My family has two crazy and endearing Siberian Huskies, Klondike, 13, and Juneau, 7. Like many family pets, they have woven themselves into the family script and become central characters in our day-to-day lives.
Yes, they can be a mess‚tracking in mud, shedding grey-and-white hair and running away together as partners in crime to go on an illegal tour of Wilmette. But they give us such pleasure‚nuzzling any family member who is feeling down and joyously jumping up to greet my 20-year-old son every time he comes home from college.
So how do we think, plan and cope for the eventuality of our pet’s death?
This question is of imminent concern for me.
As Klondike is now in the home stretch of his life, I can’t help but have some anxiety about how our family will navigate the end. I’ve consciously taken the following steps.
Discuss death before it happens
Start talking about the eventual death of the pet with the whole family so that when the event occurs, it will be less of a shock. Here are some talking points:
1. Celebrate the pet’s life.
I have proactively brought up in family discussions that Klondike has lived a great life. I believe that if we can talk about this difficult subject with each other, we can think in advance about our emotions and attachment to him.
2. Show extra love and tenderness as the pet ages.
If we take special care of Klondike in his old age, even when he has occasional accidents or behaves irrationally, we will be able to look back without regrets.
3. Talk about the concept of lifecycle with your kids–especially younger kids.
We have talked about the concept of lifecycle and how, although we wish it to not be true, a large dog’s life is usually only 12-14 years long.
Discuss end-of-life treatments with your vet
Though you don’t even want to think about your pet’s death–let alone talk about it–the more you prepare, the better you’ll be able to deal with tough choices as they come up. The two conversations I’ve already had:
1. Discuss what tests are appropriate for a pet of a certain age.
At Klondike’s last annual physical I had a direct conversation with his vet about what tests and procedures make sense for him. The vet noted that Klondike’s liver enzymes were high, which would typically result in ordering a liver scan and biopsy.
2. Weigh the costs and benefits of testing and treatments, and try to minimize the animal’s pain.
This is a tough one. Of course, I want my pet to be as healthy as possible. But after further discussion, we agreed that as long as he seemed comfortable and had a good quality of life, further testing seemed unnecessary. He is, after all, 91 in dog years.
We are still reveling in the daily joy and love that connects our family to both Klondike and Juneau. And while we know that Klondike’s remaining time with us is limited, we attempt to provide him with an end of life that befits the great gift he has given our family.
Please share your story about how your family prepared for or handled the loss of their family pet in the comments section below or contact us with your story.