Choose Death


When I returned from Boston, my little white dog was much sicker. It’s the lungs. There’s a constant honking gasp, except when he’s sleeping. The doctors said this would happen, they just didn’t say when. Despite the constant meds and steady love, there comes a time when the animal can’t breathe—and nothing medical can be done, other than the merciful horrible.

So today is the day. I feared it on the afternoon I came home and I knew it for sure last night. Where there is life there is hope, until there is no hope. It’s time for Emile to go gently to foreversleep.

If my daughter wasn’t with me, I’d have taken him in for the procedure yesterday. As it is, to minimize my daughter’s trauma, I’ll have to squeeze it in today, while she is at school. Death on a schedule: between my workout at 9:00 and my first business appointment. Tears at eleven.

At this second, little Emile sits comfortably on his dirty red cushion, cleaning himself after a hearty breakfast of flavorless hypoallergenic food stuffed with pills. His breathing is normal enough to fill me with guilt, hesitation, and denial. Is there still hope?


77 thoughts on “Choose Death

  1. Oh, I am SO sorry. :( I will keep Emile in my thoughts and hope that he has a safe and pleasant journey. *(*(*hugs*)*)*

  2. I’ve been following your messages regarding Emile’s health for a while now. I think you’re doing the best thing for everyone.

  3. It’s time Jeff. You know it is. Don’t back down now. It’s a terrible day, but one that comes to all of us who love anything in life.

    Make sure you stay with Emile while he passes. He would not leave your side if the situation was reversed. It will be easier than you think – the procedure, that is. Your pain will be immense; his will be gone.

    Remember that the love of a dog is the only true love money can buy.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Jeffrey – my heart goes out to you and your daughter – and to little Emile. Its the right choice, but, tough times, indeed!

  5. Seems to me you’re making the right choice. Both people and animals have the tendency to ‘life up’ when the end is near. I like to think of it as them making peace with what’s to come, although it can (like you said) fill you with doubts… Consider this; what would be better, Emile feeling relaxed and comfortable once the moment comes, or having the feeling he has to fight for his last breath…

    Good luck in any case, it’s a very sad moment whatever way you look at it.

  6. It’s hard, went through the same thing last year and tore me to shreds, when you’ve had them so long it feels like they’re a part of the family (human part!)

    I cried more over it than I did some people in my family when they died.

    Time. Memories! =)

  7. I’ve been in your situation and feel your anguish.

    My first dog almost convinced me he was not ready to be put to sleep…right up until the moment he seized up and died in my family room. My second dog was put to sleep before he could come to his natural end because I was sure it was time (he could no longer walk).

    I’m still not clear which version of my pets’ passing is worse: thrust upon my husband and I in a slightly violent manner, or forcing it upon them albeit more peacefully.

    I felt guilty in both circumstances. I wept for days.

  8. Jeff,

    Feel no guilt. You are doing Emile the biggest favor you can ever give him. You and Ava already gave Emile the best life. He’s lucky to have you and Ava caring for him and what you are about to do is the ultimate care-giving demonstration.

    At least our beloved pets are fortunate enough: we have the choice to end the suffering.

    Sorry to hear this time has come, but may you feel comfort by the memories and love you and your family have shared with him. That, my friend, no one can take away.

    Give Ava the biggest hug yet.

  9. I know exactly what you talk about.
    End of march i had to go through the same with a cat – which wasn’t even mine – but which we had taken care for during the last year and a half.
    The cat had multiple strokes accumulating to a situation where the cat could bearly walk in circles only as the only working legs were the front two.
    It was pure agony for her and it was clear she’d be dying real soon.
    Now this cat was already at age 20 which is quite an time for a cat. So i questioned myself what to do. Let her die or help her out of the misery, as the doctor told me, that with cats it can take quite a long time until they finally die.
    I decided against playing god and deciding what would be good for her.

    One evening i came home from work to find her laying on the floor barely moving. I put her on a blanket on the couch besides me trying to feed her (she didn’t eat anymore) some water with an injection. She was constantly moving her feet while lying down as if she dreamed of running the nearby fields again. We sat there for hours until i couldn’t take it anymore and decided to help her die the following day. I went to bed.

