Lexus is my 12 1/2-year-old Great Dane mix, and her health has been on the decline over the past year. Lexus isn’t able to go for walks anymore. Her right hind foot drags when she walks, and her toenails often bleed as they scrape across dirt or pavement. Sometimes her back legs give out on her completely. She has a hard time lying down, and it is difficult for her to stand.
I have been struggling with the idea of euthanasia, and I have been wondering how I will know when it is the right time. I don’t want to let go of Lexus too soon, but I don’t want her to be in pain. She has been on pain medications and has had medical treatments, all of which have slowed her deterioration but cannot stop it completely.
Euthanasia – Knowing it’s Time
One Sunday afternoon, I find myself alone with Lexus. I have a million things that I should do. Instead, I sit down on the floor by the front door next to my beloved pup. We sit together in silence for almost an hour.
All of a sudden, I feel two short words emanate from her body. I don’t really hear them; I feel them. Lexus says, with amazing clarity, “I’m tired.” I look around to see if anyone else understood those words, and I remember that we are there alone. I feel it again: “I’m tired.” I stop breathing for a moment. I know what she is telling me. And for as much as I knew the time was coming, I still am not ready.
The Euthanasia Appointment
My husband says goodbye to Lexus before he leaves for work. My 16-year-old son chooses not to go to the appointment; he wants to remember Lexus alive and happy in our home. My 19-year-old daughter chooses to go with me, and I am grateful to have her company.
It’s a strange experience driving to your pet’s euthanasia appointment. Mostly, we drive in silence. But the knowledge of what we are about to do becomes too heavy, so we talk about a few mundane things to break up the awkwardness of the situation. “Did I tell you I saw Mary yesterday?” “What time do you work tomorrow?” The words are irrelevant. The purpose of the conversation is to alleviate the fear and pain that is too much to bear.
Inside the clinic, the air conditioning hits us like a wall. There is a cushioned mat and a blanket set up for Lexus so that she can be as comfortable as possible. I feel like we are moving in slow motion while the world around us spins. I don’t want to stop, and I don’t want to move forward. Freeing Lexus of her pain is going to cause me overwhelming grief.
The veterinary technician gives Lexus a sedative to help her relax. Dr. Strickfaden gives Lexus a few final treats and pets her lovingly. Lexus gulps her treats and puts her head down. She is ready. My body is shaking. Tears are rolling down my face.
Once she verifies that we are ready, Dr. Strickfaden gives Lexus an injection. I am somewhat surprised at how quickly the medication takes effect. My faithful companion is gone. Her body is there, but Lexus is gone. I feel numb.
The Days That Follow a Pet’s Euthanasia
I have a dream about Lexus. We are in a school library filled with children. Happy, chatty noises fill the room, and Lex is lying calmly at my feet on the green carpet. Her face is relaxed despite the activity in the room. Then, Lexus gets up starts walking away from me. I wonder what she is doing, and I call to her. She turns the corner around a bookcase, and she is gone.
When I wake up, my eyelids are purple and swollen from crying. No amount of makeup will fix that, and I don’t even care. I’m sad, and I can’t hide it.
At times, I feel my body randomly start to shake involuntarily. My face contorts, and I hear myself sob. I am surprised by my outbursts; they often come without warning.
There is no dog to feed. No medication to give. I look at the sunny patch by the front door and picture Lexus there. Sometimes, I think I hear her feet coming down the stairs. The silence in the empty house is deafening.
Healing After the Loss of a Pet
A week after Lex’s euthanasia, I find a small clump of dog hair that has escaped the vacuum. I smile and decide to let it stay in the corner of our kitchen. I also refuse to wipe the nose prints off the front door. It’s like Lexus is still with us in some small way.
I feel the need to write about the euthanasia experience. In some ways, maybe our story will help someone else in a similar situation. In other ways, I need to put on paper all of the feelings and emotions that have been swirling in my head. Writing about Lexus makes my heart feel lighter.
Fifteen days after losing Lexus, my mother tells me about her dream. She dreamt that Lexus and Freckles (the dog I had as a child) were playing together. I smile. I take that as a sign that Lexus is happy.
Several weeks after Lex’s passing, a co-worker tells me about a local rescue group. Suddenly, I find myself looking at adoptable dogs. I feel excitement and guilt simultaneously.
I am not ready yet, but the right dog will find me at the right time.
And then, when that moment comes, we will rescue each other.
Pet Loss Resources
If you need assistance in dealing with the loss of your beloved pet, consider these following resources:
Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement
The Pet Loss Support Page
Pet memorialization ideas