I was planning to report on the excellent Nestle-Purina Webinar on pet aging that I participated in on Thursday, but don’t yet have the details fact-checked. In the meantime, there’s a related topic — related not only to pet aging but to the recent rancorous discussions about human health care, especially the bogus “Death Panels” — that’s important to address.
It’s ironic that we’re often forced to make end-of-life decisions for dogs, who can’t tell us what they want, but are often prevented from carrying out the wishes of humans, who can. Perhaps we should be grateful that, if we’re powerless to design the deaths we might desire for ourselves and for our human loved ones, we can provide them for our pups, shielding them from prolonged pain and suffering.
The hard part: getting past the selfish desire to keep our dogs with us just a little bit longer, providing just one more treatment, one more surgery, because we can’t bear to let go.
I am, I hope, a long way from having to deal with the question of deciding when it’s time to end any suffering for Frankie. And since he’s my first dog, I haven’t had to make such difficult decisions in the past.
But I’ve had the privilege — it honestly felt that way — of being involved with the decision my friend Karyn, a greyhound rescuer, made about her beloved first dog, Painter.
I only hope someone gives me the type of sendoff Painter got.
When he was 11 years old, Painter developed spinal deterioration, which made it difficult for him to walk. Karyn tried everything, including acupuncture, but finally nothing worked any more. It got to the point that, when he crouched to go to the bathroom, he had trouble lifting himself back up.
Unable to carry around a 75-pound Greyhound and distraught to see him losing his dignity, Karyn finally called the vet to come over and give him an injection. The day of the appointment, Karyn was too upset to think about preparing food, so I brought over a couple of burritos for us, a bacon cheeseburger for Painter.
“He can’t eat that,” Karyn started to protest when she saw the burger, “He has pancreatitis.” Then she remembered. “Well,” she amended, “he hasn’t had much appetite, but let’s try it.”
Sure enough, Painter perked right up, scarfing the burger in three bites. Afterward, he farted contentedly in Karyn’s arms until the vet arrived half an hour later to give him an injection — also while he was in Karyn’s arms.
Painter had a good (post-racetrack) life and a good death.
Deciding when to let go is one of the toughest things any pet lover has to do. I’d like to know how others arrived at that decision, and how they felt about it.
Remember, this is a guilt-free zone. If you think you waited too long, get it off your chest and vow to do better next time.