When to Say Goodbye to Your Ailing Pet

Buddy, a typical Lab, loved his food!
Buddy, a typical Lab, loved his food! Note that his dish is empty!

Buddy had been with me since my days in the Middle East. A black Lab with short legs, he had a way of winning everyone’s hearts.

Now, at fifteen, he had congestive heart failure, a fatty tumor the size of a soccer ball on his chest and another smaller one growing on it. Besides that, he had severe arthritis (he’d suffered rickets as a puppy, which made his leg bones a little concave, so he ran a little off kilter).

But I loved to watch him run–gallop, more like it! I may have seen his odd gait but in my eyes, he was a Palomino, so free and happy. It turned my heart inside out.

He’d always turn around and steal a look at me, his tongue lolling happily to one side, with a bright grin as if to say, “Look at me! Hey, look at me!”

I knew it wouldn’t be cut and dry but I felt I could say good-bye to my good boy.  I could if I had to.

I made the appointment.

Then, hung up, real quick.

I called back the next day to get prices. So much if you leave your pet, more if you stay while they carry out the procedure.  Nothing extra if you leave . Much more if you decide to cremate.

I was ready. It was best all around.

I ticked off the reasons on my right hand.

1. He’d be out of pain. No more struggling to stand up. No more coughing up water.
2. No more having to wait for someone to carry him down the stairs to go to the bathroom.
3.  No more tripping over him in the kitchen as he lay right in front of the refrigerator.

In the latter months, Buddy's absolute favorite place was in front of the fridge!
In the latter months, Buddy’s absolute favorite place was in front of the fridge!

Maybe he’d ease out of this life dreaming of running in the baseball field below my house that we loved so much. Or maybe as he gently fell asleep, he’d dream he was back on the sofa burying his nose in the soft corner fabric.  He always slept on the sofa, snoring late into the night as I pecked away at the computer. His snores sounded better than any music I wanted to listen to.

I’d had a teary day in which he let out big doggy sighs as if he knew our time together was limited.

Each sigh tore into my heart.

When it came down to taking him to the vet, it felt all wrong. Buddy still had too good of an appetite. The roads were too icy. The appointment was scheduled too late in the day. It was too dark out.

Buddy was a morning dog and loved the daylight.

Every morning, he’d lay by my French door and announce in excited barks when any neighbor entered or left his house. He’d turn to see if I’d noticed. And he’d wait for his snack, the snack he trained me to give him for being so vigilant.

No, we’d just have to wait for daylight. I couldn’t take him at night. He didn’t like the dark.

Before I got him, the vet surmised that a previous owner had shut him up into a dark room to turn him into a tough watchdog. But that didn’t work.  Labs can’t be tough. It’s not in their genes.

For the first two months I had him, he didn’t bark and hid under the bushes as soon as darkness descended.The vet told me I had a deaf watchdog on my hands. I didn’t care at all. I laughed.  One of my typical misadventures, a girl going blind would have a deaf watchdog.  Everyone teased me but  I said, “Well, I can’t see in the dark. And Buddy doesn’t want to see in the dark. I think we’ll get along just fine in the light.”

Only he wasn’t deaf. He’d only been frightened.  One day his bark loosened and his love tightened.

In my house in the Middle East Buddy was my lone dog amid nearly eighteen outdoor stray cats so I guess Buddy thought he was a cat, too, and jumped on my lap one day. Startled, I threw my arms around him so he wouldn’t fall off. He leaned back and lay his head on my chest.

Just like the cats did.

Only then he opened an eye (do dogs wink? I swear he did!) and smiled his  big wide-gapped toothy grin.

I shifted his weight and let him sit until it nearly crushed me. He jumped down as if he knew the moment I couldn’t hold onto him anymore.

Buddy had only one fault–a penchant for picking up odd “memorabilia.” Once on a walk around our Emirati neighborhood, he found the carcass of a goat’s head. He refused to release it. In Pennsylvania, he discovered a rotting fish in a cold water stream. Clenched tightly between his teeth, I couldn’t wrestle it away from him for quite awhile.  On the hill near our house,  he used to come across soiled pigs ears other dogs had discarded on their walks. Those, too, became a tug of war that I usually lost.  I didn’t really mind his stubborn streak, though; it gave him personality. Really just a dog thing.

