I deliberated about writing this article as I find it hard to talk or write about the loss of a pet in the past and I know how emotionally difficult it is for us to make that final call. Writing my thoughts down on paper does however help me clarify my feelings as it's something that has been paramount in my mind these last few months. Let me explain.
Some 2 months ago my Jack Russell called Rex developed a back stiffness that was off and on until he started to slow up and battled to climb the stairs. I could tell that in his stiffness he was not in a lot of pain but just enough to warrant a visit to the vet and some x- rays and pain killers. The x -rays showed nothing but the pain killers worked and he rebounded. Thinking all was over and mended I was horrified when one morning he could not get up. This time he was in terrible pain and following an emergency call I rushed to the vet with my 12 year old daughter in tow as moral support. I feared the worst and being a Vets daughter myself I knew in my heart that back problems were bad news and usually not fixable. The fear of that decision I was going to have to make was looming and I dreaded that terrible burden of maybe having to end my dog s life.
The Vet could see my distress and after a few strong injections he offered a glimmer of hope in the expertise of an Orthopedic specialist Vet in Belfast who he preferred would make the final judgment. Phone calls were made and the emergency team of my daughter and I drove off to Belfast to see the Vet that was going to save the day. As I sat in the waiting room I started to feel like a 3 year old child that had lost its Toy. I had Rex wrapped in a blanket on my knee and the tears rolled down my cheek. The three ladies in the waiting room all assured me that this practice can work wonders and they would get him sorted out. I wondered on how stupid I looked trying to keep my lower lip under control and stop the tears. In my mind he was already dead and buried and I started to reflect on the words of comfort the three ladies offered me to try and lift my spirits.
How is it that only dog lovers could understand my misery? It got me thinking about how we feel embarrassed about our grief over our pet. The thing is, it is not a recognized grief and to many people it is just a pet and you can just get another one. To many of us our dogs are like our children, that's how strong our attachment is and when we have to make that final decision we feel tremendous quilt and wonder did we leave it too long or did we make it too early. Many of us describe ourselves as murderers such is the quilt that stays with us after they are gone. Remember also that it is not only us that are affected. Each member of the family will react differently to our pets death based on his or her age, how attached they were and also their personality. There is no right or wrong way to grieve but its essential to make sure the grief is not denied.
When it comes to talking about euthanasia we all try and asses our pet's quality of life, but how can we judge this? We can look at their appetite, how active they are, do they still interact and get on with the rest of the family. What about movement, does he still get up and move around freely. As I sat in the waiting room analysing his quality of life I knew one thing for sure that this time if my dog's time was up I had to be there right at the end.
I made that fatal mistake with Mickey. He was 16 and had a tumor in his lungs. I could not face what I had to do and so I sent my poor husband to the final hour. It was the worst mistake I ever made and for weeks afterwards I felt totally ashamed that I could not be with my dog as he passed away. I had old Mickey cremated and to this day his urn of ashes sit in my mother s house and I refuse to throw them! She keeps reminding me as well!
While sitting and thinking of past pets I was jolted to the present when the Orthopedic vet summoned me to his room. I held my breath as he examined Rex and waited for the verdict.
The conclusion was to Operate, a 70% chance of recovery and the odds were in my favor. So off he was wiped to theatre and I drove home full of hope. Rex stayed at the vets for one full week. He had 2 ruptured discs and became the miracle boy when he tried to get up the day after the operation. He came home on pain killers with strict instructions of gradually increasing exercise and he made an amazing recovery.
Its hard now to see how debilitated he was and its very easy to get lured into long walks when he seems to have so much energy and go, but there is a weakness there and when a walk becomes more of a long one then he is tired. Its hard to judge just how much is too much. I am really grateful for the fact that he is running around, full of life and happy but I am conscious of the fact that this back problem could make its ugly appearance at any time and knock me back into that feeling of despair.
I know that if it happens again our time will have run out. I just could not bear to watch him struggle through a second time. It is then that I will have to put my own needs aside. I will allow myself time to grieve and not feel ashamed and most of all I will know that I did my best for Rex.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathy is a health studies lecturer in human and animal health. She also has an online business dedicated to cats and dogs. http://www.yourcatmydog.com