Death planning for your dog

My dog Lexi is 13. She’ll be 14 in about 6 weeks. She has a progressive degenerative disease that will render her completely immobile sooner rather than later.

Lexi walking in the dog park with her harness.

Right now, she can still go for walks with the assistance of a sling. She’s still happy, though I fear she’s growing increasingly uncomfortable as the months wear on and she cannot readjust herself. The time I have left with her is limited. I’m guessing we’ll have to say goodbye sometime in the summer. I hate this. I wish it weren’t that way. But it is.

I’ve been thinking about and planning for this since she was diagnosed about two years ago. It’s not a morbid fascination or fatalism on my part. With this disease, her chances of dying peacefully in her sleep are slim. Her quality of life is going to deteriorate, and it’s almost guaranteed that I will need to make the decision to end her life when that quality dips too low. That sucks. But it’s part of the deal with owning a pet.

In many ways, this foreknowledge is a gift. Seven years ago, when I had to suddenly euthanize my dog Ruby, I wasn’t prepared. Her end of life experience wasn’t great, and we didn’t think about having her cremated so we could keep her ashes. I don’t even have a clay paw print, just her collar hanging on my mirror.

With Lexi, I’ve had time to think, and reflect, and decide what will make her the most comfortable. Because of her increased anxiety about going to the vet office, I plan to have one come to my house. I want her last memories to be at home, surrounded by her people and her little sister Jaina (who is actually three times as large as she is). I don’t want her to be stressed or upset. I want Jaina to be able to see and smell that Lexi is gone. And I want a clay paw print, and I want to keep her ashes in a nice urn. But above all, I want her to be peaceful. I want her to be comfortable.

Lexi with one of her (current) favorite toys (a worm with cat ears because it was a Halloween toy).

(Yes, I’m weeping as I write this. This reality sucks. This disease sucks. I can’t change it. I can only deal with it in the best way I know how.)

Because I know the time approaches, I can find a vet who’ll make a house call. I can figure out what I need to do to get Lexi cremated. I can pre-purchase an urn. I can make a clay paw print with her while she’s still here, still my girl. I can make an ink impression, too, in case I decide to get a tattoo (I’m sure I will).

And I can spend extra time with her each day, just petting her until she gets tired of it and shakes me off. I can take her for a short walk and let her smell the other dogs in our neighborhood, the cats and raccoons and groundhogs. I can take her with me to Home Depot and Wagsburgh or just out for a car trip so she can smell the air. These are things I’d do anyway–things I’ve done. But they take on extra poignancy now.

Still, none of this easy. But it’s easier now than at the very end, when I know the grief will settle in strong and fierce. Even if you don’t have this “gift” of foresight when your pet will die, you may want to take a few moments to think about how you will handle end of life care and what mementos you want of your pet. It’s not comfortable, or easy, but you’ll feel better when the time comes and the decisions have already been made.


2 thoughts on “Death planning for your dog

  1. Kelly, it does suck. We too are planning our Stella’s final months. She has lymphoma. Right now, she’s still her regular, princess self though that will change. The double whammy for me is that Stella is my son’s security blanket – shielding him from the unfairness that pops up in a teenager’s life. I’ll be thinking of you. Lisa

  2. Aw, Lisa, I’m so sorry to hear that! I remember when you adopted Stella. It’s never easy, regardless of how long a dog has been in your life or how old they are. People tell me all the time “Lexi has had a good long life.” And she has, but in some ways that makes it harder! She’s so much a part of my daily routine and an integral part of our household. Thoughts for you and your son (and Stella, of course) also!

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