    Next morning, she was already stiff. Laying there on the couch like the evening before. I was happy – with tears in my eyes – that everything worked out naturally and she was put out of her misery.

    All was well. Except that – stiff as the cat was – she didn’t fit into the little box my wife left me to burry her under the fir tree.

  10. We lost our Rosa 2.5 years ago, after 15 years. Very painful, especially for Dear Wife. As I type this, Rosa’s successor Janou, who just had her second birthday, is on the couch next to me, driving me nuts like she always does. I tell her all the time, “I knew Rosa. Rosa was a friend of mine. And dog, you’re no Rosa.” Nevertheless Janou the puppinator is worming her way into our hearts. (I do wish she would finally move out of puppy phase and embrace “dog” phase.)

    We live on the edge of a nature preserve, and Rosa’s grave is right where our yard blends into the woods behind. I built the little coffin and dug the grave and we lowered her to rest as a family in a howling rainstorm, each of us having sent something along with her, Egyptian Pharoh style. We put flowers on the grave from time to time.

    I share this story with you because it does because it does indicate that there is hope that you & your family will recover. Dogs only live so long. We forget that when we get them, but we’re always painfully reminded when this time comes.

    Best wishes for you in this difficult time.

  11. I know exactly what you talk about. End of march i had to go through something similar with a cat – which wasn’t even mine but which we had taken care for during the last year and a half.

    The cat had multiple strokes accumulating to a situation where the cat could bearly walk in circles only as the remaining working legs were the front two.
    It was pure agony for her and it was clear she’d be dying real soon.
    Now this cat was already at age 20 which is quite a time for a cat.
    The doctor told me, that with cats it can take quite a long time until they finally die. So i questioned myself what to do. Let her die or help her out of the misery.
    I opted against playing god and deciding what would be good for her.

    One evening i came home from work to find her laying on the floor barely moving. I put her on a blanket on the couch besides me, trying to feed her some water with an injection (she didn’t eat anymore).
    The cat was constantly moving her feet while lying down, as if she was dreaming of running the nearby fields. We sat there for hours.

    Next morning, she was still lying there on the couch. Quiet and dead. I was happy in tears that she was relieved in a natural way, without any human intervention. All was well.

    Except that – stiff as the cat was – she didn’t fit into the little box my wife left me to burry her in. So now – the cat lies – as she came. Under our fir tree.

  12. Remembering what you wrote in “Life is beautiful” about how a pet’s death is often painful but what joy they bring to us. Think about what joy you bring to them. Emile has loved you and Ava unconditionally because you bring him joy. This is your final act of love, he could receive nothing better.

    There are no comforting words, but be reassured there is no greater love you can provide. To go quietly and surrounded by love.

  13. I’m really sorry, Jeffrey. Our pets’ unconditional love and trust in us make it that much harder.

  14. Been there. It’s very hard. But I know it was the right thing to do. And so do you. When you watch a pet suffer and they aren’t enjoying life as they should, it’s time. Go in peace, Emile.

  15. I’ve followed all your posts as this heart-wrenching story has unfolded. Words often don’t mean much in these sorts of situations, but for what it’s worth, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  16. My heart goes out to you. We had to say goodbye to our 14 year old Lab, Chinook, in March and to my parents’ 11 year old in April. It’s still raw.

    They are more than a pet but part of us. But if they weren’t, saying goodbye would be so much easier.

    Just remember the love and know that you are helping an old friend. We love them too much to let them suffer. It’s cliché but true.

  17. I am so sorry to hear about this. It’s such a difficult decision to make, even when you know it’s the right thing to do. It brings back painful memories of my own when my Father and I took our dog in. She had many problems, but that morning when we took her in, she was in a great mood, behaved, etc.

    My Father and I cried for 20 minutes in the parking lot afterwards before returning home. It’s the only time I’ve seen my Father cry like that. I’m tearing up now.

    Be strong. My thoughts and prayers are with you and with Emile.

  18. We’ve gone through this with several of our dogs and the only time I regretted it was the time we waited too long and felt like he suffered more than he should have.

    You’ve given him a good life. You’ve freely chosen chosen to sacrifice and suffer so he doesn’t have to. That’s pretty much the most one being can ever do for another.

