We lost our sweet dog Boo this month.
In today’s post, I share some details and emotions about our journey and the things we learned along the way. I know many of you have let go of beloved pets, too, and you have my deepest empathy and compassion. Our pets really do become members of our families, and saying goodbye is one of the hardest experiences.
If you ever have to face a difficult decision about your furriest friend—and all of the accompanying emotions—perhaps our story will let you know that you’re not alone.
Boo was a sweet, gentle girl who joined our family after my former husband passed away in 2016. Labs are said to be one of the most loyal breeds, and I don’t think Boo quite ever got over the loss of her dad. She ran around looking for him whenever we visited his mom’s house, and got excited when we drove near the park where they used to play.
Despite her loss, she settled into life here so well. She was my son’s constant companion, and a great comfort to him after he lost his dad. I work from a home office, and Boo was always by my side throughout the day. She loved my grown daughter, too, and was always so excited when she visited.
She loved running around the back yard, and spent many hours fetching tennis balls.
Boo was always happy to see us, and her tail was like a marine rope banging on the floor with metronome-like rhythm. If she was standing and positioned just right, that tail could make your knees buckle.
However, let me not speak only of the good. Boo had one fault that challenged us greatly: she found our cat’s litter box irresistible.
At first I tried moving the cat box in a closet. I used a heavy metal chain to secure the door to the door jamb, leaving an opening large enough for the cat to get in but not Boo. Result: One chain ripped from the door.
I rigged up two, three and even four doubled chains, but no amount of chain could keep Boo out of the enticing closet.
I surrendered and moved the cat box to the laundry room, where I installed a metal baby gate with molly bolts to both walls. Result: Our persistent, arthritic dog managed to crawl under the gate. I lowered the gate. Result: Baby gate and molly bolts ripped from the walls.
Finally, Pop came over and properly installed the baby gate. I think he used anchors, molly bolts and steel piers drilled down to bedrock. That ended the battle, although the gate developed some looseness with time and I suspect Boo still tried to ram through when we weren’t home.
A Downward Sloping Path
Boo began having problems with her hips and back legs about two years ago, when she was 10 years old. The vet told us these issues were common in some Labrador Retrievers. By this spring, she could no longer take even a short walk to the park.
Our last trip to the veterinarian in June was rough. I had to lift her in the back of the car, and she was nervous during the drive. I twisted my right arm behind my back, trying to pet her sweet head and comfort her.
The vet performed some tests and showed me that the nerves in Boo’s back legs and feet were shot. He ran some blood tests, and gave us thyroid medication to try. But he said there was only about a 10 percent chance that it would improve her condition.
Listening to Boo’s anxious panting as we drove home, I decided that if possible, I didn’t want to subject her to any more car rides. She didn’t deserve the panic and discomfort.
We talked about it as a family and agreed: we wanted Boo to enjoy the best quality of life she could with the time she had left. We did not want her to experience pain or suffering. We also wanted her to live her final days with dignity.
Because vets know how much we love our pets and it’s their job to explain all the possibilities, they might present a number of late-stage medical options. Some procedures might be well worth doing. Some might be invasive or frightening for a senior dog. Some options might be extremely expensive. It’s can be a terrible quandary, choosing between spending large sums of money to prolong our dear pets’ days or putting them down.
In our case, the vet said he didn’t think there were good alternatives that would prolong Boo’s quality of life. He didn’t believe that surgery was a viable option. The thyroid medication didn’t seem to have much effect. I appreciated his honesty and candor so much.
For our former dog, a different vet presented more options. He suggested x-rays because he thought she had cancer, and said she might be a candidate for surgery or chemotherapy. She was 14 at the time, so beloved, and I hated trying to make those decisions. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t spent another $750 and put her through anesthesia, x-rays and testing to discover that her tumor was inoperable cancer. She was so scared the day I left her at the vet’s for the procedure, and I have to bear that memory.
We do the best we can, don’t we?
We weigh all the variables, and in the end we make the best decisions we can for our precious pets.
Whether you decide to let things be or pay for additional procedures, be gentle on yourself and rest with the knowledge that you’re making the right decision because you know your pet best. Prayers helped me immeasurably as I tried to follow the path of greatest peace.
I made a number of phone calls and researched euthanasia options extensively online. In the end, we chose in-home euthanasia and cremation to give Boo a gentle goodbye. My son wanted to have her ashes here with us, so we paid for that upgrade. The cost for an in-home vet to provide euthanasia and cremation was $479. Yowza, definitely not cheap. If we had opted not to receive her ashes, the cost would have been $269. The fees are higher at night and on weekends.
Here in Colorado, the Dumb Friends League offers pet euthanasia and cremation at a reasonable cost of $70. If your pet dies at home, the cremation fee is just $30. Neither option includes the return of ashes, although they contract with an outside service for that option with prices ranging from $88 to $256. The Denver location even has a memorial garden where you can bury your pet’s ashes for a donation of $500, which includes a burial space, urn and granite plaque.
Similar to the dizzying choices one has to make when a human passes away, pet cremation services often offer upgrades for fancy urns. We opted for the basic package, but you can find reasonably priced urns on eBay and Amazon.