After I lost the babies I carried and later, after my divorce, I used to say that God knew how I wanted to be a mother and had answered my prayers.  He sent me the cats, Buddy, and via my taxi driver, a litter of six puppies. Each year after that, I gained more “children,” and Buddy was no longer an only child. He was one of five dogs.

That was a happy, exuberant time for him. He got into mischief, and he followed the bad examples of those in the new crowd. But his eyes danced and his tail spun around like a high-powered helicopter blade, constantly in motion.   They raided a couple dozen peanut butter cookies left to cool on the counter, and shared the spoils between them. They raced around the grass and dug up the sprinkler system in the front yard. They even once made their escape onto the street and chased a stray cat under a car. And yes, Buddy, a cat lover at heart, joined in on the run!

Their escapades made their way into my writing.

In those days, I wrote children’s adventure stories. Of course, Buddy served as the hero of the  menagerie, which included dogs, cats and the neighborhood stringer-onners.  

Problem was, there were way too many characters! My readers couldn’t keep them straight. But I laughed everyday at the charades Buddy entered into and kept on writing more stories, more chapters.

Life was so good for us!

The gardener started taking Buddy and a few of his “brothers” on neighborhood walks. That was nothing compared to the rides he went on. My dog certainly knew what “go for a ride” meant and his tail would go into a high-powered wag. Sunil, my self-appointed Indian driver, was actually fined for taking Buddy on rides through town in his taxi. A local resident reported him to the authorities because dogs were considered “unclean,” by some and certainly not permitted to take joyrides on public transport. But Sunil had his own stubborn streak and continued to stop by the house and take him out on quiet Friday mornings when he had no fares.

Buddy had that effect on people.

In the United States, my brother took over the driving, and off Buddy would go, with a toss of his head, sometimes even without me.  His eyes gleamed as he he knew he’d been singled out for this privilege. Still the gentle brown  eyes would ask, for a moment, “is it all right?” and I made a big fuss over his going to let him know that it was.

He was always ready to go in a flash!

Buddy was ready to go in a flash!
Buddy was ready to go in a flash!


Buddy rode a little bit differently from most dogs. He rarely sat up and looked out the window.  Instead, he curled up in a ball and fell asleep, lulled by the motor and motion of the vehicle.

It didn’t matter. He loved rides all the same! Once in awhile, my brother let Buddy down – like when he drove Mom’s car instead. That meant no ride for Buddy. “Sorry, Buddy,” I’d say, “No ride today.” His tail would slow down, then stop all together. He would lie on the floor, his head stretched out between his paws. Then the doggy sighs would start.

When his arthritis got too much for him to get in and out of the car, he took the change in good grace. He simply lost interest. It was me whose throat filled with tears.

People tell me that Buddy has lived a good long life.

All I can think is … when is the right time to say goodbye to your ailing pet?

When I told my sister-in-law my dilemma, she observed, a catch in her voice, “Even as sick as he is,  Buddy seeks you out. When he sees you, his eyes light up. He tries harder to walk.”

Suddenly too choked up to respond, I think, No, it’s not the right time. 

Maybe one more day.  Or just get past the weekend.

I can be brave next week.

I’ll say goodbye then.

And now it’s next week.  And I have the same choice to make.

I still don’t know the answer.

But I really do deep down, just like my friend Sue said I would.

I just don’t like it.

When to Say Goodbye to Your Ailing Pet
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31 thoughts on “When to Say Goodbye to Your Ailing Pet

  • November 25, 2014 at 6:00 am

    Goodness. I got my first dog almost a year and a half ago. She completely changed my life. I rescued my second 4 months ago. This had me in tears. Saying goodbye has got to be the hardest thing to do. Life does carry on and their memory helps us get through the days but goodbye… goodbye is tough. I’m sorry that’s the point you’re at but it sure does seem like the love you two share is something special. And that is definitely something to be grateful for.

  • November 25, 2014 at 6:36 am

    In a way, it is never the right time to say goodbye to a pet! It is SO damned hard: they are like family! No, they ARE family! And labs, so gentle a dog, especially. I so feel for you as you wrote this post Amy and I hope that the void in your heart heals in time, with time. That your other ‘family members’ – cats and dogs – will be there for you, to comfort you. <3 (Oh and just after I wrote that I see that this already happened…)

  • November 25, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Buddy was a dear and loving friend. You were blessed to have each other. He will never be forgotten. He will live in your heart eternally. God bless you and keep you through this sad loss. RIP Buddy boy.

