Monday, March 14, 2011

The Hardest Responsibility of Owning a Pet

This is Patches. She was one of my mother's cats. Patches was the runt of a litter whose mother was killed by a car when she was only a few days old. She was hand raised (bottlefed) by a shelter volunteer. She came to live with my mom was she was twelve weeks old. My mother said goodbye to her last year at fourteen years of age.

When we get a pet, we make a lifetime commitment to that pet. We pledge to love that pet up until the very last breath of their life or ours. Loving a pet is more than a hug or kiss. It's doing everything we can to ensure they live a long, healthy life...and then being there with them when it is time for them to go. We pledge to recognize when they are in pain, when they can no longer live a painfree existence and we pledge to end their lives humanely. My mother had a difficult decision as Patches health started failing last year. Within a few weeks, Mom realized that her cat was no longer enjoying life. She was in pain most of the time.

Did Mom want to say goodbye? No. She loved Patches. Truth be told, out of the two cats, Patches was the one she was the most bonded with. Patches slept with her every night. At 11pm, if she wasn't in the bedroom, this cat would come down the hallway crying out to let Mom know it was bedtime. If Mom overslept, she would bite her nose gently but with enough pressure to wake her up.

Mom could have been selfish. She could have kept Patches alive so that she didn't have to grieve or be alone. But is that anyway to reward the loyalty of your pet? Make them live out their final days in pain, suffering just because YOU as a pet owner can't stand to say goodbye? That isn't fair to the pet who has loved you and been by your side all those years. My Mom made the right decision. Not the easiest one, but the one that benefited her beloved cat. She took her in and held her while the vet ended her life humanely. Gone was the painful, crippling arthritis. Gone was the suffering. Patches was running freely over the Rainbow Bridge.

My aunt and uncle had to make the same courageous, painful decision for their dog, Sasha last year. Sasha developed lymphoma. Rather than put her through chemo that might prolong her life for only a few months, but take away any quality of it, they chose to allow her to live the last of her days comfortably. They carefully monitored her condition. When she took a turn for the worse, they went with her to the vet and loved her to the very last second she took a breath. My uncle's Facebook status said that she was "the best dog that ever lived."

Saying goodbye is hard to do. There are support groups out there to help us through the grieving process. Part of our responsibility as pet owners is to not allow our pets to suffer if we can end that pain. When a cat has crippling arthritis that keeps them from being able to sit down, that makes every step painful, it is our responsibility to alleviate that suffering when drugs or supplements no longer can. That is our pledge as a pet owner. Is it easy to honor? Never. But it necessary.


  1. Thanks for not mentioning my bad behavior on Saturday. I gave my dog the longest walk ever yesterday to make up for it!

    You make such good points here. If anything happens to my cat, it's going to be so hard to put her down but watching her suffer would be so much worse.

  2. *le sigh* True that. As long as a pet is living comfortably and happily and PAIN FREE with an illness or condition, there is no reason to put them down. It's when things get too difficult for them to continue to function normally and happily that something should be done. Sad, but true.