When she knew her dog Kane was going to be euthanized, Da’Niyah Belmont got co-workers to cover her shift at work. She wanted to give Kane and herself one last day to remember each other by.
“I was like, ‘This has to be like the best last day ever. As much as I can make it,’” Belmont said.
Belmont, a 21-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama, got Kane when she was in third grade. They had grown up together, and he was a beloved member of her family.
“He just really changed my life. I was petrified of dogs before we got him. When they brought him home I was like, ‘No.’ And I just ended up loving him, and he was my best friend,” Belmont said.
By December, Kane’s health was declining quickly. Belmont and her family noticed that he no longer was moving to greet and be with them. The pitbull-mastiff mix usually loved eating but no longer had a big appetite. He was needing help being carried upstairs and staying on his feet. A veterinarian told Belmont’s family that a tumor was spreading rapidly inside Kane and recommended that it was time for him to be put down.
On the day of the euthanasia appointment, Belmont woke up early so she and her family could make the most out of Kane’s last day.
“We opened the blinds. It wasn’t dark in the house. We cooked, and I just sat there and petted him and just tried to keep it fun, keep the energy up,” Belmont said. “Of course, when the time came, it was sad, but I didn’t wanna just be like, ‘Oh, his last day I just sat in my room and cried.’ Like, I wanted to spend time with him.”
Belmont went out and got Kane treats, including a Starbucks pup cup and a chocolate cake pop. “He ate it up, but he loved everything,” Belmont said.
And then she documented her last bittersweet day with Kane on TikTok, where it has been seen by over 1 million people.
“I didn’t expect it to blow up. I more did it for me and my family and, like, friends who knew him,” Belmont said. She said planning Kane’s last day helped her heal, and she recommended doing the same if you can.
“I really felt at peace with our decision and how I got to spend the last day with him,” she said.
Belmont is part of a growing trend of pet owners being more open about their grief online. Search #dogslastday or #catslastday on TikTok and prepare to have your heart broken by the lengths pet parents go through to make their pets’ last moments special.
Belmont said she occasionally rewatches her video and thinks TikToks like hers are ways for owners to build a lasting memory and for other pet owners to get ideas for how to process their grief.
“I can always go back and watch it and like see him, like, lively and… see how I affected his life and see how happy I was with him,” she said. “But I feel like also it helps other people cope and see ideas that they might do for their dog when they’re in that situation, or cat or any animal, you know?… I feel like it’s good for everyone to see it.”
We spoke to Belmont and other pet owners about how they planned or are currently preparing for their pet’s last day. Here’s what they shared on what has helped, along with tips on how to cope if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Preparation and quality time can help ease the grief of your pets’ last day.
Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is an unfortunately common grief many of us go through, but planning can make it easier on pet owners and pets alike.
Analee Gold, of Camarillo, California, is preparing to soon say goodbye to her beloved cat of more than 14 years, Bugga Bean, who is dealing with acute renal failure.
Gold plans to have Lap of Love ― a nationwide in-home pet euthanasia and hospice organization ― provide in-home euthanasia later this month, and she said she has been reflecting a lot on how she wants Bugga Bean’s last day to go.
The last day will include an epic meal of “the most amazing cheese, fish and shrimp burrito in the universe” and a music playlist for them to listen to when the vet is there, she said.
“I live in a house [where] I have people who are allergic to cats, so he doesn’t get to roam the house a lot, but all of these people are going to be out of town on the date that I chose,” she said. “My bucket list is like: You get free range of the house, you get to eat whatever you want, you get to do whatever you want. And then I’m doing a journal and I read to him.”
Gold said she is grateful to have the opportunity to plan out end-of-life-care this time with a pet.
“Most of my animals that I’ve lost have been in like very sudden traumatic ways. And I don’t have to do that with [Bugga Bean],” she said. “I get to plan stuff out. I get to write bucket lists. I get to take a gazillion videos and photos and obnoxiously post them all over social media and decide how this is gonna happen on our terms.”
For Gold, preparing also means “not being apologetic for my sadness or my grief or closing this chapter.”
“I feel like pet loss and grief are kind of ignored in our society and not acknowledged.
“There are some days that, you know, I look at Bug and I can’t imagine like what my life is gonna look like without him. And then there are moments where I’m like, ‘I am so lucky that [he is] like one of the great loves of my life and teachers and best friends, and I got to spend so much time with him.’”
Look at your pet’s last day as a way to give them everything they love.
“Their last day does not have to be their worst day,” said Christiana Saia, a pet loss counselor who facilitates grief groups with Lap of Love’s veterinary hospice program and has worked with Gold.
“In my experience, I have had more pet owners tell me they have waited too long to say goodbye,” said veterinarian Sara Hopkins, the founder of Compassion 4 Paws, an in-home end-of-life care service in the Pacific Northwest.
To help your pets, Saia recommended reflecting on the quality of death you want them to have.
“What kind of goodbye do you want to do? Do you want to do it in the comfort of your own home or the vet that they love so much surrounded by family where you’re as prepared as you can be, or are you willing to risk rushing to the emergency room in the middle of the night?” she said. “So sometimes that means scheduling the appointment, what feels like a week too early, so that you don’t do a day too late.”
