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Having to say good-bye is something every dog lover faces eventually. It’s the most difficult part of having a dog. It would be nice if they could be with us for decades, but sadly this is not the case.

In order to make it through the process of having your dog put to sleep, you need to begin preparing ahead of time. Here are the steps in the process.

Knowing when it’s time

The one question that every pet owner faces after they’ve had to have their dog euthanized is, “Did I do it too early or was I too late?”When your dog’s health is declining, before you make the decision to euthanize, you need to determine your dog’s quality of life using the HHHHHMM Scale. Those letters stand for hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and more (good days than bad). Each factor is scored on a scale of 0 to 10. This should be done separately by you and the veterinarian because it can be very easy to rate your pet higher on some points than a medical professional would.

According to some experts, focusing on the good days versus bad is probably the most objective way a pet owner can make the decision. Make a list of things that your dog enjoys doing, then keep track of how many days they can’t do those things compared to how many days they can.

Although modern veterinary medicine can extend a dog’s life, this isn’t always what’s best for the dog. While she can’t necessarily tell you she’s suffering, she can show you that she isn’t having a good time anymore.

Prepare yourself

Discuss the decision with your vet to euthanize and be sure to ask any questions you have, even if they seem trivial. Remember, you may have never gone through this before, but your vet has to frequently. It’s part of his or her job.You’ll need to discuss options for palliative care if you want to try to extend your dog’s life, as well as the costs involved. Most vets will be honest and won’t try to sell you on shooting your dog up with painkillers just to give him another month of low-quality life and get more money out of you. No matter how much you love your dog, your choices at this point should reflect what’s best for him, not what you can do to keep him alive for you.

Once you and the vet have agreed that euthanasia is the only right decision, it’s time to plan for the procedure and afterwards. If at all possible, have them calculate the costs ahead of time and pay up front — the staff at the clinic are only human, and they don’t want to hand you a bill right after your dog has been put to sleep any more than you want to deal with paying it.

This is also the time to decide what should happen to your dog’s remains afterward. The options are mostly the same as with humans — burial or cremation. Organ donation for research or transplantation is also becoming a much more common option, as are less traditional methods.

Once the arrangements have been made, the final decision is the time and location of the procedure. Some people prefer (and many vets will perform) euthanasia at the owner’s home so the dog can be in familiar surroundings. There’s also the question of whether the vet recommends doing the procedure immediately or waiting a few days. If you have the option of waiting, take the opportunity to break out the steak and sweet treats and give your dog a farewell party by letting her do all those things you’ve never let her do before.

Finally, when you do schedule the procedure, ask your vet if you can make it the last appointment of the day — he or she will appreciate the gesture because neither one of you will feel like going back to work afterwards.

The procedure

A good vet will let you spend as long as you want alone with your dog both before and after the procedure. One big question people have is whether they want to be there during the euthanasia. It isn’t absolutely necessary and a vet will never require it.There are valid arguments for and against being present, although the most commonly reported negative of not being there is a sense of regret for having abandoned the dog in her final moments. Many pet owners wouldn’t even think of not being there, but it really is a matter of personal preference with no right or wrong choice.

There are various steps in the process of euthanasia, although nowadays almost all dogs are euthanized by injection. What’s going on and why could be an entire article on its own. The short version, though, is that it is almost always a very peaceful process. There’s a reason that people use the euphemism “put to sleep” to describe it. Even so, if your vet didn’t make a house call, it’s a good idea to arrange for a friend to drive you and any other family members to and from the clinic.

What to do afterwards

The most important thing is to not immediately run out and rescue another dog, especially if you only had one. You won’t be in the right emotional state and will be bringing the dog into a place with weak, negative energy — and which still smells strongly of another dog. Give yourself the time and tools to go through the grieving process.If you don’t have other pets but think that you will adopt again eventually, donate your dog’s bedding, toys, bowls, leash, and so on to a shelter now. These will help with the grieving process by not being constant reminders, as well as allow you to start fresh if and when you adopt another dog. Many people do keep their dog’s collar and tags or a favorite toy, though, and these can be a nice memorial touch if you have your dog cremated and the ashes returned to you.

Everyone deals with grief in different ways, which you should keep in mind especially if there is more than one human in the household. Some people may seem to get over it quickly, while others may become depressed for weeks or months. A person may even feel like they’re long past the grief, and then a sudden reminder triggers the feelings of loss all over again.

The important thing is to not let the feelings of grief turn into anger or resentment toward each other, such as feeling that your partner isn’t sad enough or should have “snapped out of it” by now. If you have children, you’ll also have plenty to deal with in explaining your dog’s death to them.

Keep in mind also that the attitudes of people outside your pack about losing a pet are different and many of them, especially those without pets, don’t realize that the experience can be just as traumatic as losing a parent or child. If a friend or acquaintance doesn’t seem overly moved, don’t take it personally.

And remember that there are many pet loss support helplines available to call.

Although saying good-bye is the hardest part of our relationships with our dogs, we can console ourselves by remembering that by rescuing that dog we gave it a chance at a happy life in the first place — and left us with many pleasant memories. Once you’re done with the grieving and back in a positive place, the best tribute you can pay to a dog that’s passed is to give another dog a second chance.

Have you experienced having to euthanize a pet? What helped you to cope with the process? Let us know in the comments.

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