The last several posts have focused on what it is like to care for a pet with behavior problems. It’s crucial that part of that conversation touches on something many owners will reckon with – decisions about rehoming or euthanasia. Future posts will focus more in depth about pet loss and grief and will include these topics related to behavior issues. But I want pet owners to know that if they are at that crossroads now, they are not alone, and they are not bad people for being in that spot.
The judgment that these pet owners can feel from others and towards themselves is intense, and my hope is that we can start to create more space for these difficult experiences and emotions.
There are such complexities when caring for a pet with behavior problems. Sometimes the pet progresses and does get better. But sometimes they don’t, and the behavior problem gets more intense, even with all the best efforts on the owner’s part. Our lives change and evolve. This impacts the environment that the pet is living in and whether it’s an appropriate fit. There may be new or continued safety concerns that need to be evaluated and addressed.
Making a decision about rehoming or euthanasia for behavior reasons is hands-down one of the most heartbreaking and difficult places to be, which I know from both personal and professional experience.
I have yet to meet an owner who comes to that decision lightly and without their own struggle – with feelings of guilt, feeling like a failure, intense self-judgment, and doubt. There is so much sadness and grief.
What I wish that we could give to them is:
- open-hearted acknowledgement of the difficulty of the choice before them
- reserved judgment to create the space for understanding their individual situation
- professional qualified behavioral support in their assessment and evaluation of their family’s options
- pet loss support for their complex and complicated grief
For those of you at this crossroads, my heart breaks for you. I hope that you can find support in your community and with your pet professionals.
You are not alone.
A helpful resource to navigate these decision is this handout developed by OSU’s Honoring the Bond program as well as Patricia McConnel’s blog post on this topic. I’ve also included this story and this one of traversing this painful path – thank you to these pet owners for sharing your stories with us.
Kristin Buller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Certificate in Veterinary Social Work. Kristin lives in Chicago with her husband and their dog, Ruby. For more information on Kristin, visit www.kristinbuller.com.