Reflections on the death of a beloved animal

Have you ever made the decision that it’s time to end the suffering and misery of an animal in your care?

Bear loved boxesYesterday I took my cat Bear to the vet to discuss his deteriorating condition and consider my options. We decided it was time to end his suffering and he was put to sleep.

I hate having such power and I love having such power. I hate being the one who makes the decision, the one with that ultimate power. I question my motives: Am I choosing to do this now because I don’t want to watch him vomiting any more? Is he really fine enough to enjoy more days of sitting In the sun and sleeping on my lap? How do I tell when it is time, when it is a kindness to end misery? Is it a convenience to me? Am I tired of cleaning up after him? Am I doing this for myself or am I doing this for him?   I wrestle with the conflict.

But I love being able to choose to end his pain, his yowling as he’s about to vomit, his episodes of projectile vomiting, his scratching and biting when I inadvertently touch painful areas, his weight loss, his of eating of kitty litter crystals, his look of misery and longsuffering, his decline… and I love being able to give freedom from suffering to a creature I have loved and cared for.

Does ultimate power always come with an equal knowledge of its awesome responsibilities? I hope it does. This is no decision to be taken lightly. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be faced with such power and choice over the life of a loved human. If it is this difficult with an animal how could I possibly ever contemplate a similar situation with a dearly loved friend?

A few weeks ago a friend said to me when I told him Bear was dying, “Well, that’s why you don’t have pets. There’s all the grief when you lose them.”

My response was: “That’s why you do have pets. They teach us to grieve as well as love.”

Jolly beiong persuaded to look at the camera.I learnt this years ago as I loved and cared for a dog from puppyhood to old age. He offered participation in the progress of life in a shortened version and I realized children as well as myself, could learn what they would later experience with their most cherished, treasured human beings.  If we are to love then we will experience pain and grief and loss. We can’t have one without the other. I used to fear grief and I suppressed it without even being aware. I feared it would overwhelm me, that I would not survive it. My dog showed me I could grieve. I could love without reservation, feel the loss of that creature and survive. And now I cherish his memory. Never would I regret having shared his life, and the same with Bear- I received far more than I gave.

Angie, my shared co-living partner and the other person who has known Bear best, was here yesterday and so could come to the vet’s for our final visit. She said that Bear had had a good life-  an abandoned cat who hung around my house eventually staying to become part of the household. I thought about this. Yes, I hope he had a good life, but more than that he was a precious gift… and I thought some more.

I will die happy if my life is a precious gift for even one person.

an ending.What more could we hope for?

11 thoughts on “Reflections on the death of a beloved animal

  1. I remember every animal that I have loved in my girlhood and adulthood. Lassie, our beagle who led us into the bushland around Old Bar to find fox or rabbit holes (thank goodness she never came across one because she was never on a lead and at the age of 10 I had no idea that beagles are innate hunters). My mother eventually had to make a very painful decision to have her put to sleep because she had succumbed to tick poisoning. Our family sobbed for days and we did not have another dog until my very close friend in Tinonee gave us a cross Australian Terrier puppy a few years later. We called him Leo and we adored him. Every afternoon small Leo and his big Boxer friend from the flat next door went to the street corner to wait for us. Leo had such personality. He was with us for years, although in the last few years I was an Art Student in Newcastle and only saw him once a month. Again my mother had to make that painful decision to have a pet put to sleep. He suffered for months and was subjected to so many interventions because we were so reluctant to let him go. That was incredibly selfish on our part – really. In the first year of my marriage, I was still a student in Newcastle and my home with my husband was in Tamworth. He was also away from Monday to Friday. On Friday night we had a cross fox terrier/corgi, called Mingo, from across the road who would make a mad dash to beat whoever was the first one to arrive home, into the front door (he would slide down the floor on the polished floors – such fun) and he was our dog until Monday morning. Unfortunately he was not much loved by his ‘owners’. In that first year of marriage we always went back to the coast during holidays. We could not bare to be parted from Mingo so long so we asked if we could take him with us – they were more than happy about that arrangement (how could they do that?). The following year after I had graduated and was teaching, Mingo came to live with us permanently, but it was to be for such a short time. I had gone into town to buy a bed. I remember this as if it was yesterday – my husband came walking towards me in the shop and I could tell he was the bearer of bad news. Our Mingo was in the habit of chasing the builder’s vehicle when ever he heard him come into our street – for a lark. This day he skidded on the gravel and he went beneath the wheel. The builder was shattered because he knew Mingo so well and loved him too. I broke into tears in the shop and had to be taken home, minus bed. I was heartbroken over a much loved animal again. Years and years later a little black kitten turned up on our doorstep and adopted us. Sebastian lived with us for 18 years. I came home from School on a Friday afternoon. It was raining heavily and Sebastian was in the driveway drenched. I picked him up and asked him why wasn’t he inside out of the rain. By the following Monday morning he was no longer with us. My husband and I spent the Sunday night with him comforting him as he slipped away. And as I write this I am crying. Kate you did a selfless thing in taking Bear to the vet. Now grieve without guilt.

