Friday, July 10, 2009

How to know when its...time...

This sad subject has been on my mind a lot lately, because of dear friends who have had to put their beloved Akitas to sleep due to illness & old age. When your dog is old, sickly, showing signs of fading, or suffering from a horrid disease, how do you "know" when its time to let them go "OVER THE RAINBOW BRIDGE"? If only the decision was always made for us -- like my Brae, who just kissed us good nite like always with a happy tail wag; then the next morning there she was, curled up in death looking just like she always did when sleeping. Her heart just stopped beating during the night -- she was 15 but acted and looked like she was no more than 5. We were stunned, she showed no signs of being sickly or slowing down. But it was a decision we didn't have to make for her. We should all have that decision made for us, so we don't have to decide it on our own.

Because OH! its such a hard decision to make, one we agonize over & stress over for what seems forever before we can feel we are making the right decision. My vet Dr. Phyllis addressed it in one of our ARWNY Newsletters & as a vet she has had to deal with it daily with clients, and also with her own beloved Akitas. Numerous articles have been written about this subject on the internet and there are "pet grief counselors" who hold group sessions to help people cope with the loss of their pets. Its such a profoundly personal decision that its hard to be able to help another person decide when its "time" to let their pet go. I just know that I've been there & had to make this type of decision too often with the rescues in my care -- decisions I'm glad I didn't have to make alone, since all of us in our group confer when its a rescue about decisions like these. As hard as it is, helping a rescue "Over the Bridge" I can do for the good of the Akita, the good of the group, the good of the breed.

But making this decision for my own pet was far harder. I had to learn to make the right decision with the help of someone else. I've learned that now for me, it boils down to not being selfish in wanting to keep the dog with you; to be humane enough to be able to say "I love you, you shouldn't suffer anymore" and letting them go.

At one time, I was too blind-sided to be able to make the right decision. I was selfish, and convinced myself my Akita was ok when it was my own selfishness that kept her with me longer than I should have. I'm talking about my beloved KumaChan, my first female Akita that joined us as a puppy in 1986. My daughter Jenn had to practically force me to finally admit it was time for my Kuma to be let go from the pain in her knees and hips. I cared for Kuma daily, feeling she was still "holding her own" and having a good quality of life. I realize now, Kuma was hanging on because I couldn't face reality with her. Then my daughter Jenn went away to college in CT; when she came home at Christmas time, it was her being away from the situation that allowed her to see Kuma's pain far better than I could see it. I still had convinced myself that Kuma was fine, still able to handle her pain, still enjoying life. It took Jenn's fresh eyes to finally make me realize I was wrong, that Kuma had no quality to her life by then & was suffering more than I could admit.

When I held Kuma in my arms to let her go, I just kept telling her I was so sorry, so so sorry for letting her suffer. Kuma was the brave one, who let me know she was ok with my decision -- I was the mess, she was the calm one that sad day.

So I know, when people tell me they don't know if its time to let their pet go, I do truly know how they feel. But sometimes, it does take a fresh set of eyes to see things for what they really are. When people ask me how they will know, I tell them "You won't always know, because often we are blinded to it by our own need to keep our beloved pet with us." And that's so true. I am mindful of that now when dealing with my own pets. I think back to my Kuma and try hard now to make sure I never allow any Akita in my care to suffer due to my own selfish need to keep my Akita with me.

Now when people ask me if "its time" for them to let their pet go, I tell them to search in their own hearts to be sure they aren't overlooking their dog's suffering just because they can't bear to lose the dog. If the dog can't be cured, has no hope of going back to a normal life & is suffering, you need to really figure out if you are holding on to the dog because the dog still has any quality of life or if you are holding on to the dog for yourself. Its hard to let your dog pass on. No one realizes that more than me. But at the same time, I have to feel its our humanity that allows us to prevent our pets from suffering more than they should have to suffer.

When its time, its time. Only you can make that decision -- so be sure whatever decision you make, its for the good of your pet, not for yourself. That's all I can ask of anyone, including myself.

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