My Name is DesChene Brochtrup, DVM (aka DC).

And yes I am a veterinarian, small animal and emergency medicine. I have counseled hundreds of clients throughout their decision when and if to euthanize and the grief of an ill or past pet. But now I find all my knowledge fails me. I need someone else's opinion. I have talked to all my colleges and friends, and they all comfort me and say we did the right, blah blah, blah. But I don't know if they are right, or just saying what they think I need to hear. I need someone who will tell me his or her honest opinion. I feel that even if I made the wrong decision, just knowing that, I will be able to move on, at least better then I am now.

Here is the story:

Pollux was the older of our two boys (both mostly labs from the humane society) we got him first, when he was about 5 months old, and then his brother Castor (about 12 weeks old) about a month later. Pollux was a very type A personality; we think he had some heeler in him. Castor is much more type B, lab like.

We adopted them about 8.5y years ago (after my first year of vet school). We purposely wanted to get two so that they would bond and support each other, since we knew we would be working long hours. (We planned for a year before we adopt them, what breeds would fit our life style, ages, we move houses so we could get two dogs cause our first house would only let us have one, black coat colors cause they are least adopted, etc) They were great together; Pollux was the alpha of the two, always in the scout or point position on hikes (castor was always between my husband and I), and defending his more submissive brother from scary sounds in the dark and rambunctious puppies at the park.  They would stay in the same kennel when in a strange or scary place (this was their choice, we always brought two just in case) And although both are well behaved, Pollux was an all star since the day we brought him home- he came off the streets, but he was potty trained and quiet, he chewed on one chair the first month he was home and that was it. He was born an old man we used to say.

He was very healthy most of his life, he had elbow dysplasia, but we got him surgery early enough that it rarely bothered him. But when he was 7.5y old he ruptured a disk in his back (august 6th 2008). We rushed him to surgery, and he did well, but he was never 100% (maybe 90% or 85%). He spent 6 months in physical therapy - he hated it, but he worked hard because we asked him too, and he got better. He was able to walk and run 6 months later, but he still had trouble with stairs and he got weak in the hind legs faster. He could not make the long hikes that he had loved all his life. He could not get on the back of the couch to look out the window and "survey his territory". We made adjustment to limit the effect it had on his life - we moved the bed to the main floor (and stopped using our upstairs where he could not spend time with us). Although we put the mattresses on the floor, they were still to high for him to get up, so my husband built wide steps for him, so he could sleep on the bed with us as he always had. We added rugs on he slick floors, etc. Things were going well, he was not the same dog, but he still seamed to enjoy life and tried to do what he used to, and he was able to do most things and that seamed enough.

This summer was crazy. My sister got married in Spain, so we were gone half of June. I was home 3 days when I got an offer for a residency program, which required that I pack my house, move my stuff, find a new house in the new town, find a job for my husband etc, in 3 weeks. We did it, but that meant I wasn't paying much attention to the boys. (Our life revolved around them, we have no two-legged children. Although we both have jobs and hobbies, my husband is an avid hiker and fisherman, and I danced semi professionally 3-4 days a week with a dance troop, our kids came first. We made sure that they got to go to the dog park or wildlife preserve at least twice a week, and usually 3-4 times.) I was in the new town without my kids or husband for 4 weeks. My husband came out that fourth weekend with a load of stuff on the trailer. The car died and we spent the whole weekend dealing with how to get the trailer load of stuff 3 more hours to the new house, instead of hiking and playing with the kids, as we would have. What little free time I did have, although the kids were snuggled with us, I spent most of my attention on my husband, cause the kids were going to stay with me since he had to take the train back and they don't allow dogs. He left that Sunday night, and when I woke up Monday morning, Pollux had slipped another disk and was paralyzed again. I rushed him to my new school and got him surgery, and everything seamed to be going great. He was recovering so well I brought him home Tues, and was caring for him at home. Thursday my husband came back out for a visit, Pollux seamed to get weaker through the day, but I thought he was just tired. I may have been distracted from watching him, because I had my husband there, and he was partially caring for Pollux so I could rest. The next morning, he was paralyzed again. I rushed him to school, he had a 3rd CT scan, and the same disk had ruptured more material at the same spot. He had no deep pain (I don't know how much you know about disk disease so here is the short course: When the spinal cord is compressed, you loose nerve function in a very predictable manner -1) Ability to tell where your feet are (Conscious Proprioception) 2) Motor - ability to move 3) Superficial feeling (skin pinching pain) 4) deep feeling or deep pain (Bone crushing pain). As you get further down the list, the more damage is being done to the spine, and the worse the prognosis.) Pollux had only ever had loss of motor and superficial feeling before. The Surgeons there said they had never had a dog re-rupture a disk at the same spot (ever), and never had recurrence of signs within 4 days. He had lost deep pain sometime in the night. Because I wasn't paying attention I don’t know when it was. But the longer (> 12 hours) without deep pain, the worse the prognosis for recovery. Normally its 50% or so, but with his previous nerve damage, which occurred at a lower spot, so any damage he incurred this time would be additive, the recent surgery and then failure, and the loss of deep pain for more then 12 hours, his chances for recovery (ability to walk and urinate on his own - these were the limits we had previously set, based on our ability to physically carry him, and his personality - he was the type A had to be chasing squirrels, running on the hikes, looking out the window, first to the door to guard for strangers type personality.) His chances for recovery were less then 50%, the docs would not say more specific then that, but If I had been my own client I would have said 25% or less from my experience. I was ready to go through another surgery and see what happened, but my Husband said it was time to euthanize. He said Pollux had not been him self that summer, he was in pain more, and less active, Not wanting to go for walks as much (which had been his life), but just laying around more. (I was not home so I had not seen this) He reminded me of our limits, and what we had thought Pollux would want. And although he says this did not factor in, we were becoming limited on our funds. We had moved, fixed the transmission on the car that had broke the weekend before, and then the first surgery. We were down to our last 1500 bucks, and the last surgery was 3000. (Although the school said they would have made it work) With my husband not having a job here, and me on my residency salary, I was afraid of what would happen if Castor needed help, and we had no money for him. Would that be fair, and would it be wasted if we could not fix Pollux. So I let him go. We brought his brother to see his body and say good-bye. We spent the rest of the day together and then my husband left to go back to our old house and his job (he still did not have a job here yet). So I spent the weekend alone with Castor.

