Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Two walks.

Consort came to bed, waking me up. A bleary glance at the alarm clock told me it was 4:50. I was about to launch into my patented “…why do you even go to the ‘Law and Order’ channel…” when he cut me off.

“I was dozing on the couch,” he whispered. “She kept getting up and I wanted you to get some sleep.”

Even though Consort is the only male in the house, I knew exactly which “she” he meant. For the past year, the dog had been getting up every night to either pee or vomit, sometimes both. A year ago, she would get up once a night. Now, she might need to go out three or four times between midnight and six.

“How many times?”

“Five? Maybe six. I stopped counting,” he said with a sigh and fell into bed.

I lay on my back and stared into the darkness. After a minute, I heard the sound of the dog’s paws scrabbling on the wooden floor in the living room. She was trying to stand up. She needed to go out again. I raced to the foyer, deactivated the alarm, and raced to the back door to let her out. I looked at the dark grey sky and heard the sound of our dog retching in the back yard. A minute later, she stumbled in and went back to her bed. I sat at the kitchen table.

A year ago, when this had become an issue, I had gotten her checked for stomach and intestinal blockage and for diabetes. Many expensive tests later, we determined there was nothing causing the multiple trips outdoors at night. I tried only feeding her in the morning, which made her miserable and panicky, not to mention even more prone to eating trash. I tried cutting off her water after four PM, but she still needed her trips outside every night. Her back legs would randomly give out, which a vet informed me was due to a degenerative disc near her pelvis. What no one could tell me was if this was causing her pain.

She didn’t act as if it caused her pain, but how could a degenerating disc not cause pain? I could run her through another full battery of tests, with the accompanying dazzling bills, but she is terrified of the vet and would probably need to be sedated for anything diagnostic, which they might not want to do for an elderly dog. And at the end of the testing, history had shown we could come back with nothing more illuminating than “…she’s old, here are some pills to try. If these don’t work, we can try another group of pills. But first, let’s bring her back in for some blood-work…”

I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept more than three hours at a stretch. Consort has a lovely job which he enjoys tremendously, but the commute is brutal – several hours a day if the freeway Gods are angry -- and he needs his rest. I couldn’t ask him to do the night-shift with the dog more than once a week so it was going to be my job for as long as I could stand it.

I sat in the kitchen, watched the sun rise, and thought. Every once in a while, I would gaze over at the dog on her bed. She didn’t get back up. At seven, before I went in to wake up Daughter, I went into our bedroom and shook Consort awake.

“I think I’m putting her down.”

Instantly awake, Consort just took my hand and rubbed it. I could hear Daughter starting to wake up. I could also hear the dog starting to try to stand, and slipping as her back legs failed.

It was now Thursday morning. I set the appointment for Friday morning. After making the call, I looked over at the dog asleep on her nest and made a decision. I got her well-worn leash, jangling its hardware in a familiar summons.

“Walkies?” I said loudly.

It took a couple of calls, but my voice cut through her sleep and her hearing loss and she looked up, pleased. It took a while, but we got out to my car. We had stopped trying to put her in the SUV months ago when she misjudged the door height, fell out and cut her head. Now she was having a hard time simply climbing into my sedan.

Consort worked from home that morning, so he joined us on our favorite hike. Years ago, when we first got her, the dog would bolt up the hill, one of us holding on to her leash and water-skiing behind her. Now, we moved at a pace best described as “Stately”. Her legs weren’t consistent, but she seemed content.

Consort and I talked. Was it honorable to wait to euthanize her until nothing gave her pleasure and we were absolutely certain she was in constant pain? Did the fact that she could enjoy the sun on her face mean her life still had meaning? Could I hold out sleeping in patches for what might be weeks, or months? It probably wasn’t years, because she was somewhere near the end of the natural life for her breed. Then again, I knew one of her ilk who lived to fifteen; was I prepared to spend years looking for cures, trying new treatments or being her nightly chambermaid?

While we talked, the dog had slowed down considerably. Frequently during the walk, she sat down. She would try to lie down but without her padded bed to soften the fall she would get stuck. We’d haul her up again, and she’d go a few more feet. The silence grew between our rhetorical questions.

