Saying Goodbye

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

April 2012

Every gun dog writer eventually tackles this subject…when to put down your beloved hunting companion. We avoid writing this column because we’ve all experienced this painful decision and putting the process into words is difficult; even though we know the eventual outcome when we first set eyes on that cute puppy.

My most recent experience with this agonizing decision came this past fall. In addition to our German shorthairs, we had a very lovable Great Dane-English Pointer cross. She had the markings of a pointer and the size of a small female Dane. Her name was Diva. With her pointer blood, she began pointing at six months. She had a great zigzag search pattern and hunted with tremendous enthusiasm. I feel she could have been an excellent bird dog, however, she developed grand mal seizures before she was a year old. Over the next several years, she lost her eyesight due to the seizures.

Losing her eyesight, however, did nothing to dampen her spirit for life. She walked with us when we ran the shorthairs; in fact, she never wanted to be left at home. We loved our Diva. I’ve read where the average age of all dogs when they leave us is eight years. The life expectancy of large breeds is even less. Diva, a large breed, was eleven when we knew the dreaded decision was approaching.

Dogs are voiceless so their human guardians must decide when the timing is right. How do we make that decision? Typically it’s disease and disorders that make us begin to consider the day that we had hoped was always a year or two away. Here are a few signs to watch for:

Change in eating habits or continued loss of appetite.

Confusion: This can manifest itself in many ways. Simple confusion over familiar surroundings; not recognizing family members; not remembering routine; not understanding when they typically do bathroom habits.

A sign of pain when picking up your dog.

Loss of spirit.

Any of the above signs could mean your dog is having troubles. We often will procrastinate and want to ignore signs. That’s not fair to your dog. Take your “best friend” to the vet and seek advice and counsel.

Once it’s been established that your dog’s health is failing, when is it time to for euthanasia? This is the most difficult part of the process. Often, if we can afford it, we’ll elect expensive treatments that extend the physical life of the dog but not the quality of life. Although these are personal decisions, if the quality of life is still poor, perhaps we’re being selfish. In my opinion, only extend a dog’s life if it also extends quality of life.

One word I want to include with the “when” consideration is dignity. Dogs deserve to live with dignity. If they continuously stumble and fall, lose control of their bowels and are constantly confused, they have lost their dignity. The time has come for the final trip to the vet. Do not make this highly emotional trip alone. Be sure your spouse or a good friend accompanies you to help with the grief and, very often, guilt.

That actual process of putting your dog to sleep is very simple and painless. In either a one or two-step process, your dog will simply go to sleep. Be sure you’ve decided beforehand whether you want the dog cremated or buried in the back yard pet cemetery. 

One method my wife and I use for getting through this emotional turmoil is to have at least one a younger dog in the house. Going home to a house without a dog is very lonely. Going home and having at least one dog greeting you at the door makes the whole process a smidgeon easier. By the way, when we took our beloved Diva to the vet for the last time, my final words when she began showing signs of falling to sleep were “We’ll call you as soon as we get there.”