While talking after the passing of their 10 year old Irish Wolfhound, the vet and family were wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. 6 year old Shane piped up. “I know why.... People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everyone and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”. Wisdom beyond their years, and a comforting thought at an awful time.
We are blessed with the companionship of animals. Be it a dog, a cat, a rodent, a reptile or a fish, companion animals are a huge benefit for many people. Some may mock having an emotional support hamster, there are many who benefit greatly from the unconditional love offered in the human/pets bond, regardless the size or type of pet.
Most “pet owners” rely on their animals for emotional and physical support. I hate using the “owner” word, I don’t like the connotation it brings, we don’t really “own” a pet, rather we share our lives with an animal companion. After a hard day’s work, coming home and finding a gentle soul who doesn’t care what might have happened to me during my day, but just is bursting at the seams with joy at my arrival, is priceless. Best therapy there is.
Finding joy in the time we spend with our furry little friends means also having the absence of that joy when they pass. It is almost not fair that we outlive our pets the vast majority of the time. And while their place may be filled by a new addition to the family, they are never replaced.
Finding the best way to remember our friends is always difficult. I love the thoughts of that 6 year old, speaking to the purity of spirit of a dog. Thinking of the good experiences, locking in the positives in our memory is important.
There comes a time, in every shared life, where we are forced to start making hard decisions about those in our care. I have been very fortunate to only have had to face this twice so far in my life, and both times I was exceptionally lucky to have the support of a veterinarian that truly did put the animal’s welfare first.
These vets made me realize, when deciding upon how far we take treatment and therapy, we have to consider both the potential for positive outcome, and what the treatment will do to the animal. Even if we get a full recovery, what did it take to get there. And what can we expect going forward.
I get asked often about this topic, and it is one of the hardest questions to work through with someone. Having the last memories of a friend being a long and painful journey through treatment is not the way we should remember such dear companions, especially if the outcome just means more time in pain.
With the wonders of todays diagnostic equipment, drugs, and surgical techniques, we can extend pets lives remarkably. The key is deciding when we should, and making sure that decision is in the pet’s best interest, and not just us clinging on and not wanting to let go of our cherished friend. Sometimes, saying goodbye is the hardest but kindest thing we can do.