I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for days but was stymied both by doubt of how best to share my desired message and in part because my dearest, greatest dog of my life is dying and that was overwhelming me.
If you know me very well at all, you know that one of my dogs Tag, was diagnosed with cancer (actually canine hemangiosarcoma) over a year ago when I found a lump in his spleen. A splenectomy and five rounds of chemo later, he was doing great and outliving his original prognosis of 3 to 6 months by leaps and bounds.
Until 14 days ago when he suddenly took a turn for the worse and I was rushing him first to the local emergency clinic and then to MedVet in Columbus.
All of which has consumed my mind and heart in a way that even the thought of writing was ridiculous. I could barely eat, let alone sit down and try and share my feelings. And still do not intend to attempt to write about how I feel about this great dog. At least not yet. That’s not the message I want to share now anyway.
And please no words of condolence or sorrow, as that’s not the point of this blog either. In fact that’s the opposite since I’m happily enjoying each bonus day I have with him and this is no time to be sad.
The point of my writing and why I now feel driven to share a little of what’s been going on is what I realized in this process. I hope in sharing with others, someone might learn to trust their instincts. Trust what they know and believe in, even if others may be tempting you to believe otherwise.
A little background probably is necessary in order to provide some context for this story.
In terms of his condition, Tag is 13ish and while arthritis has stiffened his gait and a degradation in hearing are demonstrative of his age, at the same time his health has been amazingly good despite the cancer. Chemo did little to slow him down and while a little lost hair around his collar and nose were the only visible physical signs, he remained the happy and perky dog he’d always been sans a few grey hairs on the muzzle the chemo seemed to accentuate.
But when I arrived home one evening two weeks ago and found him dribbling bloody urine as he greeted me, I was understandably alarmed. When he strained to urinate repeatedly to no avail, I would immediately whisk him off to the local emergency vet. They would find he was anemic, had developed a heart murmur (slight but present) and Xrays hinted strongly at possible growths in and around the liver area. Dr. Conlin was alarmed and encouraged me to consider a trip to Columbus to MedVet for an ultrasound. And to do so swiftly. He’d send me home, after relieving Tag’s bladder with a catheter, with meds, some advice but with little hope.
By 11 a.m. the next day, Tag would be admitted as an emergency patient at MedVet. Very familiar to us both since we’d been there before when they’d diagnosed his cancer a year ago in April, they had also removed his spleen and developed his chemotherapy protocol in their fantastic cancer center. I requested an ultrasound and any other tests they felt beneficial and only asked that Tag stay with me as much as possible to minimize stress.
Tag is very in tune with me and I him and the only thing that Tag truly gets upset about is leaving me. (Well that and having his nails trimmed.) I’ve done it rarely in our 12 years together…once for his neutering, once to get his spleen removed, and several times during his post-chemo checkups for ultrasounds. But today I wasn’t going to let them take him for more than a few minutes. We both were very stressed and I was not going to add to it by leaving him in a kennel in their lovely pristine examination area. They were extremely accommodating and brought him a blanket to lie on in the lobby while we waited on their own accord.
The results were somewhat as expected and very discouraging. His liver was highly compromised by cancer and there also appeared to nodules in his lungs. To say they were not optimistic is an understatement. Rightfully so, they were honest in their evaluation of what they saw in the ultrasounds and I appreciated their detailed sharing of the facts. When I ask what they felt were viable options, the doctor said “of course, humane euthanasia is an option you may want to consider at this time.”
I’d be lying if I told you that I was surprised by this. I wasn’t. Based on what they saw, it’s very bad. But as Tag trotted about heading off for his ultrasound and then returned to me with the same determined gait, all I could think was “I understand, but not today.”
And of course as I began to explain that very concept to the doctor, he patiently listened, nodded and seemed to understand. You see, I told him that while I understood completely what he saw going on inside Tag’s body….what he saw on the liver and the lungs and what he knew about how such cancer’s acted, I also explained what he couldn’t see or know. He couldn’t see Tag’s heart or the look in his eye’s that told me every minute of that day “Not today.”
