Monday, February 21, 2011

My Dog Was A Good Girl

Me and the Dog. She never did like the camera.

Last Tuesday I had to put my dog down. As I mentioned in a previous blog post she had lymphoma. I refused to go the chemotherapy route and so the vet suggested we put her on a steroid which was supposed to shrink the tumors. It did but it only lasted a month. He said it would last two months, that I would get two more good months with her, but that didn't happen.

The main concern for me was waiting too long. What do I mean by that? It's when you realize the animal is suffering and it's time to end its life but you can't bear the thought of making that decision so you delay until you're forced into it or the animal dies on its own. I've waited too long before with pets and I was determined not to make the same mistake.

She was doing all right until she stopped eating on Saturday night. She'd lost a ton of weight already, her spine and ribs were visible, so when she stopped eating even her favorite foods I knew it wouldn't be long. She ate a treat here and there but that was it. By Sunday night when I took her out for her nightly walk she was having trouble walking up the hill. By Monday morning her legs were starting to give out and she was stumbling.

My Dad always said when the animal can't get up and walk anymore it's the end of the line.

She clearly wasn't feeling well on Monday and I was scheduled to go to the film festival that night for a screening and sort of anti-Valentine's Day party. I went to the screening and then came home, skipping the party. She was glad to see me. That night I picked her up and put her on the bed with me. She used to sleep with me all the time but I kicked her off the bed years ago because she sheds like crazy. I was up most of the night with her, talking to her and petting her. We both dozed here and there but kept waking up. She was panting a lot and wheezing. Towards the dawn I took her outside and she could barely walk. We went back to bed and slept a bit longer.

When I finally got up I asked if she wanted to get off the bed because I'd have to help her jump down. She just gave me this look like, "Hey, I'm up here now and I'm not leavin'!" I managed to coax her off the bed and we went outside again. It wasn't good. And I knew it was time.

When you've made a decision like this you're always second guessing yourself. Even though all the factors line up and you know without a doubt that this was the only course of action you could have taken you still can't get over that terrible truth which is:

I killed my dog. Sure it was the most humane decision but...I still did it.

So I spent a lot of time that morning justifying this decision, and I still spend time justifying it. It's a normal part of the grieving process. I go over the reasons again and again. They are:
  • She stopped eating and I didn't want her to go another day without eating. Christ, I didn't want her to fucking starve to death or even be on her way to starving to death.
  • In another half day, she wouldn't be able to walk anymore and I wouldn't be able to pick her up. She wouldn't be able to go to the bathroom on her own. The thought of her sitting in her own shit and piss and feeling awful about it because she always feels terrible when she has an accident, well, I just didn't want to put her through that.
  • I was so afraid that she would die alone. I didn't want to come home and find that she'd died by herself without anybody (me) around.
  • Pain. My dog was clearly in pain though she was being a good sport about it.
I sat in the bathroom with her on that Monday morning and did my first round of crying. She was sitting there because she couldn't really get up anymore. Then I got myself under control and called my Dad. My first thought was I'd take her to my vet and have him do it but realized I wouldn't be able to get her back into the car. Instead, I asked my Dad if I could bring her to his vet. He and my brother were both available. He agreed this was a good idea.

When I got her into the car, she was so weak she couldn't climb into the back and had to sit on the floor of the backseat. She's never done that. I had to help her out of the car. When my Dad saw her he suggested we try to take her to the vet right away if they were available. My Dad and brother had already dug her grave in the backyard.

The vet and vet staff were great and overall I have to say this was a really good experience. We put her on the dog bed and the vet explained how everything would work. She told us they would give her a sedative and then a full syringe of barbiturates. She warned me that it would be very fast, 2-3 minutes tops. I sat on the floor next to her head, my brother sat on the other side, and my Dad sat on the bench. The vet techs came in and inserted a needle into her arm then left. The vet came in and asked if I we wanted more time to say goodbye. My brother and I said no.

Through it all my dog was very calm. She seemed only a little worried and not at all agitated or scared. She wasn't even panting and she always pants when she's at the vet. The vet came back with two syringes. The sedative and what looked a full 10ccs of pink liquid. My brother told me later that was a huge amount, maybe enough to kill a human being. The vet injected the sedative and I leaned over my dog, taking her head in my hands.

She loved getting her cheeks and the side of her head stroked and would always lean into my hands and close her eyes whenever I did this. She didn't do that this time. Instead she stared into my eyes. My hair fell over both of us and formed a kind of tent, and then it was just me and her. I kept murmuring over and over that she was a good dog, kept stroking her head. She kept blinking but her blinking had already started to slow down. The vet said she was going to inject the pink liquid and I stared into her eyes and focused on her like I never focused on anyone else before. She gave a gasp and then another one, glanced at the syringe, then looked back at me. I kept stroking her head and murmuring, just the two of us underneath my hair, staring at each other. She blinked maybe two or three more times and her breathing became soft and gentle. And then she was gone and her head completely relaxed in my hands. I raised my head up and placed my hand on her side to check her breathing as the vet listened with her stethoscope.

The entire procedure from the time the vet injected the sedative to the time her head relaxed in my hands took less than two minutes.

The vet left, so did my Dad and brother, and I had a few minutes alone with her. I removed her leash and collar and kept petting and talking to her. I've heard that when the body dies, it takes a bit longer for the brain cells to shut down. If there was any chance that she could still hear and/or smell me I wanted her to know I was still there.

We took her home and put her into the ground. We let my parents' dog look at and smell her then we buried her.

The entire experience was a really good one as I mentioned before. I was there with her, so were my Dad and brother. And it was mercifully fast. I hope my own death is that good.

I'm still grieving, obviously. I still haven't cleaned up her toys or her dog bowls. I'll get around to doing that sometime. I'm not worried about it.

I miss her terribly.

I thought long and hard about whether to write this post but in the end I decided that putting this experience out there for others to read was a good idea. The mixed feelings about this experience is inevitable and it's something that many pet owners will have to go through at some point.

While I have guilty feelings over putting my dog down, I'm absolutely certain that I didn't wait too long this time. It's a small comfort.

Thanks for reading.


anne said...

MT, I have tears rolling down my face as I read this. So eloquently written, so full of feeling... I was with you the whole way.

You are the best pet owner any animal could want - caring from the beginning to the end, and doing what you know is best for them all the time.

Thank you for sharing this.

Mock Turtle said...


Thanks so much for this lovely comment and your support. Funny, I didn't think it was so well written, probably because it was so difficult to get down.

I especially appreciate your "with you the whole way" sentiment. It means a lot.