When is it time to say ‘goodbye?’


In the garden, we make life, death, and death-delaying decisions all the time. For the Iris to live, the snails must die.


For the bees and butterflies to thrive, we endure bugs.


And although a plant’s whole purpose is to flower and set seed, we take its buds to extend its season.


A garden isn’t really nature; it’s working with – and sometimes, against it, to achieve our wishes.


With people and our animals, we often work against nature as well. But life-extending and ending decisions are obviously different. Key factors enter the equation: how much can they – or we – bear? Is it better to say goodbye today, or extend today into as many tomorrows as we can get? Is it too soon? Or too late?

People (hopefully) draft directives to guide and free us from the burden of these decisions. Not so our pets, who look to us to ‘know.’

There are “five freedoms” that guide rescue. They are helpful, as well, when faced with the impossible and emotional life and death decisions made for our animal family members.

Freedom from hunger or thirst: is my pet able to feed and drink, or am I able to assist without causing the animal undue distress?

Freedom from discomfort: there are times we choose painful courses of treatment when it means many good future years, but for those with a terminal illness, ask: is my companion comfortable while living with the disease?

Freedom to express (most) normal behaviors:
can they still do the things that make them happy?

Freedom from pain, injury or disease:
can pain be managed at an acceptable level; will the proposed treatment create further complications that jeopardize quality of life?

Freedom from fear and distress: can a better quality of life be achieved by declining life-extending treatments, even if it means fewer tomorrows?

The right choice isn’t always the easiest one.

I’m thinking of my sister and her husband who, yesterday, made the right decision at the right time for our father’s dog.


Had they not taken Butterscotch into their home six years ago, they would not have been faced with this weight or today’s sadness. But Butterscotch would not have had six years of love and happiness with them, either. Her post is here.


At 16, Butterscotch showed my sister the signs, and she had the courage to see them. Butterscotch earned her freedom from this earth and what had become its pains. And my sister and her husband earned their guardian angel wings.

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” ~ Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Fly free, sweet Butterscotch. Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge.

Published by


I am a nascent gardener, rescuer, and photographer, chronicling the journey of the dogs at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary near Sacramento, CA - and the Memorial Garden we have devoted to them.

21 thoughts on “When is it time to say ‘goodbye?’”

  1. We would not have missed the blessing of Butterscotch for the whole world. It would be hard to imagine a much better dog.

  2. You and your sister have big hearts and write so well, you speak for most of us who can’t express ourselves…
    A beautiful tribute to a sweet dog.

  3. I can honestly say, I feel their pain. We had a Cairn that just became so sick she couldn’t eat and it was time. Then we had a wonderful Collie mix rescue that made us smile every day for about twelve years with her pleasing personality, but the day came when her hips (from playing the great game of frisbee ever) gave out. We stopped playing frisbee with her and would hide it, but she would search until she found it and hold it in her mouth and look up at us wondering what in the heck was wrong with us. We buried her under her favorite Willow tree. May Ginger and Butterscotch meet up and get acquainted. 🙂

    1. I think Butterscotch would like that very much! So hard to say ‘goodbye’…but so worth it to have had them in our lives.

  4. Heartbreaking, and it never gets any easier. Our condolences to the family. Beautifully said, and such a beautiful pup Butterscotch was, and is now as she tries her wings, free of age and pain, on the other side of that bridge.

  5. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking to learn the backstory on Butterscotch, so well loved. The goodbye is so incredibly painful, but what wisdom and courage to make that decision! Blessings to you all. ox

  6. All I can say is Well said, really, well said. I have been there. Chose fewer good days than long painful treatments that maybe would have helped for a few extra months. Butterscotch had 16 yrs. 6 wonderful loving ones. I’m sure she is grateful for the caring decision that was made for her. Many Blessings to you, your family and of course Butterscotch 🙏🏻🐾💛🌹

    1. Butterscotch was lucky to have many other wonderful years with our Dad and his wife as well. I know they are smiling to be reunited with her now.

  7. Im sorry, I didn’t realize your mom and dad (and family) had Butterscotch her entire life time. I’m sure they are reuniting with mounds of love.

  8. Thank you for writing this post. I can imagine sharing it others in the future as well, those that have a hard time letting go, even when it’s time. I’ve never shirked from that responsibility, though it is never easy (nor should it be). Easing them out of the world is far more humane than it once was. It’s good to celebrate the years we do have. We’ve taken in mostly strays over the years, a few show up at the door, one or two from a shelter and they stay until quality of life dictates otherwise. I’m sorry for your families loss. I understand. I’m glad they could make the hard choice when it was time.

    As always, gorgeous photos.

    1. Thank you. I find these guidelines helpful when faced with such a difficult and emotional decision. They speak to the animal’s true happiness when the animal cannot.

      1. Agreed! I’ve just shared one of your posts on Facebook. You give voice to the dogs in a special way. It’s not sentimental, but loving, caring and practical. I love that about you.

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