Dog euthanasia: An end-of-life-dilemmas with dogs
Choosing dog euthanasia is not an easy decision. In our efforts to avert our eyes, we say we are saying good-bye, letting them go, allowing them to trod the “rainbow” bridge. It is somewhat easier than to say out loud, “our dog is dying.” I know, because once again I am walking through this field of sadness as my big, beautiful Sam’s life slowly succumbs to the bone cancer that is eating away at his body. I love Sam. He is a king-sized Great Pyrenees, the stretch Cadillac among Pyrs, a noble and beloved companion. He is the watcher and the guardian of his pack and of me.
Enter Samwise Samchild
Sam came into my life a short three weeks after my beloved Waco the Wonder Dog, my first Great Pyrenees — Why am I have so much trouble spelling Pyrenees today? — suddenly dropped dead one fine Sunday morning. I was in total shock. There’d been no warnings with Waco. He seemed in perfect health. He suffered a sudden, immediate shut-down of all his systems and was gone in a heartbeat. Not so with Sam.
I receive the dreaded diagnosis
When a sudden bubble appeared on Sam’s front right leg a couple of months ago, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. In fact, my vet didn’t give him much time. The x-ray showed a clear oval hole above his “wrist” area that was at least an inch long. He thought it would be a matter of weeks, and then the leg would break and the hard decision would have to be made. Sam is huge, even by Great Pyrenees standards. Think pony. That leads to added complications when you are looking at these issues. I worried that I would be dealing with all this around Thanksgiving, but Sam surprised us. He took his pain meds and anti-inflammatory pills and continued on. He slept more but he was himself. Time passed.
Sam stopped taking his meds wrapped with cheese forcing me to go the hot dog route. Two weeks later he turned his nose away from hot dogs. I dipped them in ranch dressing, and he slurped them right up, the motion of his tongue sweeping the pills down his throat. Thursday he refused to eat his regular food. (He’d been eating less and less over the weeks and had dropped from 4 cups to 2 cups and then one cup.) Thursday night Sam refused the ranch-dressing-dippped hot dogs and meds. Friday morning he seemed to be breathing hard. I took him to the vet.
I have the dreaded “talk” with my vet about dog euthanasia
Sam’s blood volume has dropped from a normal 45% to 25%, that’s a 50% drop and not good. We are monitoring his blood volume. He is at a stage where his systems could collapse. His body is attacking his immune system. The vet is worried that Sam’s cancer has metastasized and has gone to the lungs, or that he may have a tumor that is bleeding internally. There isn’t anything we can do to bring him back, and so I find myself at that difficult crossroad where I must help Sam through this period, and, as his steward, make decisions that I would rather ignore. I want to pretend all is okay. Sam is sleeping right now. He looks so peaceful. Yet, inside his body there is pain and there is trauma.
Now I thread the needle of the dog euthanasia question
Why am I writing to you about this? Why now? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have to think things through, and, as a writer, writing brings order to my thoughts now living in chaos. Maybe I hope this will be helpful to someone else. Maybe . . . maybe it’s because if I give voice to these thoughts I will fall into a well, but writing about them will keep me on the edge. These are such difficult decisions, no matter whether it’s a human being or a dog or any other pet. In the end, you know you will not see them any more. They may live in your heart, be seen in photographs, be alive in memory, but they will be gone in very concrete ways. Saying good-bye is never easy.
I am Sam’s guardian. I must do what is best, in the end, for him — not me. I must tackle this looming question of dog euthanasia soon. It cannot be left outside on the doorstep for much longer. We like to think we can take comfort in all manner of thinking, in all kinds of language, but underneath it all, there is only you and your beloved dog. That is all that matters. One is leaving; one is letting go. In the end, they tell you when. I must be open to hear.