Real Life

A Gentle Goodbye at Home

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Chocolate lab smiling

 

Dear friends,

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.

 

senior dog

 

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. 

 

Chocolate lab dog

 

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.  

 

baby gate
Fort Knox of the Kitty Box

 

A Downward Sloping Path

 

Two dogs saying hello

 

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.  

Impossible Choices

 

dog and swimming pool

 

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. 

Ahhhhh…..

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

 

Three dogs

 

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

 

Chocolate lab with ball

 

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

 

Senior dog

 

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. 

 

Gentle goodbye

 

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

 

gentle goodbye and dog photo collage

 

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. 

 

Gentle goodbye with in home pet euthanasia

 

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 waggingour 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. 

 

Dog rolling in the grass

 

Best always,

Eliza Cross's signature

Eliza Cross is the author of 15 books, including recent titles like Bacon Beans and Beer and Small Bites. She blogs at ElizaCross.com and is the founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society. Her articles have appeared in publications like Sunset, Parents and Writers' Digest. Eliza lives near Denver with her family.

28 Comments

  • Michelle Redfearn

    It was a beautiful read. The description is perfect…..you have a real talent for writing.

    We lost our “Doc” after 10 years at the age of 14 Feb 28th. Our loss was sudden so we didn’t have the time to think about options…it’s all hard…the time to think and plan or the sudden loss (in our case 3 hours from start to finish).
    We have the same embroidered bag with Doc’s ashes in a tin inside of it and his paw prints. The tin sits in the drawer near my desk. I just can’t move it yet.

    We have a new puppy now who was born March 6th….Just 6 days after Doc left us. I like to think they crossed on their way to and from our home and Doc shared some insight about how to love us and be loved by us.
    I love Doc and now, George. Life is better with a dog!! No doubt they keep a piece of our heart when they cross that rainbow bridge. I long to hug and kiss Doc someday when I get to heaven.

    • Eliza Cross

      Michelle, I am so sorry about the loss of your sweet Doc. How tough that it happened suddenly. Oh, my heart aches with yours. I shed a tear reading your thoughts about Doc sharing with George as they met along that path. So glad that George is in your life, and at the same time I completely understand that you will always have a place in your heart for Doc. Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share these precious thoughts.

  • Lorie

    So sorry for your loss. I too experienced the loss of a beloved pet three weeks ago. Our cat Coal was 19 years old. I could tell he was deteriorating, so we made the decision to have him put down. We use a mobile vet as our regular vet so we made the appointment with her. The appointment was for the Friday, as I was off. Coal had a different agenda. The day after I made the appointment he died peacefully in his sleep in his favorite bed.
    I have had to put pets down in the past and I experienced the same feelings of guilt as you did. With Coa’ls death, I never felt guilty. He went on his time. The grieving process has been easier, because I definitely knew it was his time. I miss him everyday.

    • Eliza Cross

      Oh Lori, I’m sorry that you are going through this grieving process right now, too. Was Coal named for the color of his coat? What a good boy he was, knowing that it was his time and heading to his favorite bed. Cats are such sweet companions and I can see why you miss him every day. Thinking of you and sending hugs and condolences. Thank you so much for sharing your story. xo

  • Anne McKay

    My heart ached as I read your story about Boo. I’ve lost companion animals and much of what you shared resonated with me, especially the second guessing and guilt. I hope that you know that you did the very best for this sweet girl and that she was blessed to have such a wonderful family. I had never thought of having the procedure performed at home, that I think was another kindness, and I think when the next time comes – may it be many, many, many years from now, I will see if that option exists in my community.

    • Eliza Cross

      Anne, thank you so much for taking the time to write. Your sweet, encouraging words mean so much to me. The in-home service was so helpful with Boo’s mobility challenges, and the vet’s gentle approach was just what our family needed. I, too, hope that you don’t have to think about anything like this for a long, long time. xo

  • Gayle Anderson

    Oh Eliza your beautiful post brought tears to my eyes. I know one day I’ll have to make those painful decisions on my two dogs. Thinking of you and sympathy on the loss of Boo.

    • Eliza Cross

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, but so sorry about the tears, Gayle. I hope you don’t have to think about these things for a long time. I love the photos you post of your “fur babies”! xoxo

  • Marianne Wire

    I wept tears of remembered pain. Lost my Bailey 4 year old Springer Spaniel end of April to cancer. I can barely believe she’s gone.
    So sorry for your loss!

    • Eliza Cross

      Oh Marianne, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your sweet Bailey. I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been to go through cancer with your girl and say goodbye to her at such a young age. Springer Spaniels are such beautiful dogs. Thank you for reaching out, and I am sending you hugs and all of my most heartfelt condolences and sympathy. xoxo

  • Cyd Henderson

    This was a beautiful account Eliza. My sister is facing loosing her beloved chihuahua soon. I’d like to send this off to her.

    • Eliza Cross

      Cyd, thank you for your kind words. I’m so sorry that your sister is facing a similar situation with her chihuahua. It’s so tough, and please send her my condolences. I will be thinking of her, and I’m here if she needs a virtual shoulder. Hugs to you, my friend! xoxo

      • Jen G

        Eliza, I am so sorry for your loss. What a sweet sweet dog Boo was. I that you shared his obsession for the litter box.Thank you for sharing your story, which made me smile and cry. Our pets are part of our families. No words ever shared, but the depth of love from human to pet and pet to human is deep.
        Our 12 yr old little Molly will be on this path in the next year or so. With each day she is showing signs of increased confusion so we just hold her tight and let the moment pass. I am not looking forward to making the decisions that you recently made.
        What a blessing to have had Boo in your lives. Again, so sorry for your loss Eliza. I hope your days continue to get easier.

