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Old dogs, DSs and saying possible final goodbyes

(8 Posts)
penguin70 Tue 14-Jun-11 13:45:12

Typing with tears in my eyes. Am sure there must be a similar thread here but can't find one and I'd really appreciate anyones experiences. There's a
few stories all kind of mixed up any thoughts on any pls...

I'm trying to come to terms with the love affair between my boys and the dogs that I've watched blossom will be coming to an end sooner or later and the fact is it is unlikely the dogs will pass naturally in their sleep.

We've had 2 Cocker Spaniels since they were 2ish and 1 (mother and daughter) - they are now 11 and 91/2. My DSs (12 and 9) LOVE the dogs and vice versa (as do I). We've previously had a cat that I had to get put down at 16yo when she had a stroke. I REALLY did not like that cat (was DH's) but at the end I was heartbroken. The boys were much younger and we said Lucy had died at the vets not that a decision had been made though they've since come to realise she was put down and they haven't blamed anyone.

The younger dog had an emergency op a couple of years ago which went well but the mum was distraught at being alone. DS1 was very upset but there at least wasn't time to worry.

Last year the daughter had an op for mammary tumours - this was planned and boys said goodbye but with no real sense that it might be final. During the pre op chest x rays I was called to say it didn't look good - masses had been found, a sign of secondary cancer and though they would continue with op if it looked bad in there decisions would have to be made. All went well however and tests showed no cancerous tumours present and shadows were put down to age. The mum again was distraught howling continually and peeing and pooing in the house which she never normally does. I had a very brief conversation about this to vet - I know my neighbour had his healthy 2nd dog put down when the 1st died because the 2nd couldn't cope by himself (14yo brothers) but she seemed quite shocked that I would even consider such a thing and since it was being previous and I felt awful even thinking such a thing I let it go. Full recovery was made though tumours are likely to come back and she is now terrified of vet.

The mum now has mammary tumours and is due to be operated on on Friday. Now I know a decision might be made during the op as to whether not to bring Mum round again do I tell my boys their good bye might be the last? (I think the daughter will cope much better by herself than her mum should it come to it- a very different personality).

I got my first dog when I was 9 and she died aged 14 when I'd left home so although I was upset there there wasn't the acute loss and emptiness the boys will feel (Who'll 'help' with homework, sticking a head under the arm that's meant to be writing, or give them a comforting cuddle and lick when they're hurt or upset?).

Again I'm getting ahead of myself I know, everything might and probably will be fine but how do you eventually deal with the inevitable? There's arthritis and epilepsy to throw into the mix sad

ellangirl Tue 14-Jun-11 14:26:19

Oh poor penguin, you sound so caring towards your little family! Personally I think that it's worth being honest with your DSs. My mum always was with me. She always gave us the choice of whether we wanted to come into the vets when an animal had to be PTS. You never know how your boys will cope, they may be stronger than you think. It's so hard to think of losing one of your much loved girls, but your DSs will want the best for them, just as you do.

Scuttlebutter Tue 14-Jun-11 17:14:27

It may not be appropriate in this case, but I always recommend where at all possible that a dog is PTS in its home. In this way, all family members (including other dogs) can make their goodbyes, dogs who are unhappy at the vets are not stressed, and family members do not have to drive home with an empty car, trying to see through tears.

Losing our dogs is a very real and heart rending part of pet ownership. I think it's worth being honest but gentle. Explain that your dog is very old in dog years, and that she is going in for an operation to try and make her better, but even if it works she is approaching the end of her life. I also think that the grief of losing a pet may well help your children as for many children it is the first grief they experience and process - not making much sense here, but it can prepare them, for example for thinking about elderly grandparents,say.

There are many very lovely books that deal with pet bereavement - there was a thread a while back in Chat on "Books that make you cry when reading them to DC" or something very similar and there were some lovely recommendations about books that deal with these issues very gently and thoughtfully. Whatver you do, nothing can or should take away the grief that you will all feel when your dear dog goes. For the 12 year old in particular, they may well have thoughts about mortality, growing older, and how it all fits together anyway. Have you thought about watching a film together? Something like Marley and Me for instance, might give you an ideal opportunity to discuss how you feel about the dogs mortality?

So sorry that you are facing this. Even as an adult this is always such a miserable time.

penguin70 Tue 14-Jun-11 19:04:34

Thank you ellan and scuttiebutter.

I'd already thought about getting the younger one pts at home - I saw her by the fire curled up with her mum after op but pre getting test results and knew that she would see out her days there rather than the vets where she is terrified.

