As I write this on March 9, Oksana has been dead for one week. She was 13 years old and for the last several months had been getting increasingly frail. Since Christmas, her ability to walk had decreased markedly. Last Friday, we made the decision dreaded by all dog lovers, and our vet put the old Saluki to sleep in my arms.
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking deeply about the process of dying. This was even more so during the six weeks last summer that my father was dying and Oksana was getting weaker. I suspect that most of us (myself included) secretly hope that our dogs will die peacefully of old age in their sleep and relieve us of the responsibility of making the euthanasia decision. In our history with dogs, that has rarely happened. Watching our old friend fade or grow sicker, we would think about how to know when the moment came. A couple of times, we delayed longer than we should have in the hopes that the dog would have just one more good day. Often that delay meant the dog’s condition deteriorated to a crisis of suffering of incapacitation, and we would have to call our vet late at night or on holidays – feeling doubly bad because we had not only lost our dog, but because our indecision had actually cause more suffering.
So it ultimately boiled down to the dog’s quality of life. There are three things Wendy and I ask ourselves every day in those last stages. Is the dog in pain and if so, how much? Does the dog still eat and enjoy life? Can the dog still get around and eliminate on its own (or with some help)?
All three of these factors are shifting components in the equation. If anyone becomes more of a problem, then it can outweigh any positives from the other two. Oksana was declining in all three areas and we watched carefully for signs that hinted things were about to go bad. Every morning, it was, “Is today the day?” And if she was OK in the morning, she might be less so in the evening, and we would wonder, “Will it be tomorrow?”
In the end, I think your dog tells you when it is time – if you are watching for the signs. After 40 years of owning dogs, I now firmly believe that it is best to try and catch the moment on the decline before the crisis and end on as good a day as possible.
And when that time comes, we hug the dog and talk reassuringly, while the needle goes in. I know some people can’t bear to be there in the end, but bringing that life into this world and clamping off her umbilical cord began many years of staunch loyalty and companionship. In return, we believe this is the last mercy we can give our old friends – to help their passing be a little easier and as free from pain as possible. As my good friend Warren Cook once said, “They would do it for you.”
Reprinted with permission from the AKC Gazette – August 2007 Issue
Article by: Brian Patrick Duggan