“If it were my dog..." The unique pain of trying to decide when to say goodbye to a pet.

Don’t hate me for this, but I have to make a terrible decision about my dog, Florence.

Florence is 16 years old. She’s a funny-looking little mutt, who my husband and I adopted when she was a skittish, scrawny pup. She’s very clingy, but sweet-natured. She was totally cool when our first child came along and she had to move from our bed to a dog bed. She’s put up with the kids trying to dress her. She’s been tripped over, numerous times, due to her need to constantly be close to our feet. But she never seems to mind.

At the beginning of this year, we felt sure this would be Florence’s last year of life. She has a heart murmur, and coughs a lot. She has arthritis, which she’s been getting injections for. She’s a bit incontinent. She has a bad leg.

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Video by MMC

A few months ago, we came close to getting Florence put down. She wasn’t using her bad leg at all, and looked like she was in a lot of pain. Our local vet couldn’t work out what was wrong, and said she probably wouldn’t survive surgery under general anaesthetic, anyway.

Our kids prepared to say goodbye to Florence. As she lay by the heater on a blanket, they brought their toy stuffed dogs to her, to keep her company. They read aloud to her from their Dogman books. They told her what a good dog she’d been.

My husband was interstate and asked if we could wait a couple more days before we had her put down. So we put her on some strong painkillers and waited a couple more days. And then, miraculously, she started using her leg again.

But last week, we noticed a bit of metal poking out of Florence’s bad leg. She’d had cruciate ligament surgery on the knee many years ago, and a suture had come undone and was working its way out. The vet told us that if we didn’t do anything, she would get an infection and die. But he felt she probably wouldn’t survive surgery.


So we made an appointment to have her put down. We asked the kids if they wanted to be there, and they immediately said yes. There were tears, lots of tears. We talked about how, when a much-loved pet is old and very unwell, the kindest thing you can do is make the decision to let them go.

We fed Florence homemade sausage rolls. We took photos of her licking the crumbs off her nose. We patted her and told her again what a good dog she was.

But when the time came to take her to the vet, we couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t. She was still healthy enough to enjoy sausage rolls. We got a referral to a specialist surgeon instead, to see if he thought anything could be done.

He did. He thought Florence should get blood tests and x-rays, then have surgery. He said it might be a simple operation, or it could be complicated and go on for a long time, in which case he’d ring us up and then we could make the decision whether to have her put down during surgery or continue. He couldn’t give us an exact cost, but it would be somewhere in the thousands. She would also need follow-up surgery, to fix her knee properly. He agreed there was a chance she might not survive being under the general anaesthetic, but he thought it was worth a try.

“If it were my dog,” he said, fixing us with his look, “I’d do the surgery.”

Years ago, when Florence was young, we wouldn’t have hesitated. But she’s 16, and frail, and – without wanting to sound heartless – it’s a lot of money for something that might not work. I do sound heartless, don’t I?

I asked one of my friends what she would do, and she didn’t hesitate. “Put her down. Cost benefit analysis.”

Well, I wouldn’t have put it like that.

Of course we love Florence. But do we spend an unlimited amount of money to try to keep her alive, or do we just accept it’s time to let her go?

What would you do is you were in this situation? Tell us in a comment below.