I know that was long, but I wanted you to understand where my questions are coming from.

I want to know if I made the right decision to euthanize or not? Did I give up to early and fail standing up for him? Or because we decided these limits in a time of cool rational thought before our emotions came into play, as to what we thought Pollux would want based on his desires and personality, it was the better decision. My husband feels confident that he made the right decision.

The other issues involve his brother. I felt right about our decision when we made it and have felt less and less sure as time has progressed, and I wonder if its because I feel guilty of the hole it has left in our pack, and the changes in his brothers life that I can't fix.

Castor would always wait for his brother to start eating before he would eat, Now we have trouble getting him to eat on a regular basis (although with our guilt he is not starving, he gets plenty of snacks and table scraps to make up the difference) But even when we are strict for several days, he doesn't eat like he used to. Castor is more whinny and attention demanding. When his brother was here, a walk every 3 days was enough to keep them happy. Now even if we take him daily, the min we are home and not paying attention to him he stairs at us and quietly whines with every breath. Its not an in your face kind of demanding "pay attention to me" - but its a constant pressure.

I go back in forth about a new dog - Am I still in the stage where I would be trying to replace Pollux, or would I bond with this new pup? Is Castor Lonely, does he want a new pack member? But he is so submissive; I don't want the new dog to run his life, when he should be enjoying his golden years. I think a puppy would be too much energy for him at this age - he tires out after 1 hour with the neighbor dog, and then sleeps for 2 days. And although he loves it - the other dog doesn't come home with us. A puppy is in that magical stage where most dogs will accept them and tolerate them, I am afraid an older dog would be more dominant. I am not sure I can find a dog lower on the totem pole then Castor.

We are only allowed two dogs here in this apartment for the next 2.5y of my residency. Plus what happens when Castor passes and we have the other pup - now we are back in this same predicament. We want to get 2 pups again, so they can grow up together like castor and Pollux. And these guys are so well behaved, even as pups. We know they are unusual, and I fear my heart will think no other pup measures up.

I am sorry for the length of this e-mail - but it has been six months, and I feel worse about my choice every day, for giving up on him and for what it has done to our family with him not being here. I swore I would never let money decide the medical care of my boys, and I ma not sure it it did not not. If I could go back in time I would have gone with the surgery. It may not have turned out any different I know. But I am not sure this is what Pollux would have wanted. Do I think I made the wrong choice because its what Pollux would have wanted, or what I want because I miss him?

I tell my clients - you have to make the decision that you can sleep with at night, and at this point I can't. I thought I could when we decided it, but since its 4 am, I can't.

Please help me. I know I will never get over him, and I don't want to, but I need to come to one term or the other with this decision, or I will go mad with guilt over a decision I can't change.

Still grieving


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Dear DC,

Please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your precious Pollux.  It has taken me some time of association with this site to realize that even medical professionals are not immune from this pain, grief, doubt, and even guilt.  I don't know that I can say anything to you that you don't already know.

My words to my own Vet when this subject came up 2 years ago was  "Not one minute sooner than necessary, not one minute later than what is fair to her."  Somebody here at the forum put it a little better... "Better a week too soon than a day too late."  So, we have to go back and take an honest look at the true facts...  Baby is suffering with little or no chance of recovery...  where is the fairness in forcing them to stay?  We prove our love for them by taking their physical pain into our own hearts and letting them go on to a richly earned reward.  I will try to post this link for you .  Save the site to faves and read it when you have time (if you haven't already seen it).


