Easily one of the worst parts that comes with caring for animals is having to say goodbye. I wish I could say that I’ve gotten better at saying goodbye to the animals who’ve died over the years but in reality, every single time I have to say goodbye is just as hard as the last time.

I announced yesterday that we had to say that dreaded final goodbye to Shasta recently and roughly 24 hours later, the two sheep (Mady and Minnie) were on a trailer to a new home with a flock of sheep and other animals. Both of these decisions hit me a lot harder than I thought they would. I’ve known for months that we wouldn’t have Shasta for too much longer, as his age was definitely starting to catch up to him. And I knew that once their guardian llama was gone, it wouldn’t be long before we would have to rehome the sheep. But I thought we might have a couple more months and losing all three in the span of about 24 hours was so tough.

The decision to put Shasta down wasn’t made lightly. But it was evident that he was in pain and there really weren’t any other possible modes of action for us to take. There were a lot of tears and goodbyes during his last hours but everyone involved agreed: as much as we all wished that he had more time, this was the best possible decision for him.

And we all knew that rehoming the sheep was the best decision for them as well. As a species, they have almost no form of protecting themselves from predators other than just being in a flock and running away. There have been just too many recent coyote sightings around the property and not enough ways we could protect them without Shasta. As tough as it was for my neighbor and I to say goodbye to the sheep just a day after losing Shasta, we knew that it was the best decision for them.

I knew all of these things once we called the vet and started looking for a new home and days later, I still know that we made the right decisions. But even so, I’m still incredibly sad over having to say goodbye to some of the most important animals in my life and I’ve spent most of the past few days crying.

Saying goodbye to animals has always been tough for me but over the years, I’ve really come to accept the fact that the best we can do for the animals that count on us is give them the best possible life. This of course means all the good things that come with caring for animals: treats, belly rubs or ear scratches, exercise and activities. But it can also mean making that decision to put them down or find them a new home, no matter how sad it might make us.

The right decision isn’t always the easiest to deal with and while it might seem like the wrong decision for us, it might be the right decision for the animal. If we prolong their life in the midst of immense pain, illness, and suffering, who are we really helping? This isn’t to say that injuries and illnesses shouldn’t be treated, as veterinary medicine has really come a long way. But there comes a certain point where the right decision is to help them move to the afterlife.

In the last seven months, we’ve had to say goodbye to too many animals. Six chickens, Tommy the cat, and Shasta have all died of old age or a predator attack since June 2017 and each death has been devastating to the little animal community my neighbor has. We’ve buried all these animals on the property in the right fashion and had funerals for them to say goodbye and to thank them for bringing such joy to our lives.

These animals, while no longer with us, are still a part of my neighbor’s property though and like every animal that I’ve cared for, they’ll still have a place in my life. I’ve learned so much through caring for animals and my life is much better for having known them.

If you’ve had to put a beloved animal down, know that as hard as it might be to say goodbye, it just might be the right time for the animal. Tell them you love them and be there to comfort them. Remember all the good moments and remind yourself that the right thing to do isn’t always the easiest.