        • Eliza Cross

          Dear Jen, I love what you wrote about the depth of love we have for our pets and vice versa. Your sweet Molly is so fortunate to be with you in her golden years, and we should all be so blessed to have a friend who overlooks it and holds us close when we get confused. Thank you so much for your kind comments and wishing you and Molly many more happy days together. xo

  • carolyn berghoefer

    Eliza –

    So sorry to read about the loss of your dear lab. Our daughter’s family, too, went through the same last year – sad but, as with you, sensitively supported by their vet. Tears shed by family, her other dog was lost for awhile. Now, the memories are sweet and gentle with their dear late lab.

    God’s blessings of peace to all – and thanks to Him for the gift of dear pets!

    • Eliza Cross

      Carolyn, I love the way you described the deep feelings and sweet memories that remain for our dear pets long after their passing. I’m sorry your daughter and her family had to say a tough goodbye to their lab, and I bet you were a huge comfort and support. God’s blessings to all of you, and thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. xo

  • Jeannie Relford

    Eliza:
    So beautifully written and with lovely compassion for your sweet Boo. I cried while reading and could relate to your every word it as I lost my yellow lab Cody a few years ago. I am so sorry for your loss.

    Jeannie

    • Eliza Cross

      Jeannie, it’s great to hear from you and thank you for your kind words. Yellow labs are such great dogs, and I am sorry you had to say goodbye to your handsome boy Cody. He couldn’t have had a nicer human to love than you. Thank you for your condolences about our Boo, too. Hugs xoxo

  • heather

    Dear Eliza,

    I am so sorry about Boo. Through some tears, I must write you and tell you that as a pet owner you did a wonderful thing for your girl. The choice to have her be close to the family at home and pass away painlessly, surrounded by her beloved pack — instead of at a veterinarian’s office — was full of enormous caring and love.
    Your post was a beautiful tribute to her and all the memories you and your family will have always. . .
    Thank you for sharing your story, it is a treasure. Animals bring such an “otherness” to our human lives, and we would be so much less human without them.

    Fondly, Heather

    • Eliza Cross

      Heather, thank you for your heartfelt comments. I’ve been thinking so much about your observation that we would be so much less human without our animals. The way they accept us and love us unconditionally is a precious gift, and I would love to model those traits more. Thanks again and I really enjoyed your perspective. xo

  • Annette Slade

    Dear Eliza,

    Such a beautiful tribute to your family’s beloved Boo. I resonated with everything you wrote and I am so sorry for your loss.

    I can’t believe it’s been a year and a half since I said goodbye to my sweet dog Jackson. Everything you wrote about I went through as well including in-home euthanasia. I spent two full days with him in the park laying in the sun and giving him all the yummy treats he wanted. It was divinely hard saying goodbye.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, it helps knowing others have gone through the same non-linear thought process and taking a moment to share in your loss as I read your story also gave me a moment to remember my boy with fond memories.

    Sending much love to you and your family.

    ~Annette

    • Eliza Cross

      Oh Annette, what a sweet and gently goodbye you gave your dog Jackson. How special that you took time to be with him in the sunshine and just hang out together during those tender last days. I understand and empathize with how much you still miss him. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful comments and thoughts. xoxo

  • Kim Walkenhorst

    We lost our dog in December. Went through all the same difficult decisions and emotions. You described the experience so eloquently. So sorry for your loss.

    • Eliza Cross

      Thank you for your kind words, Kim. Your sweet dog got to share so many great adventures with you and Kent. These goodbyes are never easy. Hugs to you. xoxo

  • Trina Lambert

    I am so sorry for your loss! Thanks for writing about something too many of have gone through. Our crazy happy Fordham developed cancer while our kids were away at college and while my mom was in hospice. By the time we figured it out, it was too late to do much for him. The kids came home at spring break right when it had become too much–we took him to the Humane Society where he charmed everyone and had all the staff in tears. It was a hard goodbye for the kids at that time of their lives. For Sherman and me, also, just having lost my mother. I really needed a puppy at that time–to see growth–but we also rescued a dog the same week the puppy came home. Our Sam helped raise the puppy Furgus and helped us heal from our losses. We were surprised this April to discover that Sam has chronic kidney disease that is fairly advanced. We thought he’d be gone by now, but he is doing well despite not eating enough. He’s a happy guy almost every day. He sleeps so deeply now that we’re often afraid he’s already gone–and we know that if he can feel pretty good and one day not wake up–without going through a lot pain–that that will be a blessing even though we will miss him. We are counting our blessings for each additional day. Thanks again for sharing your Boo with us!

    • Eliza Cross

      Trina, thank you for taking the time to share your touching words about your lovable dogs. I can’t even imagine how tough it must have been to say goodbye to your dear Fordham at the same time you were grieving the loss of your mom. How special that you adopted the puppy Furgus and rescued Sam during the same week so they could grow up together and be best buddies. I’m so sorry to hear about Sam’s kidney disease, and hope he has many more happy days with you and your family. Hugs xoxo

  • Laura Fallbach

    Eliza, I just sobbed reading this. The familiarity of your description of losing Boo are acutely painful. But at the same time, your words are beautiful, comforting and immensely wise. Thank you for this gift.

    • Eliza Cross

      Oh Laura, I’m sorry for the tears — especially so soon after you lost your sweet Charlie boy. He was such a great dog, and you gave him a wonderful life filled with love and family adventures. Our cat Jackson will never forget the night Charlie came to visit and pandemonium ensued! Any time you need some canine affection, Scout would love to give you kisses. Hugs and love xoxo

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