As to the question of another pup...  it's a very personal decision, this must be right in your own head and heart, as well as your Husband's.  Here at my house, we have always had a couple (if not more) dogs running around.  Our latest loss (Starr)  left Wego alone and somewhat lost.  Both German Shepherd Dogs.  Starr had been the unquestioned Alpha, and Wego the submissive one.  After 4 or 5 months, we decided the house was too empty and quiet (too clean too!), so Scout came to live with us  (Another GSD 6 weeks old when he came here).  He respects Wego as the Alpha dog and she tolerates his antics in a very patient way, and they now after some 21 months get along great.  We had no expectations that Scout would in any "replace" Starr,  and he has become his own unique personality even though he's not only the same breed, but indeed related closely by blood to Starr,  a fact that didn't become known until he was already established here.  Follow your heart.  I'm getting a bit long winded here...  I do wish you the best, and I pray you and your family Peace and Comfort.


Tom T
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Dear DC,

I am so sorry for your loss. I have not had any experience with euthanasia, but from so many of the posts I have read, it is a truly heart-wrenching decision that everyone seems to second-guess.It is a frightening prospect for me.

Our 18-month old yellow lab, River was struck and killed by a car while on an outing with my daugher and our other 2-yr old black lab, Shadow. River died on the way to the closest emergency animal hospital 10 minutes before arriving there. Our vet was only 5 minutes away but it was after-hours and the emergency hospital is almost an hour away. It has nearly been 8 weeks.

Shadow who was the alpha in our house eventually refused to eat or walk over the following 10 days. His behaviour in general was really uncharacteristic and pretty unpredictable. He suddenly began to shy away from strangers at times for example, which was completely unlike him. I knew that we would eventually get another pup and found out that River's sister was going to be bred in the spring. We initially decided to wait, but I was concerned that Shadow's health might be affected and decided not to wait. I knew that a new puppy would at least be a distraction. It worked. He wasn't terribly impressed for the first 24 hours, but the new puppy was the distraction that he needed, and he immediately began to return to normal. They quickly became friends, and day by day, we watch the bond between them grow and strengthen. We are still whole-heartedly committed to getting one of River's sister's pups next summer. Our new little guy, Farley is as unique in every way as Shadow and River. They really have their own individual personalities. They are all our babies and we love them all. For myself, my heart still aches for River, but I know that River would love Farley too and I wonder if it would be possible for me not to bond with any new puppy. I spoke to someone recently who introduced a new pup to their then 8 year old dog. I laughed when he said that he sat with his back to them for a full day when they brought the new pup home. When I met and spoke with him, the new pup was 2 and the two were inseparable. You know your dog best. You really have a lot going on at the moment. A new puppy is a lot of work. Only you know how much you can handle on your own until your husband settles in. Best of luck to you and your family and may your hearts continue to heal.

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My dog, Jack, was put to sleep on Monday because of a disk problem in his spine.  He has never had this happen to him before.  He was in horrific pain.  I think he was in pain for a while, though not as severe.  He trembled and cried.  He was panting in pain so much that his stomach was filled with air.  Please read my post..."I'm a mess and struggling with my decision".  It's so long to write.  I feel you did more for your dog than I did for mine, although I was never offered surgery (Jack was almost 12).  I am guilty over not giving him a second chance...you did to Pollux!  He was in pain.  His quality of life was not there anymore.  To keep him alive would have been selfish.  I read on here...to end the suffering of your animal only means the beginning of your own suffering. I think 100% you did the right thing.  My decision was not 100% for me. I am not telling you what you want to hear.  He was clearly suffering. Give yourself a break.  Guilt is an aweful emotion. When you allow so much guilt in to your life you miss out on the joys. Give your husband and your other dog a kiss.  Shower your dog with love.They need you to move on.  Remember..when one door closes another one opens and when you  look too long at the closed door you miss out on the open one.  Feel better.  You are not alone. You did the right thing.  Take care.

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I am not sure about the medical issues described, but my cat died a 'natural' death two days ago because I kept hoping she would get better on interferon (for her feline leukmeia and aids) and I have never never regretted so much not putting an animal to sleep. She looked awful when I found her still warm and contorted in agony from what I guess was a seizure when I came home from work. Her vet appointment was the next day. I did not have the taxi money to take her the vet any earlier because the next day was my pay day I chose to wait. Obviously she could not wait that long. I feel awful and I would rather have put her down months earlier when she first showed the symptoms since she never really improved at all since then. I dont think she gained anything from being alive for the last 3 months- she just sat on the TV and stared. I think it is better to do it sooner than too late.
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Dear D.C
I am very sorry for your loss,and it is enlightening (if that be the right word) to see a vets side.
I think we second guess all the time after we have to let a Baby go,its Human nature.But we are the only one's who know really know our Babies,thoe a vet may treat them over the course of many months in some cases.But I know in my rational moments,when they arrive,after many months,that when that time comes when WE think its time to let go,then it is.We strive to give our Babies the very best of everything,so rationally thinking we are never going to give iup on them too soon,when we love them as WE do.And I know you must have loved your Baby as WE do here,otherwise you would'nt be here.
I hope in time ,no matter how long that time maybe,that you will find inner peace with your decision,and that you will start to really heal.
Love and Light
Fairy Kisses for your precious Baby xxxxxx
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