Saturday, November 8, 2008

Get Out Your Handkerchiefs - I'm going to grieve and get a bit preachy...

My best friend Amy lost her dog Rita to cancer last week.

I wrote about Rita almost a year ago in honor or Amy's birthday in a post describing Rita's nasty smell and obstinate, curmudgeonly disposition.

Smelly and undisciplined though she was, Rita was not without her charms and I loved her very much for many reasons, but mainly because she was deeply loved by someone who I deeply love. Going to Amy's house just won't be the same anymore without Rita there yipping at my heels and trying to lick my brains out.

Rita developed a tumor on her front leg that was removed in early July and made to suffer indignities while the wound healed by being forced to wear not only the perfunctory plastic funnel around her head to keep her from chewing on her stitches, but also a glitter encrusted 4th of July preemie sized t-shirt, not unlike this, that Amy bought at the dollar store to prevent the doggie from digging at her bandages.

Rita was not the kind of dog you put clothing on.

Not if you wanted to keep your fingers. She had her dignity. So for Rita to sit still while being dressed and then actually keep the t-shirt on long enough for it to be beneficial is really saying something. After awhile she was back to her old spry, naked self. Good as new.

This fall however, a little more quickly than expected, the tumor came back with a vengeance and after only one watered down chemotherapy treatment Rita seemed to wither. The tiny, stinking dynamo became unrecognizable as the sassy pain in the ass she once had been and rather than put her through any more misery Amy decided to have Rita euthanized and made an appointment with her vet last Thursday.

Amy is inconsolable and understandably so. Rita has been her constant, faithful companion for the past 13 years.

In addition to her overwhelming grief, Amy worried that she put Rita down too soon. She and I spent a lot of time talking about this all throughout Rita's illness, starting way back when the tumor first developed and right up to last week when Amy made the final decision.

Although I couldn't make that decision for her, I think it was the right one and I certainly didn't think it was too soon.

After working in vet clinics for so many years I have seen people do some crazy shit in attempts to keep sick and dying pets alive. Some of them work out and are very inspirational, but most of the time these attempts just seem cruel to me and I'm amazed at how much money people are willing to shell out to keep their pets with them just a little while longer.

This is what I think, and maybe some of you will disagree with me, but here goes:

Your job as a pet owner is to give your pet the best quality of life possible for as long as it lives. That doesn't merely mean feeding it, making sure it has clean, fresh water and cleaning up it's crap. It also means keeping it safe from harm and getting regular check ups with your vet. It means teaching it not to jump on people and not to bite. To take it a step further, I also believe it means that you should try to shape your pet's behavior in such a way so that it can get along in the world, be more easily loved by you and others and not get kicked, beaten, bitten or taken away from you by the authorites.

Otherwise your pet is either a large pain in the ass or livestock and unless you are a giant asshole or a farmer, what's the point?

Anyhoo...

You cannot explain to your pet that it has cancer, or kidney disease, or liver failure or whatever it has wrong with it. Your pet doesn't understand why it feels sick or has pain, so your pet isn't going to understand why you are forcing it to swallow pills or give it daily shots or IV fluids or whatever horrible hell you have to put it through to keep it alive. Being a pet owner involves a certain amount of selflessness and that sometimes means deciding whether or not your pet's quality of life is being compromised by medical treatment.

Maybe it isn't.

If the medical treatment is minimally invasive and/or your pet has the kind of disposition that doesn't mind being poked, jabbed or prodded, then maybe you can stretch things out a little longer. Lucky you.

Otherwise you have to think about how you want your pet to spend it's last days and how you want to spend your last days with your pet.

Amy decided that she'd rather have Rita live a shorter life as her yapping, obstinate, brain licking self. I'm going to go cry again now.

20 comments:

Chris said...

Sad day indeed. Pets have a way of wriggling their way into our hearts when we're not looking...

My mother-in-law had to have her doggie friend put down a few years ago. My wife and I drove them to the vet and stood in the room and watched as ma-in-law held her friend of 15 years as she slipped away. I was surprised at how easy it went. For the dog, not us. The dog had been dying for a month or two; it was time. But being in the room, watching it, crying... That is an experience I will remember for a long time -- both for the sadness, grief and tears AND for the feeling of peace and relief we saw reflected in the dog's face as she closed her eyes.

When I adopted my cat from the Shelter years ago I remember thinking, "I'm gonna love this kitten, and some day I'm going to have to make an end-of-life decision. I just hope I do it with dignity." When we adopted a dog a few months ago my wife and I talked about this topic before we signed the papers -- can we let ourselves love this animal enough to let it go with dignity when the time comes?

Dammit, I'm all teary now.

catherinette said...

