The Hardest Part of Pet Ownership: Letting Go

Eagerly we select our cute puppy or kitten, never thinking about the sad day when our pet will lay in front of us dying. Yet, with the exception of a few people who own long-living parrots, for most of us this day will come all too soon, as pets tend to have relatively short lifespans.

The worst mistake an owner can make is thinking to highly of themselves and letting go of a pet long before the pet is ready to go. For some people it is “too hard” to watch an animal suffer even a bit and they make that trip to the vet when an animal still has many good days, weeks, or even months, ahead.

Occasionally this happens even when an animal is not suffering at all, but when the owner finds themselves no longer able to care for a pet and are convinced nobody else could keep it as cared for as they did. In some cases this is fair, particularly with older cats who are difficult to adopt, but sometimes it is a selfish act on behalf of an owner.   Smaller breeds of dogs are very adoptable and would love a chance to continue their lives. 

Most people struggle, never knowing if it is too soon to let a pet go, too soon to take that last trip to the veterinarian, or (if they are lucky) to have the vet come to them.  They do not want to wait too late, having the animal suffer too much and too long. 

The rule of thumb, for a suffering pet, that should be followed is this: When their bad days outnumber their good ones, it is time to consider saying ‘Good Bye’ and having them euthanized humanely by a veterinarian.

Photo by Author, this cat was left behind with us when his owner moved out. 

An owner should be prepared a head of time and should have talked over their options earlier when they are thinking clearly. One option, that not all vets will do, is to come to your home and euthanize your animal there. Vets who have seen a dog, or cat, many times might do this as they understand the pet is more relaxed at home and the stress of bringing it to the veterinary clinic may be too hard on the owner. If this is something you would like, you probably will have to schedule it in advance. A special “Thank you” card should always be sent to the veterinarian following such special procedures.

Not every owner is comfortable being with their pet at the time of injection (note there are several different means of euthanasia by injection). In my opinion it is better for an owner to muster the courage and to be by their beloved pets side, talking to it, and petting it. The veterinarian will not judge you for crying over the loss of your pet. I personally find I feel better by saying to the pet “Go in Peace” and through my work at an animal shelter have attended the euthanasia of many abandoned pets. Even when I drive by a dead deer on the road side I find myself muttering “Go in Peace”.   This is something I have said after the loss of my own pets as well. 

One of the considerations is thinking what should be done with the body of the deceased pet. Many veterinarian offices offer cremation services. Sometimes this is a mass cremation, with many animals at once. If a person wants the ashes back of their pet, they must discuss this in advance. Typically if a veterinarian does not have the ability to cremate animals, the animals are placed in a thick garbage bag and are disposed of in a special area in the cities dump.

Some cities have pet cemetery’s where burials can take place. These work well for people who rent their houses or who live in apartments, other people often take to burying their pet in their yard.

Technically a person should phone their city to inquire about laws about burying pets in ones own yard.  Dig deep, wrap the body, and always mark the spot.  Scattering of ashes is allowed on your property, but if you wish to do it elsewhere, again, permission is often required.

Talk over the costs of euthanasia with the veterinarian ahead of time, as well as the costs of cremation, burial, and so on.   Allowing a pet to die on its own at home, is not a criminal act, but it may be very hard on everyone involved. 

Never lie to family members or children. Never say the pet ran away, or went to an other home. Not only does this negate giving them closure but it sets a poor example. A caring owner would never give an ailing pet away, nor allow it to run away and suffer death on its own. For many children their first experience with death is through the loss of a pet. Allowing them to experience this is very important. Depending on the age of the child they may want to see and touch the deceased pet, and even say a prayer of their own for it. They will very much want to be a part of any burial or cremation ritual.

The hardest part of pet ownership really is saying goodbye, and hopefully that is something that will not come too soon for any of us, but it is a simple fact that chances are we will out live not just one, but, many of our pets.

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User Comments
  1. Inna Tysoe

    On July 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    A good–if sad–article.


  2. Deep Blue

    On July 11, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Nice article to tackle attachment to animals.

  3. sheba

    On July 11, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    That is a very heartfelt article. I know what it is like to lose a pet. That is very good enjoyed reading it thanks!

  4. ken bultman

    On July 11, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Excelllent piece. I put Sassy in the ground Tuesday. It’s rough.

  5. Fresh Writing

    On July 11, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    I agree with all of these comments stated before mine…good, excellent but sad- great way to tackle the attachment to animals, and, as always, heartfelt.

    -Fresh Writing

  6. Daisy Peasblossom

    On July 12, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Having lost two of my dear ones in the last two years, I agree that this is the hardest part. Knowing when to give up and say good-bye is the worst kind of decision.

  7. Elizabeth Abbott

    On July 12, 2009 at 12:38 am

    So true. Very, very true. This is a good article. One to ne shared with many. Liz

  8. Beth Suess

    On July 12, 2009 at 4:46 am

    I agree with you!

  9. Alina Beck

    On July 12, 2009 at 6:05 am

    This a thoughtful and sensitive article with good advice for pet owners.

  10. Mirnavvv

    On July 12, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I totally disagree with euthanasia: pets -all animals in fact – are far more better at putting up with pain; they do have a lot of hope for living and sharing time with us; and last but not least, we cannot decide for them whether to live or die.
    My dearest cat, Benek – who was a Princss to me for 15 years was diagnosed renal insufficiency and cancer last September. Luckily our vet was also against euthanasia and we didi all that could be done. I almost spent a fortune. However, unfortunately, she did not respond well to treatment and passed away peacefully at our home, when I was w┼čth her.

  11. PR Mace

    On July 19, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Sorry but I couldn’t finish reading this article. I have lost many pets over the years. The last was our sweet little dog Dobie. He shared our lives for 18 years and traveled all over the nation with us. Kole is 10 years old and Katie 6 years old and I know onc day they to will be gone. I have to stop before I cry again.

  12. Theresa Johnson

    On July 24, 2009 at 4:10 am

    good piece

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