I have had pets euthanized, and it’s dreadful, but it becomes infinitely worse when the decision isn’t clear-cut. We could continue what we were doing, and it’s pretty likely the dog would suffer before she died, if she wasn’t suffering already. But if we continued what we did, Consort would suffer, as would I. I’ve read enough about sleep deprivation to know that I was not working at my best; was keeping the dog alive putting Daughter in jeopardy every time I got behind the wheel? Was keeping the dog alive putting other people on the road in jeopardy? Even if I never hurt anyone physically, how many times had I snapped at Consort or Daughter out of nothing more than sheer grinding fatigue?

Was I keeping her alive so I didn’t feel like a bad person?

Was I euthanizing her for my own convenience?

She was a member of our family. I treated her as kindly and lovingly as I could and kept her needs in mind at every turn. But she was also a member of a family where the other living things had needs as well. Had I been a single woman, with few obligations, I might have made another choice.

We helped her back into the car. Exhausted, she leaned against the door and fell asleep.

____________________________


Monday, I got the call from the vet; her ashes had come back from the crematorium. Since the cat needed her vaccinations anyway, it made for a strange two-fer; yowling cat carrier in one hand, cardboard cube in the other. I noted the Cal-Pet crematorium had misspelled the dog’s name. I brought both of them home and tucked the box someplace discreet, away from Daughter’s relentless purview. Monday night, I told Consort of my plans. He asked if I wanted to wait for the weekend, so he could be with me.

I thought a moment before I replied. “If it’s all the same with you, I’d rather do it myself.”

Consort said, “Then, let me give you something.” He went to the top drawer of his bureau and brought out a fragment of green paper. He held it in the palm of his hand, and we both stared at it. It was about a quarter of a twenty dollar bill, ragged and torn.

“She ate the rest of this twenty the first year we had her. This is what I grabbed from between her teeth. I always swore I’d bury it with her. Maybe she can use it to pay the ferryman across the river Styx.”

_______________________________

It was perfect hiking weather, the sun peeking flirtatiously through the leaves and trees. This time, I walked the hike quickly. Around my wrist, I had the cord from the purple velvet bag which held the can of ashes. From a distance, I’m guessing people were talking about the woman hiking up the trail with the bottle of Crown Royal. I saw a few hikers on the way with dogs; I stopped and petted as many as I could.

We made it to the promontory which had always been our turnaround spot. I pried open the lid with my car keys and let her go. I put the strip of masticated money in the palm of my hand and blew hard. It floated off a few feet, got caught in some plants, and then tumbled down the hill.

I stood for a minute or so and then said, “Goodbye, Polly.”

I turned around and went home.

34 Comments:

Blogger Suzanne said...

I am so sorry.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Libby said...

Oh, Quinn, I am so sorry for your loss. What a lucky old girl Polly was to have good people who cared about her (and for her) so deeply.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous mtnester said...

I've been through this several times, and I know how hard it is. Part of the trouble is that our pets often don't moan and whimper; they don't complain to us about their aches and pains, so we don't realize that they're suffering. They just seem to retreat into themselves, sitting hunched up, not interested in their food, struggling to do the ordinary things that they used to do effortlessly. They can't enjoy life, and they don't look forward to tomorrow. Quinn, you did the right thing! My sympathy,

Sue

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been there. It is tough. I am trying to enjoy each and every day I have with my two new adoptees. They are special and I will be there for them when their day comes. I just found your blog. It's refreshing and so normal. Thanks for battling the big, bad computer!
Keith

3:23 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Quinn~We had to go through this twice in the past 6 months. It was dreadful. One was sick and one was old. The sick one was necessary but like you, I struggled with the old one. He was a member of our family, having gotten him when our youngest was 6 months old, they "grew up" together. You just have to love them enough to know that it can't possibly be a good life to barely walk and to not even sleep through a night. It is always a tough decision but one that we have to make. How is your daughter doing?

4:36 PM  
Blogger Dodi said...

My heart goes out to you... it is never easy to let go of such unconditional love.

God Bless you and Polly!

5:05 PM  
Blogger Valerie said...

i'm so, so sorry. my heart just aches for you, Consort and Daughter.

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

I think everything I could say about losing a furry member of the family has been said here already. So let me just say how sorry I am for your loss and add to the support given here.
God Bless.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Drea said...

