My Epiphany on Guilt and Pet Euthanasia
by Dr. Kari Trotsky
Peaceful Endings for Pets
One of the main components that goes into end of life care is guilt. Guilt can invade almost any thought process we have about the subject and I’m here to tell you that it’s normal and necessary. No one can avoid it, but once you recognize it, you can let it go.
Why do people have guilt? Let me count the ways! First, once you decide on euthanasia and set up an appointment to have it done, guilt can start to set in. Some people feel that they are almost acting like God when they set a time for a pet’s death. Others feel that they failed their pet by getting to the point of euthanasia. If only they did one more thing, or if they did something differently, there would be a better outcome. Another reason can be financial. If people don’t have the financial means to run tests and provide treatment (even if those tests end up showing that there’s nothing that can be done anyway), they feel guilty by letting money get in the way of caring for their pet. And, a big one is deciding when is the right time. If they have euthanasia done too soon, are they cutting their pet’s life short? Or, have they waited too long and their pet is needlessly suffering? And to make matters worse, people can have several of these issues going on in their head simultaneously, leading to even more guilt.
My answer to this is to recognize guilt’s presence, feel it, realize it’s normal and necessary, then let it go. Easier said than done. But, if you are feeling any guilt at all, it’s only because you love your pet so much that you want everything to be black and white and perfect in your decision making. But, it’s never black in white. In fact, the whole thing is gray. There’s no right or wrong time to set up a euthanasia appointment, it is a gray area. For many pets, there is a window of when euthanasia is not wrong. Some people choose euthanasia at the outset of this window, which isn’t wrong, and some people decide to hang on a little longer, and that is not wrong either. It depends on a multitude of factors such as your beliefs, your financial situation, your ability to provide home care for your pet, your pet’s condition, your pet’s comfort, etc.
In addition, it’s okay not to be able to pay $3,000 for an MRI, or $6,000 for surgery. Not everyone has the means to do everything and that’s just a fact of life. Sometimes, there are things that CAN be done medically, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you or your pet. Veterinarians went to school to heal and cure pets. So, it’s in our nature to want to fight and do everything medically possible for your pet. But, ultimately, it’s your decision to let your veterinarian know when you decide not to go further with diagnostics or treatment.
But, the real reason why I say guilt is normal, is because I felt it, too! I know better because I counsel people on it. I tell people when nothing more, medically, can be done. I let them know they did everything they could. I mention that we all must go at some point. But when it came time to euthanize my own pets, I found myself telling them, “I’m sorry.” That was an epiphany to me! And, after much thought, I believe that I said I was sorry simply because it was time for them to leave me. And, if there was anything I could have done, or didn’t do, I just wanted them to know I was sorry. But, deep down I knew that my pets loved me unconditionally and knew I would do anything possible for them, so there was no need to say sorry. But, our emotions are not always rational. Guilt does nothing but eat away at us and cloud our great memories of a lifetime of love shared together. But, as long as you made the decision to euthanize with love in your heart for them, then the decision was right. You can release the guilt and move through to the next part of grief – missing them so much that it hurts.
If you find that you are having a really hard time moving through your grief, reach out to a support group, whether it’s in person or online, read a book on the subject, have a memorial ceremony with friends and family, or find a therapist that specializes in pet grief specifically (not all therapists do). I have information on my website under Pet Grief Resources. Pet grief is real and it is okay to seek help. Other animal lovers get it and understand it.