my opinion, euthanasia is one of the most difficult decisions
that an animal caregiver must make. I receive many calls from
people whose companion has just died and their grief is usually
tremendous. However, people calling to ask whether or not they
should euthanize an animal companion experience a greater agony
just trying to make such a decision.
Rita Reynolds with her dog, Corky"
At such times I can only be a mirror for their own inner truth.
Once a veterinarian has been consulted, and perhaps friends or
others such as myself, the decision to euthanize an animal must
ultimately be a personal one made by the primary caregiver. I
cannot say to anyone, “Yes, you need to put your animal friend
to sleep, it's time.” Conversely, I would never say, “No, it
isn't time, you should wait.” The choice will be made clearly
and concurrently by both the animal and his or her human.
lessons on euthanasia have come my way, judging by the number
of times I've had to make that final call. With some animals
I've struggled through and to this day still hold regrets,
while with others I feel totally at peace. Pain and confusion
are a part of the process no matter what.
Sometimes there really seems no choice at all, such as
when renal failure occurs, which can be extremely painful when
accompanied by vomiting. Final and usually painful stages of
cancer or other terminal illness, and serious injuries due to
accidents or abuse are strong calls for euthanasia. But when
the choice is not that clear, especially in old animals, I
always offer three suggestions that I personally use with
First, I tell the dying
creature that it is okay to die. Yes, I will miss her; I will
grieve deeply. I would love for her to live forever, but
that's not possible. Besides, I know where she's going, it's a
great place, and because we've known each other we will never
be separated in spirit. If
you need to go, I say, go
ahead. I support your journey every
step of the way. I also add that I'm going to be just fine
in a little while and do not stay around for me.
It is essential to mean every word that is spoken or thought.
Animals have shown me time and again that it is my thoughts
they understand more than my spoken words. Animals are highly
intelligent, sentient, and clairvoyant, often to a degree far
more advanced than humans, though we might not want to admit
it. Animals read our intentions and take those for our truth,
even if our words belie our heartfelt feelings. If I am
saying, “It's okay to let go,” but I'm thinking,
"Please don't die, I hope you don't die, how can I live
without you?" then the animal will, if at all possible,
act on the thoughts rather than the words. I have seen animals
struggle with great suffering to stay in their bodies until I
am ready to let them go. Perhaps animals read the visual
images our thoughts and words form, or sense vibrations or
colors relative to our emotions. Whatever it is, they pay far
more attention to thoughts than spoken words, and almost
always will try in their unselfish, compassionate way, to make
their death easy for us.
For the second step I ask my
animal friend for her assistance. Perhaps I might say, “I'm
just a bit confused and tired right at the moment. Would you
please help me understand as clearly as possible what you want
to do?” I will ask the animal, “Are you ready to leave?
Would you like some veterinary assistance?”
The third step requires that I take some deep breaths to
calm and center myself, and without working too hard at it,
listen and watch for the response. My experience has shown
me that the animal’s response always comes, sometimes
immediately, usually some time later when I'm not
concentrating so desperately. Sometimes an animal’s signal
is direct, as was the case when Josie, the goat, was dying.
She leaned against the barn wall, her eyes becoming dull. As
I witnessed this, a thought was firmly planted in my mind to
help her move on. One I couldn’t deny. Josie had sent me a
strong signal several days before she died, letting me know
that release from the severe pain of her cancer was
appropriate. However, I was too focused on her physical
condition to really listen. Yet, I remember being concerned
(as I always am in such cases) that she might be suffering
while the doctors and I searched for answers. But Josie
waited without complaint, anger, or resentment. She knew,
I'm sure, that I was doing the best I could for her at the
I remind myself that our last communication was one of love
on my part and gratitude on hers. This memory washes away
all the struggle of indecision, and clinging to my fear that
I made the wrong decision. What a wonderful way to die,
saying "Thank you."