How do you say goodbye to a dog?

Our dog died. Well, we put him down. Put him to sleep is what the vet in Boston said. Maybe “to put down” is only for a goat or a pig. I’m not sure.

We knew Sparky would die soon because the vet wouldn’t operate on his cancer. His heart wasn’t good enough. He seemed so healthy so I told myself I’d get a second opinion. But he got unhealthy so fast. So I just thought I’d go back to the vet to see if he’s in pain. Then he bit the cancer spot and there was blood everywhere. Then I stayed up with him for two days. Holding him so he wouldn’t bite the spot more. I took him outside. I gave him water. Sometimes the boys pet him, when they weren’t grossed out. Then Sparky started snapping at us. Growling. It was clear he was in a lot of pain.

The boys felt guilty that we let it get this painful.

Oh god. Please god don’t let it be this painful for me. The boys cried and pet him. They woke up in the middle of the night to pet him. I took him to the bathroom with me because I didn’t want him to bite his foot. We thought of putting a cone on him, but that would just make his last days alive even more terrible. So I was a human cone. I relented a few times and just let him bite at the wound. I thought maybe it was like scratching an itch. It would feel good.

Nino cried. Not in front of us, but I have known him for a long time and I know what his eyes look like after he cries. I was touched because he was mostly scared of Sparky. Nino sat across from me and the boys and Sparky when the vet gave Sparky the relaxant. Sparky was in my lap and the boys were petting him and I pet the boys while they cried. I wanted to pet Sparky. I had to work hard at being a good mom. I wanted to curl up on the sofa with my dead dog and just be done with life for right now. I can see, for a second I could see, how those people end up locked up in their house with their dead relative who they love so much they can’t let go. That could be me.

Wait. Are there people like that or did I make that up? It doesn’t really matter. I cannot even be that crazy for one second in front of the boys. I didn’t cry. Or maybe one tear. But not much. I just was strong. And I told myself don’t worry. I can do this. I will be fine. I have already lost so much.

Sparky yelped and snapped when the second needle came. I had to hold his mouth shut which was hopefully not the last thing he remembers about me. For a second I thought about if I had a choice. I didn’t. We had to do the needle. So I was really strong with him. I held him so strong because we just had to get the needle in. I didn’t tell the boys. I hope they don’t remember. Maybe like I don’t remember how painful it was to give birth. Like how I only remember the good stuff.

There is blood on the sofa where Sparky and I slept for two days. I tried so hard to give him what he needed. And I didn’t sleep. It looked like he was dying in his sleep at one point. He was laying so still on the sofa. Then he was heaving, but long waits in between breaths, and he hadn’t opened his eyes in a while. I got nervous, so I picked him up. Woke him. Wrapped him in my arms and talked to him in my special only for Sparky voice.

It’s very intimate to take care of someone dying. Well, he’s not a someone. But it was still intimate. I didn’t want him to die before the kids could say goodbye. I didn’t want to let the boys down. We were all in it together.

42 replies
  1. Autumn Moss Peñaloza
    Autumn Moss Peñaloza says:

    Penelope I’m so sorry for your loss. How beautiful for you to wrap him in your love so fully in his final days. I’m sure he’ll remember that most. I think we say goodbye to pets the same way we say goodbye to anyone we love. He was part of your family. You grieve him, and when you’re ready, let him go, knowing he’s with you and your boys forever. Forever in your heart. And if you’re like me you will probably see him out of the corner of your eye for months to come. :) Sending you hugs.

  2. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    Thank you for sharing the reality of this. We found out Monday that our 11 year old dog has a liver tumor, and I am terribly afraid I will be walking this path with you in the very near future. I am so very sorry for your loss, and I believe Sparky knows how very much you loved him.

  3. Coriander Rainbeaux
    Coriander Rainbeaux says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I can only say that I know this pain, and you and your family are in my thoughts.

  4. Jeanette
    Jeanette says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I bet he had an interesting life with you! (I would love to read his memoir.)

  5. Pandora
    Pandora says:

    Your story captured the raw pain of something I cannot imagine, but will have to face at some point.

    Hope you and the boys have lots of love and support.

  6. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Oh, Penelope, I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a pet is devastating. Almost harder than losing a human. They give such unrequited love. Good for you for being strong for your boys. Sending peaceful energy. xo

  7. Heidi
    Heidi says:

    I’m so sorry for you and your family. The loss is raw and real. The pain and sorrow you feel will pass with time. Allow yourself to not be strong. It’s ok. Sending you warmth and peace in my thoughts.

  8. DRTVrMoi
    DRTVrMoi says:

    As a pet owner, I understand the joys that they bring and the sorrows we face at the end of their lives. Death is a lesson no one wants to master but your grace and compassion will guide your children in their coming years. You are in my thoughts as I loving gaze at my 17 year old poodle.

  9. Cheryl Lynn Morris
    Cheryl Lynn Morris says:

    Penelope, I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. I’ve had to put several sick pets to sleep, and it was hard.