    • Oh Mary, I can share your pain and your obvious love of your animals. Thank you for such deep sharing. Your creatures all sound wonderful. We’re blest to have had the privilege of knowing them. They really do enrich our lives. Both my cats came to live with me and I’m so glad they did. With Bear in particular I felt very special to have been chosen, he was a very strong personality. I missed him outside today- he always came with me- pretended he wasn’t, but… Shall we know more pets? What do you reckon?

  2. I’m sorry for your grief and happy for your ability to write words of wisdom about having to put down a beloved pet. I had a very old dog, Sheba, who was deaf, had arthritis and was growing increasingly incontinent. I took Sheba to the vet and he said I would know when the time came to bring her back to be put to sleep forever. I came home one day to find her lying in a puddle of her urine, unable get up. She looked at me and I knew it was time for her to go.

    • Thank you vivachange77- good to hear from you again! Yes, we do know when it’s time, but I still questioned myself, as you could read. I do believe it’s the last, great gift we can give to a creature who has loved us continually and unconditionally- although Bear was a very strong-minded cat and an excellent communicator. I always knew when he was not happy with me!

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss, Kate. As one who has had to make this decision several times in my life, I know how difficult it can be. I think you both were lucky to have found one another. My heart goes out to you.

  4. So sorry to hear that you have lost Bear. I know the pain of losing a loved pet. Love Judy


  5. I have to admit I’ve never had to face this awful dilemma with a pet, because ever since leaving home I’ve never had pets at all. I’ve had a number of health issues over the years that would have made it really difficult for me and unfair on the poor animal if I had, just as much impossible for me if I had had children too. But I can remember a year after leaving home my parents were suddenly faced with our beloved family dog seriously deteriorating, and it was not only exhausting for them but the dog too. When my Mum and Dad gently told me the bad news, that they had decided to end our dogs life, I think they were worried I was going to be angry with them. But no, I could see it was a decision they had had sleepless nights over, and were left feeling a certain level of guilt. So going by my memory of what they told me, I can understand your feelings in this situation – it’s not an easy decision to make.

    I agree with you about pets teaching us to grieve, they really do. The love for a pet maybe different from a human in some ways, but it’s just as strong. And I know my grief for our family dog certainly was a gentle preparation for much more shocking things to come. I may not have had to grieve over many pets, but I certainly haven’t escaped seeing death. I watched both my parents die, in recent years, very unpleasant deaths, surrounded with appalling incompetence in the healthcare system, it was really horrific. But, having said that it’s contributed to making me a much stronger person, and someone who does not tolerate garbage from anyone. Where as prior to those events I was seriously lacking in confidence in some areas of life. I lost my inhibitions on what people might think about what I was saying, or the fact that I might be wrong. And I found my gut feeling on a lot of situations in life was in most cases accurate, and if I was wrong, then apologising to someone wasn’t impossible to do. It’s strange, how we seem to learn more in stressful times than we do at any other time, and yet we fear them – perhaps we shouldn’t!

    I really hope you can find some peace of mind in this situation, and I’m sure your lovely cat Bear wouldn’t have been happy at all progressing to a more debilitating state, and probably neither would you have felt any better about that. I think you did the right thing, the only thing you could do. I wish you peace very soon!

    • Thank you for your long and honest response. I’m interested to know more of your life- you have known hard times. I’m finding that the people I meet is one of the most wonderful things about blogging. People are so generous with their sharing. I look forward to getting to know you better. And yes, an easy life doesn’t help us grow and change.

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