  • November 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you, Ashley.
    I remember when the vet said Buddy was now a “senior,” and I couldn’t believe it. Actually, I laughed. Buddy was so young!
    I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me care for him and for fifteen years of devotion.
    Enjoy your wonderful dogs, Ashley, and thank you so much for your comment.

  • November 25, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Thank you, Elly, I hoped you to read this story.
    I knew you would relate. I found all the cats and dogs homes before I left the Emirates, and Buddy alone joined me in the United States.
    I used to joke that he was my $3,000 dog because that’s what it cost for his airfare home. But I would do it all again.
    He was truly a special companion!

  • November 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Sara, Just yesterday morning, he gave me a half tail wag.
    I saw something black on the floor this morning. I did a double-take thinking it was Buddy.
    My heart beat faster for a second and then reality sunk in.
    I will miss that guy.

  • November 25, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    We had to put down a much-beloved horse years ago, and i still remember that day. Really hard, but she wasn’t in pain anymore.

  • November 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Oh Amy. This is such a difficult time for you. It is truly amazing how attached we can get to our pets, especially to a sweetheart like your Buddy. We have a big black lab, too, and I dread the day when we have to face a question like the one you are facing right now. Blessings on your decision, and I hope you are at peace about it afterward, too. And Blessings on that sweet dog of yours!!

  • November 25, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful empathy in my situation, Amy. It has been heart-wrenching. Enjoy your Lab and get lots of memories! =)

  • November 25, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Hi Amalia,
    Oh my goodness! That horse must have truly touched you. And yes, the pain would be gone.
    We can take comfort in that. I remember a girl in middle school whose horse died.
    I stayed overnight with her a day later. I still remember how sad she was.
    Animals are fiercely loving and leave their mark on our hearts.

  • November 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Hi Amy,

    I know you’re experiencing heartache right now, and I’m so sorry for your loss. From your posts and writings, I know how you and Buddy were devoted to each other. He was a great companion for you, and he will live on in your writings. I love how you describe in this article how he was an eclectic collector of memorabilia: goat’s heads, pig’s ears, dead fish. I laughed as I pictured you trying to wrestle that fish from Buddy’s jaws. Hang in there, Amy, and grieve for now. You are in my prayers.

  • November 25, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    Thank you, Matt!
    It was the dirtiest fish ever! And it was pretty funny how he wouldn’t let it go…
    You can imagine how he felt when Maha, a younger dog in my brood, stole his butcher bones though he didn’t try to steal them back. His eyes just followed hers. Once she had them, even I did not try to retrieve them. I saw what happened when another puppy tried!
    Lol. Aren’t we like that as people: fight to the death for something, and then surprisingly defer to someone over the same kind of thing?
    Life is full of interesting contradictions.
    Thanks for your comment.

  • November 25, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I am so so sorry for your loss. I am crying as I type this, because I know how unbelievably hard it is to let go. This past year, I lost 3 of my childhood pets. A 14 year old lab mix, a 11 year old Springer Spaniel, and an 11 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (the last two died within 2 days of each other). I miss them all so much everyday. My heart absolutely breaks for you. It is one of the worst pains you will ever experience. The only way I could truly cope with it was to write about what I was going through. I wrote a blog post on how to cope with the loss of a pet. Even though I wrote it in the hopes that someone out there in the world would benefit from it, it was really for me. I just couldn’t come to terms with the loss, and it was eating me up. Writing about ways to cope with the loss helped tremendously, but I still grieve for them. I remember them every single day, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I wish that I could bring them back and let them live forever; living a happy, healthy, carefree life. I truly hope that your post did the same for you as it did for me. You post was beautifully written, and you can really tell that Buddy had a beautiful, long, and fulfilled life. Stopping in from the IBA. I hope you can have a beautiful day.

  • November 25, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    I can “feel” exactly what you are feeling in your heart. Our dog K.C. was 17.5 years old when we had to make that decision. She had been with us since we saved her from the pound as a puppy and was our first born child. Loved her like no other and after she had a stroke and just wasn’t doing well, we could see it in her eyes that she was telling us it was time to go!! I don’t care what anyone says, I believe we will see our animals again in heaven and K.C. was already an angel here on earth. You’ll just know when the time is right – if you question yourself, then wait. God will tell you!! Sending hugs and love!