My condolences to Amy for her loss. Those of us that are pet owners and have lost a pet know how painful it is-it's just like losing any family members.

I hope Amy has wonderful memories of Rita that will help her get through her grief.

WendyB said...

I'm sorry for her loss. Tell her that I waited WAY too long to put down my old dog, and have long been sorry about that. If the disease was terminal (and at 13 even if Rita recovered, how long would she be around?) it's much better to act before the suffering has gone on too long. I'll always wish I did something sooner.

Some Guy said...

These decisions are so hard. Anyone who's had to put a pet down understands. I agree with everything you said. I'm sorry for you, your friend, and Rita, but it sure sounds like the right decision, gut-wrenching as it may be.

CDP said...

So sad, and a beautiful post. I don't have a dog, but I know how devastating it is for someone to lose a dog they love.

Linka72 said...

Oh Lady and Amy, I'm so sorry. I watched a documentary called Shelter Dogs and wept for two days and I'm not normally the weepy type.
Here's hoping that you'll find happier times soon.

Tara said...

I'm so sorry for your friend's loss of Rita. It makes me mad when non-pet people scoff at the rest of us pet owners when we mourn for our lost pets. If they had a pet, they'd understand. Now I'm both mad and I'm ready to cry.

Anyway, my mom made the decision to euthanize our dog of 14 years because Precious was suffering from an enormous amount of arthritis in the spine. There was no doubt about the decision, it had to be done to stop our dog's suffering.

Churlita said...

I'm so sorry. It sounds like Amy knew her dog well enough to know when it was time to let her go. Poor stinky pooch.

Gwen said...

Awww Lady, I hate it when you cry. I'm sitting here holding my pain in the ass in my arms and thinking of you and Amy.

Frenchie said...

Wow....I didn't know about this at all. I'm really glad you posted this.

i am playing outside said...

BIG HUGS, LUNCHLADY

Suze said...

Sending out hugs to your friend. I think I waited too long to put down my 16 year old dog. For that, I have big regrets. It's so sad to lose a pet. Damn, now I'm feeling all sad!

Gwen said...

I nominated you for a "funny comment" contest at Candy's Daily Dandy. So stop preaching at me already.

Renaissance Woman said...

I am so sorry for your friend. There are no words or actions that will make her feel any better right now...only time. I had to put my best friend of 17 years down in February and it is the hardest decision ever. And I also felt such guilt and wondered if I did it too soon or not. But in the end, I knew in my heart that he was no longer able to have a positive life and enjoy anything. And I hope daily that he knew I loved him and it was the hardest decision ever.

Let your friend know that she did the right thing and time will bring her some comfort. Some...

SkylersDad said...

I have had to put down 5 dogs now, and I can tell you as a pet lover, it never gets any easier.

I think it is our price to pay as humans for not having as giving of a heart as most dogs.

Michelle said...

I'll never forget when I had to take my dog to the vet and let him go...that was 24 years ago and it still bothers me. Haven't had a dog since. Sympathies to Amy and to you....

movin' down the road said...

I agree with you. It's so hard to see animals suffering and unable to live they way they are supposed to, vibrant, loyal and alive. I feel so sad. My guy loves his pets and I cant imagine the feeling we would have (cause I love them too) when they go.

pistols at dawn said...

At some point, it becomes selfish to continue a life that's lost most of its purpose, and I'm sure in the grand scheme of things, she did the rightest thing she could.

BeckEye said...

Oh man, I've been there. It's awful. Several years ago, I had to make the decision to have my 15 year old dog, Chuck, put to sleep. It was right after I graduated from college and moved back home permanently that I noticed that he was just not himself. He was plagued with arthritis, and going blind and deaf. One day he was out in the back yard and walked down over the hill and couldn't get back up. He just laid there. He would sleep on an old sheet next to my bed, and usually pee there because I guess it was too difficult sometimes for him to get up and walk downstairs. It broke my heart because I didn't know what to do. When I took him to the vet, they basically said "he's just old."

The weird part was the day that I decided to euthanize him. It was about 2 weeks of crying later. My brother-in-law drove me to the animal shelter, and I held Chuck on my lap. All of a sudden, he sort of put his paw on my chest and pushed himself up so that his head rested right under my chin, and then I felt him stop breathing. He died on the way.

I felt guilty for a while, wondering if I had let him suffer longer than he should have because I wasn't tough enough to take him to be put down. But someone told me that dogs are very intuitive and that maybe he knew I wasn't ready to let him go yet, and that when I finally was, he went. I hope that's true. Either way, I miss him. I'm tearing up typing this right now!

another good thing said...

Applauding your preachiness and getting out the hanky... as I look at the gimpy 13 year old lab across the room.