Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Saying Goodbye to My Dog

Playing dress-up

Back to school time has been off to a rocky start. In the middle of the second week of school, our dog, Cleo (who was almost 14 years old), started acting strangely. Very quickly Chris and I realized this was it. The timing, of course, was horrible, but sickness and death don't seem to pay much attention to things like that.

By that first night, I was carrying Cleo outside to use the bathroom. I could barely get her to eat a few bites of one of her favorite people foods (American cheese). The next day was Lucy's birthday, and I prayed that Cleo would make it through the day because, well, that would be no way to celebrate an 8th birthday.

She made it and even seemed a little better by bedtime on Lucy's birthday. But then during the night she took a turn for the worse. By the time I was driving my kids to school Friday morning, I knew I couldn't let my sweet girl suffer any longer.

Cleo was elderly, especially for a lab mix, and she had been having a progressively more difficult time getting around for awhile, along with other signs of aging, like a sporadic appetite and loss of hearing. We knew she didn't have long, but I always hoped that she would simply die peacefully at home when her time came. Unfortunately that wasn't going to happen. We had to make the heart-wrenching decision to end her suffering

I wanted to get it over with before the kids came home from school because I didn't want to prolong the dog's misery, and I didn't want my kids to know the torture of watching me drive off to have our beloved pet put down. This was a hard call, but I think I did the right thing. The kids knew she wasn't doing well and we had already talked to them and let them know she wouldn't be with us much longer.

Cleo was our family dog, but she was really my dog. She was extremely anxious when I wasn't around and was really attached to me. Because of this I knew that I had to be the one to take her. Chris was at work, and he had to work all weekend. This couldn't wait. So I called a local vet a couple of my friends had used for the same wretched purpose, and crying uncontrollably, made the appointment.

My brother-in-law was in town for the weekend from Florida, and he so graciously offered to go with me. He cried with me and hugged me and stayed with me the whole time. This was not a fun thing to volunteer for, and I will always be thankful to him for being with me on that horrible day.

I chose to stay in the room because I figured it was the least I could do for a dog who had been part of our family for so long. I know this isn't the right choice for everyone, and I'm not knocking anyone's decision, but as I said Cleo was really attached to me. She would have been much more distressed if I hadn't been with her.

The vet gave Cleo a sedative first with some pain meds in it, and almost instantly she was completely calm and at ease. No more trembling and panting and drooling. She just peacefully put her head down on the table while I stroked her and sweet talked her (Even though she could no longer hear, I always talked to her. I think she knew.). I wished I would have had a sedative to give her at home before we came in, or something to make her more comfortable.

I had a few minutes while the sedative took effect to say goodbye to Cleo. Then the vet came back in and gave her the lethal injection. He had to shave a bit of her leg, but by that time Cleo was totally out of it. I truly don't think she felt a thing. After that it was very quick. The vet told me to take my time saying goodbye. Rob (my bil) left me to have a moment alone. The hardest part was leaving her in there, laying on the exam table.

We took Cleo from her mother at 9 weeks old, and she cried and broke my heart. Then I got to be her other mother for almost 14 years, and saying goodbye to her broke my heart all over again.

This is the first time we haven't had a pet since 1997. Our house feels empty, but nonetheless Chris and I have made the decision to hold off on getting another dog until after next summer. I want, no, need, a break. A part of me would love to run right out and get a puppy, but I know that for my sanity's sake I need to wait.

I know this is an unpleasant topic, and most people probably do not want to read about my experience losing my dog, but maybe it will help someone. I also know that every situation and every family is different, but these are my tips for getting through the ordeal of having a pet put down.
  • Be honest with your kids without being too detailed. 
  • Consider staying with your pet until the end. I know it sounds awful, but I actually think I would feel a lot worse if I hadn't stayed. I got to see that Cleo was peaceful when she passed, and to feel that I was a slight comfort to her in her final moments.
  • If you have other pets or plan on getting another, you might want to consider not going to your regular vet for the procedure. I think it would be so hard to have to be in the same exam room again and again where my dog passed away. Ask around. I got a recommendation from my friend and my cousin (both went to the same place) and I am glad I went with their suggestion.
  • Don't go alone if you can help it.
  • If someone is with you, ask them to go in before you to tell the staff you've arrived and to find out exactly where you'll be going. My brother-in-law did this for me and I'm glad I didn't have to sit in a waiting room with my dog.
  • Once in the room, remove your pet's collar if you'd like to keep it.
The office I went to was awesome and I appreciate how they did things, but I doubt all veterinary offices operate the same. They got us into an exam room immediately, without having to wait. They explained everything to me very clearly, letting me know what to expect. They had me fill out paperwork and pay before hand, so I didn't have to deal with it afterward. They were patient and gave me all the time I needed to say goodbye. All of this helped tremendously. In case your vet is different, I suggest:
  • Ask to fill out all paperwork and settle the bill before anything gets started.
  • Ask questions about the procedure and what to expect.
  • Make sure your pet is being given a sedative first (maybe this is standard, I don't know). This will relieve your pet's anxiety and help with pain.
  • Don't let anyone rush you. Take your time saying goodbye, and make your wishes clear. If you'd like a moment alone with your pet and it isn't offered, speak up.
Having my dog put to sleep was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. I didn't think I could do it until I did. We were blessed to have her for so long, to trip over in the middle of the night, to pick up trash she had strewn around the kitchen while we were sleeping (not too often), and to watch our children climb all over her from the time they could crawl, poking her eyes and nose, pulling her tail and paws, without ever anything more than a lick in return. You were a good dog, Cleo, and we will miss you.

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