It’s common knowledge that I take in dogs with health problems, those that are aged, or that have a special need. Along with my Pyrenees, I’ve always been drawn to those that have little chance of making it out of jail. Seniors are a soft spot for me because in my opinion, leaving the world unwanted after a lifetime, be it good or bad, is the coldest, most distressing and stabbing pain to endure. I think of humans and animals alike, sitting alone in solitary sadness knowing that death is around the corner…it’s unfathomable. Therefore, I love to welcome them into my home. Then, the dogs enveloped in fear…I want them to find happiness and their smile. The gigantic “beast” that so many look at with hesitation because they’re intimidated by size…I want the world to see their gentle, kind and affectionate dispositions.
So, they come into rescue and we love them.
This “job” is both rewarding and devastating. I include devastation because when you choose to focus on these particular groups you face trials that are painful. It’s not uncommon to find yourself making the decision of whether or not to let one live in anguish or cross the dreaded bridge. In all of my years and in all of the losses, I’ve never found the perfect equation to make the decision exact. In fact, I think it gets harder each time. Knowledge does you little good.
This year I’ve lost 5 dogs in 4 months – 3 personal dogs and 2 rescues. Honey, and Anna were rescues, while Hogan, Lily and Ewok were my personal babies. I lost Anna and Hogan in 10 days, just over a week ago, and even feared I was losing another of my own babies as I sat in the Emergency Clinic only two days after losing Hogan. Fortunately I did not, and he’s still with me…but it surpassed nerve racking. All but Honey died of some form of cancer, and poor Honey passed in surgery from a failed liver, prohibiting the ability for us to hold her as she left. All were seniors minus Anna, who was just dealt the wrong card at an early age.
Adding this all up forced me to really ponder the inevitable “decision” we face as pet parents.
I won’t write another sad blog about Hogan, although his passing ripped beyond deep. I had to make a decision based on the past, present and future, and as he smiled at me I had to let go. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, but I couldn’t let him feel good for a few more hours or a day for my own feelings, only to watch him spiral downhill. As tears rolled down my face his ears perked, his eyes widened, and he rushed over to my rescue to make sure I was okay…it was both beautiful and stabbing. In the end I had to say goodbye in order to prevent further pain, and to me it was an important choice. My darling Hogan was a favorite of many and left the world too soon, but I refused to allow a dog so happy with life to face the oncoming anguish.
So, as I thought of the numbers, their passing and how I sat with them, desperately wanting to avoid the distance growing between us, I wondered how it is that letting them go doesn’t get any easier. When we are faced with the news, the facts and the choice, we weigh the options and wonder… how do you know if it’s too soon, not soon enough, or if it’s the perfect moment?
I will do whatever is necessary to keep a pet alive. I will feed specific meals, give meds 2 or even 3 times a day even when it’s hard, schedule my days around caring for the dog and spend multiple hours sitting at the veterinary hospital. I’ve even built things to assist the pet. If the animal needs something I will provide, be it a rescue or my personal dog. I will not, however, hold onto a dog who’s pain I cannot subside, who is suffering without cure, or who is exhausted and ready to go home to heaven. I will not put off euthanasia to satisfy personal needs or rid the guilt of not being able to do more. I feel that if we as pet parents do not make this determination that it’s unfair to the animal, for keeping a pet longer for personal benefit when it’s suffering is, in my opinion, inhumane. In addition, I think giving up on a dog who needs a little more work is self serving and irresponsible. I understand finances just as much or more than the next person, believe me I do, but researching, being stubborn, not giving up, and working closely with your veterinarian are ways of making progress when hardships are plenty. It’s difficult and even frightening, but we must properly care for those who we’ve taken under our wing, considered family, and provided guardianship. It’s the only way. Now, in saying that, once I faced the fear of not being able to provide a medication costing me $150 per month (for over 5 years at that point) – one that was required to live. Failure overwhelmed me. I knew that if I didn’t somehow get the money within a few days I’d have to euthanize the dog vs. let him crash and die a horrific death. I was fortunate that I found the fiances, and he lived at least another 3 months. However, had I not been able to do so, the responsible thing at that point would have been to let go. Point being, it’s a fine line, no doubt. Yet it’s important to fight hard and not walk away from the battle too casually.
So when we’ve given all we’ve got, only to find ourselves sitting in the exam room with our pet, the doctor’s diagnosis and list of choices, none of which are good, what do we do? How do we know the right decision? How do we know if the moment calls for a farewell or another shot? Time and time again I have beat my head against the wall despite my so called knowledge. I have listed, weighed, tossed around…you name it. Some of the time it’s allowed me to have even another day with a happy, playful dog. Other times I’ve had to face the damning.
I had a vet tell me one time to think in terms of “dog.” He said to think of the animal’s loves, and if he/she still loves to do it. If the dog has no desire to chase the favorite toy, or if there’s no excitement over a treat, for example, I know that a decision needs to be made. This varies from time to time, and often is a good rule of thumb. I have also used the logic in medicine and process of decline. When I see that no matter what medicine or therapy is provided, when a surgery or treatment does no good or is limited, I know that the animal in front of me deserves more than my pining away over the loss. I learned that there’s a certain amount of respect that you should give your pet and that allowing them to fail further to the bitter end is not always the answer. I’ve also learned that you can do more at times and not worry too much too soon. I’ve learned that a cancer diagnosis isn’t always immediate death and that even 1, 2, or 3 more months can be rewarding. I’ve also accepted that in a single vet visit I can lose my darling companion.
Still, I stagger.
Obviously, it differs from one pet to another and from one medical case to the next. However, with those that I’ve lost I’ve come to only one conclusion. It’s about the animal, not about me.
I’ve not always done it right, believe me. I held on when I didn’t need to, missed a sign, tried too hard, and sometimes wondered if I let go too soon. Should I have done just one more thing? I’ve known, though, that when they left me they knew they were loved. That’s the one thing I know I did right.
So, I’ll leave you with what I do understand. Animals deserve the respect of life and death. Animals deserve the kindness of additional efforts and the kindness of letting go. We owe this to them. Additionally, having a caring and honest veterinarian who allows you and your pet to lean on him or her is priceless.
Lastly, I feel that two things are very important: Listening to your pet and thinking ahead to your pet’s future, both short and long term. I feel it’s served me well each time I faced the dilemma. Mentally or physically write them down and absorb the reality. If you do, I think you’ll find your answer, be it “Let’s go home and get a treat!” or “I’ll miss you, my dear friend.” Either way, hopefully it will provide you with peace, and the focus of your memory will be the joy of your pet, not the loss.
God bless you and the love shared with your pet.