Pets

When It’s Time to Put Your Pet to Sleep

Timing is difficult and subjective, and there’s never a right or wrong answer

Michelle Jaqua
Nov 15, 2019 · 5 min read
dog standing on the beach
Chunk enjoying the beach on the Oregon Coast. Credit: Author’s photo

I’m sitting here on my chair with my dog, Chunk, in my lap. I’ve written about him before, mostly about the many times he’s escaped death.

I’ve contemplated for over a year and a half about the best time to euthanize him. He has a very bad heart and is towards the end of his life.

I never wanted to put him to sleep too soon. I felt like I’d betray him if he still had good days left to enjoy his life and I took that away from him.

I don’t want him to suffer either just for my benefit of having him here with me, so putting him down too late is another concern of mine.

With this dilemma, the act of mercy is subjective. It can only be interpreted by me, his owner. I’ve been given the approval several months ago from his veterinarian, so it really depends on when I’ve decided that it’s time for him to go.

I’ve looked for clues from Chunk. He and I have a good rapport and I can usually tell what he wants by his glance. I look into his eyes hoping he can communicate with me. I ask him if it’s time to leave this earth and search for meanings behind his gaze that he’s ready to go. I want him to be okay with this too. It’s important for me to know that he won’t think I’ve killed him when he wasn’t ready.

It’s a huge burden to bear.

We’ve had several close calls with Chunk, mostly in the form of accidents or near-accidents where he’s escaped death. I’ve been referencing that Chunk has nine lives, because since over eighteen months ago, he has been on the edge due to his congestive heart failure and his ability to live regardless of his challenges.

Until a couple weeks ago, he seemed to be enjoying life. He enjoyed food, car rides, and our short walks to the nearby park. Even though he requires medications twice per day to keep water off his lungs and to keep his poor heart pumping best as it could, he still interacted with life.

Then I had to take a trip to Bend for a friend’s wedding and left Chunk with our friends who watch him when we’re out of town. It’s like Chunks second home. They have two little dogs who are Chunks companions. All three dogs get along well together.

When I picked up Chunk after my trip, he had changed. He was more lethargic, less interested in food or interacting with anyone. There were times where he’d hunch up his back and walk funny and cry out in pain if he moved wrong.

He’s not interested in going for walks or riding in the car anymore. If I open the door and say “Do you want to go for a ride?” in my excited voice, he just gives me a dismissive look and waddles back to his cushion to lay down.

He’s also insisted on sleeping in bed with me. He will just stand there at the edge of my bed until I pick him up and tuck him in with me.

Taking his pills is a chore. I have to wrap them up in lunchmeat and encourage him to take the bite from my hand. Otherwise, he eats very little.

He still walks around a bit and wags his tail when I talk to him and barks when someone is at the front door. This is the only joy he gets now.

If I’m honest with myself, I’d have to say that his quality of life has gone to shit.

Now when I look into his eyes, and he looks back at me wide-eyed. It’s the same look he gets when I take him to the vet.

After much contemplation and heartache, I’ve decided that he’s given me enough clues. It’s time for Chunk to go.

It goes without saying that I love my dog. He’s been my companion for eight years.

I got him shortly after my last husband left. He had been abused and neglected in his previous home. I was told he was a dog with bad behaviors and wasn’t housetrained. I know a lot about dogs and figured his behaviors were only reactions from how he was treated. All he needed was love and care. I took him in to foster him, knowing full well that I wasn’t giving him back.

dog sleeping on lap of owner
My snapshot of Chunk when I brought him home for the first time. He insisted on sleeping in my lap while I drove home. I knew right then that he was my companion. Credit: Author’s photo

When I first got him, I put him in the passenger seat in my car on a nice blanket. But, he insisted that he lay down in my lap. I finally let him curl up into a little ball on top of my lap, and he fell asleep as I drove him home for the first time.

He was a timid dog, and yes, he had accidents in the house. Well, he had two accidents the first week I had him. After that, he was completely housetrained.

He didn’t like to be held or touched either, and mostly struggled to get away when I had him in my arms. I persisted to love on him and give him a safe base where he felt comfortable being held. After some time, he got more and more comfortable being held and is okay with it.

My son and I taught him how to howl like a wolf. If we started howling, he would get excited until he couldn’t contain himself any longer and would break into a howling frenzy.

I took him with me on hikes, camping, boating, kayak trips, and any other adventure that came our way. He was a trooper. His little legs would keep up with me and he would seem to endure wherever life took us; house to apartment to apartment to house.

There have been so many changes for us over the past eight years as I went through my own changes and finding a new life for myself. He has been my constant.

I didn’t just rescue him. He rescued me as well.

Last night I called the vet. I set up a time for her to come out and visit us for one last time. It’s scheduled for tomorrow, November 16th at 3pm.

I’ll spend the day with him, give him his food that he likes, take him outside so he can sniff the plants. I’ll cuddle with him on the couch and let him know how much I love him.

Then the vet will come and we will put him to rest.

He’s such a good boy. My heart is breaking and I will miss him. But I know it’s the right thing to do.

Michelle Jaqua is a blogger on Medium.com. She writes to inspire people towards personal transformation and living a passionate life. Sometimes she just writes about life. If you’d like to see her other developing projects, sign up for her mailing list here.

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