A Dog's Passing: planning ahead and coping
Updated: Jan 22
The kind and thoughtful vet came to my home and helped my sweet Dudley, the chocolate lab mutt, pass peacefully into heaven. He had a series of increasingly serious seizures that were making his last days miserable. Thankfully we have a way to ease the suffering of beloved pets.
Dudley lived a good life. I have no idea what he did for the first five years of his life. He was a rescue who was well trained and loyal, with a fear of thunderstorms.
My children were almost finished with college when I adopted Dudley. His predecessor, Dallas, had been gone but a few weeks and was the boys' dog. Dudley was mine. They laughed because I found him on a website for lab rescues and he was initially known as “Mom’s Internet Dog.” Truthfully, it was his name that attracted me first. He also had a beautiful milk chocolate coat and sweet face with the most adoring eyes.
Dudley dabbled in politics as the Canine Economic Advisor, expressing his opinion on matters of the economy and cats. He even protested the addition of a cat piece to the Monopoly game.
When Mia, also a chocolate lab, joined the family, Dudley was a little bit jealous but quickly came to love her and became more protective of his little pack.
After an unprovoked attack by an unleashed male pit bull, Dudley vowed never to befriend another male dog while his women (Mia and me) were present. It was comical how he puffed out his chest and tried to intimidate all other male dogs.
Dudley loved to eat almost as much as he loved belly rubs. You could coax him to do anything with a little bit of food and he was handy to have around when there was a spill in the kitchen, or a dish needed cleaning out.
At Hot Paws, our local dog daycare and boarding facility, he was known as “Duddles,” “Milk Dud,” “Duddy,” and just plain old “Dud.” As one of the senior dogs, he got a great deal of attention and the loving staff always made him feel welcome. The staff sent a thoughtful card with personal messages after he passed.
The morning after his passing, for the first time in more than 20 years of having dogs in the family, I fixed my coffee before filling the dog’s bowl. I felt out of step, like I did when I had the wrong piece of sheet music in front of me when I played in the handbell choir, turning the first few bars of our concert piece into a cacophony.
I miss those devoted expressive brown eyes and the nudge asking for a belly rub. I miss the love. I miss having someone to care for and who cares for me, who needed me as much as I needed him. I miss the protection that I never needed but that he provided, the way he patrolled the yard and the house and attacked the opossum who invaded his territory. I miss his ability to sniff out a cat, and how he always knew someone was there before the doorbell rang.
Having lost Dudley's mate, Mia, only a few months ago, I found losing him to be doubly painful. I hope my experience and suggestions may be helpful to you if you are facing the loss of a beloved pet.
Suggestions for facing end of life decisions
Find a vet who will come to your house when it is time. The vet who helped Dudley across the bridge was not his regular vet. I had her come to the house and meet Dudley and talk to me about end of life several weeks before his passing.
Do not make your dog suffer because you cannot bear to say good-bye. The kindest thing you can do is give him a best last day and free him from pain. I really believe that dogs try to protect us by failing to show us how bad they hurt.
Know how you want to handle your dog’s passing. I chose to do it at home, in his bed, with his head in my arms and my eyes fixed on his while I spoke to him gently and told him he was the best dog in the world and that I would be ok without him. Beforehand, I gave him a number of his favorite treats.
What do you want to do with his remains after he passes? I chose to have him cremated although I could have buried him in the back yard. You will need to decide if you want his ashes and if you want a paw print made. These are personal decisions but need to be determined before the fact. My vet took his body with her and made all the arrangements for the cremation.
Who do you need to tell about his passing? If it is too painful for you to do, a friend may be able to help you contact friends or service providers. It was nice to have loving and thoughtful responses to my calls and emails.
Plan to donate medications and any remaining food to the Humane Society or another rescue facility. Our local Humane Society staff was very pleased to receive food, medication, leashes, towels, and toys to share with new adoptive parents.
Don't worry. You will know it is time because your dog will tell you. Dudley told me by staying very close, looking deep into my eyes, and asking me to assure him he could go in peace. You see, dogs worry about their owners. He needed to know I would be ok because he was ready, if I could handle it. He had suffered three seizures and although he could still walk, he was disoriented and clearly masking his pain. His quality of life had deteriorated and it would have been cruel to make him endure another seizure or another day of misery just because I wanted more time with him.
People mean well. Intending to be helpful, some will want to give advice and talk to you about their own pets’ passing. Some may suggest how long to wait before getting another dog or maybe that you get a cat. Your situation is never going to be the same as someone else’s. I needed to stop some people from saying more by simply saying, “this is too painful for me to discuss right now.” For the record, I might have been a little bit rude in response to cat suggestions.
Honor your loved one by making a contribution to your favorite animal rescue organization and consider planting a flowering bush or a tree in their honor. You will be glad you did.
Next time a friend loses a pet, send a card or do something to honor the life of the pet. It is a good time to simply show your love and be there if they need to talk about it.
Dog’s Best Life (good checklist to help you determine if it is time)