  • November 25, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Oh, this broke my heart. Such a difficult decision to make. Sorry for your loss.

  • November 25, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Last year, a co worker had to make that decision for her and her elderly dog, whose name was also buddy. My co worker had lost her sister to a sudden illness just a few months earlier. It was so hard and she put off the decision for so long, but the decision was made, just as you had to. Now, your Buddy has joined her Buddy. What a loving tribute you’ve written. I’m sorry.

  • November 26, 2014 at 1:49 am

    I don’t have any pets but I can of course understand the deep attachment. For goodness sakes, you lost one of your own children. It’s a difficult feeling – I’m so so sorry for your loss.

  • November 26, 2014 at 5:02 am

    I cried. Then I laughed, and then I cried some more. It’s never easy, even when it really is best for them. Our neighbor’s dog is going through this. I start crying when i think that Summer won’t jump up on me to get her loving (even though she’s not supposed to). I won’t have to yell at her across the street to be quiet when someone stops outside the house in a car. It makes me sad too.

  • November 26, 2014 at 6:21 am

    It’s so hard. My golden is almost 13 and getting to a point where she can’t hold down her food most times. 🙁 The breeder said we’re lucky to have her this long. That doesn’t really help.

  • November 26, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you so much, Megan. I would love to read your post on how to cope with the loss of a pet. I keep tearing up.
    I stayed up until 4 AM writing the post, and the next morning I made my decision. I guess it will just take time.
    Sorry for your own losses. A very difficult year.
    Amy xx

  • November 26, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks for your kind words of understanding and comfort.
    You’re so right about when you question yourself, it’s better to wait.
    i was more certain (which didn’t make it any easier) when I did make the decision.

  • November 26, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Thank you, Mary. I do appreciate your thoughts and understanding.

  • November 26, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Oh thank you, Alana. That’s a lovely image of the two Buddys meeting.Buddy loved other dogs.

  • November 26, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks, Dorit. He was the child God gave me.

  • November 26, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    I can tell you have such a big heart.
    Thank you for your words of understanding and empathy.

  • November 26, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Hi Barbara,
    The vet told me the same. That I had Buddy 3 years longer than many Labs live.
    And you’re right. It doesn’t help. Now, anyway, maybe later.
    Thinking of you and the food hurdles with your Golden and sending strength.
    Amy xx

  • December 10, 2014 at 12:49 am

    Oh, Amy! I am so sorry for your loss. We had to have our sweet golden retriever put down on November 22nd. On November 6th, I had taken Hope to the vet because she wasn’t acting like herself. I learned that I had a very sick dog. She was treated for an autoimmune condition, but the vet was concerned that she had cancer. I was in denial–all the way up until November 19th, when we learned she did indeed have cancer. I was devastated! Hope my was my companion during the last five years of chronic pain and six surgeries. I can’t imagine life without her. I can’t imagine never being able to kiss her on the snout, stroke her silky ears, and admire the beautiful feathers on her legs, and her sweeping tail–and gaze into her gorgeous brown eyes. We raised hope for the first year of her life for Leader Dogs for the Blind. Alas, she was deemed, “too timid,” and was released from the program and we were able to take her back. Even so, she was my therapy dog and companion–and she fulfilled her mission in life. She died at 9 1/2, way too soon for me! But she needed to be at peace… So, so sorry for your loss, Amy! Blessings, Linda

  • December 10, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you so much for your comment! You were going through the same thing I was at the same time.
    Sorry for your loss, too! I forgot you trained Leader Dogs. But you’re right. Hope fulfilled her life’s purpose.
    Take care and take time to heal…

  • May 10, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Your veterinarian has probably worked with the same pet cremation service for many years, so he’d be the best person to ask. Private cremations are the lifeblood of pet crematoriums, so why would they jeopardize their professional reputation?

  • June 14, 2017 at 7:18 am

    Ashes will usually be a gritty gray substance that comes wrapped in a plastic bag within a sturdy box. You can choose to bury the box as-is, spread the ashes in your pet’s favorite spots or transfer the remains to a box of your choice for safekeeping.

  • June 14, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    Dear Brisbane Pet Memorials,
    Yes, I did receive Buddy’s ashes. I have them on a shelf.
    Thanks for taking time to comment!

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