On Putting Your Dog Down

After a long day, you finally get to take your dog for a walk. But as soon as you hit the park, he starts to run ahead of you and suddenly disappears into the shrubs at the side of the path. You frantically search through all brush in every direction looking for him but come up empty-handed. After another 20 minutes or so passed with no sign, it’s clear that this is going to be an expensive night out if he doesn’t show his face by morning.

If your dog is still eating, it’s not time to put him down. You should take care of his needs and make sure he is comfortable before you say goodbye. Read more in detail here: should i put my dog down if he is still eating.

Black lab Dog in car in rear view mirror.

Editor’s note: James “Uncle Buzz” Surwilo contributed this guest article.

Buddy, our dog, had to be killed this summer. This is referred to as “putting a pet down” or “putting a pet to sleep,” which sanitizes and softens the act by making it seem as though the dog or cat would wake up or rise up again. If only it were that simple.

To be clear, I’m not one of those people who believes that humans can love animals as much as they love other humans, or that the loss of a close friend or family member is as tragic as the death of a close friend or relative. I’m old enough to have lost both parents – I was there when my father passed away – and the list of other friends and family who have passed away seems to be expanding at an alarming pace. There are no parallels, yet we weep and lament the loss of our four-legged friends, as we should.

I’ve always had pets, even a family dog when I was too young to remember. And, unfortunately, dogs have a limited lifespan, with their deaths always seeming untimely and unjust, even if they live to a ripe old age. Just as I had never pondered my own death as a child, I had never considered the inevitability of my dogs dying; still, they did, one by one. It’s impossible for me to assess the level of sadness caused by each dog’s death. Death is unfamiliar territory for a youngster, but he or she is tough. Adults have seen deaths and are aware of the fleeting nature of their own lives.

I’m not going to wax poetic about Buddy’s qualities or make the assertion that “my dog is better than your dog,” as in the old dog food ad. He had a big personality with a lot of terrible habits and annoying eccentricities, but don’t we all? My family, like most dog owners, adored Buddy, flaws and all. (Cats, on the other hand…well, let’s just say you’d be better off with a pet rock.)

Buddy slowed down as he got older, maybe 10 or 11, but he stayed healthy, was eager for any adventure, still barked violently at strangers, mooched cookies from the mailman, and willingly placed cats in trees – where they belong. I knew it in my head and in my heart, but I ignored the idea that Buddy would be gone in a few years.

Buddy began to snuffle on his inner breaths earlier this spring. We thought it was amusing at first, and felt it was just a small annoyance that would go away quickly. It didn’t, and it grew so often that a trip to the veterinarian was required. Buddy never snuffled throughout the 20 minutes we were at the vet, forcing a terrible imitation on my part and, in the end, a misdiagnosis, much as my problems tend to vanish the moment I step into a doctor’s office.

The respiratory difficulties increased, and we were back at the vet’s office a few weeks later, when Buddy showed his snuffling to the veterinarian’s evident dismay. He may have inhaled a foreign item that got trapped in his nasal canal, she reasoned. He might have gotten a nose infection through sniffing at something disgusting, as dogs are prone to do, and these illnesses are tough to cure. As I deduced from the vet’s body language, he was most likely suffering from nasal cancer, which is pretty common in dogs. The only way to be sure is to use diagnostic imaging, with an MRI being the best option but also the most expensive.


For a few days, I pondered what to do, knowing that the prognosis was dismal regardless of what the imaging revealed. But, in the end, I needed to know to calm my nerves and assist me in making the difficult decisions that were ahead. Buddy got an MRI, which showed a tumor that had punctured his nasal cavity and was on its way to entering his brain. There were no viable therapy alternatives available.

The most tough portion was still to come. Buddy was terminally sick, yet apart from the occasional wheezing, he was the same old Buddy. But I didn’t want him to suffer, and I certainly didn’t want to be the cause of his misery. We went about our typical routine for a few days, maybe with a few extra embraces thrown in, but the inescapable choice weighed heavily and continuously on our minds. We were actually playing God, making life and death decisions. I sought advice from a veterinarian, and the doctor provided what I believed was excellent advice. When it comes to her own dogs, she says she prefers to put them down while they still have their personalities. As she put it, “when Buddy is still Buddy.” I took this to heart, and despite the fact that Buddy may have lived for weeks longer, we scheduled an appointment for 9 a.m. three days later. That was a weird talk to have, and it left me with an unsettling thought: my dog would be slaughtered in three days.

At that time, the clock began to tick, and we couldn’t adore Buddy enough. On that fateful morning, I was acutely aware that all of our typical routines were about to come to an end. Our last stroll. His last sneaky dumping in the yard of a neighbor. My daughter had to go for work, and she said her last, tearful goodbyes. I lit a fire in the backyard fireplace and drank coffee contemplatively, all the while tossing Buddy pieces of roast beef drenched in gravy; the condemned having a luxurious last dinner.

Buddy was unconcerned. I’ve always admired dogs for their lack of guile and awareness of their own impermanence. Every day is the greatest day of their life, and the next day will be even better, and the next day after that will be even better. He lay near by, contentedly eating his roast meat and preparing for whatever the day had in store, blissfully unconscious of his destiny. I, on the other hand, resisted the impulse to postpone the appointment for a few more days as tears streamed freely. Deb, my wife, stated it was time to go before I realized it. The last vehicle journey.

The veterinary technician escorted us into an examination room and described the procedure to us in a kind manner. Buddy would be given a strong, fast-acting sedative that would put him to sleep in the literal meaning of the word. After that, the euthanizing solution would be administered intravenously, and death would occur within 30 seconds. We might be there for the whole operation or only a portion of it.


Buddy, who hates coming to the vet, was attempting to exit the examination room by an external side door, but we restrained him and the vet tech administered the anesthetic before exiting the room. The medication worked promptly. Buddy took a few steps, then sat down, resting his head between his front paws and closing his eyes calmly; his motions were similar to settling down for one of the countless of naps he’d had over the years. We sat next to him and touched his hair. Deb wanted to stay until the second solution was administered and be there when he died, but I felt it was preferable if our last memory of Buddy was of him breathing deeply, calm, and maybe dreaming of finally capturing the chipmunk who had tormented him for so long. We snuck out the back door and drove home in silence.


The conclusion: I like owning a dog. I like having someone to talk to. I like receiving genuine love and repaying it. I like being outdoors, and having a dog provides you an excuse to go around town or in the woods without being judged weird. So, four months after Buddy died while visiting a friend in West Virginia, I rescued Danni, a seven-month-old baby, from an overcrowded shelter. She’s a lovely puppy, and I hope she has a long and happy life.


Have you ever had to euthanize your pet? Please tell us about your experience in the comments section.



The “when to put your dog down quiz” is a test that can help you decide when it’s time for your dog to pass on. The quiz will ask questions about your dog’s health, personality and behavior.

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