it all in the title. Your dog won’t hate you, this I know.

  3. Posted July 22, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Dawn, Sheba is really okay and you made the right decision. I can’t imagine how difficult that decison must have been to make, but you really did do the right thing.

    Losing someone is so impossibly difficult- make sure you give yourself permission to grieve. You were and are a great dog mom and Sheba loved you very much.

    Don’t worry, she’s okay now.

  4. Posted July 22, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the mention, Edie. We all have our own personal ways of dealing with loss and grief, and once I got over the fear of wondering if people would think I was a kook for saying how I felt, I found a camaraderie in others who felt the same way.

    I would say, having been doing this for a decade, that pets know in their hearts that we are doing what is in their best interest. They probably also know, after 16 years, that the vet is a place of temperature taking and other things like that, and the response was probably more to that (oh yuck, the vet again) than anything else. She gave you a kiss. Never forget that.

    And while we all choose to believe what makes the most sense to us and gives us comfort, yes, I believe Sheba is in a better place and is probably tearing it up. 🙂

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 22, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Thank you for weighing in here, Dr. V, and confirming that Sheba’s responses to Dawn were vet office-related — and that pets recognize that we have their best interests at heart.

  5. Posted July 22, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Ok, too late, tissues in use – when you’re with them holding their paw and see they are gone it’s a very tough time. Second guessing ourselves seems a universal second nature on the subject of releasing our dogs from their pain. That last kiss said it all…thank you, I love you, goodbye.

  6. Posted July 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Really happy that you wrote about this.
    The people who worry about this are always the people who treated their pets with the utmost care and respect during their lives.

  7. Posted July 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    As I said to Dr V earlier … stop with the making me cry, WOMAN!

    I could be totally making this up, but I could swear I read somewhere that hearing continues for a few minutes after the heart and breathing stops. So, when we’ve had to make this tough decision, we always stay and continue talking to our dogs (even singing to them) in the end.

    It’s probably silly, but it makes me feel better to know that the last thing they hear is my voice, and that they feel my touch, and that they know heart to heart, soul to soul, that they not only WERE loved, but will ALWAYS BE loved.

    My sympathies to Dawn in her time of grief.

  8. Posted July 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    my humans are going through the same feelings of guilt as my friend, mr thumper, has been very sick and has been given at most 6 months to live. everyone tells them that they will know when it’s the right time, but it’s still hard : (

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 22, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      I’m so sorry to hear about Mr. Thumper, Georgia. I can’t even imagine how stressful it would be to have that time limit hanging over you.

  9. Bridget K Smith
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    All I had to do was read the name “Sheba” for I too owned a dog named Sheba,and the eyes got blurry . I have held many of my dogs in my arms as they “got their wings” and also wondered if they too resented me in their last moments on earth. Like some sort of betrayal. I now realize that during that initial grieving period of loss ,our minds can take us to some dark places because we are so vulnerable. Because we just have to reassure ourselves that we did everything we possibly could before the final decision. We loved, nutured, and gave our best to our companion and the final gesture is that of a final gesture of love. Dogs know this already..its we who need to believe it.

  10. Posted July 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    So many tissues. Thanks for posting this… it’s such a hard choice to make, but sometimes it is the right one. I agree – your pup can’t hate you for that. Okay… crying again…

  11. Posted July 22, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Well, not that I appreciate anybody making me cry … which happens a lot.
    I can so sympathize with all this. I am the same way.

    All that aside, I do believe that dogs do KNOW when they are being loved.

  12. Pauses4paws
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Oh how I want to comfort Dawn. Personally, I believe that pets of good owners know they are loved and adored through constant, consistent and good care, through walks, hugs, kisses, cuddles, games, and pats they get along the way; and through the medical care we seek for them and the worry we have about them because they are so important to us. Knowing good dog-owner relationships, Sheba just loved Dawn and loved being by her side, as frequently as possible! To me, Dawn was being self-less to let Sheba go. She trusted her sense that this was the time and that Sheba’s quality of life would only diminish going forward–neither of them would have wanted that, at all!

    Sometimes it impresses me just how much love and joy dogs have in them, especially for their beloved owners. Unless mistrust is developed in a dog, they just seem to accept that we do our best for them, with good intent and they reward us heartily with loyalty, grand gestures of excitement, and a sense of returned ownership with their human. It’s as if they instinctively act in a manner that tells the tale:

    “I’m yours. You’re mine. I love you. Let’s play! Oh, and can I have a cookie—one of the good ones, too?”

    It seems like for humans, guilt feelings can bring conscience to poor choices, so it is a good thing that the feeling exists. But, guilt often attacks even when a decision is sound and humane(Dawn’s decision sure seems that way to me). It’s hard to believe in our reasoning for choices sometimes, but good owners really do know what is best for their pets because of very special and individual bonds. It is unfortunately much harder to trust ourselves when a “right” decision is painful– guilt gets a vicious hand-hold, there.

    I truly hope that if I am ever faced with a similar decision to Dawn’s, I can be as brave and do “the right thing” for my pet, even while my heart breaks.

  13. Posted July 23, 2010 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    When dogs “hate you” i think its his owner fault. Proper dog training solve all behavior problems.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      Guess you don’t read the posts you comment on…

  14. Posted July 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Sooo glad you shared this! It’s such a common feeling with dog lovers and anyone who has had to make the heart-wrenching decision to put their beloved four-legged friend down. My heart goes out to Dawn.

