Do I Have to Be There When My Dog is Put Down?

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.

Do I have to be there when my dog is put down?

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?

My dog Ace

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.

My cat Beamer
Beamer on his last afternoon

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.

Me and my dog Ace

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.

Me and my dog Ace - Do I have to be there when my dog is put down?

…………………………………

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)

In memory of my boy Ace

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.

-Lindsay

26 thoughts on “Do I Have to Be There When My Dog is Put Down?”

  1. Carol Pritchard

    Thank you for sharing such an important topic. The majority of our animals that we have had to make that awful decision with we stayed with them and I know that was the right decision for us and for them. Especially our last dog Tatsa she always went into the shakes anytime we had to have even brief check-ups so I know for her it was important. We have been truly blessed with incredible vets that have been so compassionate and understanding of any decisions made. It was especially comforting when we had to say good-bye to our Zoey and both the vet and assistant sat with us for awhile and very quietly reassured us we had made the right decision. Sometimes in our past we have had a couple of dogs who fought for life merely for us even tho’ they were in immense pain and realizing that on our side was so hard.
    People when they make their choice to stay or not should never feel guilty as it is a very personal choice and sometimes when we put ourselves aside we also learn how strong we can be.

  2. Thanks for giving a nod to my buddy Chester. I was glad I was there when he passed. My hubby and his original owner were there too. Chester is the kind of dog that would have loved having the room packed with people – friends or strangers, it didn’t matter – wall-to-wall. I certainly miss him but know I gave him the best life I could.

  3. I am sure you had special times all the time. That was one comfort for me when we had to let Jasmine go–I always gave her all I could all the time. We too didn’t get to have any special last day or anything even resembling that, except it was all a terrible horror. No last walk, no last meal, no last anything. She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t walk and it was freezing rain. I always spoil my dogs like there is no tomorrow. Because one day there isn’t. <3

  4. Christine Smith

    Like you, I wasn’t able to make any special plans for Luther’s last day with us. He had been reluctant to go out the evening before and didn’t want his dinner. I wrongly assumed he’d eaten something unpleasant on his walk earlier so decided to sleep on the sofa with him in case he needed to go out during the night. He didn’t disturb me at all. I got him to the vet as soon as they opened in the morning, having to carry him to the car (he was a beautiful, big golden retriever). They asked me to leave him with them to run bloods and possibly a scan. I drove home. As I pulled up outside the house the phone rang. It was the vet telling me that we had to let him go. He had a tumour on his spleen which had ruptured and he was suffering. I drove straight back to the surgery as it was important for me to be there with him, tell him how much I loved him and say goodbye. I am glad I was with him at the end of his life but I wish that my last memory of him wasn’t one of such desperate sadness. Thank you for this wonderful blog.

  5. This is such an important, difficult topic. I’ve only been with one of our pets when she was euthanized. The two other times, I chose not to be there for two very different reasons. It’s a very personal decision to be there or not. I’m sorta surprised your vet offered his advice on what to do. But of course, he was trying to help. I’m glad I was with Elsie, our golden, when her time came, though it was terribly hard to witness. I felt a certain amount of judgment because we didn’t have her euthanized at home.

    Ace was even low maintenance in his death. One more thing he tried to make “easier” for you. I’m sure it does make you sad to not have gotten that last special day with him. But you made his entire life special. You did get that last day with Beamer. I love how you said that was one more gift Ace gave – giving you those last special hours with Beamer. I hadn’t thought about it quite like that. I still say, it’s almost like those two had it planned out so you wouldn’t have to go through all that heartache twice. Such good boys they were.

    Thank you for the post. I hope you write more about pets’ end-of-life issues and the grief those who love them experience. Thanks for sharing the links too.

  6. I can`t do it!. I have never watched any of my dogs or cats go to Heaven. Call me a wuss, call me anything you like I just can not do it. I won’t go to an open casket for humans. That is the last snap-shot and I do not want that in my head. I am starting to tear up right now just thinking. I have an EMT, Dog first aid, and CPR. I have a fire science cert. and I can not do it. I am good at helping and anything that has to be done to save people and pets but I can`t put them down or watch. Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me… I just can`t do it. I will see them in the blink of Gods Eye so that`s good enough for me.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I can understand what you mean, Keith, and there are a lot of people who just can’t be there or just don’t want to.

