And yes, these are my dogs.
I grew up with dogs, so rescuing and bringing them into my home is a no brainer. Because they are family members, yearly physicals, vaccinations, and good quality food is part of the deal. And when illness occurs, you do everything in your power to make them well and hold onto them. Or do you?
The first dog I rescued was a beagle mix and he was tough. He was not too sure about little kids and strangers, so I was cautious when I introduced him to people. But Buddy was just that, a companion, a buddy that loved long walks, sleeping on the bed despite trying to train him not to, and food. He loved to eat.
Buddy loved nothing better than to take those long walks in the local park. Ripe with the smells of deer and other animals, I could barely keep up with him as we took the walking path around the lake. Being a responsible dog owner, I made sure Buddy got a Lymes vaccine. He had a bad reaction to it and lost the use of his back legs when he was about 10 years old.
And I had a terrible decision to make, did I let him go? Or try to improve his quality of life with a cart?
I choose the cart route. I don’t regret it. Buddy and I had the opportunity to visit with 4th graders at The Lewis School a place for children with language-based learning differences related to dyslexia ADHD, auditory processing, and executive functioning. When one of them asked why he couldn’t walk, I told him his brain – the synapses – weren’t firing right. That his legs weren’t getting the signal from his brain to work. But that even though he was different, he was still a dog. And you should not go near him when he was eating, don’t run up to him because it will scare him, and let him smell your hand before petting. They got it. These fourth graders understood about synapses in the brain misfiring and that even though Buddy was different you still had to treat him the same. I treasure that memory and the chance for Buddy to make a difference.
I do regret waiting too long to let him go. That dog and I had a connection that that was more than I have with some humans. I waited too long because he was getting so weak, it was hard for him to stand or walk in the cart for any length of time. I waited too long so that all he wanted to do was sleep, not even eat his favorite people food.
But I couldn’t imagine life without him. Letting him go was about my needs, not his. I wish we could have had a conversation. That I could have asked, when will it be too much, when will you be so tired, you just want to rest in peace?
The day I let Buddy go, my dad came to support me. After Buddy died, dad and I walked out holding hands and he said to me, “We are kinder to our animals than we are to humans.” I’ve never forgotten it. This article is not about advocating for assisted suicide. It is about the gratitude I have that when dad and his heart doctor made the decision to turn off the defibrator, I was at peace with it. The day Buddy died opened the door to discussing dad’s end of life wishes and what quality of life meant to him.
Coal came after Buddy. A black lab mix that loved everyone, especially our young neighbors across the street. He lived to go to the dog park, engage the other dogs in play and leap with a giant splash into the water after a ball.
Coal was four when he began to throw up bile. An ultrasound showed that his kidneys looked like swiss cheese. As a rescue, the only thing I knew about him is that he came from a big litter, that he was born with a hernia and he underwent surgery for it at three months. How he got the disease mattered less to me than how young he was and what, if any, treatments could make him feel better. I went the route of saline injections at home to see if that helped kidney function. It did not. I asked the vet, when will I know to let him go? She said, “When he stops eating.”
I didn’t wait as long to say goodbye to Coal as I did with Buddy. But I still worry it was still too long. I wish I could have asked him, “Do the saline solutions make you feel any better? Are you hungry at all, or are you just trying to eat to please me?”
Why is this subject on my mind now? Because my mother and I have never had a discussion on what quality of life at the end of life means to her. We have an appointment with her primary doctor next month and I’ve prepped him and my mother, that I would like to talk about an advance directive for her. I want to have that same sense of peace with mom as I did with dad. I want to know her wishes, respect them and carry them out when the time comes.
And now there is Josh. Joshie got sick last month and I wrote about it in an article on anticipatory grief. I’m happy to say that he is back to his old self now that we have cleared up the UTI, pancreatitis and colitis. Getting to a diagnosis meant an ultrasound which showed a 10 cm tumor in his liver, one in his spleen, and one in an adrenal gland. You would never know it by how he has rebounded.
But I do know he is 12 years old. And what I learned from Buddy and Coal is that I am not going to put him through surgery for these tumors. Even if they are cancerous, I will not go the route of chemo or aggressive treatment. He is 12 years old, which for a dog his size, is a good life. He is still playful, looks to go on walks, snuggle, and he is always ready to eat. When these behaviors change, and they will, I will let him go with love based on the lessons I’ve learned from Buddy, Coal, and dad.
What have you learned from losing a loved one? Feel free to leave me a comment here or across social media.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
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