Home burial may also be an option for some, subject to your county’s regulations about such things.
Get Ready for Guilt
Oh, the guilt. I experienced it many times during Boo’s last weeks.
There is the guilt of knowing that the day is coming. You hold such a terrible secret, while your pet looks at you with trusting eyes. I felt guilty talking about the procedure in front of her, and went in the other room for phone conversations with the vet.
I thought things like, “Maybe I could have done more. Perhaps I should have changed her diet and tried different dog food. I could have made homemade treats, or learned more about CBD oil. Maybe I should have explored acupuncture.” Etc. etc.
If your pet is having health problems that cause incontinence, your mind may drift for a moment to the relief you will feel at the lifting of some of the burdens. And then you’ll feel guilty for having such self-absorbed thoughts. I’ve experienced all of these variations of guilt, and more!
Then Comes the Second Guessing
I can almost guarantee that the day after you make the euthanasia appointment, your pet will perk up and seem better. Every person I know who’s been through this says the same thing. Why does this happen? Perhaps once we make the decision, we experience a small lift of the emotional weight and our pets sense this. All I can say is that the path is rarely linear.
You may have times when you think, “Maybe we’re making a mistake. Could she hang on longer?”
Another thought I had was, “What if I do nothing? Maybe she will pass naturally in her sleep.”
However, Dr. Stanley Coren writes in Psychology Today that dogs may be in pain and try not to show it to their owners. “Canines have inherited an instinct to hide any pain that is caused by injuries or infirmity. … They hide their pain to appear to be more in control of the situation, but unfortunately, because of this, it is often difficult for humans to recognize when our dogs are hurting.”
We spend more time with our pets than anyone, so if we notice them acting like they have discomfort they are most likely experiencing pain.
Preparing to Say Goodbye
For Boo’s last week of life, we set up our own doggy hospice care. We put her food and water bowls nearby, massaged her legs and gave her extra treats and love. She got a pain pill every night.
Some of her favorite friends stopped by to say goodbye.
I made a batch of salt clay and made a print of her paw.
Our family took a few goodbye photos, and shared some of our favorite pictures.
In my Gratitude Journal I wrote about all the things we loved about Boo, and the blessings she had added to our lives.
I imagined her dad being so excited and happy to see Boo again, and said a prayer asking God to make her journey peaceful and pain-free.
When the house was quiet and Boo and I were alone, I spoke to her and thanked her for all the love and joy she gave us.
The Hardest Day
My brother-in-law describes pet ownership as “many great years, followed by the worst day of your life.” I related to this truth many times during our journey.
Boo’s euthanasia appointment was scheduled for 4:30 in the afternoon. In retrospect, I wish we would have set the time earlier because it was a long, heavy day.
The vet came to our house, and she was soft-spoken and kind. She explained each step of what she was going to do, and had me sign paperwork and pay for the procedure.
My son, daughter and I surrounded Boo and gave her lots of pats and love. Our other dog and cat were right there, too, which the vet said might help them better understand what was happening.
The doctor gave Boo one shot that made her sleepy. After 3 to 4 minutes, Boo gradually put her head down and then laid on her side. We petted and reassured her while the vet gave her the second shot, and cried as her breathing slowed and eventually stopped. That part took maybe another 3 to 4 minutes. The vet left us alone to have some quiet time and say goodbye. We comforted each other and shared some memories about Boo during that time.
Because Boo weighed 85 pounds, we carefully lifted her on a stretcher. My son helped the vet carry her to the van. The vet made everything as gentle and peaceful as possible, and she hugged and consoled us. She left us some materials about grief, including the phone number of a counselor we could call if we needed support. Watching the van leave with our girl was another sad, surreal moment.
After a Little Time
About an hour after the vet left and we had cried until there were no more tears, my son said, “You know what’s weird? I feel a little bit better. Do you?” And he was right. Even though we were still very emotional, we all sensed a feeling of love and lightness in the room.
The first few days were very hard, and we kept expecting to see Boo in all of her favorite places in the house. Our other dog didn’t eat much, and was very subdued. I wish I had taken the next day off from work, or scheduled Boo’s appointment on a Friday, because the grief was intense.
The vet had given us a copy of the book, “When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering, and Healing” by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. and I read parts of it when I felt especially sad.
With time, the raw pain began to ease. Our other dog started eating again, and we began creating new routines. I still cry sometimes, and we will always miss our girl.
The velvet bag holding Boo’s ashes is embroidered “Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge,” and I hold dear to the image of our beloved pets waiting to welcome us when we pass beyond this life. A long time ago, I came across this verse in Psalm 36:6: “You save humans and animals alike, O Lord.” These thoughts give me comfort.
How About You?
Have you ever had to make this difficult decision for a dear pet? I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences, and I would love to hear your memories and stories about your pets. Feel free to leave a comment on this post, or write me at mail @ elizacross . com.
A gentle spirit with soulful eyes, velvet ears and a tail that never stopped wagging—our Boo was all of those things and so much more.
I’ll end this post with one of my favorite photos of our happy girl, who brought us so much joy.