  15. Posted July 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    So glad you wrote about this Edie. I could feel Dawn’s pain and so relate to it. I have often wondered if I did the right thing for my dogs, Indy and Aspen. It took me a long time to get over the guilt as much as their loss.

    But, I think Kenzo is right, all of us dog lovers must have that “guilt feeling” when it comes to our best friends.

    Dawn – I am sorry for your loss. I do not a believe that Sheba would want you to feel guilty for making the right decision. I believe whatever look you saw or didn’t see wasn’t about hate or being angry. I have yet to see a dog “hate” anyone – they are some of the most forgiving creatures I have ever met. Even when we treat them cruelly, they put themselves out there again in forgiveness. I hope that the guilt you feel will someday soon be replaced by all the wonderful memories of your time with her. I think that’s what Sheba would want for you.

  16. Posted July 24, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Years ago when I had the vet come to the house to put my dog down she said, “When he wakes up he’ll be running,” and for the sliver of an instant I thought, “Wow that’s great we should have done this sooner!”. Of course she meant in the ‘afterlife’ but all reason had left my head and I took it literally.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 24, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Debbie, you bring up a good point (besides the fact that we’re all irrational under these circumstances) and that is that many vets will come to your house. If I can bear to write about this topic again — considering I read all the comments with a steady supply of tissues on hand it’s a distinct possibility that I won’t be able to — I might discuss the different options that people have for both euthanization and dispensation of the remains.

  17. Posted August 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I just want to say to Dawn that Sheba could never hate you! Dogs don’t have the ability to hate…even when they are abused all they want to do is please you….and considering how much love you appear to have for Sheba, she must have lived a wonderful, happy, well-loved life!

    Thanks for sharing this, Edie~ I have three beautiful pups, 4yrs, 3yrs, and a 5-month old, with expected life spans of 15-20 years and I already worry about how I’ll handle the days when a decision like this will have to be made. God Bless Dawn, for placing the comfort and needs of her pup before her own selfish need to hold on to Sheba past the point that she would have been comfortable.

    Pups truly are our “angels on Earth” and will be waiting for us when we make the journey ourselves! I truly believe it 😉

    Thank you Edie and God Bless you Dawn~ You sound like a wonderful puppy Mom!
    Kelly
    angelpupscreations.blogspot.com

  18. Posted November 23, 2010 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    I was never as close to any of our dogs as I was to our first GSD “Irish” She was my constant companion. From the day she turned Ten I started dreading what the next few years were going to bring, I just couldn’t imagine being without her. She became sick right after Christmas five years ago, On Christmas she was fine and 2 weeks later she was gone. Those last few days she never came by any of us, she basically stayed to herself as if hinting of the final separation coming. As much as we hated this we knew this was her signal to us to let her go. She went calmly to the vet and I truly believe she was at peace as she passed on. On the other hand I was a mess and so were the Vet’s assistants. I was crying and asking her to forgive me for doing this to her. I felt like I betrayed her. Deep down I really believe they know when it their time to leave, we just have to be courageous enough to read the signs and put their wishes ahead of ours. She did her job faithfully for years, now it was my time to do mine.

  19. Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Hi Edie

    Very sad letter and I can understand Dawn’s reaction but as you say, she did the right thing by her dog, for sure. I hope I have that courage, if it comes to that.

  20. Dogs Best Friend
    Posted May 8, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I am so glad that someone else wrote about the guilt they felt and being tortured at betraying their beloved dog when they were putting them down.

    I had to make this terrible decision with my perfect girl just a few weeks ago. and as I was discussing it with the vet- struggling with the decision, my dog was staring at me with an intensity that I have rarely seen before- she knew what we were talking about. She knew something huge was up. She could see my utter dispair. She knew I was telling her goodbye. And she was mad at me. She turned her face away from me in a “Harumph!”….I DO believe she felt I betrayed her.

    I think it was because she didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay with me. It was as simple as that. It was a terrible decision. One that I second guess alot, but I know it was a good time for her to go- she wasn’t in pain. But that look, it kills me. I understand what Dawn was saying. Dogs are smart- smarter than we often give them credit for, and my dog certainly was. We read each other’s mind. I know she was mad. But I have to believe it’s that she didn’t want to go. But sometimes we make decisions that they have to live with and that was the one I made for her, out of pure love. I am the one who suffers without her.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted May 8, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      I’m so sorry for your loss and for the difficulty of your decision. Knowing you did the right thing doesn’t take away the pain.

  21. Shawna
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Dawn – I am so sorry and sad for you! Sheba was so beautiful!! I am so nervous about having to do this in the future for any one of my dogs. I have 3 and 2 of them are getting up there in age, my mini dachshund Sadie is 11 and she has back trouble and sadly, I think she is beginning to show signs of Canine Cognitive Disorder. She is so anxious and worked up as of late. She hates to go outside all of a sudden and will stand there and whine and scratch like she is scared to death! She is panting a lot more at night and is begging for attention and won’t simply go lie down and relax anymore. I hope I will have the courage to do as you did for Sheba, when Sadie’s time comes. I truly hope they all go in their sleep so I don’t have to go through what you did. I don’t think I’m strong enough to do it. It makes me tear up every time I think about it. I’ve had all of my girls since they were 8 weeks old, they are like my kids, & my best friends. Dawn, I hope you find some sort of peace and comfort. Sheba wouldn’t want you to be sad….and she does know you love her!!

    Shawna M :o)

8 Trackbacks

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