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What Does It Mean to Give Your Pet a Good End? Maybe Not What You Think

judge copyFrankie was not a judgmental dog.

So I was sad, and little bit angry, to discover that some people have used praise of Frankie’s Fund, which is dedicated to helping homeless senior dogs get a great sendoff, to diss others’ ways of saying good-bye to their pets.

Judge Much?

As far as some folks are concerned, everyone is required to witness their pet’s final breath. A commenter (on another blogger’s Facebook post about Frankie’s Fund, not one of mine) wrote:

My pet peeve is when people say I couldn’t be with them at the end cuz it would be too hard. I always say nooo you owe it to them to be there to say thank you and love them right til that last breath. Hard yes, but would you want to die alone….

Another commenter agreed, writing:

They need to know that this isn’t happening because you don’t love them but because you DO. Been there done that and assured her that I love her til her last thankful look at me and last breath…..she KNEW I loved her, hated to let her go but wanted her to be pain free and no longer suffering

I am judgmental about many, many things when it comes to people and their pets. Drop your old dog off at a shelter because you want a newer model? You deserve to burn in hell. Mistreat your dog by hitting her, starving her, chaining her out in the cold? I hope you suffer those things yourself.

But being unable to watch a medical procedure after giving your pup a lifetime of loving care? This does not make you a bad person.

Here are a few questions I would ask of the “last breath” hardliners:

  • Do you watch your dog undergo anesthesia if you are bringing him in for a procedure like a dental cleaning?
  • Do you think your pet anticipates that one tranquilizing injection is going to be different from any another?
  • Do you trust your vet to treat your pet kindly?

If you answered no to the first and second, and yes to the third, I think you get my drift. Unless you are by his side freaking out (more on that in a minute), your dog is not anticipating anything different than what he would undergo in the course of a typical vet visit.  And when your dog is taking that last breath, he is hardly alone if he is with a trusted vet.

Irrational R Us

Hey, I get the irrationality.

I keep focusing on the moment that the hospice vet moved in too quickly to give Frankie his tranquilizing shot before he was fully involved with eating his ice cream. He balked in fear and I told her to wait. She did. In another minute, you could have bonked him on the head with a bone and he would not have moved away from the bowl, he was that focused on his sweet treat. The second attempt at the shot went fine; Frankie soon slipped down drowsily while he was still eating.

No way did Frankie sense this was his last supper.

But I nevertheless replay that one moment of fear in my head endlessly — which is nutty, when you think about it. Frankie balked at many of the insulin shots I gave him, often trying to run away. Why should the final shot be any different?

Because I knew its significance, even if Frankie didn’t.

When it comes to saying good-bye, you want everything to be perfect — as though that would mitigate your profound regret at having to let go, or give you some control over your grief. The end is never perfect, by definition, because you are losing a loved one, even in the relatively rare case when a pet dies in his sleep.

We all do what we can do

We all have different attitudes towards death.

I couldn’t — still can’t — deal with Frankie’s ashes. And I don’t think I could do what Leo of Kenzo Hovawart fame did with his dog Viva at the end  – take her body home so that his other dog, Kenzo, could say good-bye. Does that make me a bad pet caretaker?

Also: The hospice vet warned me that Frankie’s bowels might loosen when he died. I was okay with that (though it didn’t happen), in part because Frankie was small. But I completely understand wanting the last image you have of your dog to be one of him enjoying life, not suffering the indignities of death.

I’m not denying that the moment of death, when life leaves the body, is significant, though I didn’t notice anything in Frankie’s case. It was the vet who told me, after checking his heartbeat, that Frankie had passed. But when my friend Karyn put her greyhound, Painter, to sleep, I stayed in the living room with her other greyhound, Lilly. All of a sudden, Lilly gave a little shake, as though she had felt something. I don’t doubt that this shake occurred at the moment of Painter’s departure.

Karyn was there with Painter at the end, but if she had stayed in the room with me and Lilly while a very kind man gave Painter a final injection, I would not have thought less of her. What counts are the many, many things she did to let Painter know she loved him after she rescued him — not to mention the fact that she rescued him in the first place.

