When to Say Goodbye to Your Ailing Pet
Buddy had been with me since my days in the Middle East. A black Lab with short legs, he had a way of winning everyone’s hearts.
Now, at fifteen, he had congestive heart failure, a fatty tumor the size of a soccer ball on his chest and another smaller one growing on it. Besides that, he had severe arthritis (he’d suffered rickets as a puppy, which made his leg bones a little concave, so he ran a little off kilter).
But I loved to watch him run–gallop, more like it! I may have seen his odd gait but in my eyes, he was a Palomino, so free and happy. It turned my heart inside out.
He’d always turn around and steal a look at me, his tongue lolling happily to one side, with a bright grin as if to say, “Look at me! Hey, look at me!”
I knew it wouldn’t be cut and dry but I felt I could say good-bye to my good boy. I could if I had to.
I made the appointment.
Then, hung up, real quick.
I called back the next day to get prices. So much if you leave your pet, more if you stay while they carry out the procedure. Nothing extra if you leave . Much more if you decide to cremate.
I was ready. It was best all around.
I ticked off the reasons on my right hand.
1. He’d be out of pain. No more struggling to stand up. No more coughing up water.
2. No more having to wait for someone to carry him down the stairs to go to the bathroom.
3. No more tripping over him in the kitchen as he lay right in front of the refrigerator.
Maybe he’d ease out of this life dreaming of running in the baseball field below my house that we loved so much. Or maybe as he gently fell asleep, he’d dream he was back on the sofa burying his nose in the soft corner fabric. He always slept on the sofa, snoring late into the night as I pecked away at the computer. His snores sounded better than any music I wanted to listen to.
I’d had a teary day in which he let out big doggy sighs as if he knew our time together was limited.
Each sigh tore into my heart.
When it came down to taking him to the vet, it felt all wrong. Buddy still had too good of an appetite. The roads were too icy. The appointment was scheduled too late in the day. It was too dark out.
Buddy was a morning dog and loved the daylight.
Every morning, he’d lay by my French door and announce in excited barks when any neighbor entered or left his house. He’d turn to see if I’d noticed. And he’d wait for his snack, the snack he trained me to give him for being so vigilant.
No, we’d just have to wait for daylight. I couldn’t take him at night. He didn’t like the dark.
Before I got him, the vet surmised that a previous owner had shut him up into a dark room to turn him into a tough watchdog. But that didn’t work. Labs can’t be tough. It’s not in their genes.
For the first two months I had him, he didn’t bark and hid under the bushes as soon as darkness descended.The vet told me I had a deaf watchdog on my hands. I didn’t care at all. I laughed. One of my typical misadventures, a girl going blind would have a deaf watchdog. Everyone teased me but I said, “Well, I can’t see in the dark. And Buddy doesn’t want to see in the dark. I think we’ll get along just fine in the light.”
Only he wasn’t deaf. He’d only been frightened. One day his bark loosened and his love tightened.
In my house in the Middle East Buddy was my lone dog amid nearly eighteen outdoor stray cats so I guess Buddy thought he was a cat, too, and jumped on my lap one day. Startled, I threw my arms around him so he wouldn’t fall off. He leaned back and lay his head on my chest.
Just like the cats did.
Only then he opened an eye (do dogs wink? I swear he did!) and smiled his big wide-gapped toothy grin.
I shifted his weight and let him sit until it nearly crushed me. He jumped down as if he knew the moment I couldn’t hold onto him anymore.
Buddy had only one fault–a penchant for picking up odd “memorabilia.” Once on a walk around our Emirati neighborhood, he found the carcass of a goat’s head. He refused to release it. In Pennsylvania, he discovered a rotting fish in a cold water stream. Clenched tightly between his teeth, I couldn’t wrestle it away from him for quite awhile. On the hill near our house, he used to come across soiled pigs ears other dogs had discarded on their walks. Those, too, became a tug of war that I usually lost. I didn’t really mind his stubborn streak, though; it gave him personality. Really just a dog thing.
After I lost the babies I carried and later, after my divorce, I used to say that God knew how I wanted to be a mother and had answered my prayers. He sent me the cats, Buddy, and via my taxi driver, a litter of six puppies. Each year after that, I gained more “children,” and Buddy was no longer an only child. He was one of five dogs.
That was a happy, exuberant time for him. He got into mischief, and he followed the bad examples of those in the new crowd. But his eyes danced and his tail spun around like a high-powered helicopter blade, constantly in motion. They raided a couple dozen peanut butter cookies left to cool on the counter, and shared the spoils between them. They raced around the grass and dug up the sprinkler system in the front yard. They even once made their escape onto the street and chased a stray cat under a car. And yes, Buddy, a cat lover at heart, joined in on the run!
Their escapades made their way into my writing.
In those days, I wrote children’s adventure stories. Of course, Buddy served as the hero of the menagerie, which included dogs, cats and the neighborhood stringer-onners.
Problem was, there were way too many characters! My readers couldn’t keep them straight. But I laughed everyday at the charades Buddy entered into and kept on writing more stories, more chapters.
Life was so good for us!
The gardener started taking Buddy and a few of his “brothers” on neighborhood walks. That was nothing compared to the rides he went on. My dog certainly knew what “go for a ride” meant and his tail would go into a high-powered wag. Sunil, my self-appointed Indian driver, was actually fined for taking Buddy on rides through town in his taxi. A local resident reported him to the authorities because dogs were considered “unclean,” by some and certainly not permitted to take joyrides on public transport. But Sunil had his own stubborn streak and continued to stop by the house and take him out on quiet Friday mornings when he had no fares.
Buddy had that effect on people.
In the United States, my brother took over the driving, and off Buddy would go, with a toss of his head, sometimes even without me. His eyes gleamed as he he knew he’d been singled out for this privilege. Still the gentle brown eyes would ask, for a moment, “is it all right?” and I made a big fuss over his going to let him know that it was.
He was always ready to go in a flash!
Buddy rode a little bit differently from most dogs. He rarely sat up and looked out the window. Instead, he curled up in a ball and fell asleep, lulled by the motor and motion of the vehicle.
It didn’t matter. He loved rides all the same! Once in awhile, my brother let Buddy down – like when he drove Mom’s car instead. That meant no ride for Buddy. “Sorry, Buddy,” I’d say, “No ride today.” His tail would slow down, then stop all together. He would lie on the floor, his head stretched out between his paws. Then the doggy sighs would start.
When his arthritis got too much for him to get in and out of the car, he took the change in good grace. He simply lost interest. It was me whose throat filled with tears.
People tell me that Buddy has lived a good long life.
All I can think is … when is the right time to say goodbye to your ailing pet?
When I told my sister-in-law my dilemma, she observed, a catch in her voice, “Even as sick as he is, Buddy seeks you out. When he sees you, his eyes light up. He tries harder to walk.”
Suddenly too choked up to respond, I think, No, it’s not the right time.
Maybe one more day. Or just get past the weekend.
I can be brave next week.
I’ll say goodbye then.
And now it’s next week. And I have the same choice to make.
I still don’t know the answer.
But I really do deep down, just like my friend Sue said I would.
I just don’t like it.