If you have time to plan last days, understand that it does not have to be elaborate or epic to be meaningful.
“One thing about our pets is that they do not mentally know they are coming to the end of their journey ― they are exhausted or don’t feel well. So adjusting activities to how they are in that moment is important,” Hopkins said.
That’s why she recommended tailoring their last days to what they enjoy and are capable of doing.
“A lab who used to love to go to the beach may not be able to walk. Would they tolerate a wagon ride to the beach? … A pet who loves to eat may have all the forbidden foods: hamburgers, ice cream and even chocolate,” Hopkins said. “I think it is important for owners to keep in mind that most pets are just happy being with their people.”
“If they don’t have a lot of energy, it can just be extra treat time every day. It can be having some of their favorite people come over and visit. Or it can be celebrating a half-birthday if you don’t think that they’re gonna make it to their birthday or to Christmas. Celebrate early. Why not?” Saia said.
Saia noted that giving them a new toy or the forbidden snack they always begged for on their last day can also be a parting gift from their owners. “Even on the last day, they can experience something joyful for the first time,” she said.
Remain honest with yourself about their condition.
Understanding signs of distress is also part of helping pets have a good final chapter. Saia said pet owners tend to lose their objectivity as they get closer to the end of a pet’s life. “We’ll convince ourselves that, ‘Well, they wagged their tail when we walked in, so that’s a good day.’”
That’s why Saia said it can be really helpful to keep a journal of what their day looked like to stay objective and to have honest conversations with your vet about a disease’s progression.
Hopkins said that determining your pet’s quality of life can help you know if your pet is in their final days. It goes beyond physical pain and includes the emotional and mental state of a pet, she said.
“While we often equate pain with quality of life, there are many more factors that may be equally as important. Is the pet vomiting or even still eating? Are they mobile? Many large-breed dogs can appear otherwise healthy but have significant mobility problems and become very frustrated that they are unable to do the activities they were once able to do. Are they anxious [or] able to rest and sleep peacefully? Can they keep themselves clean?” she cited as some guiding questions to consider.
When a pet’s last day comes suddenly, there are still ways to honor what they mean to you.
Knowing you have only have a few weeks or days left with a sick pet can cause stressful anticipatory grief. But the sudden loss of a pet you thought you had much more time with can also be devastating.
In April 2022, Jen Meisel, a human services care manager in Rochester, New York, experienced this when she took her corgi Draco to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with bile duct obstruction and severe pancreatitis. On the morning Draco died, Meisel said she initially thought she could bring Draco home.
The vet had told her Draco was not suffering and she would be able to bring Draco home to die if he did not improve within the next two days, but Meisel later had to rush back to the ER when the vet told her Draco was in the oxygen chamber and having trouble breathing.
Although it was hard to witness, Meisel said she does not regret being with Draco in his final moments and getting to tell him that he was the “best boy in the world.” “As traumatic as it was, I will still say to this day I don’t have any regrets about being with him when he passed because I made a promise to him” to be there with him on his last day.
If you do not get an intentional last day, focus on the “many, many great days” you had with your pet before it, Hopkins said, noting that “while the final goodbye is memorable, it is truly just a small fraction of the time spent together ― it is all this other time that built your relationship of mutual love.”
Remembering your pet can also mean celebrating their memory after their sudden death. For Meisel, keeping Draco’s memory alive has included getting tattoos to honor him and throwing a heavenly birthday party on Draco’s birthdate in December, where she got pizza and a cake and invited friends to make their own toy-and-treat basket for their pets.
“That was the first time that I realized I can remember him with laughs and smiles instead of just tears,” she said. During the party, Meisel said she had a memory book in which friends could share what they remembered about Draco.
“When I read some stuff out of the book that I had people write in, I was surprised because one of them said, ‘I think about you a lot,’” Meisel said. “And so it just showed me that he wasn’t only special to me, he touched other people’s lives as well. And that was so meaningful to me.”
Since her goodbye to Draco was not particularly peaceful, Meisel said, one thing that has been especially helpful for her has been to write letters, including ones addressed to him that express her gratitude, goodbyes and apologies. She also wrote one from his perspective of what Draco would have wanted or said to her if he could.
“This was something that really did assist in my grief journey as it allowed me to see what I did do for Draco instead of all my mistakes or perceived mistakes,” Meisel said.
Healing can also mean finding a supportive community of people who will listen, like with the pet grief groups both Gold and Meisel go to at Lap of Love. “Even the people that love me the most and know me the most are like, ‘Are you still talking about your cat? Like, are you still talking about your dog?’” Gold said. “And to have this space where it’s like, ‘Keep talking about your cat or your dog and unapologetically grieve for them’ is such a sacred and beautiful space that I really hope becomes more common.”
It’s a reminder that saying goodbye to your pet does not have to be the last time you think or talk about them. Whether or not you have the opportunity to give extra treats and hugs to your pet before they die, you can carry the love you hold for them in your heart always.
“I am at over a year [since Draco died], and you know, I’ve learned to mourn and celebrate him, but there are still days I’ll look at pictures or I’ll look at messages or a memory will come up and I’ll still tear up and cry,” Meisel said. “I’m always gonna love him and I’m always gonna miss him. It’s just, I’ve also found ways to celebrate his life as well.”