It was 1991, my first housecall since graduation early that year. "Sara" was infirm; with arthritis in her hips that no injection could resolve. No painkiller could allow her even a few steps. I gave Sara's parents the "run down", explaining all the things I had come to know about euthanasia. They decided it was the best thing to do, rather than letting her suffer.
Sara received a sedative, which caused her to pass into unconsciousness. I sat with her while she went down, and rubbed her grey old head. After she was asleep, I adminstered her lethal injection... and cried. Sara had been my dog since I was a boy in 1976. I even kept her son, "Angus". Her owners were also my parents. And I felt for them.
There are at least three reasons to let a pet go:
1. The pet cannot get around.
Dogs and cats prioritize most of their existence on being able to move about, apprehend food, and exist in a gregarious fashion. If they cannot move, in order to eat, or join the family, then it is probably time to let them go, no matter their age.
2. The pet cannot or will not eat.
Certain terminal illnesses result in anorexia in animals. Anorexia results in hunger and lack of energy, as well as more serious disorders. I don't think it's right to take them past the point where they will not take nutrition. And I am not the type to recommend heroics at that point.
3. The pet cannot participate in family life.
If for reasons of uncontrollable incontinence, blindness, deteriorating mentation, intense pain, immobility, or other serious illness, the animal cannot be with you, or has been made to live outdoors away from family contact, then perhaps it is time to let the pet go. Geriatric incontinence often leads to isolation, although the pet still needs to be loved, and the pet does not undestand why it has been exiled.
You'll experience strong emotions when contemplating losing your pet. Memories of the "good times" will fill your head, and you'll start to feel like you're "selling your partner out", when you elect to have him or her put to sleep.
Here at Johnson Veterinary Services, I give a sedative, and then the lethal injection. It's more peaceful and not as abrupt.
I recommend home-burial, when individual emotions permit, but other options exist, including formal burial or cremation by special pet cemetaries.