No matter how hard we try, all of us eventually get to a point when we can no longer fight off the inevitable, and it is time to say goodbye to this life. When it comes to our companion animals, this can often be especially difficult, not only because so many of our dogs and cats take the place of surrogate children and best friends in our lives, but because we know deep down that we are solely responsible for providing them with a good quality of life while they are here on earth. So, when they become sick, or when we aren’t able to “fix” them and prolong their lives substantially, we feel guilty, as if we should have been able to prevent the illness or somehow do more to change what lies ahead.
Unfortunately, when it comes to cancer, no one really knows what is behind most cases of this terrible disease. And, as far as cancer treatments have come, they cannot cure every dog. So as pet guardians, we often find ourselves at that point of having to make the final decision about when enough is enough and it’s time to help our beloved companions say goodbye.
But how do we know? In most cases, if you really pay attention to your animal and give them an opportunity to tell you what they need, they will tell you when they are ready to go. You will see a look in their eyes that is unmistakable, or a look that tells you that “they” aren’t really there anymore. Sometimes though, we can’t be objective enough to see these telltale signs, or need more reassurance that we’re making the right decision.
To help in these situations, Dr. Alice Villalobos, the pioneer in pet hospice care, or “pawspice”, created a Quality of Life Scale that we can use to determine whether or not we are prolonging our animal’s life to satisfy OUR needs or THEIRS. I personally found it very helpful when Georgia was at the end of her life. I didn’t trust that I would know when the “right” time was to help her let go. Although she told me as clearly as if she had used words when the time really came, reading this Quality of Life Scale not only helped me to prepare for what to expect towards the end, but helped to remind me that I was making the right decision and putting Georgia and her needs ahead of my own grief and reluctance to say goodbye.
Remember, helping your pet die in a peaceful and dignified manner is sometimes the greatest act of love that you can offer. It is a terrible burden that we pet parents have to bear, but it is part of the price of loving these beautiful creatures. Fight the good fight for as long as you and your pet possibly can, but know their limits too, and be willing to accept when they have had enough and need to stop fighting. By referring to Dr. Villalobos’ Quality of Life Scale, you will have one more tool to help you through this difficult time and a way to better understand what your pet may be going through.