  10. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Penny, it must have been hard, but it sounds like you did the right thing – my wife’s a vet and she does not offer this prognosis easily, I presume your vet didn’t either. My condolences on the loss of your family member – Sparky sounds like such a fun name.
    Love makes us do strange, difficult, necessary, and or seemingly ill-advised things. This does not seem to have been ill-advised. I can only hope that someone in the distant future is able to make the same decision for me if it becomes necessary.
    I hope you and your family remember the good and forget the bad about Sparky’s life soon. It will happen, you just need time to recover.

  11. Kimmie Morrell
    Kimmie Morrell says:

    Well, I did the crying for you! Still fighting tears as I reply. That’s so sad and I felt your family’s pain as I read that. It IS difficult. They ARE a member of the family. I am very sorry for your loss, but at least Sparky isn’t in pain any longer. RIP, Sparky!

  12. D
    D says:

    Yesterday I had to put down my faithful friend of 10 years. I kick myself for not being good at taking lots of pictures of her. But last night I sat alone in the dark and thought back to all the happy times, going back to when I first got her at the humane society. RIP Frankie.

  13. Shelley
    Shelley says:

    P, Your dog is someone and you never get over the loss and you never fully say goodbye. How can we let go of the only unconditional love we receive as humans? Impossible? I am so terribly sorry for your loss and send you and your family big hugs. xx

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I didn’t know if it is normal to think this — that it’s the only unconditional love we experience as humans. It’s such an incredible relief to have that kind of love. Thank you for saying that, Shelley. You give me more ways to verbalize the feeling of missing Sparky.


  14. Carla Golden
    Carla Golden says:

    Sparky was a someone. He wasn’t a thing. He was a member of the family with a name and a presence. You love him and you miss him. It hurts to lose him because he wasn’t a thing like a book or a table. He was a someone and losing someone is so sad. Sending sincere condolences for your loss.

  15. Anne
    Anne says:

    Thank you Penelope for such a beautiful and moving story about your doggies final days-please Google “the Rainbow Bridge” it is a gentle and wonderful poem about how our beloved pets wait for us-until the time when we cross over and join them in the hereafter…

    I think your boys will find comfort in reading it-the spirits of our fur-babies live on, and they will be reunited with the people who loved them-

  16. Omaha1
    Omaha1 says:

    It’s not so strange that we mourn our pets as much or more than our deceased human companions. The pet never asks anything of you except for your presence and when you feed them or walk them, they are so appreciative. And you surely miss them when you come in the house and there is no wagging tail there to greet you. It was nice how you took care of him while he was dying.

  17. Dawn M Armstrong
    Dawn M Armstrong says:

    Sparky was a someone. He was a part of your family. You tried to do the best for him, giving him as much love and comfort as you could. I volunteer with dog rescues and I have even grieved for dogs that I have never met, but that were supposed to be coming into rescue so we could save them but their health problems just caught up with them before we had a chance to pull them from the shelter. It’s never easy. I am very sorry for your loss. Love to you and your family.

  18. Jennifer Sutherland
    Jennifer Sutherland says:

    Sending my love to you, the boys and Nino, Penelope. It’s so hard to lose a beloved dog, and especially in these at home times. We rely on them more than we even know, until we see them fading. Cancer is hard one to manage in pets, and you did your best for Sparky to keep him comfortable. We have lost both our dogs to cancer during covid, and have spent most of the year nursing them toward our farewell. It’s hard, but I’m also grateful for the time we had for slow goodbyes, and being able to be home to care for them. We have healed our hearts a bit by bringing a new dog home a month ago. It helps. Sending you virtual (((((((hugs))))))))) as you remember dear Sparky.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You lost your dogs during Covid? It’s comforting for me to hear. I know that’s the wrong word choice, maybe. But I am feeling like a lunatic that we have Covid and then a dead dog and just there’s so much and maybe there’s something wrong with my family. Thank you for helping me feel like this is just life in Covid.


  19. sarah
    sarah says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’m going to be super self indulgenent and share my sorry of putting my cat down. Sorry if you don’t like cats.
    I had my Katie Cat for 18 years. She was an orange tabby with perfect white gives and a white bib. She was a great mama cat. After her last litter she got very sick and had to spend three days at the vet’s while I, a junior high kid, bottle fed and washed her new born kittens every two hours. It’s amazing I didn’t kill any of them.
    Many cats, if their kittens are handled too much, will abandon them. Katie came home from the vet and immediately took over. She trusted me that much. Actually, she’d started giving birth on my bed between my knees at 3 am. I had to move her and the first kitten to the nest I’d made by my bed.
    I DO think if animals as “someone.” Just a personal and partly religious thing for me. Katie was my best friend for a long time. I wasn’t great at the friend thing in highschool or college.
    Katie got old. Her kidneys were frequently infected. She lost sight and hearing. She got disoriented at night and would cry till I brought her to bed with me.
    In her last years her muscles started breaking down and fur came out in clumps.
    My mom and I scheduled a day for me to drive three hours from Salt Lake to Vernal, Utah, so we could say goodbye and take her to the vet together.
    I snuggled my baby and my best friend all that night. I wrapped her in a soft towel and held her all morning till it was time to drive to the vet.
    Our vet was very kind. She showed us that Katie was very sick. Her skin was grey from her body eating it and her organs to stay alive. My only guilt was that we hadn’t out her down sooner because she had been so sick and in so much pain.
    The vet let me hold or touch Katie the whole time. She put in the muscle relaxant, and she talked me through what Katie was feeling: very calm, no more pain, then a deep, deep sleep. Then her heart stopped.
    Her big green eyes, just like mine, stayed open. I cuddled her in the towel all the way home. My mom and I cried and talked together. My dad had a small box for us.
    We are farm people, and we have a small plot where beloved horses, dogs, cats, and bunnies are buried. I put Katie in her box and I cried and cried. I was 32 then, but I cried like I was eleven.
    Penelope, thank you again for sharing. I don’t ever want to forget my Katie Cat, and I hope you never forget Sparky.

