A reader writes: Yesterday I found out that my beloved Heidi has a tumor. It has not been confirmed if it is cancerous. We are waiting for the results of the pathology. I know the best thing for her is to be put to sleep and I can't stop thinking about it. She has been with us since she was 5 weeks old and she will turn 13 in March. She has been through so much with me that she is more like one of my children. I never thought in a million years a dog would mean so much to me and I would be so attatched. Thanks for listening to me and any suggestions are welcome.
My response: I don’t know whether you’ve learned the results of the biopsy of Heidi’s tumor, but I want you to know I am thinking of you and hoping for the best. I’d also like to offer some information that may be helpful as you face whatever lies ahead for you and your cherished companion.
As you await the results of Heidi’s tests, you may find yourself experiencing all the emotions of grief in anticipation of losing her. This is known as anticipatory grief, and the physical and emotional reactions involved are the same as those experienced in normal grief. It’s extremely difficult to watch your precious animal's health and quality of life deteriorate over time. If you’re thinking about euthanasia, you may be struggling with anxiety over separating from your dog, uncertain how you'll ever bring yourself to say good-bye. Torn between not wanting to see her suffer and not wanting to lose her, you may continue to go to great lengths to postpone or to avoid the decision all together.
Deciding when and whether to euthanize your cherished pet is probably one of the most difficult choices you'll ever have to make. Exploring all aspects of the decision with your veterinarian and with others whom you trust is very important. Keep in mind, however, that in the end, the decision belongs to you and to you alone. And if and when you do decide to choose euthanasia for your dog, remember that you will be doing it for reasons of mercy and compassion. You will be choosing to end Heidi’s suffering and to create for her a dignified and painless death.
Most of us find it very difficult to think about planning ahead for the death of our pets. We act as if merely thinking or talking about the pet's dying will somehow make it happen ~ or we act as if not thinking or talking about our pet's illness will somehow make it go away. Yet the reality is that none of us has the power to cause the death of another merely by thinking or talking about it ~ and illnesses aren't prevented or cured simply by choosing not to think about them.
Detaching from a cherished pet is just as difficult whether it happens suddenly or over an extended period of time. But having time to prepare for what lies ahead can be one of the more positive aspects of anticipatory grieving. As you come to this difficult decision, I encourage you to use this time to gather information and to think through whatever questions you may have about the actual procedure, so you can discuss your concerns with your veterinarian. Then when the time comes, you'll be better prepared to use your own good judgment based on the reality of your particular situation.
I'd like to refer you to the following articles, in hopes that they'll help you as you make the most of the time you have left with Heidi:
Anticipatory Grief: Anticipating the Loss of a Pet
Making the Euthanasia Decision
Thinking It Through: Exploring Questions about Euthanasia
I hope this information proves useful to you, my friend. Please know that I am thinking of you, and when you feel ready to do so, I hope you will let me know how you and Heidi are doing. ♥
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