Posts regularly make the rounds in personal finance blogs about the cost of pets. Pets are expensive. There's no doubt about that whatsoever.
I didn't grow up with pets. I married a dog person (to the core), so her dogs moved in when she did. Dogs have helped my wife get through some of the toughest times in her life. And, I must say, I've grown to enjoy having them around, too. My wife can't imagine living without them, and now that I've seen how they help my stress levels go down, I probably won't argue about having them.
Letting go is never fun
We've euthanized two of our dogs since we've been married. I was there when the first one was put down, and I bawled my eyes out. And that wasn't even my favorite one. I wasn't there when the vet put my favorite one down. My wife took one for the team when she put him down.
(Side note: I had real issues finding a good category for this post. I finally added the “Family” category. Because that's what our pets are: family.)
Now, sadly, we're facing a decision on another dog. He's on a lot of painkillers for arthritis. But that has the effect of killing his appetite. He's not getting around well anymore. He has been sleeping on a rug in our daughter's room for quite a while. Tonight, my wife told me that she wasn't comfortable having him sleep in there anymore, because she didn't want him to die in our daughter's room. That might freak her out for a long time (she's eight).
His painkillers run out in less than two weeks. My wife questioned whether we should bother refilling the prescription.
So, our old dog's days are numbered, and the numbers aren't that big anymore.
There is a point of diminishing return
Pets age just like humans do, and the end isn't any prettier. The playful, lively, happy pet that had never met a stranger now doesn't want to have anything to do with anyone anymore. They lie around. They may stop eating. They may lose control of their bodily functions, or of their limbs.
If too many of these things start happening too severely, the pet's quality of life is mostly gone. The pet may appear that he's already checked out of this world. If it looks like that, he probably has.
A more abrupt ending happens when the pet starts attacking other pets — or people — for no good reason. That's what happened to my favorite dog. First, he took a nip at the landscaper. Then he took a nip at my wife. When he took a nip at our daughter (who was five at the time), that was it. Sorry. Three strikes; you're out.
When the pet is old and things like this happen, fixing the problems becomes a really hard sell. The bottom line is probably large. And for what? A few months, maybe?
I believe that it's not a completely pragmatic decision to euthanize a pet. I also believe that it's not a callous decision to put the pet down. It's also merciful. As hard as it was, we knew that it was time. As hard as it was, we knew that the dogs had had good lives, and that life wasn't good for them anymore.
It's never an easy decision to say goodbye to a loved pet. But it's usually a clear decision.
It's not a bargain either for the pet or the owner to hold on beyond that moment of clarity.