Even when abundantly clear and medically indicated, the decision to euthanize can leave bitterness, regret and incredible guilt. Life or death decisions, even when suffering is evident are not easily made nor should they be. Second guessing ruminations after the fact are common despite the most compelling evidence that this was the most human decision!
After your companion has died you may imagine another course of treatment, another day, an earlier intervention, would have changed the outcome. You would usually be wrong. Often our recollection of those final moments is hazy with grief and we may minimize or forget the reasons that led to this merciful conclusion. You may feel your decision was premature or that you waited too long. You may feel you colluded with the medical recommendation against the best interests of your pet, labeling yourself a murderer. You may therefore assign the guilt for the loss to yourself instead of the illness or event which truly took the life of your pet. Again, you would be wrong to do so, but this does not prevent the most responsible and loving pet stewards in the world from engaging in self-blame.
Those who decide to remain with their companions as they pass on may replay traumatic memories of the moment; those who cannot bear to witness their pet’s passing may reprimand themselves for not being there. Such thoughts are distracting and worthless self-torture. The reality is that your compassionate courage on behalf of your friend has mercifully ended their suffering, while your agony at their loss now begins.
Our intellect and powers of reason take a while to catch up with a broken heart. These precious creatures are not with us for very long and the brevity of their lives adds more weight to a decision regarding terminal illness. Euthanasia is one of the most traumatic aspects of pet loss and can become an agonizing distraction from the work of mourning. But it is one final grace we can give for all the comfort they offered us during their lives – to end suffering in a dignified, painless and humanely loving manner.
Ultimately, we do not determine the life and death of our pets, even though we may assign ourselves such control. Most animals who are euthanized by loved ones are facing chronic untreatable illness or catastrophic injuries. It is only a matter of time. An extra week to have them with us may be at the expense of horrific suffering on their part. To end their pain we must willingly bear the associated agony of transient doubt.