DS2 is very pragmatic and will probably accept "for the best" (though will still upset) however DS1 I know will take it really hard. He's very emotional and refuses to watch /read anything that will stir those emotions. I bought Harry and Hopper 3+ on internet because of its award winning illustrations (am aspiring illustrator) unaware of its story and promptly bawled my eyes out when I read it! DS2 wanted to know what the fuss was about - bawled his eyes out. DS1 asked what it was about ran off bawling. DH took it off us to read and welled up too. We're all complete saps when it comes to dogs! Marley and Me was lovely, we have it on DVD but boys are adamant they aren't watching.

We have talked about death in general quite easily but I think I find it harder to talk about animals being PTS because it leads on to other things that seem to be very prominent at the moment - suicide, and assisted suicide. All life is so precious and I guess I'm uncomfortable myself with getting an animal PTS so justifying it to a 12 and 9yo is a big deal to me. I think my biggest fear is that when I'm already heartbroken they accuse me of killing their dog. Will go and have a hunt for the thread on chat and see if there's something dealing with this loss in particular - for me and well as DSs!

Thanks again for kind words x

alice15 Tue 14-Jun-11 19:59:07

I'm a vet, and I actually think euthenasia is a great privilege that we are lucky to be able to give. Try not to think of it as killing your dog but as relieving suffering and choosing a good death over a bad one. Sometimes I ask owners two questions - does your pet have a good quality of life at the moment?, and, if not, is there a reasonable chance of the QOL improving in the future?; if the answer to both is no, then it may be the better choice for the animal to put it to sleep. Sometimes that helps to clarify people's thoughts. Most of the time, owners who are thinking about the animal's welfare as their top consideration get the timing right; even if they are worried beforehand that they won't, they usually do.
As for the children; I am quite pragmatic about this - sooner or later they will have to face grief and loss, and surely it's better to start with the family pet than with a close relative? As long as the decision is in the animal's best interests (and your vet should help you with that) then there is no need to feel guilty, although of course people often do. If you are happy with your own decision morally then all you have to do is tell the truth to your sons. Children often cope surprisingly well with this sort of thing, accepting the inevitable better than adults. What I would strongly urge, however, is that you tell them the truth. I have known people tell their children that the dog has gone to live on a farm or some such story because they can't bear to tell them the truth, and I do wonder how their children are expected to trust them on important issues after that when they have been excluded from such an important event - and may feel more betrayed by the cover story than the sad reality, in any case.
I can't count the number of people who have spontaneously told me, as I put their pets to sleep, that they wish someone had done the same for their human family members. Of course it is a subject that arouses strong feelings. But I don't think there is any need to make a direct link between assisted suicide in people and euthenasia in pets, unless someone chooses to do so. By definition the pet can't make choices about its own future and lives in the moment; they trust us to look after them throughout their lives, and helping to end their lives peacefully is part of fulfilling that trust, I think.
Sorry to have gone on so long.

penguin70 Tue 14-Jun-11 21:39:48

Thanks Alice, I know I'm over thinking the PTS issue almost certainly because I feel very guilty about it. I can rationalise it completely but I stopped eating fish at 5yo when I saw the shape on my plate was the same as my pet gold fish and couldn't be responsible for eating "Timmy's brother". The rest of meat followed soon after and that was 35years ago - it's just how I am, being responsible for the death of an animal freaks me out. I did it for our cat though and I'll do it again when needed am just scared. DSs were fine about the cat dying - she was very visibly ill and they said goodbye before she went to the vet (though they didn't know it was final) so it wasn't a shock but they were upset that she was left at the vet so I do know already that we need ashes if and when.

Thanks again for your lovely long response, its appreciated.

catinthehat2 Tue 14-Jun-11 21:51:04

another thing I have heard vets say is better a day too early than a week too late, and that seems right to me as well

Scuttlebutter Tue 14-Jun-11 23:09:03

Penguin, maybe it would help if you thought about this as a wonderful opportunity for exploring further with your DC the ethical issues you so obviously care very deeply about. As Alice has said, sometimes choosing to PTS an old and sick dog is the act of the loving and responsible owner, (even though it is hard and painful), very different to the casual destruction of say, an animal for meat, or because they are simply unwanted. Unpacking the ideas around how we treat animal companions, the values we hold and apply in these situations (that you clearly have thought about) strikes me as a wonderful opportunity for sharing some really important stuff with your DC, that will probably stay with them during their lives.

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