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My personal journey through quality of life decisions and euthanasia.

Dr. Teresa Conway, DVM with her dog a pug StinkyStinky Winston came into my life over 12 years ago. My husband and I had just purchased our first house, complete with a yard. Pugsly, as he was known then, was a two year old Pug that “just wasn’t working out” in his second home. The veterinary technicians at Brick Town Veterinary Hospital figured it was a match made in heaven and did their magic. Before I knew it, I was adding an obese dog with mange to our family of two cats and two humans. And with a combination of love, patience, consistency, good veterinary care and a name change, he blossomed into the best dog ever (I may be just a little biased).

As 2017 started, the years were really taking their toll on my old man. He was 14 & 1/2 years old, and during his senior years he had been through knee surgery, injured his neck and back falling down the stairs, had a bout of liver failure, and was facing kidney failure, senility and arthritis pain. As his veterinarian, I was balancing keeping his liver and kidneys happy with managing his pain. As his person, my head was starting to realize that his time here with me was coming to an end though my heart stubbornly refused to acknowledge anything of the sort.

Euthanasia and deciding the best time is always a difficult topic for those of us with furry family members.

I look at it both professionally and personally as the last loving gift we can give our pets. But it is never easy. Sometimes the choice is clear, like after a catastrophic event. But often there is no perfectly right time, like with my Stinky boy. You wrestle with not wanting to make the decision too soon as well as not wanting to be selfish and waiting too long. It’s my journey through this difficult process that I wish to share with you.

The bucket list. In the spring of 2017 we started seriously thinking about Stinky’s quality of life as well as working on his bucket list. After a disastrous walk around the block that ended with him being carried home with a bloody nail, we tried using my son’s old wagon when he wanted to join us. We brought our dinner plates to him to clean off and enjoy after a lifetime of dieting. We had a beautiful May day on the beach, smelling the ocean air and enjoying the sunshine. And I looked forward to hanging the hammock for the two of us to spend some quality time together. He had always loved launching himself into it and joining me when I had the opportunity to relax outside. However, when we had our chance, he didn’t enjoy it and just wanted to go back inside and into his crate. That was where he was spending all of his time when not eating (he was a pug, after all, and was never going to give that up). He wasn’t interacting with any of us, except for meal time, and he had stopped using his big cushioned bed by the fireplace. When he didn’t enjoy fulfilling the last items on his bucket list, I knew it was time.

End of Life Pet MemoryI decided Tuesday, May 16, was the day, though I almost changed my mind several times. I had decided to sedate him at home so he wouldn’t have any discomfort on the ride to the veterinary hospital (and I didn’t want to euthanize him at home because I didn’t want death at my house). So I gave him a giant bowl of canned food and administered the sedative while he gobbled it up. I’m pretty sure his last thought was regret that he wasn’t able to finish the entire meal before he became too sleepy to eat anymore. Then I carried him in his big fluffy bed into the car and drove to my husband’s veterinary hospital where we gave him the final injection. My handsome Stinky boy was pain free and at peace and we cried, and grieved, and still miss him today.

For those of you facing a similar decision, there are resources that can be helpful.

First, you can talk to any of us at Brick Town Veterinary Hospital about your concerns with your furry family members, including end of life. I also recommend the quality of life scales and other resources on the Lap of Love Website. Grey Muzzle is a mobile app that can help you keep track of good days versus bad. And I strongly encourage you to take care of yourself as well and seek out pet loss grief support and other assistance if you need it. There are pet loss support groups at both Red Bank Veterinary Hospital and North Star Vets as well as grief recovery assistance at The Center for Conscious Caregiving. Hotlines and various websites are also available and include the ASPCA National Pet Loss Hotline (877-GRIEF-10 or 877-474-3310), the Tufts Pet Loss Support Hotline (508-839-7966) and the Pet Loss Support Hotline at Cornell University (607-253-3932). You are not alone.

Dr. Teresa Conway is a 1995 graduate of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. She has special veterinary interests in ultrasound (abdominal and cardiac), internal medicine, behavior, and dermatology.