  19. My thoughts are with you, Jeffrey. I just went through this with my dear Oliver in February, and even 10+ years ago with Moxie… the pain is still right here. But seeing them in pain, it is the most loving thing to do. *hug*

  20. It is a very difficult time that all pet lovers eventually have to face. I had a cat throughout my childhood and he died a week before I left for college. It was as if somehow he timed his biological clock with mine.
    Completely emaciated, he seemed to refuse to die in front of us. It came to a point where we too had to “put him down” as they say. It was heartbreaking. Do something creative in his honor.

  21. It may be only a fantasy, but I take great comfort in believing that our life on earth is just “chapter one”. This perspective allows me to let go and let loved ones make the journey to what I believe is a better place…where there is no pain and no sorrow. Then, I’m left with precious memories and my own grieving empty arms.

    In my own losses, I made a startling discovery. That grief is an extreme expression of love. And in the depth of my tears I realized that in the moments of pure grief I’m emotionally/mentally closest to that which I love.

    “There is no such place
    as far away.
    If you want to be
    with someone you love,
    aren’t you already there?” – Richard Bach

  22. unfortunately we don’t get to keep them forever. we build relationships with our pets because it’s so beneficial for both parties; they’re provided for, and we receive the rewards of companionship, and the satisfaction of being a provider.

    when they are young, we provide food and shelter of course. we provide guidance and training. we provide a family unit–a pack.

    as they grow, we provide companionship back to them. we reach a point where it’s more like a good friend than a child; they reach maturity so much faster than we do.

    as they get older, they might get sick. we provide specialized care, we find those who can provide healing.

    when no amount of care can provide healing, it is our responsibility to provide relief. we owe it to them as much as we did filling the food and water bowl when they were puppies.

    stay strong, take care of yourself and your daughter. celebrate the good times and good memories now – you will have those forever.

  23. I have been there. Growing up with a dog for 14 years, I did not expect to be the one taking that sweet dog to the vet for the final moments. We knew the time had come, she was no longer living really. I also did not expect it to hit me as hard as it did.

    I have been following the story of you and Emile and have had thoughts back to our puppy. I believe I know what you are going through. You have come to that hard decision and having been there, think you have made the right one.

    My sympathies go to you and your daughter. Emile will be missed, but not forgotten.

  24. I recently had to make the same heartbreaking decision with my best friend of 13 years Charlie. He was physically healthy but was having cognitive issues – more and more he wasn’t himself. I worried was I making the right decision, but ultimately it was the right one. In life he was much loved and in death he has been much missed and always will be.

    My thoughts are with you.

  25. Condolences. Quality of life over quantity. It sounds like Emile never knew a day without love which is more than anyone can ask for. Be brave. You’re doing the right thing.

  26. Death gives meaning to life. It’s just as important as birth. It’s painful to lose a cherished person or animal, but the fact that our time is limited is the very reason it’s worth something. The lives of living creatures are like waves in the ocean, coming from and returning to the same source — and never really separate from it.

    Of course, it’s natural and appropriate to feel sad when something like this happens. But I hope this also gives you the opportunity to feel a renewed appreciation of the beauty of life, and why death, apart from being tragic, is also a gift that allows us to recognize that beauty.

    I very much appreciate all of you who took the time to actually reflect on this occasion and express sincere and genuine thoughts.

  27. My sympathies as well. We lost one dog last fall the night before she was scheduled to “go gently to foreversleep”. I don’t know which would have been better. Her sister is 14 and starting to slow down…

    It will be hard, and I am sorry for you and Ava. George Carlin said buying a dog is buying tragedy, and he was right, for the end must come. But, oh, those wonderful years spent with them! Let those years with Emile comfort you, as best they can.

  28. I’m really sorry to hear that the time has finally come to let him go. I know the feeling of losing an animal that is closer than some family.

    I wish you the best Jeffrey. Good luck.

  29. I’m so sorry for you, Emile, and Ava. I agree w earlier post, stay w Emile through the procedure. At least while it matters, the person he lives and trusts will be there to comfort him.

    I’ve never had to explain death to a child but I think you’ll manage it well. Hugs all around.

  30. Thanks, everyone, for your support.

    It is done.

