How To Know When It’s Time To Let Your Pet Go
One Of The Kindest Decisions You Will Face As A Pet Owner
On Saturday I made the decision to euthanize my sweet cat Tazo (full name Tazo Chai Latte, yes after the drink which was my favourite at the time).
I thought I would write about it because it helps me to write when I am sad.
Also, because I hope my story will help you if you are going through the same horrible process that’s a necessary part of loving our pets.
A Bit About Tazo
I rescued Tazo from an autobody shop in August of 2004.
The owner of the shop had a problem with a stray cat who kept having litters there, and this last time the mother cat was so sick she couldn’t feed her kittens.
So, this kind man adopted the mother, had her spayed, and found homes for all the kittens. I got Tazo, the runt of the litter.
Tazo was always feral in nature, and had a wild personality. But she was also really affectionate and ruled my street — at least four different neighbours allowed her into their house, and one actually had a bed and treats for her.
She knew (and tolerated) all the kids and dogs, and had no trouble keeping them in their place with a swat on occasion. (The dogs, not the kids.)
Needless to say, she was very popular with my friends, family, and neighbours.
Squeezing Every Drop From Her Nine Lives
Because she was feral, she lived her life as an outdoor cat, loving every kind of weather, and was an avid hunter, explorer, and traveller.
She travelled in the car with me to visit my folks outside the city, she came up to the family cottage with me, and was essentially with me from the day I moved into my house in Toronto’s east end, 14 years ago.
Although she had really good street sense and came home every night, she preferred to be out and about finding “gifts” (alive and otherwise) to bring me and her other favourite neighbours. As a result, she was at the vet frequently for cuts and scratches and bites.
She also had an unusual number of strange infections and was close to death’s door more than once.
And yet each time I thought she might leave me, she bounced back.
Including last winter when she had stomach issues, and the vet said it was either the feline version of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or lymphoma. I was unwilling to do painful testing to determine which it was, so we tried new meds and she improved and was back to her old self, mostly, until July.
I figure that she had used 8, maybe 8.5, of her lives by this point.
And I mean, really used them.
Squeezed out every last drop of fun and joy and happiness.
Something we all should do, frankly.
The Beginning Of The End
About 7 weeks ago Tazo stopped eating, and she had already lost quite a bit of weight, so I took her in for a checkup.
“Well Ruth,” said James, her vet, “she’s pretty sick, but it’s not her time. Let’s try some prednisone, which reduces inflammation. I’ve found it gives cats a few more weeks with pretty good quality.”
“It’s not her time?” I asked tearfully, “I don’t want to prolong anything if she’s in pain.”
He was so kind. “No, it’s not yet. You’ll know. And I’ll check in on you too.”
I panicked .
How will I know? Can you give me a diagram or a list of criteria that will tell me when it’s the right time to end her life? Can you tell me with 100% certainly when that time is?
I didn’t ask James any of this. Instead, I researched and I read and I talked to other people, and here’s what I learned.
- Cats are stoic. Unlike dogs, who will let you know when their paw hurts and will practically point to it, cats suffer in silence. You can’t rely on their silence to be a signal.
- Cats don’t always purr to signal happiness. They also purr as a means of self-soothing. (I knew this already, but it was a good reminder.)
- Cats can have unexpected bursts of energy during their final days. Or not.
Ok fine. Good stuff. But not the list of CRITERIA I was looking for.
Sadly, there are no criteria.
How I Knew
Last Friday I noticed Tazo had an ear infection (side effects of long term prednisone, which had been almost 8 weeks at this point), and I knew she would need meds for that.
The thought of giving her more meds was the trigger for me, as she was already getting pills twice a day, with six little pieces every other morning.
Although we had a routine, this was not easy for her, and she had started choking. I dreaded doing this to her each day even though she was a trooper.
Tazo also peed on the floor in the basement, and although this had happened before, it was in a new place and was very unusual.
Her respiration appeared laboured and shallow, and she was very very lethargic.
Her eyes were unfocused and she stared a lot.
So with all this happening, I kind of knew.
What Freaked Me Out
She had bursts of energy and would play with a piece of grass or run up the stairs.
She ate a LOT (prednisone side effect).
She came up to my bed, nuzzled my hand, and purred on her last morning.
How could I possibly put her down with these signs?
How I Processed
Saturday morning I went to the vet and talked to James and Diana (the assistant, who also knows Tazo well).
Me: I need to tell you about Tazo, because I’m pretty sure we are at the end. (I proceeded to outline how she was.)
Them: Ruth, we are so sorry, and it sounds like you have made your decision.
Me: I think so. But is it right? Is it too soon?
Them: No. It sounds like it’s time. She sounds very uncomfortable. Why don’t you bring her in and we will check to make sure.
Me: Because I can’t bring her in and then take her home to wait to bring her back again. I will lose my mind and cry until her next appointment. (I thought you had to wait to block a special time for euthanasia.)
Them: Oh no, Ruth, we wouldn’t wait. If it’s time, and if you agree, we will take care of Tazo right away. We don’t want her to be in pain.
So that’s what I did.
My best friend came with me, and we brought Tazo in, and James looked at her and said, “Oh that’s not Tazo. It is definitely time.”
And even though I challenged him twice, just to make sure he wasn’t lying to me (as if he would), he was so confident and kind and certain, that I felt immediately better about it.
I don’t want to write the whole procedure of how it works, but let me tell you it’s a kind, loving, and peaceful process.
I was with her, stroking and petting her, and she never once complained or struggled.
It’s like she knew.
And as James and Diana said, “this is a kindness.”
What I Want You To Know
You will know when the right time is.
And, you will want the comfort of others who can support you and give you their honest opinions.
But know this: it is a kindness, and it is better to help them ease out of this life before they are so wracked with pain that they can barely move.
Tazo had a lovely last morning.
She cuddled with me, had some butter (her favourite treat), and slept in a couple of her favourite spots.
If I had waited another week, she probably wouldn’t have been able to do any of that.
And that’s no way to go.
If you are dealing with this decision, I wish you peace in whatever you decide, and send you a virtual hug in solidarity.
Ruth Henderson is editor of the Medium Publication “At The Whiteboard,” and is a top writer in Leadership and Productivity.