How do we know when it is time to let our dogs go?

For some unknown reason I have been getting this question from friends and family almost daily.  Here is how it is answered in my book, 14000 Dogs Later.

Obviously, your veterinarian is the person to turn too.  None of us wants our dogs to live in pain, and yet, we don’t want to be the decision-maker regarding life and death.  I had a friend who carried that guilt for many years because he felt he had made the wrong decision…even though his dog could hardly stand.

“Who am I,” he said to me, “to take the life of my friend?” his guilt evident by the streaming tears.

That’s not a question any of us can answer, nor is it a question we should try to answer.  “It’s the right thing to do.  Your pet is better off.  You’ll get over it soon.  At least you don’t have to watch him suffer anymore.”  All of those may be the right answer, but it’s the wrong time to voice them. 

“You helped your dog because you were his friend,” is the answer I used for my friend’s question.  But I did not voice that thought until after he had dealt with the grieving.

Through the years numerous pet owners with terminally sick pets have asked, “What would you do, John, if he were your dog?”

I have always answered their question with other questions.

  • Is he incontinent?
  • Is he in severe pain?
  • Can he still walk?
  • Can the pain be controlled?
  • Has he stopped eating and drinking?

The answers to these questions assist my friends in making up their own mind as to what is best for their dog.

 Please remember this:  If your dog must be put down, it is not a decision you are making.  Your dog is making the decision; you are only carrying that decision out for him.

14000 Dogs Later is available at  


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Diane Porter on January 19, 2011 at 12:18 am

    I was recently faced with that decision – 2 weeks ago to be exact. Maddy was examined by an Ohio State Vet Oncologist, Dr. Urie and was diagnosed with Mast Cell Tumors throughout her internal organs. After I cried my eyes out, she advised that on my 2 hour drive home to determine Maddy’s five favorite things and when she could only do two of those, it was to start making the tough decision because her quality of life was suffering or gone. Don’t get me wrong, I labored over this decision for days but decided I had to let her go because her quality of life was not good and she wasn’t having any fun but faking for me. Fortunately, my vet and his assistant came to my house and involved Maddy’s litter sister so she wouldn’t wonder why her buddy had just disappeared. They both cried with me afterwards which meant the world to me and I can’t sing their praises enough.

    I miss her terribly and probably will for the rest of my life but I know I made the right decision on her behalf. I thought Dr. Urie’s recommendation was a very good measure in order to make the hard decision. It’s selfish to hold on to a suffering animal for our own benefit.


  2. Diane: Thanks for sharing this difficult, but special time in your life. I don’t know if you’ve read my book, 14000 Dogs later, but in it I describe the day I had to bury one of my Labs who had been hit by a car. It was one of the most heartbreaking days that I have spent with my dogs. Best to you, John


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