I believe fervently in humane euthanasia. I believe it is the last gift we can offer the animals we love. Allowing them to die painlessly and with dignity and not suffer the indignities that we as humans are often forced to deal with, is something that I truly believe in. And when it comes time for me to make that choice and give that gift to Tag, I assure you I will. But not today.
For those that think I’m in denial, I can assure you that I am not. I’m a realist. You see although I knew that I wouldn’t have to make that decision today, I also knew and know that it was inevitable. It had poured the rain down all day but when the rain stopped and the clouds cleared later that evening, I ventured into the pasture to the spot where during our daily walks in the fields Tag will commonly drop on his back in the grass and roll in pleasure. There I dug his grave. Readying it for the day I will have to decide.
It’s been 13 days since our trip to MedVet. And while we’ve had some up and down days, the last few have been great days. He’s eating, energetic, alert, happy to see me and take our daily walks. Slower than normal but he’s raring to go. Granted we may take our last walk today but we’re enjoying each one we have. And I wouldn’t trade these days for anything other than a thousand more just like them.
I don’t share this to discourage readers from trusting their vet or experts. We absolutely must trust them, listen to them and consider their expertise and knowledge in our decision-making. But it is just that….our decision. And in absorbing their words we also must be open to our own knowledge and experience with our pets. I’ve thought often about all the people who might have heard the vet say “humane euthanasia” and chosen to follow that guidance at that moment.
Had I, I would have missed the days I’m having now with my Tag.
I’ve thought again and again that some people just can’t bear to make the decision themselves and the expert’s words are a way to place responsibility for the decision on someone else. Relieving ourselves of that burden. Granted that might be easier for some. It’s not for me.
I couldn’t allow someone else to make that decision for me unless it was Tag himself. Supposing that my vast experience gives me more to go on, I can’t emphasize enough how valuable it is to gather as much information as you can and consider it along with all that you know AND feel. Don’t be hesitant to ask lots of questions. Don’t be hesitant to get a second opinion. Weigh that all along with your own insight.
Undoubtedly I asked lots of tons questions even though I knew the answers to most of them already. “Do you think he’s in pain?” “No, but probably uncomfortable with a full bladder.” We could easily solve that. “Is there anything else we should be doing to keep him comfortable or help him?” Some recommendations were provided.
And then the inevitable question. “How long do you think he has?” The vet could give me no definitive time.
But Tag has already answered it for me.
Categories: Animal Care
Really really great post, and know that Betsy will be calling me crying.
I am so glad that you addressed this issue. My advice to my clients and their furry family members is that they will know when the time is right. I can look at objective measures – body condition, lab results, radiographs, etc. However, I do not live with the pet. I do not interact with it every day. At times I have found myself strongly encouraging the choice for humane euthanasia sooner than later. But more often then not I encourage the owner to listen to their heart. My job is to present the facts, keep the pet as comfortable as possible, support the owner, and when the time comes help the client and the pet through the very difficult experience of humane euthanasia. May you find peace as you walk beside Tag thru this time.
Thank you for you Dr. Haught. I don’t envy your job as figuring out how to support the owner must often be as difficult as supporting the pet. I did not want to encourage readers to “wait too long” nor to look to their vet to make these decisions for them. Hard balance all the way around. But thank you for your input!
I agree Carrie. Chester told me the day and I held up the promise I gave him years before that I would be with him. He did and I was. Bless you both.
What a beautiful post. I’m impressed with how animals are such lovers and fighters. They’re the most amazing creatures and I look forward to hearing more of their stories. Because even when we lose them they remain in our hearts forever because they changed us.
You have such a great way of expressing things. I always enjoy your writing.
Really Great post Carrie, But now I Know why I don’t read them. I will continue to read but you know how I am. Trotter boy not today!!!