Arthur at 3 months old
We recently said goodbye to our long time dog family member, Arthur. It was the first dog any of us had had – including my husband and myself. He didn’t grow up with pets, and my family always seemed to have a cat or two around. Back then, people didn’t pamper their animals the way we do now. Cats spent time outdoors and came inside when it behooved them. It was more of a roommate situation.
What led up to his death was not so much a sequence of events, but what I would call a climate change. Our family had been managing his slow decline for what I admit was nearly 2 years. His sight was not great, he had Cushing’s disease (which we chose not to treat because the side effects of the medicines sounded worse than the illness) which caused constant hunger and thirst. When he had free access to water, accidents were commonplace.
About 6 months ago, these symptoms worsened. He began to follow me from room to room, which I eventually had to acknowledge was because he was nearly blind, deaf, and uncomfortable alone. The walks in the evening stopped. There was no interest in toys, car rides, or our other dog, Dora.
Since it was my credo from day one that no pet of mine would suffer, we began to talk about euthanasia. At first, it seemed more of a concept than a reality. After all, he was not in any acute pain (that we knew of), so there was no hurry. It is not my custom to “poll the audience”, but this was such new territory, I began to ask friends who were also dog lovers/owners. Turns out, fully MOST people had been in this position before. Our family was experiencing a rite of passage, and there was an unexpectedly supportive atmosphere around us.
I phoned the emergency veterinary clinic near us for information, and was met with a warm, professional voice. She described the procedure and added “the timing is your decision, and we respect that”. I cannot tell you the comfort that statement gave me.
There were another two weeks of goodbyes and getting our heads around it. It was decided that my younger daughter and I would be the ones to actually take him. In the end, it was a Monday at nearly midnight when we both were available and had the guts. I phoned them before we left, as they had recommended, so they could be prepared for us. After spending ten minutes in their parking lot not sure we could go through with it, the inevitability settled in.
Once inside, “shit got real” as they say. Signed some papers, and we were in the room. The vet did not rush us, she explained each step, we did not feel awkward weeping shamelessly in front of her. Veronica commented how the place was empty, and that was good. We held hands, told a few anecdotes about him, and that was that.
When it was over, the doctor said we did the right thing. Another kindness I will not forgot. Within a week, we had sympathy cards from that office and our regular vet (they notified him).
While sad – epically so – I didn’t see it as a negative experience. I learned that my daughter is a strong, loving young women who can do selfless things. I met a doctor who has set me free with her pragmatism and decency. I remained true to my promise to Arthur of no suffering, which I made 12 years ago when we brought home the little 4 lb runt.
Ingrained in our culture is a kneejerk need to see every ending as something ugly. Maybe it’s time to try to turn that on its ear. Painful goodbyes are the price of love. But love is the good stuff, and the alternative is unthinkable.