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8News Special Report: When To Say Goodbye to Your Pet

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RICHMOND (WRIC) - Pet owners cherish each moment they have with their four-legged members of the family, but time with them is too short.

Pets age, they get sick and then owners have to figure out what to do.

Knowing when it's time to say goodbye can be one of the toughest decisions owners will ever have to make.

Jon Sutz will go to no limit to save his dog Shayna's life.

"Pretty much anything within the confines of the law and basic morality," he says. "I've never known love like this."

Shayna shouldn't even be here today. At least that's what Sutz was told back in October 2012 when she had her second bout with cancer in a year.

The first was a tumor on her liver. The second, on the base of her heart. Shayna was given one day to four months to live.

But Dr. Kevin Stiffler performed a complicated heart surgery that removed a portion of Shayna's heart sac -- a last-ditch effort that ultimately saved her life.

"You have to walk a fine line of determining when that's appropriate to do and when it's not," he says.

While it was the right move for Sutz, Stiffler says surgery or other treatments may not be the route other pet owners want to take.

Veterinary oncologist Dr. Angharad Waite says it does come at a cost. Oral medications for cancer run a couple hundred dollars a month. Injectable options are several thousand.

"We sit down we go over all the different options, the pros and cons and come up with something that will work for the pet's quality of life and for the owner."

Some pet owners like Jon Sutz hold fundraisers or look to groups like Fetch A Cure to offset costs

"If it's six weeks, if it's six months or if it's six more years we want you to do as much as you can, says Fetch A Cure's Robin Moncol.

But paying for treatments is only part of the issue. Sometimes science isn't enough.

"With my clients, I try to talk about the quality of life and not just having their animal continue as an existence, says veterinarian Dr. Lori Elliot.

That's how Neil Nordheim decided to let his best friend go.

"We had dogs in our family growing up but Knox was definitely my first, ‘my' dog."

Nordheim got Knox when he was a sophomore at JMU in 2002.

The 110-pound pit bull mix was strong through two ACL surgeries, a run-in with a poisonous spider and the first two rounds of treatment for Stage 5 lymphoma.

"On that third one, same thing responded well to begin and then a week later a lot of swelling in his lymph nodes."

"You just know. No one knows your dog better than you and he was just a shell of himself. I decided to be with him. That's the worst part right there."

"It is a very peaceful passing," says Elliot. "And I think most people who are with their pets at that time are glad they were with them at that time and lead them out with dignity."

Elliott recommends a checklist of what makes pets tick -- when they no longer play, want to go to the park or won't eat, maybe it's time

Jon Sutz knows one day he may have to make that decision, but for now, he will do anything to keep Shayna going.

"It's going to be the most painful experience of my life."

So far, he's spent about $15,000 and there are on-going medical expenses.

But for Sutz, there's no price tag on keeping Shayna by his side.

"I met the love of my life and I've done as well as I think I was capable of doing."

All three veterinarians interviewed said the same thing -- learn as much as you possibly can about your pet's condition and treatment options to make rational instead of irrational decisions.

Your vet can walk through the process to figure out what's best for your pet and you.


Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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