One of the hardest decisions any pet loving owner has to make is when to let go. 

Cats and dogs live much longer now thanks to better nutritional advice and their owner’s awareness of the value of annual injections which protect against various illnesses and diseases. But there comes a time when a cat has used up all or more of its nine lives. Some of these near-death scrapes you may be aware of; the brush with the car for example, or falling from an upstairs bedroom window. But what about the times when he is out and about on his own and he gets into a dangerous situation that you know nothing about? There is no way to tell how many of his nine lives he uses up without your knowledge.

Old age brings about many illnesses and finally a point is reached when questions have to be asked as to whether the cat is suffering by keeping it alive for longer than is humanely right to do so.

None of us like to be the one to make that decision as we feel we are killing our cat – and our consciences play havoc with our emotions. It’s at these times that the advice should be sought from your local vet who has been instrumental in treating your cat throughout its life. The vet is better qualified than we are at determining when it’s time to call a halt to the pain and suffering that our cat may be experiencing.

In our unbalanced and irrational way, we would want to hold on for just another day to see how this medication will work out; or see whether he does manage to keep food down, or if he does manage to use the litter tray – all little signposts that the end hasn’t come and can be delayed for a bit longer. That there is hope for recovery and a cure is in sight.

But the inevitable has to be faced at some point and your vet will guide you if you are incapable or unwilling to make that decision. Some veterinary practices will send a vet and a nurse out to your own home so that the cat can be put to sleep in its own familiar surroundings as many cats get stressed out going to the vet. Added to your own feelings, which the cat will probably pick up on, it will be less stressful for both cat and owner. There is nothing worse than going to the vets and sitting in the waiting room until it’s your turn and coming out of the surgery with an empty basket and tears streaming down your face.

In some surgeries, they have a back entrance that you can leave by, thus avoiding the knowing glances and stricken looks from the others in the waiting room. Having your cat put to sleep at home avoids that terribly sad experience.

Some people are so distraught they are completely unable to drive their car afterwards, so if you have no option other than taking your cat to the vets, take someone with you who can drive you there and back and who will provide moral support for you.

The cat will not be aware of what is going to happen to it and, beyond the initial prick, will feel nothing. Within a few seconds, its heart will have stopped and the vet will listen with a stethoscope and pronounce it dead.

There are a couple of ways of disposing of your cat’s body. If you are allowed to bury it in your garden (and you need to check with your council to see if this is permissible), you need to dig a grave at least 3ft (90cm) deep. This is to avoid foxes and other pets digging up the body.

Most vets have an arrangement with pet crematoriums that will collect the bodies and incinerate them. If you would prefer an individual cremation, this is possible but you will need to check with your vet as to whether they can arrange this for you. You may have to make the arrangements direct with the crematorium and the vet will hold the body for you until you are ready to collect it for the cremation.

With an individual cremation you can either take your cat’s remains to the crematorium and wait for its ashes to be brought out to you, or the vets will arrange for the ashes to be sent to you if you are unable to attend the cremation. My one worry with that option is that you don’t know for certain you are getting your own pet’s ashes back – and not part of a ‘job lot’.

When I was looking for a crematorium when Biggles died, one that I rang up said I couldn’t have an individual cremation for him. The attitude of the receptionist (at a time when I was deeply distressed and upset) made me realise this was just a business venture for this particular company and I was fortunate enough to find another company who treat your pets as if they are members of your own family – which, of course, to most of us, they are.

There are bereavement counsellors now that you can speak to about how your pet’s death has made you feel and this service is usually free, although you pay in a round about way by your phone bill. Your vet will have details of bereavement counsellors in your area or the crematorium will have details. I found the crematorium that I used when Biggles, Joey and Ellie died were wonderful. They were not rushing to get me in and out as quickly as possible. I could spend as long as I needed in order to be able to say goodbye to my loved one, and they talked me through each stage of the proceedings. It was, to all intents and purposes, a proper funeral for each of them, and I felt better for being able to mark their untimely deaths in this way.

Little Max was the only cat I’ve had put to sleep and he was a stray cat who was very ill when he waddled through the cat flap to avail himself of 7 bowls of cat food on a daily basis. Even though I only knew him for about 8 weeks, I was surprised at how deeply affected by his death I was, and I couldn’t make the decision to end his life. Fortunately, I have a brilliant vet who made the decision for me – Max was very ill with no hope of recovery – and it would have been cruel to prolong his life in such a way.

It is possible to bring your pet’s ashes home with you in commemorative boxes or they can be spread in the crematorium’s garden of remembrance. There are many tributes and memorials that you can have, depending on your taste and pocket. You can have a plaque engraved with your pet’s name, age and dates of birth and death and these can be placed in the gardens of the crematorium, or you can keep the ashes in a quiet place so that when you move house you can take them with you.

Whether you endow a veterinary hospital or practice in your cat’s memory, or put a coin in the can on animal charity days, the best memorial of all will be the memories of many happy hours together.

by Pauline Dewberry


You can read about Little Max here



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