Being with a Family Pet When He Dies

Kids who grew up on farms, like my father in Iowa and friend Phyllis in Pennsylvania, knew all about animals dying. My father’s family were poor farmers, with the kind of small acreage that went out of favor by the end of the 1950’s. An animal who neared the end of its productive life was often put down, because they couldn’t afford to feed an animal that wasn’t producing. Weak and sick animals, especially newborns that didn’t get off to a good start, were tended but often died before an expensive vet visit would be called. Vets came for animals that were contributing value to the farm operation. One of my uncles kept a pony for the kids to ride, but it wasn’t common to have animals around just for fun. Cats killed rats in the barn. Dogs kept away foxes and raccoons and larger predators. Cows were milked. Sheep and pigs were raised to be slaughtered. Chickens laid eggs. Tough old birds beyond their laying years were transformed into chicken stew. Everything had its purpose.

My sisters and I were east coast town kids, and we didn’t have that ordinary contact with the cycle of life and death. Our dog Betsy had to be put down, but she went to the vet without us and my mother simply said she was “gone”. Margaret didn’t like to talk about death, and we knew not to ask “gone where?”.

Vets these days are skilled and compassionate in involving the family when a beloved pet has to be put down, and I think it’s a good thing. Even young kids like my grandchildren need to know that they have an important responsibility to a loyal and faithful family pet, to comfort the animal at the end of his life and see that the animal is not afraid or without familiar people around.

We rise to the occasion, even the young among us, and it’s a beautiful thing.

York family dog Betsy, circa 1950’s. Yes, I still have the pic.


8 thoughts on “Being with a Family Pet When He Dies

  1. WE had two pugs. One died in his sleep. The following year the second one developed what I describe as doggie MS. HIs pain got worse and we finally called our vet who had been caring for him to say that we thought it was time….did we just bring him in to the office? He told us he preferred to come to the house, so we set something up for the next day. He first gave Welby (yes, the other one was Marcus) a sedative to relax him; then he went outside and gave us time to pet him, talk to him. He came back after about five minutes and gave the dose that would end his life……just about a minute. He gave us some more time, then took Welby with him. In a couple of days, he called and told us we could pick up the ashes. He was a wonderful vet – every time we took our dogs there, we would leave the office and say, “I wish he were our family doctor!” This last time only solidified that feeling. Sadly, he had a heart attack about two years later and died. He was only 51. I was in Chautauqua, but Bob went to the viewing.

  2. for Ada: I often can’t remember what I had for dinner last week, but I remember Marcus and Welby and the house you lived in when you had them — Fairport, yes? Matt and Amy could have gotten the emergency vet to come to the house, but not until 3pm. Bob went downhill so quickly the night before, they felt they couldn’t sit around all day watching him suffer. So they took him in mid-morning. It was Memorial Day, so their own vet wasn’t working. But the emergency vet was wonderful, kind and compassionate and gentle.Our beloved pets deserve no less.

  3. Yes, pets are important members of families today and their loss is very sad. It’s great that contemporary veterinary professionals are skilled at bereavement and therapeutic inclusion of families when a pet’s passes.

  4. for Katie: So much has changed around bereavement of our loved ones, human or pets, as you well know. It’s a great improvement over the silence that used to prevail.

  5. for Ada: Memory really is a funny thing, at any age. If you asked me what I did on a given day last week, I probably have to check my calendar to refresh my memory. But I can envision your kitchen in Fairport, and the two pugs. 🙂

  6. Gee. My memory works like yours! What did I have for breakfast? Who remembers? What did someone’s kitchen look like years ago? No problem. I remember yours in Rochester, too!

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