  7. Sandy Weinstein

    Evie had histiocytic sarcoma. she had fought the cancer for almost a yr. she was 1 month shy of 16 yrs old. we had just been to the cancer vet the day b4. both my reg. vet and the cancer vet said she had at least 6 mos. more to live. i had even spoken to the cancer vet earlier in the day. Evie had some other health issues, a little dementia, deaf and almost blind. she also had sundowners. however, she was doing great except she was losing a lot of weight. she still liked to play with her ball and go for walks, and she still wanted to chase the deer. i had been having to hand feed her because she would forget to finish her food. i was feeding her when she had a stroke or heart attack. i gave her cpr and rushed her to the cancer vet er. the dr on call said it was time, but i wanted to wait til her dr came in the next am. so i had her put in an oxygen tent and waited all nite at the vet. he came in at 8am and said it was time. Evie was apparently brain dead. he let me hold her while she was on oxygen. i did not want to let her go. i just could not fathom my life without her, even though i have 2 other girls. I got Evie when she was 6 wks old, i was already her 3rd owner. she was the best little gal. so smart, so sweet, everyone loved her. the vet said i could hold her while he gave her the shot, i wanted to hold her, to be there for her as she had been with me through all my problems, always putting her head on my lap, kissing me when i was upset, crying or just having a bad day. i held her for a very long time after she was gone. i did not want to let her go. even as they took her away, i ran after her to give her another kiss and hug. when i got home, i even called to see if i could she her again. they said no, she had already gone to be processed. i did not get out of bed for several days. i wanted to be there for her as she had been there for me. i was very upset when my mother passed away in the hospital and i could not get to her in time because of a bad snow/ice storm. i had just left my mother 6 hrs earlier. i will never forgive myself for not being there for my mother. we had this saying everynite i left her, i will be here for you tomorrow, i will not leave you. i realize it may be hard for some to be there but even though it was terribly hard for me, crying the entire time, i felt that she had given me so much over the years, that as her “mother”, my baby, needed me at this time. she sits on my piano, as i had her cremated and had a beautiful urn with her picture on it. her painting is in my bedroom on the mantle. i want her to be there with me everyday for the rest of my life and she will be there with my when i am gone as she will be buried with me.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thank you for sharing your personal stories about losing Evie and losing your mom. I know Evie was such a special dog. I was so sorry to hear when she was sick and when she died.

  8. We chose to have the vet come to our house to make the transition as easy as possible if the circumstances allow. Now we did have one dog Apache that had a reaction to the drugs and his transition was not very peaceful but at least we were with him holding him and being there for him. I would feel bad if I was not with my dogs (it is the least I can do for everything they have brought into our lives and everything they have done for us). I know that is a personal choice but it is what we do. We also move alot so we have our dogs cremated and then they are put on the dresser with a picture and things that remind us of them. We are going to be cremated and we laugh that our daughter who is 10 now is going to be carrying around a bag. People will ask her what she has and she will say “oh it is my mom and dad and all our dogs”. Then she can go to the woods or water and we can all be together again.

  9. We used Lap of Love in-home euthanasia for our last 4 dogs. It was the best decision we ever made. It was peaceful and comforting for all of us. It seemed to ease the grief of the other dogs. We adopted a wild mother and 3 puppy’s with their eyes not even open almost 16 years ago. They were living under an abandoned trailer on my parents country property. We brought them home, hoping to find new owners for them but ended up keeping them all! Needless to say, they were very close. One of them died around 11 years old with a sudden onset of hemolytic anemia in the vet’s office. The other pack members never understood why she didn’t come home and became depressed for a long time. After we discovered Lap of Love, we were all there together on the bed for each one’s passing. The dogs seemed to understand what happened and it shortened the grief period to a few days. Still hard, but we are grateful we found a way to handle one of the hardest things that a pet owner faces.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Aww, thank you for sharing your experience. My cat Scout was depressed when our other cat died at the vet. That was the first time I’ve seen a pet grieve. Our dog Ace died at home and it was comforting to me that my other dog was there. It was very sad to see him sniff his buddy’s body, but it gave me closure.

  10. I am very close to my dogs, they are more to me than that they are my kids, I have in the past had to put down my best friend “Duke” due to cancer it was and still is the hardest thing I have ever done to be at his side to comfort him in the strange situation during the process was the best thing, I will do it again if needed.
    It’s about respect.

  11. I was so sad to read about Ace and Beamer. I know you definitely gave them special moments, because you have shared many with your readers. One wonderful memory I have of my dog Penelope is that she was included in your Mutt calendar. Thank you for all you do.

  12. I really appreciate you sharing these feelings and thoughts. My English Mastiff, Bella, just turned 13. My other old EM lady, Izzy, is 11. They are my first pets. I got them when they were 5. Now that they are so old (and blind and going deaf),

    I wonder about how the end will come and try to prepare mentally for it. Both are happy and still mobile and healthy (other than sight and hearing loss), but they are just very old. They nap. They rise slowly. I am so thankful for every moment and hope to be there when they pass. I don’t want them to wonder where I am. I’ve been thinking that I will try not to appear too sad so not to upset them or cause them worry as they go. It’s hard to ponder, but articles like this are very helpful. Thank you. Your experiences are appreciated and the gratitude/love for those you’ve lost is beautiful.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thank you, Alison. I know you’ve shared pictures of your dogs before and they are just so cute. I’m glad they are doing well. It’s so hard when they get old.

  13. Reading this made me cry, which I really needed. I just lost my boy, RJ, unexpectedly, while I was on vacation, and I am sorry for your loss–thanks for sharing your photos of Ace. I lost my boy, RJ, recently and unexpectedly, while I was on a trip. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Luckily, my oldest daughter was there, and my son drove about a hundred miles to be there, which was great, because Zach was “his” boy. RJ was actually brought home from the shelter as a puppy surprise for my youngest daughter, but he decided early on that he was Zach’s dog. He was a pretty big boy in a smaller house, so I REALLY notice the emptiness, not just in my heart, but in my house.

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