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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

I Can See The End, But I Am Not Ready

Updated: January 9th, 2019

In so many ways this is a sad post. The end of life with your friend, family member, your companion.

After all the time together.

Systemic or aggessive cancers like lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, Grade 3 mast cell tumors, and others usually lead in the same direction.

This direction is the departure of your loved dog.

Until one of us creates a cure, we will be faced with a conflict during the departure time.  The conflict is this: we have a desire to do something, but it is not what we know we must soon consider- euthanasia.

Many facing this grim reality have a sensation of being a bit trapped during these times, seeking some relief.  Now what?  I am not ready for the end but I know it is coming soon.

What if you can feel it is really soon? How do we make sure things are done properly before departure time?

In many cultures there are customs designed bring people through this period without regrets.  We lack these in our culture, and certainly with our dogs.

So here is a new custom that I believe will accomplish this goal.

It is called the life story.  I go into some detail in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, but here is the gist of it.

For a comprehensive guide to help your dog with cancer, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide

First, block of some time in your schedule to just be with your dog.  Maybe an hour, could be more, could be less. But give yourself some space. Turn off the phones and Blackberries™.

Next, simply tell your dog his or her life story.  Start when you first met, and go all the way to the time you are sitting together. There will be a lot to it.

Go through all the ups and downs of your life, all the comings and goings.  All the different people, places, other dogs or animals, emotions, finances, conflicts, success, failures…everything.

And with each thing, tell your dog what he or she did during that time.

Most importantly, and perhaps this should be the starting statement, thank your dog for everything he did for you.  Express this out loud to her. Honor the gifts you received during your journey together, the gifts your loved dog bestowed upon you.

This is one way you can honor and mark your time together.  Make sure your dog hears it before the leaving time is upon you.

At least, until you meet again!

I send my thoughts out to each of you.

Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Bigdog3338 on March 16, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Where should I begin? I guess at the beginning. Kolya, my handsome, gentle big boy is a Kavkaskaya Ovcharka who weighs in at about 210lbs just turned eight 10/19. I never thought I would see it. Exactly, one year ago today he had surgery to remove a huge mast cell tumor from his front leg. Since he is a giant breed we decided to just remove his ulna and opted for radiation and chemo. I never thought he would be cancer free a year later. My god it was just one day over a year ago, on a walk, he sat down and I looked at him and said you wanna go back to the car? And he did. When we got home he seemed not right so I began poking and prodding. When I felt his left front leg he cried and I told him were going to the vet tomorrow….never expecting what was to come next. The day before we were so care free and the very next day I thought my life would end. Our journey together has been amazing and I think for outsiders a miracle. I never gave up on Kolya and he never on me. After the initial shock I was determined to give him back his hope and his will to live by never letting him see me react negatively. When had bad days went went for great rides in the car followed up with a world famous hotdog and then home. On better days, we took baby walks and had a picnic. And if he couldn’t chase the herds of geese one day, then I would. Basically, we gave each other hope. While things can change at any minute as we know, I realize taking the time to tuck him in each night and tell him a bedtime story with of course lots of night night kisses makes such a difference. My heart goes out to everyone who has lost their beloved child. I know I have only cheated time a little and when it is Kolyas time to pass I will do so for him. My fear is coping when he is gone. My little boy…my dear boy…I love you so much. I believe when it is his time he will tell me and I will know. I will never let go just give him a long enough leash to reach heaven. Peace and strength to all of you.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Dear BigDog,
      the most important thing is to stay connected with others, and particularly those who are or have gone through similar things themselves, and/or are animal lovers. There are also a number of support groups both online and in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide that can help as well.
      A post you might want to read:
      Dr D

  2. Jesse Dziedzic on October 20, 2011 at 4:17 am

    This makes perfect sense!!!

  3. Donna on May 29, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Our family is currently dealing with, barely, the decisions to be made regarding our dog Max. He has a mouth cancer. It was small when removed surgically and grew back in two weeks to an enormous size. He is strong, comfortable, happy to be with family, but the growth is growing and it will take away his ability to eat etc. We know what is coming but can’t stand to think of it. Max is a German Shepherd mix – probably with Husky. He is 1 month shy of turning 16. He has been a great dog. Our three girls 27,21 and 18 have grown up with him. We just keep wishing that this little bump in the mouth wasn’t bringing this otherwise energetic pups life to an end. This is the hard part. We took him on a picnic last week – he loved being at the lake. We took him for a last boat ride this past weekend – his other favorite thing to do. He is being spoiled with meals. What does an old dog get to eat “anything he wants”. Your words and advise have helped. Donna

  4. Tom on May 28, 2009 at 6:53 am

    It has been three months now since I lost Hunter. She was taking chemotherapy for internal mast cell tumors. She went in for an IV
    treatment and then the oncologist told me that she wanted to keep her overnight for a blood transfusion. At 10:00 PM they called to say that she had gone into cardiac arrest. They revived her. I had questions but the attending vet (not her oncologist who was not present) was busy and cut me off. He told me that everything was fine and with that got off the phone. At 4:00 AM they called again to say that she had suffered a fatal heart attack.
    I have lived with the guilt and anger of not forcing them to speak to me or having me see her. It was all so calculated and logical on the clinic’s part. The attending vet never expressed any compansion.

  5. gary goodwin on May 20, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Can you do a blog post for those of us who have lost our dog suddenly during treatment for cancer? We lost our sweet girl three weeks ago as we arrived at vet heart clinic to get her a pacemaker. She was just being checked and she crashed. This was following two rounds of chemo and a bone marrow transplant. We had no idea that we were going to lose her so suddenly. Sudden loss must be different than anticipated loss.


  6. Lisa on May 19, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    This is exactly what I needed! My Emma, who is a 9 year old Great Dane, has Lymphosarcoma. She was in remission for about 6 months, but is now out of remission. I am still following her oncologist’s instructions to manage her cancer, however, I was told that time is maybe 3 – 4 months. My brain feels so scrambled since those first words confirmed my fears, but I look forward to sharing this special time with my precious girl. She is such a blessing!
    Thank you Dr. D for this wonderful suggestion!

  7. Sharon Festa on May 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    We,too, recently lost our beloved pet, Sammy. He had cancer all through his body. Each night, I had a routine w/him. I would turn off the lights for bed, sit on the floor by my bed w/Sammy’s head in my lap. This became such an awesome time for both of us that now that he is gone, I am grateful I did this for the both of us. He slept on our bed w/our other dog, Luke, but when he became so sick (my husband built stairs for him but near the end didn’t have the strength to go up them) he slept on the floor next to me each night. How strange it was that while I was taking care of Sammy, our other dog would lay at the end of the bed, head between his paws & listen to me. He never became jealous or anxious. He was truly giving us our space. Now that Sam is gone, Luke is a different doggie. He still continues to look in the bedrooms for him,look when we walk in the door, etc. How hard it must be because we cannot tell these precious animals what has happened to their companion/best friend. My Sammy went thru so much w/me in my life I just didn’t want him to leave me. I still miss him w/all of my heart. We now have Luke who is 12 yrs. old & is being showered w/attention. When they leave us, it is devastating. However, even knowing what is ahead, I can never be w/o my faithful & loyal friend, & once again those big brown eyes will look at me & I again will melt and bring him home.

  8. Beth Thoma Robinson on May 19, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Thanks for this post. We lost our dog Krishna to osteosarcoma a few months ago. Our vet had us do an abbreviated version of this as we sat with Krishna for the last time. We petted him and told him what a great job he’d done in this lifetime, and when we were complete we nodded at her that we were ready to let him go. It was incredibly beautiful and helpful.

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