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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

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Ellen

Saturday 4th of August 2018

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.

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 4th of August 2018

Oh, I'm so, so sorry to hear your dog died. It's so hard.

Alison

Sunday 29th of July 2018

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.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 30th of July 2018

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.

Elizabeth

Wednesday 25th of July 2018

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.

Christie

Wednesday 25th of July 2018

Oh Lindsay, we think of Ace often and he reminds us to enjoy each day. Sending love and hugs!

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 25th of July 2018

Thank you! I think of you guys often as well!

Mark

Sunday 22nd of July 2018

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.