    It was the right decision. The veterinarian could hear his honking gasping breath when I came to the door. Now he is at peace.

    Nobody expected him to last this long. He was a tough little fighter, right to the end. Even bit me.

    I have his collar, a lock of his hair, and a clay footprint to show to my daughter after school today.

  31. Thanks for sharing this. And best of luck to you and your daughter coping with the loss. My wife and I don’t even want to talk or think about the moment our little Jack Russell will go so I know how hard this is… :(

    Best of luck!

  32. Reading this was heartbreaking and hit home. We went through this with our own dog Moose a few weeks ago. We did the best we could for them, and that’s all we can do. So sorry.

  33. Death is a gift. It can help us to fully appreciate the people, animals, and experiences in each moment as we live on. Having recently lost a beloved cat after 10 years of companionship, and having read about your trials with Emile, I know that everything you’ve done has been done out of love.

    May you find gratitude in your grief.

  34. Thanks for making me almost want to cry.

    “Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new.” – Steve Jobs

  35. I had to make that choice about my cat in October. It’s always hard, even when it’s the right thing to do. Sorry for your loss.

  36. With this sort of experience there is always lots of emotion and stress, but also relief.

    Emile will have peace and you and Ava will always love him.

  37. I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve lost many animals over the years, some to the great sleep, some in a slow natural way, and others young an unexpectedly. You did the right thing. Remember the good times and the joy he shared with you and your family. The pain in your heart will pass but the good times are forever. Thank you for sharing, my heart goes out to you and your family.

  38. We are sorry to hear of your family’s loss. Making the decision is not nearly as hard as having to carry through with it. Especially when a child is involved. Before passing away my mother-in-law lived with us for her last 11 years. Four years in we had to put her beloved Teddy “the demon spawn child biter” to sleep. Teddy was some sort of government experiment gone wrong Terrier. Even though he was blind, audio impaired, crippled, freely able to express his inner deep bowel conflicts at a moments notice and prone to biting anyone… gasp, the moment of truth was delayed for several months.

    Maybe doing something fun this weekend could help ease the pain. The American Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Conservatory is celebrating its twelfth year at the Museum. Might be worth a shot.

  39. We had to do the same with the family cat recently; I knew it was for the best, but it still broke my heart a little bit. So sorry for you and Ava.

    It must be dusty in my room , ’cause I think I just got something in my eye.

  40. You will never forget Emile, but today’s pain WILL fade with time. Thanks for sharing this with all of us, and good luck to you. RIP, Emile.

  41. That’s tough and others who’ve said be with him as he goes BEAMING love and appreciation at him are right. Eight years after having to put down “the dog of my life” it’s still one of the hardest memories I have, and one that doesn’t fail to bring tears to my eyes, but I know that I did the right thing, and I know as she went the last thing she felt was my unconditional love and approval.

  42. Jeffrey,
    thanks for this post – such decisions are always heart-breaking.
    Now take comfort in the fact that Emile is at peace, no longer suffering – and having lived a wonderful life, having had yours and Ava’s love. My thoughts are with you both.

  43. All pet owners around the world, we feel your pain Jeffrey

    This is a difficult call, but you’re doing the right thing ultimately. I had a staffordshire terrier for 18.7 years and I held him in my arms when he was put to sleep. The connection between the dog and the human, is such a close bond and you’ve probably felt an increased indicator from Emile that its ok to go now. They are our unconditional friends. He will be with you, in your heart always, as you will be in your daughters heart when you’ve posted your last honk, and she pulls the plug on you, 40 years from now (we hope! no sooner), and then her kids pulling the plug on her, and so on and so on, in this giant printer of the human condition, rolling on the pages of our lives and stories, from live, to memories and beyond.

    Keep strong and well and don’t punish yourself.

  44. @Ross hudgens that’s a proverb that I’ve heard in atleast 3 different indian languages. The 1974 Indian trip really affected steve didn’t it?!

    Sorry for your loss jeffrey. I’m sure both you and Emile had great times with each other and that is for eternity.

  45. I was there two years ago. At least take comfort that he no longer suffers from pain. You guys were brave to have cared for so long and were compassionate enough to make his struggle yours. He lives on in the life lessons he shared with Ava.

