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Pets and Mercy-Killing ~ Life:Unmasked

She hadn’t been herself for at least a month. I’d been watching her for signs of suffering or new complications, anything that would give me a definitive signal that it was time. I got the sign on Saturday night – as she turned a corner I saw bright red staining the white fur under her neck. Closer inspection revealed a ruptured cyst just like the one she had last summer. With her underlying illnesses, I knew that surgery was out of the question now. This was it.

Scott gave her to me on my 23rd birthday, just a few months after we married. She had been part of our family for over 13 years, and we have a book’s worth of stories about her antics. But the last year she has been deteriorating, and most of her antics had melted into advanced age and illness. I have been preparing to say farewell for months, and for the most part, I was ready. She was ready too.

I’m not sure anyone can be ready to actually hand a beloved pet over to the vet to be euthanized, however. It brought back all sorts of memories of losing Elli. My kids talked about their sister more in the last two days than in the last two months. Making a decision like this for our cat has also prompted a rush of disturbing questions about euthanasia in general. Why is it ok to end an animal’s suffering, but not a human’s? How do we navigate end-of-life care for family members? How much should cost play into decisions about care? How much should certainty, or lack thereof?

I don’t have any answers. I just know that I miss our cat,  I miss our daughter, and I’m glad neither is sick anymore.


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  1. {Melinda} Every week, I plan to link up and life just intervenes (which will give me plenty of material once I actually do sit down and write a Life Unmasked post!)

    Those issues are so unsettling. We recently confronted this with my mother-in-law (a very healthy, active woman) who contracted a very serious brain infection. She was in a coma for 4 weeks and the doctors were just a couple of days away from pressing us to make a decision about removing life support. Then the doctor walked in her room one day and she opened her eyes. One of her doctors calls her “Lazarus.”

    Today, three months after that amazing day, she is still quite cognitively impaired. But she knows who we are. She seems to be happy. To say that her life does not have value would be a lie. It’s hard to know what God is doing through all of this, but it is clear He has a plan.

    I am so sorry about your dog — I know they become part of the family. And I’ll pray for your family today as you work through the renewed memories of the passing of your sweet girl.

  2. Oh, such good questions, Joy! No easy answers, either. Except this one: as believers in the God of the Bible, the God that Jesus showed us – we count human life as something related to but different than animal life. And we believe that God has the final say about when life ends. Unfortunately, medical advances of the last 50 years have greatly complicated that process. So now it is often true that with ongoing, underlying illness sometimes non-intervention is the best choice. But that is not euthanasia, is it? No, it is not. But it IS something that we need to talk about with greater freedom, permission and honesty. My son is an internal med doc certified in palliative and hospice care and he continues to be stunned at how ill-prepared most people are for the fact of death, especially in elderly ailing parents and grandparents. It’s a tough issue, and so very close and personal for you and others who have lost children. But it’s an important issue and I thank you for putting it out here.

    • Sara Joy says:

      Thank you Diana, you simply stated exactly my thoughts.
      As a woman who survived the death of her 5 day old son when he was removed from life support, and also chose to put down my elderly dog of 11 years and very, very young (4 year old) horse due to a debilitating injury with poor prognosis I have stewed in the depth of this process and the grieving of it all for many, many days and nights.
      People and animals are not the same. They just aren’t. But every fanciful and broken piece of my heart hopes that Nanook and Tinkerbell somehow welcomed my son into heaven with all the love and care they bestowed upon me while here on earth. Most days that is all I can process and I leave the rest for God to answer when I finally make it home.

      • I am so sorry for these losses, Sara Joy. So sorry. No, animals and humans are not the same. But our personal animals are deeply imbedded in our hearts and in our stories. And I think those fanciful and broken pieces of your heart are onto something good and important. Blessings of peace and grace as you continue to grieve and process.

  3. Yes…neither is suffering. Putting an animal down is traumatic…but for most animal lovers, it’s a reality.

    We’ve always been an animal family, but it’s literally only been the last ten years that my parents have been able to take our beloved four-legged family members in. They seriously made my grandma do it (which brings some funny to the sadness). However, I now know why. In the last ten years, I’ve received two sobbing phone calls to deliver the message that our dog or cat was no longer with us.

    I’m sorry you had to go through it, but hope that the sweet memories will be all your remember after a while.


