One year ago today I had to say goodbye to Zambi. She was 13 years old – ancient in Newfoundland years. And as with everything Zambi did for me, she made her passing easy, well as easy as possible for a pet parent.  She simply stopped eating and drinking Friday night after work.  By Sunday the decision I had to make was clear.

Now let me stress that I am grateful to the folks at Newfoundland rescue for bringing Splash into my life but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still miss Zambi. About a year before she passed I wrote down my thoughts about having to make that dreaded decision and while Zambi spared me from having to go through this, not every pet parent is as fortunate, so today I wanted to take a minute to remember Zambi (and cry a bit), to hug Splash, and to share my thoughts about having to say goodbye.

There comes a time when you realize that your pet is old. No longer is your pet “getting older” — he or she is just old. I’ve known for a long time that my 12 year old Newfoundland was getting old – I mean she is 12 and the average Newfie life span is around 10. But just in the last few months I have come to the harsh reality that she is old.

She spends most her day sleeping under my desk (which while very comforting can make it hard to reach the keys or my laptop) and increasingly has trouble standing up. Her bark has changed from a deep majestic Newfie song to that faint old dog bark. She is on Rimadyl and doesn’t seem to be in any pain, but it is still sad. Long gone are the days of her pulling a cart loaded with three of our kids or having the fourth child use her as a pillow. The question before me now is just how long before she is gone too.

Like many dog guardians I have faced this terrible situation in the past. My Labrador Retriever made it to 16 and our last Great Dane was 11 when she faded over the course of a weekend. They had wonderfully long lives but just thinking about it years later still brings me to tears. Intellectually I completely understand my obligation to the pets that I have loved for so many years (and who I think have loved me too) but of course emotionally it is a different story.

Faced with the hardest decision you question yourself: is it time? Is there something else I should do or try? You seek guidance from the veterinary professionals in your life, but that guidance is often lacking. You talk to others that might be in a similar situation but that often leaves you with even more questions.

Just last week, a client with a 12 year old Great Dane was checking in and said that he hoped she simply passed away on our watch so that he wouldn’t have to make the decision. Remarkably, this was not the first time this conversation has been had in our lobby. In many ways, after years of caring for someone’s pet when they are away from home you take on this surrogate role. We are not veterinarians and in some ways I think that makes it easier on folks to have the conversation with us. We don’t approach the situation from a medical point of view – we look at it as if we are the pet’s guardian too.

I still don’t know how to quantify when it’s time, I simply hope that when it is I have the ability to make the right decision.

Thanks for reading.

8 Responses to “Old Dogs: When Is It Time to Say Goodbye?”

  1. Dawn Tauer Larson

    I agree, a very difficult decision!  It is so dificult to say goodbye to dear companion.

  2. Grant Garl

    Well said, Mark.  We’ve faced that final decision several times too; the last was when our faithful Jasper looked at me after many months of battling a degenerative disease and said by the look in his eyes, ‘I have had enough, it is no fun anymore.’

  3. Joanne

    Thanks for sharing, touching story and a difficult situation for any pet parent to face.

  4. Caroline Broomhall

    Thanks for sharing im so glad that you were give the opportunity to do the right thing. With our Moe we just did not see all the signs until it was too late, I layed with her the night before she left knowing that she was not well, but never thought that she would go and find a place to rest outside the yard. We searched for 5 days with no luck, Knowing very well in my heart that she had passed. As i write this tears come to my eyes and I cant swollow I still miss her so much.  13/11/12 RIP

  5. suey1262

    It’s the hardest decision to make.  I layed with my dog Shelby all night long knowing we were going to take her to be put down the next day.  I told her all night long that it was ok to leave hoping she would but she hung in there till morning.  She was 12 years old and had lived a great life but at the end, she was too sick to even lift her head. I knew it was time then.

  6. mainstreet101

    I laid to rest my dear friend, Sarge, today. He was 20 years old. He was a border collie mix. My vet came to the house and we held him and he gently went to sleep. Finally looking more peaceful. For the last 4 years, we said “this will be his last winter”. But he persevered. I didn’t want to make the call. I kept thinking, after 20 years, I can’t just put him down. He still had good days, still ate sometimes, still could walk around, sort of. Mostly went to the bathroom outside. BUT, I kept thinking, after all he had given me in his life, this is one of the things that I could give back to him…not let him hang on in agony until the last possible moment…days filled with blindness, deafness, confusion,stumbling, pain. He could finally rest, free of suffering, free of falling and needing help to get up, free of needing help to find his food bowl, free of feeling scared and disoriented. I couldn’t be with him every second of every day. I couldn’t really keep him safe or entirely pain free. Even though there were times when he still recognized me by my scent and might twitch his tail a bit, the truth his, he was more in the other world than this one. If you are wondering every day if you should make the call, you probably should. Let them be at rest, before they have to endure the suffering. The one gift you can give back to them. Remember it’s not about you, it’s about them. Close your eyes, imagine BEING them….is it a life that you want for them? If not, then make the call. Cry your eyes out for as long as you need to. Life is not about avoiding pain and loss. Cry, grieve, and let your pet rest in peace. I am crying as I write this because I have had other dogs and Sarge was the best of them all. I may never have another dog like him. But it was his time…we were able to ease him into a peaceful sleep. Rest easy, my dear friend Sarge. You were the best dog ever and I will always love you and remember you.

  7. draughnetv

    I stop by and saw this article, indeed its a very touching story, thanks for sharing this, Its really a difficult situation for any pet parent to face things when their pets gone, hope they will be good and happy wherever they are.

  8. Lisa Edelstein

    Reading these experiences and thoughts are very comforting…I am looking for any support because I have every reason not to “DO IT”, but I know it has to happen to my 15 yr old weimaraner. I am just so torn when she “prances” across the floor to kiss me, yet splays herself with such grace