Short answer, no. Long answer, read on.
Josh and I lost two pets on the same day. He and I were both there when our cat Beamer and our dog Ace died, although not quite how we expected it.
I always thought I’d eventually have to make the dreaded decision of when to put Ace down. “Is it really time? Am I doing the right thing? Is he in pain?”
I also assumed I’d get to have one last “special day” with Ace before he died. I did this with my senior foster dog named Dora. I figured Ace and I would go to his favorite park, play with his ball, take pictures, eat a steak!
I didn’t get to do any of those things. Which is why we all need to have many “special days” with our pets and loved ones. Every trip to the park is special. Every kiss. Every snuggle.
Ace died in our living room unexpectedly. Although, not all that unexpectedly because he was a 12-year-old Lab mix. One minute I was joking around, petting him, slapping his side like I do when I say, “You’re a good boy, Ace!” Twenty minutes later he was gone. We think he had a heart attack.
My friend Maren told me that this is what Ace wanted, that he would not have wanted a drawn out “special day.” I realized she is right.
Ace was a low-maintenance, “I’m here but no need to stress over me” kind of guy. He only wanted to make me happy. He liked to just BE, and he enjoyed every moment. Every day was special for Ace.
My mom said Ace gave me one last gift. He spared me that agonizing pain nearly all pet owners face. “Is it time? Am I doing the right thing?”
We’d just gone through euthanasia with our cat Beamer that very day, and Ace spared us from going through the same pain all over again.
I’d actually always hoped Ace would one day die peacefully at home. But I never thought it would actually happen.
It was an awful thing to see my best friend struggle and die, yet at the same time he was fairly peaceful, not all that different from when our cat exaled his last breath under euthanasia 90 minutes earlier.
The two deaths weren’t that different, and I was glad to be there for both.
For me, it was a comfort to see they did not suffer at the very end.
Do I have to be there when my dog is put down?
No. You don’t have to be there.
When we decided to have Beamer euthanized, the vet gave us some time alone with our cat. Then he came back and told us very clearly, you’re very welcome to stay but I would choose not to stay if this were my cat. If you were my children, I would encourage you not to stay. (His “children” are 40 years old.)
I appreciated this, because I know many pet owners feel tremendous pressure that they “must” stay or that there is no choice.
A friend told me her vet pressured her to stay when she preferred not to. Another friend wrote about how she just could not be there because it would make her so anxious she would faint. Some people can’t be there or just don’t want to be there, and that’s OK.
Our vet suggested that maybe our cat would not want us there. He said, for example, if I were going into surgery I would not want my whole family standing there to watch me “go under.” That would be awkward. Not the same as dying, but I understood what he meant.
I think it depends on the pet and the circumstances.
One thing I noticed is that both Beamer and Ace started to pull away from us when they were dying.
Beamer had been sick all week and as he got worse, the more he tried to move away. On that last day, he kept trying to find a cool, quiet spot on the floor. We’d draw him in for cuddles but he wanted to be alone. He was normally the type of cat that loved to be held!
Our other cat Scout, who would normally be at Beamer’s side, was also giving his best buddy some space. He’d been giving Beamer space for about a month, only I hadn’t quite realized it yet.
When Ace was dying, he got up and walked to the far corner of the room, as far from us as he could in a small space. He did not come up to me to tell me something was wrong, he moved away from me.
This is, I suppose, what animals do.
Our vet, I think, was trying to spare us the memory of watching our cat die. I’m sure some people react in hysterics to see such a thing. I can only image what vets experience day after day dealing with all sorts of human emotions.
So our vet stepped out of the room to give us a minute to make our own decision. I already knew I wanted to be there, but I thanked him for reinforcing the choice. Because it’s 100% OK not to be there, and people need to know that.
Our pets know they are loved. That is what’s most important.
The end will never go quite as we wish. Death does not work that way. The best thing any of us can do for our pets is give them the best life we can for as long as we can. That doesn’t mean it will be perfect. It means we try our best.
While I did not get to have that last “special day” with Ace, I did get to have that with Beamer. While I spent the day holding my dying cat, I did not know it was also Ace’s last. I like to think this is yet another gift from Ace. He gave Beamer those last, special hours.
I’m comforted by the many, many trips Ace and I took to our favorite park in the last 2 years. Hours and hours and hours of my time. Because I knew it was limited and every moment was special.
I’m forever thankful for Ace. My good, perfect boy.
Unfortunately, I am almost always aware of others who are also grieving a pet. This spring, many of my friends in the pet blogging space also lost a dog. I am sad for their losses, yet it gives me comfort to know I am not alone in my grief. While we all experience grief in our own ways, it is universal.
Here are some posts from other bloggers honoring their dogs who have recently passed:
In memory of Linus (Puppy in Training blog)
In memory of Missy (K9s Over Coffee)
In memory of Chester (You Did What With Your Weiner?)
In memory of Emmett (Sweet Emmett died last year, Oh My Dog Blog)
And there are many others.
As I like to say, aren’t we all so lucky to have the world’s best dogs?
In the comments, please share a memory one of your special dogs.
Thank you for all your kind words and messages over the last 2 months.