    You and daughter have a peaceful weekend.

  46. “Death on a schedule: between my workout at 9:00 and my first business appointment. Tears at eleven.”

    That has always been the hardest part for me to grapple with for the three dogs in my life for which I have had to play God. You said it best.

  47. This brings me back some sad memories, I had two dogs I had to “choose death” for them, but sometimes you must do this kind of actions.

    Sorry mate. :(

  48. A wise old friend and poet remarked a while back:

    “As you grow older you have to increase your capacity for grief”.

    I was in my 60’s before I began to understand what he meant.

    Go well Jeffrey, Ghost Dog and Daughter :)

  49. You did the right, Jeffrey, painful as it was. I had to put down my best buddy, Gusty, a few months ago. He knew it was time, too, I think – but the drive to the office and the way home were excruciating. The universe is big and Emile is in it. I’m sorry for your loss and hope your daughter is okay.

  50. I have eight dogs. I love every one of them. My heartfelt sympathies.
    But you did the right thing, when it’s time it’s time. To prolong suffering makes no sense.

  51. Jeff,
    So sorry about Emile…it’s obvious from your past postings how much you loved the little guy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and pain with us…I hope it has been helpful to you through what I’m sure were some long nights. And I hope your daughter comes through all of it ok…I know that’s tough on a kid.

    Two weeks ago, our 9 year-old schnauzer Ellie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of liver cancer, and our vet expects her to survive for no more than 4 to 6 weeks (chemo would not help in this case.) While this is extremely upsetting to my wife and me, we know we’re lucky that we can at least see this coming, and make what time Ellie has left as comfortable and fun as possible.

    For me, the difficult part so far has been knowing she has had her last birthday, her last Christmas, her last visit with my parents, etc. Every walk I take her on now is time I cherish, instead of being part of the daily grind.

    So amazing how deeply painful these affairs are…and yet, how can we live without them?

  52. i am so sorry jeffrey. my wife and i had to make this decision for some of our cats over the last few years. if you love them all you can while they’re here with us that’s all you can do. it’s funny how much power and emotion a small act of love can have in this vast universe of ours.

  53. Thanks, Al. The loss can be devastating, but that’s true of anything important in life. You love someone and they may leave you. Even if both of you are lucky enough to love each other “forever,” one of you will almost certainly die before the other. In that sense, every couple is Romeo and Juliet. We have children and we ache when they get a scratch on the playground. But we know that they will grow up to experience tremendous loss and pain (as well as joy, we hope). That’s life: it’s a dark, mixed gift. The more we love, the more love we give, the greater the love we experience and create in the world. There is a cost but there is always a cost. There is also a cost for isolating yourself and failing to experience life. (I know because I’ve tried it.)

    I respect your choice of course! But for me, I don’t regret adopting a sick animal and sticking with him till the end. The love you get back from an animal is always far more than you give. :)

  54. Thinking of you and your family Jeffery. I had a cat that I basically grew up with that after 18 years had to be put to sleep after multiple instances of cancer. Was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and it was devastating. But in the end she gave us a lot of love and good memories and it was the right thing to do for her at the time. Sometimes the hardest decisions are the best ones and as you pointed out (much more eloquently than I ever could) life just ain’t easy.

  55. Sorry to hear about Emile. We were faced with a similar decision over Christmas. Our dog had been ill for a few months, but it was getting to a point where she was just too weak to use her hind legs or even to breathe in. We’d have to hold her up so she could walk out into the garden.

    On Christmas eve, my dad, sis and I spoke about it and decided that we’d wait until the 26th and then call the doc over. I sat up with her until about 2am on the 25th night and then went to bed. She passed on during the night. She was 16, was born at home and lived with us for more than half of our lives.

  56. Jeffrey, your reply above is even more eloquent that the OP. I’m a cat person rather than a dog person, but having loved and lost several animal companions, I feel your pain. Whoever and whatever we love, their passing leaves a hole in the heart. I play with our two cats knowing they will probably die before I do and cherishing every moment I have with them. Animal love, like baby love, for its simplicity, wordlessness and directness, may be the most direct and powerful kind.

    All best wishes.

Comments are closed.