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Knowing when it's time to say goodbye

This is a bit of a serious topic, but I don’t want you to see it as a sad one. Last week we had to say goodbye to one of the Rat Pack, Tizzy. It seems serendipitous for this to happen while I am currently taking time off work. She was 17 years old and an amazing Mantrailing partner and matriarch of our dogs. No one messed with Tizzy Wizzy! She had a very sudden decline in heath over night and seemed to rally but the following day we made the decision to put her to sleep. She was very clearly ready to go and done with it all.

Unfortunately, it is a part of having a dog that we have to say goodbye to them seemingly so soon. Tizzy was the 4th dog I have lost and each of those losses has been a different sort of pain. My first loss was my childhood dog Jacob, who my mother had to PTS while I was on holiday and didn’t tell me until the drive home from the airport. It was a jarring loss. Our other dogs we made a family decision to let go due to their failing health and had a plan in place. Tizzy has been a shock and it’s taken a bit for my brain to process the last week her playing ball with my son to being unable to get up off the floor and staring off into oblivion the next time I saw her.

So now that the sting isn’t so sharp, I wanted to talk about how to know when it’s time to call the curtains on our canine companions. I’ve listed some points below and added in how myself and my family work through this process.

The big one – How will I know? And as much of a copout as it sounds… you just know. You will look your dog in the eye, and they will look back as if to say, ‘please finish it.’ But to take a more quantitive approach, it’s about measuring their quality of life. Are they still enjoying life? Even if it’s a limited capacity? Are they getting upset about things, such as toileting accidents? As with us, a dog’s body will often fail them before their mind does. Things like dog prams and carriers are great for allowing these dogs a degree of normality. But when you have exhausted all avenues, it’s time to think about whether your dog is actually happy or if you’re just delaying the inevitable.

Sooner is better than too late. We don’t want to think about out dogs getting old and the consequences of that. But it is a kinder thing to plan a dignified end than wait too long. We didn’t get to do this with Tizzy due to her sudden health change and many people are also in the same boat. But if you do have the chance to think of end-of-life options for your dog, you should have something in place. Pick a date, spend the lead up to that date doing all the things your dog loves to do. Spoil them with burger dinners and rolling in every kind of shit they take joy in smelling like. Make memories, film them and immortalise this time with pictures and love.

How should it happen? Our personal preference has always been to have the vet come to the house and do the deed in our dog’s familiar surroundings, smells and comfort. This is a particular benefit for dogs who find the vets stressful and upsetting; the last thing you want you dog to feel in their final moments. All our dogs have died in my mum’s arms, while being stroked and told how much they are loved and valued. Tizzy was the first in a while to be euthanised at the vets, but my mum was still there for her, a calm presence. So, whether you opt for it to happen at home or the vets, I think the least we can do for our dogs is remain as calm as possible. Dogs are very aware of our emotions and bagging them with ours isn’t fair to them. We have plenty of time to feel upset afterwards.

Do your other dogs need to say goodbye? It depends. With Tizzy, she was very clearly dying and the other terriers could smell it. They haven’t been looking for her since she was PTS. But some dogs might not be in that position and when a pack member suddenly disappears, the other dogs in the home might find this distressing and grieve much harder. Yes, dog’s do grieve. Some more than others depending on their bond with the deceased dog and general emotional state.

When our dogs are euthanised at home, we let the other dogs have a sniff of the body first, so they have a form of closure. It resonates with us for everyone to be part of this natural thing. That’s not to say that this is an essential part of the process. Lots of dogs cope fine with a dog not coming back and while you may see some seeking and looking around, a lot of this is habit and soon fades. So, it really does depend on your own situation and if it isn’t practical for your dogs to see their dead companion, don’t stress over it.

The aftermath of loosing a pet can be a bit a whirlwind. What next? What do you even do? I’ll be honest, most of our dogs are buried in special places that I’m sure isn’t legal to do. Some have been in gardens of previous houses we’ve lived in, and I do wonder at the day when the future homeowners decide to relandscape…

Tizzy is being cremated and our vets made the whole process easy and went over the many options. So, she’s being cremated alone, in her fuzzy blanket and returned to my mum in a special scatter tube that we can take up to the woods we love to spread the ashes. But you can have an urn if you rather keep your pet’s remains close. You can also send off your pet’s ashes to be fused into glass and have a keepsake of them. There are many options for how you best want to remember and honour your dog’s remains. There is no right or wrong here, only what is right for you at the time.

The loss of a dog becomes even more trying when there are children involved. William is only 16 months and while he does look for Tizzy, he doesn’t seem upset and certainly hasn’t the concept of death. But we have multiple dogs so there is going to be a point where one of the Rat Pack dies and William will be confronted with loss. If you have children and don’t know how to even look at breeching this topic with them, there are some great children’s books about pet death available. These are a great help and comfort for children after their pet dies and offer a guide for parents who have no idea how to help. I’ve linked a good article with reccommendations:

Pet death is a trigger for children coming to grips with their own mortality. Let your child be the guide to their grieving and be prepared for some potential big questions such will they die, will you die and what happens after. As hard as this conversation will be, I take comfort that at least it isn’t the dreaded, ‘where do babies come from?’

I hope this post has helped you in some way. I must admit this is my way of processing the loss of Tizzy. It never gets easier, no matter how many times you go through it. It is the sweet agony of having a dog, that they bring us so much love and joy for so little time. I believe our dogs take a piece of us with them when they go, to keep safe and share with us once we finally join them. What I like to think and will be envisioning, is the welcoming committee of my loved ones, both canine and human once my time comes.


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