And that spirit of Painter that slipped away? It’s in Karyn’s heart, just as Frankie’s is in mine. You don’t have to be at your dog’s side at the very end for his spirit to find you. This I know.

Perhaps most important: Not everyone can suppress their grief over having to say good-bye. And an event that might be taken in stride by your pet, such as getting an injection, would indeed become fraught with confusion and fear if you were sitting there, weeping copiously.

A Two-Step Guilt-Alleviating Program

But I know that getting over the guilt and shame is easier said than done. So I’ve come up with a two-step program for dealing with not being able to be present at the end, for whatever reason.

1. Ask forgiveness of your pet for not being at her side.

I must have apologized to Frankie three or four times a day for things like accidentally kicking him when he got underfoot or spending too much time talking to someone who had a dog he was scared of. He always forgave me — because he never remembered that I did anything wrong, if he ever perceived it in the first place. And because he knew I loved him.

So do whatever you tend to do to apologize. You’ll receive absolution, I promise — well, at least from dogs, who are never vindictive. I can’t vouch for the cats.

2. Forgive yourself.

Because — and I can’t say this too often — you haven’t done anything wrong.

As for those who would judge others for their behavior at a very personal, individual moment:  Don’t. Save your righteous indignation for people who abuse animals, not for those who can’t bear to watch that final needle go in because it pierces their soul.

***

Did you appreciate this post? I hope you’ll consider donating to the very nonjudgmental Frankie’s Fund, which provides comfort for dogs at the end of their lives; it’s administered by GreyMuzzle.org, specialists in causes relating to homeless senior dogs. I’ve already raised close to $2,000 because of the generosity of many donors, but I am aiming for $5,000 by Christmas, which is only 9 days away.

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21 Comments

  1. Rod
    Posted December 16, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Hi Edie. Though we’ve met more etherally than physically, Amy and I knew you were a good care taker and caretaker of Frankie.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted December 16, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      I like the idea of meeting etherally — it sounds so spiritual (and like we never had drinks or anything)! Thanks for this. I know you and Amy would never think I was a bad caretaker — but you guys are not judge-y types.

  2. Posted December 16, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Ah, the well-intentioned but misinformed Judgment Patrol. They’re everywhere.
    I wrote about this issue once when it happened to me. The short version is this: A woman came in with a sick kitten, who it turned out had the fatal disease FIP. A couple weeks later, the husband came in to euthanize the cat, and chose not to be present. We judged, we side-eyed, and eventually I decided to go in the room and try to get him to change his mind.

    While trying desperately to hold it together, he explained that his 2 year old son had died the year prior from leukemia, and he got this kitten to try and cheer his wife up. Having been by his son’s side, he couldn’t re-live that loss again so soon. That is the last time I judged someone.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted December 16, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Ah, yes, I remember that post. It was a powerful message.

      This one was inspired by someone who is a genuine pet lover but who said that when the vet told her about the bowel loosening, she was out of there. And knowing how I replayed the pageant of death that, in theory, was ideal — I was there, I was stroking Frankie, etc. — and focused on the one negative moment that occurred, I thought an unpleasant physical image might not be the last image you want to be left with. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      Thanks for coming by.

      • Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        I’ve been thinking that I should maybe stop mentioning it to people, because it really doesn’t happen often. Because we warn them people genuinely worry the pet is going to have explosive diarrhea- and I don’t blame them for not wanting to be there for that!- but it’s not like that. I think because we warn them people get the idea that something huge is likely to happen.
        Dr V recently posted..On the fourth day of PetmasMy Profile

        • Edie Jarolim
          Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

          I shouldn’t laugh — and yet…. Yeah, maybe it might be better not to bring up the topic if it really is a rare occurrence. I never expected explosive diarrhea but I thought that, if the dog is large, things might get really messy.

          • Dr V
            Posted December 16, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

            I feel terrible about it, when people panic that something violent is going to erupt and they won’t be able to handle it. Then we spent more time than we should talking about dog poop during an emotional time when perhaps we could be discussing other matters. We vets clearly aren’t doing a good job communicating to clients. It’s one of those things that maybe is a little too much information. I’ve heard some women panic about a similar “occurence” during labor but according to the nurses I know, no big whoop.