  4. Oh how sad…we had our labrador put down last year, 2 months before his 15th birthday and when I found out (I was abroad at the time) I cried so much. It was like losing a member of the family because he’d been such a big part of our lives. However, in way it’s good I have so many memories of him because then I’m reminded of him and how much I loved him.

  5. Wow. Puts me right back to that day mom called and told me dad had forgotten how to swallow, please come home. It was so surreal, the next five days, watching him slowly go right in front of our eyes, just my mother and I conscious of what was going on, in the very house that he had built. Questions tumble over you in a waterfall of well meaning suggestions, none of which seem to be the answer. Then it’s over and you are left staring at someone you used to know but now they are gone, yet still right there in front of you, and you can hear the ringing of all the different realities you imagined crashing around in your head trying to reconcile with what your senses are screaming. So, so bizarre. Life never really “fits” like it used to, you just learn how to live with it. It’s the edges of life that always leave you a little unsettled, where you really nail down what you decide to believe in and what you won’t. Answers? That requires understanding the questions, and I don’t think I ever will in some cases….but yeah, I know what you mean. I miss dad, and I’m glad he’s not sick anymore too. *hugs* <3

  6. I *could* write another post, but it would just make the pain for me so raw again. In the last three months, we lost two of our six cats, and my house feels so wrong with only four cats to run amok. There’s much less amokness. Sort of like the Mad Hatter saying, “You used to be much…*muchier*. You’ve lost much of your muchness.”

    My husband and I made the horrible decision to put our oldest cat to sleep back in mid-April. Po had a massive cancerous tumor in her mouth, and I just *knew* when I called the vet to set up the appointment for the next day that we would not be coming home with our kitty. At least, not in the way that I wanted. She was 14. We’d had her all but 8 weeks of her life, weathered several health crises, and had made the adjustments necessary to having a diabetic cat. She’d been with us over 14 years when she died. My kids grieved horribly; Po was a clear favorite, and the only one who tolerated being dressed up, decorated, and covered in blankets. Their grief was almost worse than mine. I miss her every day. We started putting together a scrapbook of our Po memories, which helped, but it still has a lot left to do, and working on it leaves my heart feeling raw. I just want my kitty back. I made an 8×10 collage of pictures and hung that on the kitchen wall.

    Eight weeks later, we made the same horrible decision, this time for our 13.5-year-old cat, my husband’s baby. She’d been involved in our lives since she was four and a half weeks old, and had lived with us from 6 weeks old on. The reasons were much less clear-cut in her case. Keiki had a serious case of the cranks. But we loved her anyway, and she adored my husband. She was crotchety and cranky, but loved ice cream with a passion and was so gosh-darned cute that it was hard to stay mad at her. She had started having seizures, though. We only knew of two. At her age, the options to try to resolve the seizures were pointless. I miss her every day, too. It’s especially hard when I have ice cream. She could either smell it being opened or hear the scoop hit the ice cream, and she would sit prairie-dog style and beg. Then she would lick the bowl once you were done (heaven help you if you didn’t put it on the floor for her). In fact, when she died, she still had sticky remnants of Red Velvet Cake ice cream stuck to her ears, from sticking her head in the empty carton to lick at the yummy stuff.

    Did we make the right choices? Po was clearly sick and in pain. She’d lost weight. She was likely hiding the true depth of her discomfort. She knew she didn’t need her insulin shots anymore, and ran from them. Keiki was clearly unhappy, and the seizures signaled a major problem that was likely hiding. I am confident we made the right choices.

    The right choices, however, still totally Hoover.

  7. I don’t have answers to the hard questions, Joy, but I am so sorry about your cat. I struggle with the way difficult situations bring up complicated emotions for my children. I wish I could shield them and yet I know that’s completely impractical and actually detrimental. I admire the way you allow your children to feel and you’re not afraid of their questions.

  8. I just lost my 13 year old Bear kitty to kidney failure. What is it about unlucky 13? And Joy, you are so right…all the emotions and heartbreak of caring for and then losing my mom when I was 21 came rushing back as I cared for Bear. I experienced the scattered panicked thoughts of one who has been given the terminal diagnosis but told to continue treatment in hopes of a miracle recovery. Every day I felt I was doing too much yet not doing enough for him. But unlike when I experienced this with my mom, I had learned this time to know when to say goodbye. Bear died on a rug on our bathroom floor with Dan and I sitting with him. I told him when he got to heaven to go find my mom, as she loves cats and would look after him. Maybe when I see her someday Bear will be in her arms.


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