Old Dog, Much Loved

Brooke here.

Thanks mainly to medical science but in no small part to higher-quality pet foods, humans aren’t the only ones living longer.   The average life expectancy for dogs is rocketing up; most dogs will live several years longer than they would have just a couple of decades ago.  Which worked out great for me, since Rottweilers are expected to die between 10 and 12 years, and Cutter John almost made it to 14.

I’m writing this because I don’t want to talk about it and a blog post is very handy for keeping people updated on Events, but also because I’ve been struggling with the concept of euthanasia since Cutter was snake-bit or whatever last August.  It is a heavy thing, to kill this animal who trusts you more than anything else, who relies of you to do the best for him no matter what.  Make no mistake: I was sobbing over his body.  I’m crying now, and I’ll probably keep crying for several days.  But if it’s something you’re facing, then it shouldn’t be a matter of if but when, and you’re probably likely to extend the when far past when it would have been moral.

Brown and I been going back and forth on euthanasia for a long time, now.  We’ve kept a checklist of Cutter’s physical and mental status, and each new type of decline was evaluated.  Rottweilers can get aggressive when they are nearing the end, so if he attacks someone, then we’ll decide… He’s been off of his food for a couple of days, so if he goes three days without eating,  then we’ll decide…  He’s not able to stand up without help, so if he can’t stand by tomorrow, then we’ll decide… 

This went on for almost a year, and it was emotionally exhausting.  Just as we thought he had reached the point of no return, he’d recover.  I’ve called the vet’s more than once to discuss that sad appointment, only to call back and cancel.  There’s a good chance Cutter John overheard these calls and said, “Oh hell no!” and willed himself back to health; there’s an equally good chance that Death came for him in the night and found himself at the business end of a very stubborn Rottweiler.  The last few months have been the worst, with one new symptom coming right on the heels of another.  He would recover from the first, then immediately suffer the next, never getting back to a healthy middle ground.  Through all of this, he was still our dog, with the same good humor he’s always had (albeit somewhat grumpier in a get this puppy off of my lawn! way).

Two weeks ago, he had a bad runny nose, which then turned into a steady stream of blood.  The vet said it might have been a ruptured cyst or tumor but it would be impossible to tell – or fix – without anesthesia, which is inadvisable in very old dogs.  So we talked it over and made the decision that if if didn’t stop in two days, we’d bring him in.  It stopped. About six hours from deadline, but it did stop.

(Of course it stopped, because when you attach conditions to euthanasia, you are putting the responsibility of that decision on the animal, and that would be too easy.)

Yesterday morning, I took Cutter and Zu out for their morning routine.  Cutter had stopped eating straight dog food a few weeks ago, and he was starting to turn down the chicken-rice-dog food substitute.  Plus, the nose bleed was back.  So I went inside and called the vet.

I’d like to say something profound like “I knew it was time,” or “he was ready,” or “at least he’s not suffering,” but I don’t think those are anything but a lie.  I didn’t know it was time, and he snarked on the vet techs even after he was blitzed on pain medication, so I don’t think he was ready.  And I know that he was already in pain, because he was on heavy medication for his cancer(s), so I’m not sure that we prevented all that much suffering.

What I’m saying is, I’m still not sure we made the right decision.

But I think it was a moral decision.  Before we took him over to the vet’s, I brought him outside and sat down on the lawn with him.  Since he was a puppy, we’ve made a habit of flopping down in the grass to nap.  Sometimes he’d curl up against me; most times he’d be a few feet away, kicking his legs in the sun as he dreamed.  Yesterday, he just sat.  He wouldn’t interact with me, or smell the grass, or look at the squirrels, or even lie down to rest in the sun.  His good humor was gone.

I’ve been reading a lot about when it is appropriate to euthanize your pet, and these posts and articles… Well.  Neil Gaiman had a line from a post where he discussed the imminent death of a cat where he said of the emails pouring in that “Sometimes it’s uplifting, and sometimes it feels like I’m marching through The Valley of the Shadow of Death of Cats.”  There’s no right answer.  The cruel truth is that no one knows when you’ve wrung all of the life out of your pet, all of the joy and the happiness and the shouting and the memories, and you’re asked to make the decision to send one of your closest friends in the world away, forever.  Sometimes, when they’ve been suffering, you might feel good about it.  Other times, you don’t.

I don’t.  I’m at my computer.  I spend at least seven hours a day here, usually more.  He should be behind me, on the floor where he’s been for thirteen years.  Every single time I get up, I’ve forgotten he’s not there and it hits me all over again.

