Frankie was not a judgmental dog.
So I was sad, and little bit angry, to discover that some people have used praise of Frankie’s Fund, which is dedicated to helping homeless senior dogs get a great sendoff, to diss others’ ways of saying good-bye to their pets.
As far as some folks are concerned, everyone is required to witness their pet’s final breath. A commenter (on another blogger’s Facebook post about Frankie’s Fund, not one of mine) wrote:
My pet peeve is when people say I couldn’t be with them at the end cuz it would be too hard. I always say nooo you owe it to them to be there to say thank you and love them right til that last breath. Hard yes, but would you want to die alone….
Another commenter agreed, writing:
They need to know that this isn’t happening because you don’t love them but because you DO. Been there done that and assured her that I love her til her last thankful look at me and last breath…..she KNEW I loved her, hated to let her go but wanted her to be pain free and no longer suffering
I am judgmental about many, many things when it comes to people and their pets. Drop your old dog off at a shelter because you want a newer model? You deserve to burn in hell. Mistreat your dog by hitting her, starving her, chaining her out in the cold? I hope you suffer those things yourself.
But being unable to watch a medical procedure after giving your pup a lifetime of loving care? This does not make you a bad person.
Here are a few questions I would ask of the “last breath” hardliners:
- Do you watch your dog undergo anesthesia if you are bringing him in for a procedure like a dental cleaning?
- Do you think your pet anticipates that one tranquilizing injection is going to be different from any another?
- Do you trust your vet to treat your pet kindly?
If you answered no to the first and second, and yes to the third, I think you get my drift. Unless you are by his side freaking out (more on that in a minute), your dog is not anticipating anything different than what he would undergo in the course of a typical vet visit. And when your dog is taking that last breath, he is hardly alone if he is with a trusted vet.
Irrational R Us
Hey, I get the irrationality.
I keep focusing on the moment that the hospice vet moved in too quickly to give Frankie his tranquilizing shot before he was fully involved with eating his ice cream. He balked in fear and I told her to wait. She did. In another minute, you could have bonked him on the head with a bone and he would not have moved away from the bowl, he was that focused on his sweet treat. The second attempt at the shot went fine; Frankie soon slipped down drowsily while he was still eating.
No way did Frankie sense this was his last supper.
But I nevertheless replay that one moment of fear in my head endlessly — which is nutty, when you think about it. Frankie balked at many of the insulin shots I gave him, often trying to run away. Why should the final shot be any different?
Because I knew its significance, even if Frankie didn’t.
When it comes to saying good-bye, you want everything to be perfect — as though that would mitigate your profound regret at having to let go, or give you some control over your grief. The end is never perfect, by definition, because you are losing a loved one, even in the relatively rare case when a pet dies in his sleep.
We all do what we can do
We all have different attitudes towards death.
I couldn’t — still can’t — deal with Frankie’s ashes. And I don’t think I could do what Leo of Kenzo Hovawart fame did with his dog Viva at the end – take her body home so that his other dog, Kenzo, could say good-bye. Does that make me a bad pet caretaker?
Also: The hospice vet warned me that Frankie’s bowels might loosen when he died. I was okay with that (though it didn’t happen), in part because Frankie was small. But I completely understand wanting the last image you have of your dog to be one of him enjoying life, not suffering the indignities of death.
I’m not denying that the moment of death, when life leaves the body, is significant, though I didn’t notice anything in Frankie’s case. It was the vet who told me, after checking his heartbeat, that Frankie had passed. But when my friend Karyn put her greyhound, Painter, to sleep, I stayed in the living room with her other greyhound, Lilly. All of a sudden, Lilly gave a little shake, as though she had felt something. I don’t doubt that this shake occurred at the moment of Painter’s departure.
Karyn was there with Painter at the end, but if she had stayed in the room with me and Lilly while a very kind man gave Painter a final injection, I would not have thought less of her. What counts are the many, many things she did to let Painter know she loved him after she rescued him — not to mention the fact that she rescued him in the first place.
And that spirit of Painter that slipped away? It’s in Karyn’s heart, just as Frankie’s is in mine. You don’t have to be at your dog’s side at the very end for his spirit to find you. This I know.
Perhaps most important: Not everyone can suppress their grief over having to say good-bye. And an event that might be taken in stride by your pet, such as getting an injection, would indeed become fraught with confusion and fear if you were sitting there, weeping copiously.
A Two-Step Guilt-Alleviating Program
But I know that getting over the guilt and shame is easier said than done. So I’ve come up with a two-step program for dealing with not being able to be present at the end, for whatever reason.
1. Ask forgiveness of your pet for not being at her side.
I must have apologized to Frankie three or four times a day for things like accidentally kicking him when he got underfoot or spending too much time talking to someone who had a dog he was scared of. He always forgave me — because he never remembered that I did anything wrong, if he ever perceived it in the first place. And because he knew I loved him.
So do whatever you tend to do to apologize. You’ll receive absolution, I promise — well, at least from dogs, who are never vindictive. I can’t vouch for the cats.
2. Forgive yourself.
Because — and I can’t say this too often — you haven’t done anything wrong.
As for those who would judge others for their behavior at a very personal, individual moment: Don’t. Save your righteous indignation for people who abuse animals, not for those who can’t bear to watch that final needle go in because it pierces their soul.
Did you appreciate this post? I hope you’ll consider donating to the very nonjudgmental Frankie’s Fund, which provides comfort for dogs at the end of their lives; it’s administered by GreyMuzzle.org, specialists in causes relating to homeless senior dogs. I’ve already raised close to $2,000 because of the generosity of many donors, but I am aiming for $5,000 by Christmas, which is only 9 days away.