As an author of books in the pet loss genre, I often receive e-mail where I am asked “Do you think that I did the right thing by putting my best friend down?” The question is always qualified by a very heart-wrenching and moving story about the rapidly declining health of the family pet, which resulted in making the “big decision”.

Almost without exception, the inquirer expresses a deep sense of guilt from having made that choice, which, in all probability, is the real reason for their writing to me…to help them with that guilt. Essentially, I am being asked to approve of a decision made during a period of great duress without much background information. It is a task that I do not relish, but one that I cannot and will not avoid.

Making such a decision is one of the most difficult things a person who loves animals will ever have to do. Our pets are perpetual children to us: children, because they depend upon us for all of their needs (food, shelter, medical attention, etc.); and, perpetual, because they never grow up and leave the nest.

They do not marry. They do not go to college. They remain utterly dependent upon us throughout their lives. When our children leave home, we still love them and provide help when they ask for it, but generally they have their own lives to live and we no longer make decisions for them. But for our furry children, the decision-making responsibilities permanently fall to us.

Is it any wonder then, that when we have had to prematurely hasten their passing, we blame ourselves or feel guilt? After all, they depended upon us and somehow we let them down. Somehow we should have had control and been able to prevent their illness or injury.

The truth is, however, we have no control over such things. We cannot know when illness will strike. We cannot know when an animal will dig a hole under the fence and run into the street. We can take all the necessary safety precautions, feed them the best food, get them regular check-ups, but we cannot foresee the future. Accordingly, from a reality standpoint, there is no basis for feeling guilty when unexpected circumstances force us to decide to help our best friend pass on.

From a perceptional standpoint, when someone is so broken that they feel compelled to seek my help, pouring out their most intimate emotions to a complete stranger, this suggests to me that they could never have failed their best friend by making a poor decision. It just is not in them to have not been vigilant and caring. It is my perception that they could have done nothing to deserve the guilt they torture themselves with.

It has been my experience rather, that such people possess great love and devotion for their pets. Invariably, they will have done anything within their power to extend the life of their best friend if it were at all possible to do so. Indeed, I can attest that some who have contacted me have spent literally tens of thousands of dollars on surgery and other healthcare efforts, traveled great distances to meet with specialists, or sat up night after night all night long trying to provide comfort and care. There can be little doubt but that people who love their pets, people like you and me, will exhaust every possibility to help their animals.