The Hardest Thing You May Ever Have to Do
By Allen and Linda Anderson



Barbara, a reader of our newsletter, wrote to us not too long ago about what she considered to be one of the most difficult decisions she ever had to make in her life. Her dear animal companion of fifteen years, a dog named Bear, had struggled to combat a hyperthyroid condition for almost two years. By then, Bear had lost one quarter of her hair. The dog was constantly hungry and miserable, losing weight and wailing in pain most of the time. After doing everything she could to keep Bear alive and depleting herself financially in the process, Barbara had to struggle with whether or not to have the dog euthanized.

Even though Barbara believed that Bear would be in a better place after death, she worried and felt guilty about euthanasia. She wondered whether she had done the right thing. She says, “I looked up the word euthanasia and learned that it comes from Greek for ‘easy death.’ God, I hope so. I did not want Bear to suffer anymore.” She closed her letter by asking the readers of our weekly, online Angel Animals Day Brightener Newsletter to let her know what they thought about the practice of euthanasia.

We put Barbara’s request in the newsletter and got an avalanche of response to it. We forwarded all the letters to Barbara and published a few of them at a time for several weeks. Many of the letters offered such wisdom and compassion, that we want to share them in this article. Perhaps they will offer comfort, and in some cases, even challenge your opinions about euthanasia. Anyone who has an animal companion may be faced with this heart-wrenching choice one day. We hope the following responses will help when you have to make that most difficult decision.

Samples of Letters to Barbara
Linda in Connecticut wrote, “Barbara, please know that you performed an act of great kindness at great emotional expense to yourself. Think about what you’d say to a friend who had the same problem and say it to yourself.”

Diana from Australia wrote, “Congratulations. What courage, compassion, and love you have. It reflects in your words and deeds. If I were an animal in your care, I would be so content with my life. Bear would have known his future and loved you all the more for giving him the life and love you did.”

Dee expressed what many of our readers felt about euthanasia. She wrote, “I know it was the right thing to do. Sometimes, it’s the last, best, most loving gift we can give our animal friends, to free them from their painful, failing bodies and let their spirits soar. I also believe that they will be with us in eternity. They’re waiting for us in heaven or at the Rainbow Bridge. Though it may, and does, break our hearts, we can rest in the knowledge that we were unselfish at the end and did what was best for them.”

A Respectful Difference of Opinion
Most of our readers were in agreement that euthanasia was necessary to end an animal’s pain and opted for quality of life over longevity. Some even wished that euthanasia would be an option for humans. However, a Buddhist practitioner named Trisha wrote to express a differing opinion. She referred readers to an article by Trish Deitch Roher, “Putting Spot Down: What is the Compassionate Thing to Do?” from Tricyle: The Buddhist Review, Summer 2002. Trisha quotes Roher as saying, “Most Tibetan teachers. . . have told practitioners that it’s inadvisable to kill any being under any circumstances. To care for an animal through the pain and suffering of old age and death is courageous and kind.”

According to Trisha, “the article emphasized that we tend to euthanize companion animals primarily to relieve our own suffering and not the animal’s, even though we adamantly feel we are doing just the opposite.” Trisha went on to say, “From the Buddhist standpoint, we may do our companion animals a disservice by creating karma for them by prematurely taking their lives.”

So how do you know what to do?

Many people take the animal to a veterinarian who lays out the options. Then they face the prospect of incurring staggering medical bills or watching an animal they love struggle to stay alive in a depleted or debilitated body.

After euthanasia, several of our letter-writers were reassured that they had done the right thing when they were visited by the animal’s spirit during a dream. Joy writes about her retired racehorse, Franklin, “I had a dream about him a month or so after. I was kissing Franklin’s muzzle and telling him how much I love him. He was no longer in pain and was very happy.

Perhaps Dee best said what a lot of people have come to understand about this troubling decision - your animal friend will help you figure out what to do. Dee writes, “How do we know it’s time? I think, at the end, they tell us. I knew. With both of my dogs, Shadow and Kaylee, even though I desperately wanted to deny it and hold on, they were ready to go. It was me who wasn’t ready. But I know that we will be together again someday. And that’s what I hold onto now.”

The epitaph Lord Byron wrote and had inscribed on the grave of his dog, Boatswain, in 1808 expresses the memories many of us have about our beloved animal companions. Lord Byron wrote, “Near this spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.”

Allen and Linda Anderson are co-editors of “Angel Animals: Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals” (A Plume Book, 1999), available in local and Internet bookstores and through One Spirit Book Club. Do you have a story about a spiritually-significant event or a special relationship with a cat? They’re looking for cat stories for their next book. Send to Angel Animals, P.O. Box 26354, Minneapolis, MN 55426 or by e-mail at  . You may subscribe to the Andersons’ free online newsletter at . For more information call (952) 925-3309.  

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