C-Dog&Company posted: When is When? It’s about the painful task of pet owners to decide on ending a beloved pet’s life.
Some of you who are interested in my dog-related posts may remember that I had a Border Collie, Spot, who lived to the old age of almost 17 years. He had various health problems during his life, most of which could be handled well. He’s had seizures, diet change got rid of that. Later he had a bladder hernia and only emergency surgery saved him. He recovered well. Half a year later, when he was 13, he had a slipped disk, this was very severe and, again, required major surgery. Back then the vet asked us if we wanted to go through with it.
Some owners chose not to, at that age. The alternative would have been to let him go. I asked about his chance at recovery and enjoyment of life. The vet told us the truth: no full, but acceptable recovery, and a lot of enjoyment in life still to be expected. So we went through with the surgery, no question about it. All went well, and although Spot couldn’t run and jump as he used to, he was still a happy, playful dog. Later, we went through geriatric vestibular syndrome: patience, infusions, back to normal. Then a major infection where the (new for us, in another place) vet almost killed him. He was mumbling something about kidneys, when it was clear to us that the dog needed antibiotics. The SO is a molecular biologist and can read lab data better than most physicians. We were abroad at that time, hence the unfamiliar vet. We packed Spot into the car, brought him to a trusted vet, got a shake of the head about the stupidity, and his antibiotics, and he made it. (An aside: he never developed any kidney problems.)
Later, he had arthritis. You could see the pain in his eyes. But he wasn’t always in pain, medication helped. Walks became slow and short, but he would still jog to chase carefully thrown sticks, he loved to play. He also loved a good cuddle, lived for balls, and still liked his food. We had to carry him up and down the stairs, he became incontinent, carrying him outside often helped. But at times, it was stressful for us (and him). Sometimes we were not so happy with him. But I’m convinced, he still had fun living. He initiated cuddles and play, an got excited when he saw cheese.
But looking at him, he looked awful. Sometimes, he made small, tiny steps. Sometimes he showed stress signs and was panting. Some of our ‘concerned’ neighbours (who have one dog after the other, but these dogs never get older than ten years) actually reported us to the veterinary inspection office for letting our dog ‘suffer’. So an inspector came. We talked. She looked at the dog and found: he’s old. But that’s not a reason to put a pet down, she agreed. Content that we didn’t mistreat our dog, she closed the case. Were we foolish to fight for a very old, sick dog? I don’t think so. Some people say people like us only try to do ourselves a favour, we can’t let go, that’s why we let such an old animal suffer. I disagree. Did they ask the dog? It might give a different answer.
Sometimes very old people tell you that they don’t want to live any more.
Other very old people tell you that they know life ends soon, but that there still is something every day that’s enjoyable and worth seeing, hearing, feeling. People are different. So are animals. My philosophy is: as long as I see the animal still enjoying life, in a quiet way, I’m willing to put up with a lot of work to keep my dear, beloved pets around. The quality of interaction changes, it becomes more intense, more loving, even though there may be bad moments.
A day before Spot died, he became very confused. We carried him around, but he hardly reacted. We decided: tomorrow we go to the vet if it doesn’t get better, and this, now, may be the time. That night he died.
People say: the animals tell you when the time comes. And I think that’s true. You know your pet best. If you’ve communicated well earlier, I’m sure you’ll understand it later, too, when the pet gets old. Still, it remains a painful and difficult decision.