  3. Posted December 16, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    It is easy to judge people without knowing their reason. I for one lost my beloved pet unexpectedly. I never get to say goodbye to her. I don’t think I can have the courage to witness a pet’s euthanasia in the future. Losing your pet is so painful and we never get to really get over it. They say time heals all wounds, it is not true. I still feel much pain whenever I see my pet’s pictures.
    Josephine recently posted..Is It Okay To Share Your Bed With Your Pet?My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted December 16, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Josephine. I agree that some wounds are harder than others to heal, but I hope that for you time blunts the pain.

  4. Posted December 16, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Everyone deals with grief and these situations differently. Since it has been all hospice all the time in my life for far too long, I can say for sure that there are things happening with my dog now that cause painful flashbacks to the loss of my MIL in 2012 and my mom this summer. I can also say that some people can be present and some people cannot. I get that it’s easy to resent those who cannot be there for the final moments (days or weeks or whatever) because you end up feeling like you’re the one doing all the hard work. BUT, everyone is doing the best that they can. I try to find the best-possible reason for someone’s behavior and assume that’s the motivation. HOWEVER, I’m truly flabbergasted (to the point of near physical illness) by the verbal venom that has resulted from your memorial fundraising efforts and to this post, in particular. FAR MORE OF US stand with you in solidarity at this time of loss. Remember that.
    Champion of My Heart recently posted..Just for Fun An Allergic Reaction, Puffy Faced DogMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted December 16, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Thanks so much, as ever, for your support, Rox. It’s kind of ironic that a post about not making judgments should elicit such a judgmental response — on Facebook, in case the rest of you are wondering — but I really do believe that people do the best they can and that unkindness comes back to bite you in the butt.

  5. Posted December 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Gosh, it’s so hard to understand what someone else is going through. Even when you have very similar experiences it isn’t quite the same because your perspective is different, your life and personal history is different. Just because I react one way doesn’t mean it’s the right way. We all want to be the best caregivers we can be for our pets but sometimes this means different things.
    It’s not at all the same but recently, when my dog had to undergo surgery for the first time, the tech asked me if I wanted to see her before they put her under. I did but I knew I was a mess and that if she saw me in that state she was bound to freak out. So I declined, as hard as it was, knowing things could go wrong, I knew it was the right thing for her.

    Anyway, no matter what decisions we make, when it comes to the health and well-being of our family members, we are always going to have regrets and wonder if we made the right choice. I do hope things get easier for you over time.
    Kristine recently posted..The Source of So Much FearMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Your situation sounds like it is very similar to the one I encountered, the person who could not be at her dog’s side at the end. It’s in your dog’s best interest not to have you there being upset!

      You’re right, we’re always going to have regrets. And I’m basically fine with what happened with Frankie; that one detail, of the shot, is just an example of irrationality. It was the two comments posted on another site that set me off, the notion that there are right and wrong ways to react to a stressful situation.

  6. Posted December 17, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I am sorry you became a victim of harassment again. People do stupid things when they re-life their own emotions of grief, and shoot the messenger instead.

    I for one (of the many), think you are one of the bravest, by giving this account of what you are going through, and how you channel it through Frankie’s Fund, to bring change for other’s that deserve a good send-off.

    How different would it have turned out for us, when you would never had shared “Operation Spoil Frankie”. So whatever I did for Viva, you inspired once again, through your writings.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted December 17, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      The Facebook fracas is not a big deal, honestly. You’re right, some people are reliving their own grief and say stupid stuff. I also think there are some hard-liners who don’t think pets should be euthanized, ever, and I was subjected to one of those. But by that measure, pets shouldn’t be given medical care either. But that’s a whole other topic. And I’ll start ranting about PETA soon if I get started ;-)

      But I hope it’s clear that this post is not about me and my grief but about the shaming of people who can’t be there at the bitter end, for a dog’s last breath. And that started an interesting discussion with Dr. V about what hospice vets should or shouldn’t say to people at this difficult time. That’s the takeaway, the conversation, one I’m glad I started.

