One of the most difficult things any pet owner has to face is the loss of a beloved pet. Whether this loss was because of an accident or simply old age, the void that is felt by the human companion is still devastating.
Another emotion that is felt by the pet owner that is even stronger is when the owner has to make the decision as to when its time to put the family pet to sleep. To have to decide whether it would be kinder to have the dog humanly euthanized or wait until life itself is drained out of the pet is not a simple decision to make.
Part of the reason why we experience an emotional tug of war with this responsibility is that, in doing so, in making this choice, we are playing God.
Pet owners have a problem of separating the family pet from human form. By that I mean, when a pet has been in your family for one year or better, emotionally this is no longer a pet to all that live with it. It is now an integral part of the family. So, when time has caught up with our family friend we feel we need to hang on to it as long as we can. No one wants to loose a trusted member of the family.
Perhaps it would help to know what happens in the wilds among animals. An evolving process takes place in the animal kingdom throughout the animals lifetime. Every animal of the same species instinctively looks out after each other. Dogs are by instinct pack animals. Whether they are in the wilds or in a domesticated situation, they still think like a pack animal. In the wilds all animals would share some responsibility for the young and for the aging animal. With the young they guard them from predators and teach them how to survive and search for food and, they even teach them how to fight and defend themselves. As the animal ages its now up to the younger ones to watch out for and care for them. When the elder animal gets to a point that they appear weak of mind and body all of the healthy animals sense that this elder animal could not defend itself, secure food, or do any of the things that at one time made it purposeful. In a sense, this animal would be loosing its dignity. As the animal became more and more helpless the pack would know it was time to decide this aging animals quality of life. Through the pack leaders guidance they would all know that it was time to end this animals life.
They would all know that it was their responsibility to see to this before the elder animal suffered any more, or before some predator attacked it in its weakened state. The elder animal would have come to expect (and respect) this natural chain of events to occur as (they) probably were in a position at some time or another to help another aging animal. None of the animals would feel shame, hurt, or guilt for this action. They would all join in on this natural euthanasia process. They would collectively kill the elder dog. Then they might bury this animal or at least form a circle around the dead animal and urinate around it to mark this as their territory so no other animal would touch it.
We pet owning humans represent the pack order to our dogs. They look to us as being a part of a pack.
When an animal looses its dignity they loose their sense of purpose. They also loose their sense of self worth. Weve all witnessed something that should make this clear to us. Try to remember a time when youve seen a dog go to a groomer and get all prettied up. That dog steps a little livelier and wags his tail a bit more. Now try to remember the dog that went to the groomer and got all of his hair shaved off (down to the skin) because his owner thought hed be more comfortable. This dog walks with his head slightly downed and unless hes being directly addressed, his tail doesnt wag as happily as it used to.
He has lost his sense of dignity. Now, he will regain this dignity when his hair grows back. But unfortunately being able to regain dignity is not the case of the elderly, sickly dog.