Life With Pets

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Saying Goodbye

Recently I read a post on social media that went something like this: “The hardest thing about owning a dog is saying goodbye”. A profound and true saying because saying goodbye to our fur family who have been devoted to us, loyal beyond a fault, loving us when we don’t deserve it, and always greeting us in a friendly way is the hardest thing we’ve have to do with owning pets.

Consult A Veterinarian:

Just making the decision to euthanize a pet is a stressful life experience. Loss of a pet has been studied, analyzed and rationalized and there are books on the subject but I have not found any comfort in books. Family and friends are the most comfort, especially those who have had the same experience. Veterinarians can be helpful in explaining the need for euthanasia but the grief, pain, guilt and anger are still painfully experienced in spite of a logical explanation.   

Canine Virtues:

I know from my own experience having to say goodbye to 6 of our fur family members is without a doubt the hardest thing I ever had to do. They are our companions in lonely times, our entertainment, our therapists in difficult times, non-judgmental and our constant comfort. They demand little from us except to care for and love them in return. Our love can never match their love for us no matter how hard we may try.

Painful Time:

Saying goodbye is very hard and each time we do it leaves a large hole in our heart. There are many unfair things in life but our pets short lifetime tops the list in my opinion. Our dogs are family members and I can’t imagine our remote lifestyle without them.

Conflicting Thoughts:

When the time comes to say goodbye I’m always conflicted. One set of thoughts tells me that I want to have them with me a little longer. A selfish but truly honest motive. The other set of thoughts says that they have been loving and loyal to me and I need to do only what is best for them; to return the love and loyalty in their time of need because it is the very least I can do.

Our Canine Companions

Following is a brief description of our six dogs that have now passed on:


Clarence was a rescue from a shelter who we thought was about 10-12 years old when he left us. He was a basset hound/golden retriever mix. He had a basset hound body and a golden retriever head and tail. He used to draw interesting comments from others but he was gentle and loving. In his last few weeks he declined rapidly and was having mini strokes which left him confused and having bowel mistakes in the house.  


Ben was a long hair German Shepherd and he left us at 12.5, years. He was highly intelligent coupled with a great sense of humor. He could actually tell time and knew his right from his left, and could count to 15. He was more than anyone could want in a canine companion and those who knew him referred to him as Dr. Ben due to his superior intelligence. He was very healthy and alert right up to his demise. Suddenly he went blind and it was clear he was having serious problems. Our veterinarian believed he had a brain tumor and the day we were to drive him to a specialist, 200 miles away, for evaluation he died at home to our horror. His death still haunts me to this day.


Gypsy was a border collie/cattle dog mix which friends relinquished to us because they thought we could provide her a better life plus she and Ben got along very well. She needed obedience training which we provided. She was the sweetest little girl  and if she had a fault it was her dislike of bears. At her prior house she was kept outside and had a confrontation with a bear. With us she was inside and was a marvelous family member who was never short on love and affection. At around 14.5 years old she had slowed down significantly and we noticed a drop of blood occasionally but could not find the source. It was coming from her nasal passage and our vet said she needed to be euthanized as she was clearly suffering with no hope for recovery. One look at her was enough to see she had major problems.


Sarah was a German Shepherd, age 4, when she was rescued and had come from an emergency rescue in another state where she was not treated well and probably abused. She was frightened over just about anything when we adopted her. Over time with large amounts of love, gentleness and patience we were able to restore her self-assurance and confidence. When Sarah finally overcame her fears she was a confident, affectionate and loving sweet girl that liked being in my lap. She developed in her advanced age congestive heart failure and medication did not help her. She became very weak, refused food and water and had given up on wanting to live and left us at age 13.5.


Bozley was age 8, when adopted; a German Shepherd/Greyhound mix who came to us from an owner surrender. He had been with other family/s and finally ended up with us. His early life appeared to have been difficult but we discovered he was easy going, laid back, intelligent, loving, loyal and considerate boy. At age 13+, he had a major stroke and collapsed suddenly in front of our eyes. Prior to his stroke he had been very healthy. We took him to the vet immediately but he grew weaker on the drive to the vet and there was nothing left to do but let him go. We took comfort that his last three years were excellent and he was spoiled rotten and pampered endlessly and he loved and enjoyed every bit of it.   


Echo, age 10+, was a German Shepherd about 2 years old when we rescued him prior to his being sent to a kill shelter. (see photo)  He was always happy, carefree, attentive and considerate. He was always by my side, slept next to me, was totally loyal and devoted. He was friendly and his love so deep words simply can’t describe the depth of his love for us and his brothers and sisters. All of our dogs had from time to time various physical problems but Echo was what our vet referred to as high maintenance. His worst disease was caudal equina which slowly robbed his back legs of support. He ultimately lost bowel and bladder control and we cleaned up after him for months. He was just over 10 years old when he was euthanized.  Our vet told us it was time to let him go because he was growing worse and in more pain and would not get better. He also had an inoperable tumor in his abdomen that was growing and could rupture at any time. He was panting more and would pace around as he couldn’t get comfortable, clearly experiencing pain.

When To Let Go:

The above descriptions reflect when/why we let our dogs go. Finding the correct time to say goodbye is difficult but when they no longer have any real quality of life or are suffering or terminal and there is nothing that can be done for them it is time to reluctantly say goodbye.

Living an hours drive from our veterinarian means we need to exercise sound judgement in this area because if we wait too long our dirt roads can be covered with snow drifts or impassable due to mud. That could keep us from getting to our vet, but at the same time we want every second with our pet possible.    

No Bad Dogs, Just Bad Owners:

Dogs, regardless of breed, are what you train them to be. Treat them gently, respectfully and with love and kindness and that is how they will be in return. Yelling or being mean will produce a frustrated, neurotic  and fearful dog. We obedience train our dogs because living remotely we have predators around and training could save their life one day.

Humans Should Strive For A Few Of The Virtues Dogs Have:

“The hardest thing about owning a dog is saying goodbye”. What makes it all worthwhile is the love, joy, happiness, devotion, entertainment,  loyalty and good times they provide us until they take their final breath. Saying goodbye is quite a paradox because it is all their attributes and virtues while with us that makes that decision so hard. Dogs bring out the love within us and show us by example how we could improve ourselves to match at least some of their virtues.  

Tell Those Whom You Love Daily That You Love Them:

For such loyal, loving and caring companions it is only right in my opinion to be with them at their final goodbye in spite of the horrible pain we know we are about to experience. Usually through a flood of tears, and in choking words I tell them how much I love them, what good boy/girl they have been and how much I will always miss them and why. Ours know that they are loved because each night at bedtime to tell them I love them and how good they are and provide some extra  affection. Dogs know far more than they are given credit for. The more you talk to them the more they understand.


When it comes to grieving there is no one size fits all because depending on our closeness to our pet we all grieve differently. Some grieve more, some less, some longer, some shorter, some in anger, some in guilt but however we grieve it is a painful process. When ready some adopt again  and that can help. We prefer to adopt from a shelter or rescue organization.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyle in the mountains of S. Colorado where they heat their cabin with a wood stove go to their personal blog site at: 

Photo of Echo courtesy of Bruce McElmurray

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