      I’m also very glad I could help with Viva and with anyone else going through a tough time. And, yes, if I can help other dogs with Frankie’s Fund, I will feel I have accomplished even more. Thanks as always for your encouragement.

  7. Posted December 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi Edie. Things around here have been so crazy lately that I can’t remember what I did an hour ago, never mind a few days ago. I hope I didn’t put on my judgy pants at some point about being/not being with a pet at the end! I know I tend to be judgy at times — probably the only resolution I’ll make on New Years Eve is to curb those tendencies — but I try not to be when it comes to saying goodbye to a beloved pet…

    When I had to say goodbye to my sweet Kissy 10 years ago, the tears were running down my face like a water faucet open all the way as I told her I loved her with my whole heart and what a good girl she was. And the tears are starting to flow again just thinking about it. I knew she knew how much I loved her, but…well, you know how it is.

    It IS sad that some people would use such a wonderful thing as your “Frankie’s Fund” to start a tirade about those who just can’t be with their pets at that moment. Sadder still if I allowed myself to become a part of it…I can’t even remember. I, personally, feel that I need to be with my pups when their times come. But that doesn’t mean EVERYONE should feel that way. I’m glad you have the courage to write about it. I don’t know that I could. Just the thought of Kissy’s final moments bring me to tears, or at least choked up, so I doubt I could write much about it. Although “they” say writing about something that hurts that much is good “therapy”, I’d cease to be able to see the screen or paper I’m typing/writing on. So, thank you for saying so much of what I’ve been feeling myself!
    Sue recently posted..Meet The Bloggers Blog HopMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted December 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure you didn’t put on your judgy pants, Sue. But if you did, I didn’t spot you wearing them. The two people I quoted were really the only ones I was referring to.

      It’s hard for me to write about all this, but it’s also cathartic. And I really try do try to make this blog a guilt-free zone, so the last thing I intended was to make people think there was only one definition of a good sendoff.

      • Posted December 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        I must say that you do a great job of keeping your blog a guilt-free zone. It’s a shame that other people can’t — or choose not to — see it that way. In a way, I feel sorry for people who, as my Mom always said, “aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy and trying to make everyone around them unhappy”. Keep on keepin’ on, Edie!
        Sue recently posted..Meet The Bloggers Blog HopMy Profile

        • Edie Jarolim
          Posted December 18, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

          If only I could stay in that guilt-free zone myself consistently! But your mom is right — and how sad for those people.

  8. Posted December 19, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    You are so wonderful Edie, for sharing such intimate thoughts with us about losing Frankie. I know what you write will help other people to cope with their loss.

    When my Mom passed, I knew for several years it was inevitable. In the end, I knew it was not another scare – that it was close. Her wish was to not be cremated which meant she would not be embalmed. Although I hadn’t seen her in 3 days, I declined the offer to see her one more time before cremation. I wanted to remember her the way I last saw her, not the way she would have looked then. On the other hand, when my Grandma passed suddenly, I was reeling from shock. I needed to know it was real so I accepted the closure of viewing her body in the hospital after she passed. When I had to put my 20 year old cat to sleep last year, I held him and cried to the very end (he was not stressed because he was barely lucid at that point).

    I don’t regret any of my decisions but each left a distinct final memory and experience with me. I believe we do what we need to do at the time and should not beat ourselves up for the choices we make. Shame on people who look in, project their own beliefs, and judge. They should spend that time and energy being empathetic and helping them to heal.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted December 19, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Aw, thanks for the nice words, Jessica, and for sharing your experiences. I sometimes worry that my posts give Too Much Information but I know other people have similar experiences and I really do want everyone to know there is no wrong way to deal with the end or to grieve.

One Trackback

  1. […] 4. What Does It Mean to Give Your Pet a Good End? Maybe Not What You Think by Edie Jarolim of Will My Dog Hate Me? - Too often in this world we judge one another based on what “we” would do vs what is right for the person in question. Edie takes on an issue that is often considered taboo in pet lover’s circles – should you be with your dog when their life ends. She handles the issue with her usual class and grace, but makes a great point that I think we could all stand to hear. […]

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