Parenting

Deciding When It's Time To Put Your Pet Down Is Agonizing

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Photo: Jorrie Varney

Bea and I have been together since I was 21. I adopted her and her sister, Sassy, from a friend almost 13 years ago. Bea was just over a year old, and Sassy was five when we became a trio. I lived alone at the time, and though they were only about 11 pounds each, their presence made me feel safe. From then on, they were always with me, no matter what.

The girls, as I called them, were more than just my pets; they were my family. They were with me through some of the hardest moments of my life, unconditionally by my side. I knew we wouldn’t be together forever, because that’s not how life works, but it was hard to imagine life without those little furballs. It’s almost magical how animals settle into your heart, and once they’re there, a piece of it always belongs to them.

When I met my husband, Sassy wasn’t a fan. To be fair, she didn’t really like anyone but me. That’s just who she was—a bit of a grump. But she was my grump, and I adored her. Bea, on the other hand, loved my husband from the beginning.

When we welcomed our first child, Bea adopted the role of baby-watcher. She was never more than a few feet away from my daughter. Sassy was 12 by this time and uninterested in babies and anything else that wasn’t a nap or a backrub. I knew our time with her was growing shorter. A few years later, she crossed the rainbow bridge. She was 14. I still miss her terribly.

After Sassy passed, I worried about Bea. Did her heart hurt as much as mine did? Would she be lonely? I was seven months pregnant with my second child at the time, and adding a new baby and a new puppy to the mix seemed like an awful lot for my Bea. I made sure to give her extra love and snuggles, and she seemed to adjust to our new normal.

The years began to pass, and before long Bea was an old lady. I noticed a few months back that she seemed to be sleeping more and was less active. I tried to push it out of my mind. She’s probably fine, just getting old, I thought. She was 13 and deserved as many naps as she wanted. But then she began to have accidents—lots of them. I bought puppy pads and washed her bedding nearly everyday. I gave her baths and tried to take her out more often, but things continued to decline for my girl.

I took her to the vet, where they took blood samples for testing and told me they would call. I could tell by the doctor’s tone he suspected it wasn’t good, though he didn’t say that. The call came the next day while I was at work. The results showed her kidneys and liver weren’t working the way they should be—it was cancer.

We discussed the options, and what treatment might look like, but really, there wasn’t much that could be done. She was nearly 14, and though treatment might prolong her life, it couldn’t save it. I didn’t want her to suffer through treatment. Given her diagnosis, and the current state of her health, she was likely in pain. I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t let her suffer, so I made the gut-wrenching decision to put her down.

Our appointment was 3:00 the following day. I took off work and spent every moment I had left with my girl. I worried, what if I’m doing this too soon? Who am I to make life and death decisions? I spent most of the next 24 hours crying. When the doctor entered the room, I asked him the question that brought me peace with my decision. I said, “I know you can’t ethically advise me what to do, but would you tell me if I was doing this too soon?”

“I would,” he said. “It’s only natural to ask yourself that question. You’ve been good to her, and I know this hard, but if it’s not today, it would be very soon.”

I knew he was right.

I stayed with Bea until the very end. I kissed the top of her head and told her she was a good girl. The best girl.

When it was over, I brought her home and buried her in the field she loved to run in, right next to Sassy. I miss them both so much.

The house feels empty now, though it’s full of loud kids. Bea was my furry little shadow. She followed me from room to room, resting at my feet or in my lap when I sat down. She waited outside the shower door each morning and was the first thing I saw when I came through the door each night.

I was truly never alone when she was with me—for the past 13 years. Everything I do reminds me of her. I realized how much she helped me heal after I lost Sassy, and now that she’s gone, that void is amplified.

I know my heart will heal, but right now, I just really miss my girl.

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