Considering Euthanasia: When It’s Time to Let Go
When Catherine, my beloved Abyssinian cat of 18 years, was diagnosed with advanced renal failure, I hoped she would go peacefully in her sleep. It would be a natural end to her long and happy life, and I wouldn’t have to make the heartbreaking decision to euthanize her.
As the weeks went on, there were days when she barely moved, followed by rallies when she seemed like her old self. I was afraid I wouldn’t know when to let Catherine go. I wanted her to have every good day coming to her, but didn’t want her to suffer. Looking for guidance, I spoke to friends who had cared for a dying pet, veterinarians, and even an animal communicator.
Considering Euthanasia: The Response from Others
One friend that I had vetted for information on euthanasia was against the practice. Her cat had died of old age snuggled between her and her husband in bed. I wanted that for Catherine too, but my vet told me it was unlikely. She said cats often live past the point where they are able to sleep comfortably, walk, eat, or use the litter box. She didn’t think it was fair to let them linger.
Other friends of mine who had euthanized their pets still questioned their decisions. One feared her cat had felt pain during the procedure because he’d opened his eyes. Another regretted not putting her kitty down sooner, because she suffered near the end of her illness.
At my vet’s suggestion, I located the nearest 24-hour emergency medical center. I also researched vets in my area who made house calls. If it was necessary to euthanize Catherine, I’d hoped it would be possible to do it at home.
Considering Euthanasia: Looking Towards Professional Resources
I called Dr. Wendy McCulloch of Pet Requiem, a veterinary house call service in New York and New Jersey. She explained that the process involved two injections: a sedative followed by an anesthetic in a large enough dose to stop the heart. Some vets use different methods, so it is something to discuss beforehand. She believes it is best for the pet if the owner can be present. When I asked about my friend’s cat opening his eyes during the procedure she said it was a natural response to sedation, and not an indication of pain.
Dr. McCulloch has resources on her website PetRequiem.com, including a scale to help evaluate an animal’s quality of life. Considerations include whether a pet seems happy, and if there are more good days than bad.
Considering Euthanasia: A Struggle to Make a Firm Decision
A friend who had taken classes in animal communication offered to do a reading for me. She said she could “talk” to Catherine telepathically and find out what she wanted. All she needed was for me to e-mail her a photo. I was skeptical, but went ahead. When my friend wrote back that Catherine was ready to die and wanted to be euthanized, it didn’t make sense. Catherine was in the midst of a rally: eating well and zooming around the apartment like she had since she was a kitten.
A few weeks later, I found myself browsing professional animal communicators on the Internet. I called a woman who gave complimentary end-of-life readings. She said Catherine wanted a natural death. But she also said that Catherine no longer wanted to be touched. I knew that wasn’t true because she still nuzzled against my hand to be stroked.
That was the end of my looking to others to communicate with Catherine. I decided I knew her best, and started to trust myself.
Considering Euthanasia: Catherine’s Story
Two months after Catherine’s diagnosis, I came home to find her unable to get up. I scooped her into my arms and called Dr. McCulloch, who came right over. She examined Catherine, and said she was close to death. Without intervention she would die in the night, but she thought it was kinder to euthanize her now. I agreed. Catherine was lying on her favorite cushion on the couch. I petted her and told her I loved her as she drifted off. It couldn’t have been more peaceful.
Afterwards, I wondered if I should have euthanized Catherine sooner. I don’t know how long she was lying on the floor before I found her. Like my friends who had cared for their dying pets, I had lingering doubts.
Often there is no clear best course of action. As caretakers, all we can do is consult with our vets, monitor our animal’s symptoms and behavior, and make our decisions with love. Then we have to let go.