  20. Jill Talley
    Jill Talley says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, and thank you for sharing. I understand this loss and for me personally there is none like it. On Nov. 9 we had to euthanize our 4-yr old Cane Corso, Mia. She had developed an Osteosarcoma on her rib cage. She only lived 10 weeks after diagnosis. I have had to euthanize two other dogs, but they at least lived a long life. Of course you grieve them terribly still! But Mia was just reaching the prime of her life. Which is worse? It’s all terrible. You have my sympathy and understanding, as does your family. May you be able to love another pet again soon <3

  21. Kelly Harvey
    Kelly Harvey says:

    Hi Penelope, I lost my cat to cancer in July. It was just she and I in a house during COVID. I lasted four weeks, and then got two kittens. I could not bear the alone. I’m so sorry for your loss. You are a good mom, and a good dog mom. I’m sorry that each of you suffered. The end is hard. I know what you mean about just wanting to be done with life for right now. It’s really hard. You have friends out here, in virtual land. I’ll be thinking of you.

  22. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I’m deeply sorry you lost your friend. This is a year of grief and yours is now magnified. I hope you, your kids, and your ex all come closer together for mutual support through this loss.

  23. S.
    S. says:

    Talk to yourself in the voice only saved for Sparky. Maybe on walks, as if he was there? Sounds weird but grief is obnoxiously traumatic. How lucky you have been to be loved by a dog and strong for him.

  24. harris497
    harris497 says:

    In honor of Sparky, and to fill the void left in you beautiful family. Why not take a break to mourn, then go to a rescue and (when they become available) provide a loving home for another abandoned dog? I know it may seem callous, but it is really an act of love. Our rescues were on the verge of being put down before we took them. I think it may be worth considering honoring Sparky in that way, and it would give you a focus for your love.

  25. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    I’m so sorry. I’ve been there many times and it never gets easier. But the amazing thing is as horrible as it is, we somehow have the capacity to keep loving new pets over and over. You are an amazing mom.

  26. Diana
    Diana says:

    I lay on the floor with my cat Muffin for days at the end, when her legs would no longer carry her to the litter box. I lay on the floor with her, in a puddle of pee : hoping she would understand it was no indignity. We had had her since I was five. My mother thought I was crazy. Muffin died sometime in my twenties. After that, I put her in a box in the basement, surrounded by stuffed birds and some of her favorite things. I left the top of the box off, for a couple days at least. Until I was ready. I feel you, honey.

  27. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    Seeing the phrase above, “Puppy for Hannukah” (a music video) I would remind folks not to get “a living gift” for someone else at Christmas.

    Animals are a responsibility, one that should only be freely chosen. I shouldn’t have to say this, but every year people mess up on this one. If the idea is good, it will still be good in January, with no surprise.

    Come to think of it, don’t give me a foundling either.

  28. JE
    JE says:

    I’ve lost many pets over the course of my life. They unfortunately do not have the same lifespan as a human so it’s something that you know will happen one day from the very beginning, but their companionship is so valuable. I’m sorry for your loss. You have the wonderful memories he gave you.

  29. Johnny
    Johnny says:

    Well at least your dog no longer has to live in a world where’s there’s a Sarah Palin. So that’s a huge plus, and should fast-track you through your grief. Sarah allowed her dog to literally be used as a literal stepping stool!!! The dog would be stepped on top of, to say, reach the bible on the shelf. Jesus surely disapproved. But you can’t tell the entitled anything. Anything. Anything at all. They are chosen. Just ask them.

  30. G Mill
    G Mill says:

    This one hits close to home. I had to put a cat down with intestinal lymphoma in November. And our 14-year old dog was diagnosed with cutaneous lymphoma a month ago. He is, perhaps excluding my wife, the best friend/companion I have ever had in my life. Without chemo treatment, he has maybe 1-2 months. With treatment, maybe 6 months, best case. But there could be complications/risks with that. One of the toughest parts is that he is 100% happy right now and has no idea anything is wrong. If he does, he doesn’t show it. I feel a sense of panic/dread about my decision and about what comes next. Do I delay the short-term inevitable? Can I live with the guilt of either choice (e.g. ill effects of chemo vs not extending his life)? I’m dying inside.

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