I put no stock in the concept of the Rainbow Bridge, that coping strategy which lets you believe that your beloved pet is waiting for you after you die (considering the number of fish I’ve accidentially killed, I rather dread this concept as the swimmy little bitches are probably hungry for my eyes).  I think death is something more eternal, more permanent, and your personality is probably erased from existence as cleanly as hosing off the pavement after an accident.  So no, I am not at all convinced that euthanasia is ever right.  But, as you watch all that made your pet into your friend gradually disappear, it can be moral.  And that’s the best advice I can give anyone struggling with this decision.

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13 thoughts on “Old Dog, Much Loved

  1. G

    I’m so sorry. We fought with “when” for my Saedy-dog for *years*; she’d develop something we thought would be terminal, then miraculously improve, about once every two months from…May 2009 to November 2011? Yeah.

    The whole time it’s hard, and you don’t want to think about how hard it is, you just want to enjoy what might be your last days with your doggy. Not thinking about it never seems to get any easier, though.

    And then it’s finally that time, and even though you’ve been not-thinking about it for all this time, it’s still too soon.

    So I am sorry for your loss, and I sympathize a lot.

  2. Celfi

    I’m so, so sorry for your loss. I don’t have the right words to say, all I can do is wish you love and comfort as you deal with your loss.

  3. *hugs*

    My sixteen-year-old border collie had a stroke last month, and I was secretly relieved — and profoundly guilty about being secretly relieved — because, yeah. Sixteen. Deaf, going blind, tumors that the vet said “do you really want to know, because sixteen” about, arthritis, no teeth, losing weight…. I grieved. Hard. But I was also painfully glad that I didn’t have to make the decision you just made.

    Which is my clumsy and long-winded way of saying: I’m so sorry for your loss. It hurts. I know.

  4. Diatryma

    One of the best comics I’ve seen, in terms of how it affected me, said, “In Heaven, you get all your old dogs back.” All we can do for them is our best, and hope.

  5. Annie

    I’m sorry for your loss. I still miss the dog I grew up with (it’s been 13 years) and that wasn’t my decision to make, so I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult this is for you. For what very little it’s worth, internet hugs from a stranger. ~HUG~

  6. Rajani isa

    It’s never easy. For me, last time it was a dog that had cancer – we have a local vet that doesn’t gouge us, so we gave amputation a shot (the cancer was on the bone of a back leg). It was horrible since he’d have some good days and then bad days.

    Just be thankful. He’s out of pain, and you gave him a good life.

  7. When I was six, my parents bought a kitten. The cat had a lifetime of crazy adventures and even formed the basis of a college paper (philosophy and animal rights).

    She lived to be 21 and, alas, I was not there when my parents decided the time had come (I was away at grad school). It has been more than 25 years, and we all still miss her. I miss her in a different way, but still.

    I don’t believe in life after death, but she WILL live as long as those who knew her do. I hope someday to do as well.

  8. When my first cat that I owned personally died, I was talking with a professor about how his life had been so short. I told her I didn’t think I could go without another animal for long, but that I worried about losing another cat. She told me that when she adopted her puppy, the previous owner said goodbye like this: “Live a short and happy life.” It shock both my professor and I, but then the truth of animal life settled in. Their lives are short, and we–as their humans–give them every opportunity to be happy. I KNOW that’s what you did. As horrible as this decision was, I believe you can be at peace. I hope you can find it, because you gave Cutter John a beautifully short and happy life.

  9. I have known people who have claimed love and devotion to animals all my life. There have been times when I wanted to take animals away from people, out of pure concern for the life the animal was enduring. Making an animal part of your family is a responsibility. In my past, I have watched people simply refuse to consider anything other than their feelings of loss when it was past time to end a pet’s suffering.

    You did not worry about cost, convenience or your own sense of loss. You cared, listened, spent time/money/effort to give the dog a certain quality of life. You did everything right. When making decisions like that, there is rarely a “right” time that makes everything clear. The fact that you cared so much is why you second guess yourself now that it is over. The simple truth is that you were looking out for your dog. Every scrap of writing here tells me that you didn’t just HAVE a dog, you were a caring, informed, generous and loving mommy to the big lummox and he loved you for it.

    Grief is something that stays. It’s a rock in the river. Your life will be disturbed, the flow will be different.. until it isn’t. Sooner or later, the River wins and your life flows on. Feel better.

  10. D. Craig Skeens

    i am sorry Cutter John is gone. You gave him a long and happy life. Now, go out into the world and try your best to be the person Cutter John always thought you were. Love hurts the most because it is the most important thing.

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