You’ll know when it’s time ...
By Brenda-Lee Duarte
A few weeks ago my almost 15-year-old loving, constant companion, and large part of my heart, was diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction, and we were told that it would only be a matter of time until a decision might have to be made. From that day, everyone I spoke to about the situation said to me, “You’ll know when it is time.”
How can anyone take such a feisty, spirited, regal little dog and make such a decision?
As someone once remarked to me, he was almost human — he understood words and people better than most humans. He knew moods and had remarkable intuition into what the people around him needed. He was wonderful as a therapy dog in that he could read the feelings of those around him and knew when to be close and loving — offering his undying affection — and he knew when to pull away and let those around him have their space.
For the weeks after, I agonized constantly with the weight of such a heavy burden and decision about such an important part of my life. As I watched the continued progression of his disease, my heart ached at the thought of having to be the one who might have to make the final decision. Constantly hearing the words, “You’ll know when it’s time” echoing through my head ... not understanding how that could be possible. Euthanasia is one of the most difficult decisions anyone can ever make for a pet who is a beloved companion. Only the owner can really understand when the time is right and that the decision is a part of our humanitarian obligation. It is perhaps the ultimate heartbreak we must be willing to endure for our adored pet.
I read an article once about a place that beloved pets go when they die and it described a very special place. It was described as a temporary location. A place where there are trees and grass and lakes, and everything they love. They can play and eat and sleep, even better than they did before they died. There are no aches or worries or dangers of any kind, the only joy missing is their beloved human companion. A wonderful day will come for each of them, when in the middle of playing they will suddenly feel something is different. Their senses will be heightened and off in the distance they will recognize that dearly loved special presence, they will call out and with eyes shining and tail going wild and run to greet them. I like to think that Sherwood is there now.
We get much love and delight from our beloved pets in life, and we grieve deeply for them when they die. When a dear pet’s life ends, more dies than just a cherished friend and companion — a treasured secret part of us also dies. The loving memories become a part of who we are, and they live on, in our hearts. We should remember we are not putting them down, we are sending them up to that special place.
I realize now the truth is, you really do know when it is time ... if you listen to your heart.
“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all of the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” — Anonymous
Brenda-Lee Duarte, executive director at LifeLine Counseling Center, 1033 W. Broadway Ave., Maryville, 981-7400, is a licensed professional counselor and therapist. She and Megan Rapien, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, will contribute columns on mental health issues the first Sunday of each month in the Sunday Life section.