Last week I found a large package on my doorstep: A box containing three bags of Zuke’s Skinny Bakes.
At first I was upset.
Frankie’s not going to be around to enjoy these, I thought. Don’t people read my blog before they send me stuff/ask to guest post about puppy care? (The answer, in most cases, is No.) If so, they would know what I’m going through.
Then I looked at it another way. Three bags of high-quality dog treats arrived just in time for Operation Spoil Frankie. How cool is that?
That shift in perspective has helped get me through these tough days.
Reading the Tea Leaves
In some ways, Operation Spoil Frankie has proved a bit unnerving. I believe I’ve seen certain signs of improvement. Frankie seems more focused — mostly on food, which had been far less delicious and far more restricted because of his diabetes. I also think that he finds his way in and out of the house — still supervised of course — more consistently.
Was the hospice vet wrong? I began wondering.
I started finding signs of disorientation and inappropriate elimination perversely encouraging. They were proof that I wasn’t making a terrible mistake. Input like the DM that I recently got from a well-intended social media friend only made things worse:
You might consider talking to this animal expert lady Kate. She helped me with my dog and was instrumental in getting him better. On a call tonight, she talked about a German Shepherd 15 years old who was skinny, losing weight, could not get up. His pet guardians were getting ready to put him down. Instead, they talked to Kate and they ended up spending a lot more quality time with him.
Then I looked at it another way — also spurred by someone I know only through social media. Vlad & Barkly’s Dee wrote in a comment:
I don’t think that you are letting go too early for Frankie’s sake. What happens if you wait, and Frankie can no longer remember you? Can you imagine how scary that would be for him? That happens to Alzheimer’s patients sometimes. They become afraid of everyone around them because they can’t recognize anyone a lot of the time. I think it’s smart of you to let Frankie go before his whole life becomes one of living in a haunted house of terror.
Now that is a helpful perspective. I want to keep Frankie forever but not like he is now. While I see some signs that he is doing okay, his life is not going to turn around. Why not celebrate these happy moments in has last days and be glad that he is quitting while he is ahead, as they say?
Getting A Former Life Back
Perhaps a bigger issue is the guilt I feel over the sense of relief that I am getting my life back. I used to be a travel writer. Frankie never liked travel and he is not a social dog; boarding him was not an option. For the first four years after I adopted him, I didn’t have problems finding people to stay with Frankie, though I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him for longer than a week. Once he developed diabetes, however, it was far more difficult to find care, especially from someone who was not prohibitively expensive. I occasionally took him with me on short trips but it was stressful for us both. I went away for a few days at a time, but going to places like Australia or Easter Island — which I used to do on the dime of various magazines — was no longer an option.
I created a different life and, as I wrote the other day, I have not a single regret. But a year and a half ago, when I started researching my family history — see Freud’s Butcher — I found myself frustrated at not being able to do the things I wanted and needed to do, especially spending a good period of time doing research in Vienna. After Frankie was diagnosed with CCD, there was no question of working out a way to take him with me, as I would have done with a healthier dog.
I looked into other possibilities. I have a large house with an extra bedroom. I tried to find a live-in who was studying to be a veterinary technician, someone who Frankie could get used to and who could take care of him while I was away. The trade-off was that the person would stay here for little or no rent.
There were no takers.
You get a pet, you have a responsibility to take care of it. And when you love your pet as much as I love Frankie you don’t think twice.
But that doesn’t mean you’re always going to feel happy about it, especially when there’s a question of your pet’s quality of life. I wrote a post for National Suicide Prevention Week about the stress of being a caretaker: The Burden of Being Irreplaceable (Yes, Even to Your Pet).
I figured Frankie could hang on for quite a long time with CCD. Physically, he’s not doing badly. That’s one of the reasons, I realize now, that I returned to dog blogging. If I couldn’t do my other project right, why not devote myself to the topic that was most on my mind: Taking care of a senior pet.
I didn’t anticipate — at least not consciously — that circumstances would change so rapidly. My decision to seek out a hospice care veterinarian was organic, though focusing on Frankie’s circumstances in a public forum might have helped me to think about it as an option.
Getting a definitive opinion about Frankie’s poor quality of life made me feel terrible — but also lifted a weight from my chest.
Back to Frankie
I am living in a strange, dissociated state right now. I am thinking about the future with some hope, for the first time in ages, but I am also not allowing myself to feel, on some gut level, what a future without Frankie will be like.
Yes, Operation Spoil Frankie is a success, but I could not indefinitely feed him liverwurst and cheap cat food (though I have to tell you it seems to agree with him; he has not thrown up or had a soft stool in this entire time — which is atypical). By the way, Frankie LOVES the Zuke’s Peanut Butter and Banana Skinny Bakes, though he’s not especially keen on the Pumpkin and Sweet Potato or Mixed Berry varieties.
But I digress.
With all my awareness of the ultimate rightness of my decision for me as well as for Frankie, I still agonize. I find myself wondering if Frankie will forgive me. What if he still wants to live? But I know, with every rational bone in my body, that there is nothing to forgive. I’m going to give him some ice cream and then he’s going to go to sleep, never to be fearful or confused again. I’m the only one who will be in pain.