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Dogs teach us everything we need to know. Each dog I’ve shared my life with has blessed me. Each dog taught me patience, compassion, and deep, deep love. Each dog taught me the pain of loss. Each one enriched my journey.
One of our dogs, Buddy (we call him "a Muppy"), has been showing signs of old age for some time. He has cataracts in both eyes, hip dysplasia that has advance greatly this year, benign fatty tumors everywhere, and he’s lost many of his teeth. He sleeps a lot, and has stopped playing.
My husband and I have no interest in taking Buddy to a vet. What’s happening is the natural trajectory of life: we’re born, we live a little, and we die. If he’s in nothing more than a little discomfort, we’re seeing to his care.
Last night, as has become the evening routine, we fed Buddy a can of food. He doesn’t have the teeth to crunch anything dry anymore. So, each night, one of us asks him if he wants his ‘can’. Buddy struggles to his feet and comes to the kitchen, where either my husband or myself wait, a can in one hand, and a tablespoon in the other. Buddy is fed by hand every day now. He loves his can.
A few hours later, we start thinking about going to bed. Buddy knows what to do. He stands at the bottom of the stairs. My husband stands behind him, ready to catch him if he stumbles again. I stand at the mid-point of the stairs, and call Buddy. He thinks about it for a minute, then places a paw on the first step.
You can see he’s debating it. Buddy wants to sleep with the pack every night. But those stairs are bad news. They’re steep and long. He mulls it over, places a paw down, then pulls it back, then places it down again. I’m on the staircase, calling him to come up. My husband is below, encouraging Buddy to press on.
Eventually, Buddy gives it a try. If he gets halfway up, my husband hands him off to me. I put my arm around him, take his collar, and encourage him the rest of the way. Once we reach the top, my husband and I sing Buddy’s praises, Buddy looks at us as if to thanks us for the help, then walks slowly to the bedroom, where his own bed is waiting. He plops down, exhausted, and he’s in for the night.
Sometimes, Buddy loses his footing, and tumbles back to the bottom of the stairs, no matter how hard my husband tries to stop him. Sometimes, he stumbles, and my husband catches him. Buddy weighs 120 pounds. Even with all his might, my husband can’t completely stop Buddy once he starts slipping back down the stairs.
We wait a while, and try again. Each night so far, Buddy, whether on the first try or the fourth, has made it upstairs to the bedroom and his own bed.
But one day, and we all know this, Buddy’s lousy hips will stop him from climbing stairs for good. Then, my husband and I decided, we’ll take turns sleeping downstairs with him. And if he can’t chew canned food anymore, we’ll puree it and hand-feed him a liquid diet.
If he starts struggling with pain, we’ll give him all the painkillers the vet prescribes. And if he eventually can’t move at all, if those hips that have failed him miserably stop working completely, then we’ll stay with him. At home. Our jobs and everyone will have to understand. If they don’t, they’re free to move on without us.
I want Buddy to say when he can’t use his body anymore, and it’s time to go. Animals are much better than us at knowing when that time has arrived. They accept it gracefully and without complaint. They don’t want heroics. They don’t want chemotherapy or stupid surgery. And I solemnly believe that they don’t want to be euthanized.
I euthanized my first dog, Bruno, when his kidney disease was in the last stage. I’ll regret it the rest of my life. I should have administered all the painkillers the vet offered, brought Bruno home, and stayed with him. He should have died with me, in his own home, in my arms. That I didn’t do that haunts me every day. I loved him so much, but sometimes I think I failed him.
It’s easy to see that Buddy’s time is coming: maybe this year, maybe next year. Maybe much sooner. My husband was with Buddy for years before I arrived, and I’ll defer to him on the decisions that will be made regarding the end of Buddy’s life.
But I continue to encourage my husband to avoid euthanization. Let’s try end-of-life care instead, I say, as we do for our humans. Compassion, love, the touch of his family, the sounds of our voices, the smell of our skin and clothes – all the things that Buddy has cherished through his life, I believe he should find comfort in right to the end. And if strong painkillers will ease the transition, then so be it. I believe, I really do, that the end of any life can be full of love, hope, and comfort. Don’t we owe animals this much?
Much love,Barbie xo