Knowing When to Let Go

March 28, 2011

The most difficult aspect of fostering and working in animal rescue, is the death of a foster or a beloved pet. For all the times that rescuers have to face the euthanasia list and recognize that we cannot save them all, there is additional heartache in saving one, only to have him or her pass away before their time.

I have lost several fosters, some kittens and some adults. With the kittens, I understand that they are weak and very susceptible to diseases and illnesses as their immune systems just aren’t that strong. Often they are orphaned, and have no mother to nurse them, and sometimes their mother is around but is sick as well. Last year I tried my hand with several orphan batches and various mothers, but many were not able to thrive.

How many?

Of the hearty survivors, one guy named McGee, captured the hearts of a couple who lived in Queens and they adopted him along with another kitten named Grey Bear. Sadly, today, I am meeting them at the vet’s for euthanasia as McGee is losing his battle against FIP. He’s not quite a year old.


This is terribly difficult for everyone. And all pet owners, at one time or another, will go through this or something like it. Whether the pet is young or old, they aren’t immune to life – just like us humans, they might get cancer, suffer from accidents, have heart trouble, or any number of feline afflictions.

What is different is that as their caretakers, we have to make the tough decision: when to end their suffering. This is an important decision. It sometimes requires us to make peace with the loss sooner than we are ready to do so. If we wait too long, we run the risk of increasing their pain and not giving them a dignified and peaceful death. When all options have been pursued, when it’s time to end the suffering, all we can reassure ourselves with is that we did the best we could and we loved and were loved in return.




  1. Poor young McGee. Heartbreaking indeed and it never gets easier to have to deal with a very sick, dying pet and to make this final decision.
    When I was sitting in Calvary Hospice for over a week, seeing a loved one die, close to my age, I was wishing someone would give her this ‘dignified and peaceful death’. I was also thinking of myself, if I was ever in this position, would anybody be able to get me out of the pain and the misery…
    It’s the hardest thing to do but it’s definitely the right thing and certainly an act of love.

    • He was so beautiful, Heike. Between Dr. G and his adopters, it was really the right decision, although so hard for me to accept. Even harder was seeing their grief, even as I experienced my own. It was definitely an act of love – he was very well-loved. I can’t imagine not having the power to grant peace to someone who is suffering – a terrible ordeal.

      • Amy, I’m so sorry about McGee, and so sad for his adopters. I had a foster kitten last year who was tiny and died of pneumonia. I cared for her for less that 24 hours but I was completely devastated and cried for hours. These wonderful creatures can steal our hearts in an astonishing way. I still pine for our dog, Daisy, who died 6 years ago. I have her picture in our front hall, because I would always hear her scrambling to come greet me when she heard the key in the door. I waited too long to euthanize her, which still devastates me to think about. I don’t believe in Heaven, but when I wish for one it is mainly so I could see my lost pets again (with a few humans thrown in as well.)

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