Anyone reading this column knows the pain associated with having to make the decision to spare a sick or older animal further suffering. And, yet, as responsible pet parents, it comes with the territory.

If ever there was a time to speak for your dog or cat, this is it. They depend on us to use our good judgment on their behalf.

Websites offer checklists to guide us through the process of figuring out when it’s time to let go. A helpful one is found at

It asks you to rate areas related to pain that can’t be controlled, warning that animals will often hide their pain. Appetite is another important area to consider, as is hydration. Healthy animals will eat and drink what they need. Lack of hygiene can be an indicator. Activity and mobility should be observed and rated, along with mental status and happiness.

Review changes in general behavior. Does your pet have more bad days than good? Finally, honestly face your own perceptions and feelings. Are your needs interfering with making the best decision for your pet?

If you have a vet you trust and who knows the animal, he or she can be a helpful resource.

But really, no one can make that moral and very personal decision but you. And no one feels the pain and guilt the way you will, wondering if you have made the right choice, whatever that might be.

We all handle this situation differently. Others who are uncomfortable with strong emotions and don’t understand what you are experiencing might say such things as, “Oh, it’s only a dog.” Or “You can always get another cat.”

Please know that it’s never foolish to strongly grieve such a loss. Our relationships with animals are often the purest and most satisfying of any we have in a world that is increasingly complex and cruel.

Jon Katz writes about this sensitive subject in “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die.” He offers comforting thoughts, concrete suggestions and wise guidance for making a decision, preparing before taking action, dealing with guilt, honoring your pet, and how to make the most of your time with an animal whose time seems near.

That last part has been particularly helpful to me as I watch my 14-year-old companion creep closer to that stage. I don’t leave her as often. I am more patient on our walks as she stops to sniff her diminishing world every few inches. There are more special treats added to her meals, more consciously loving words, more tosses of the tennis ball.

Katz talks about giving your pet “The Perfect Day.” Callie and I are having what I hope will be a year of meaningful days.

There is a fine line in the timing of our decisions. We want, most of all, to prevent any suffering. If we have the time to think through these issues before that happens, we are more likely to make a better decision that will be easier on ourselves and our pets.

Katz wants us to think about and celebrate the ways those pets enriched our lives when they were with us. Consider that we gave them good lives, that we were their advocates in times of need, and that we used our best judgment in the end.

Then, when the time is right and we are ready, we can honor their memories in the most loving way possible by opening our hearts and homes to the homeless dogs and cats that need us now.

Editor’s note: As Shela was finishing this column, Callie had to depart this world. As a pet owner, I know how difficult this subject is to discuss. So I am grateful that Shela could share her thoughts during a time of great pain.