My husband and I have said goodbye to 4 pups over the years, and it doesn't get any easier. The good news is that the sweet memories of joys and laughter with them are always with me. I wish you warm smiles after your sadness.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

Happy walkies sweet Polly. May you have soft fluffy beds, an endless supply of Milkbones, and eternal love and affection in doggie heaven.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Ahh, Quinn.

You did the right thing. We put my childhood cat down almost 8 years ago. I still cry over her, but helping make the decision and making sure I was there for her at the end...well, it was the least I could do for a pet who was always there for me. It sounds creepy to put it like this, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Sometimes it sucks being an adult, but it is the price we pay for the love. I am so sorry.

6:17 AM  
Blogger ElleBee said...

No words. Just good vibes and happy memories of long walkies with Polly.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Mindy said...

I've been there myself. I know it was in the best interest of my poor old arthritic Boxer to have her put down, but it sure wasn't in mine. It's been twenty years now and your story still makes me tear up.

8:48 AM  
Blogger maike said...

My mom called me last friday night to tell me that the dog wasn't well at all. She's been sick, blind, arthritic and everything else for a year. but she always seemed to be in good spirits. she slept more than she was awake, but when she was awake, she seemed content (but we never know waht they let us know, do we). saturdaymorning at 6 o'clock i went on a 7 hour train ride to spend the last hours with the dog who was there when i graduated, when i went to college, when i came back for short breaks, who went to sweden with me for a wonderful holiday, who almost killed herself with joy whenever i walked into the house.
she didn't recognize me anymore when i saw her now, and the vet came by saturday night.
when i buried her in our back yard, i gave her milk bones, her blanket and told her to keep watch.
with her, i buried my youth, and yes, chris, it sucks to be an adult.
quinn, i feel for you, daughter and consort. maybe polly lent a few pennies to bibi to pay the ferry man.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Ann Marie said...

Aww... sweet little Polly. You did the right thing. I'm sure she's grateful.

I've had two beloved dogs die in my lifetime. Both times, I was awakened in the middle of the night by dreams. In the dreams, the dogs (who had just passed, unbeknownst to me) took me to a very special park where other dogs were running and playing and swimming in a stream. I knew that it was their way of telling me that everything was OK and they were happy on "the other side".

I not only believe in life after death, I also believe in reincarnation. So I know when my best friend, Maude, goes, she'll be back. I told her that she needs to choose a hypoallergenic dog body for the next go-round -- a poodle or schnauzer -- since Seth is allergic to dog dander.

10:35 AM  
Blogger The Zero Boss said...

When I was a kid we had a doberman pincer named Lucifer. I was scared to death of him. Eventually, we had to put him to sleep. I was overcome with remorse for all the attention I had never paid him. At least you were a good, loving owner to your dog.

Excellent writing, BTW. My wife referred me to your blog this morning.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Melanie said...

So sorry, Quinn. The connections we feel with animals can be so intense. Hope you're getting through it O.K.

BTW - I'm the weird gal who accosted you in Target the other day. In my nervousness, yelled out, "Loved you in the Goodbye Girl" which I'm sure you must love.....

In any case, my thoughts are with you.

Melanie
melandemma@sbcglobal.net

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Kathryn said...

(note to self: don't read Quinn's column while at work.... sobbing at desk is hard to explain)

Quinn, What a loving and sad thing you had to do. My three year old lab was just diagnosed with lymphoma, which even when treated is 95% fatal within a year. I'll be facing the same choice you had to make in short order. I know what a heartwrenching thing it is to have to do, but it's the most loving thing we can do for our pets who love us so much.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Hi Quinn,

I'm so sorry. I've been through this with Chutney, my little, old terrier that I adopted from death row at the pound, as well as Peppi, the toy poodle that I had from the ages of 6-24. When I retrieved Chutney's cremains from the vet there was this little poem enclosed. I know it's hokey and theologically a little dubious, but I like it all the same.

"Farewell Master, yet not farewell.
Where I go, ye too shall dwell.
I am gone, before your face.
A moment's time, a little space.
When ye come where I have stepped
Ye will wonder why ye wept."

After Death by Edwin Arnold

(Warms my little Jewish heart right up.)

2:45 PM  
Anonymous rebecca said...

Oh, Quinn.

I just snapped at Sir Thomas. The baby was having a terrible time getting to sleep and FINALLY went down for her nap...only to have Thomas barking hysterically when the FedEx guy showed up. I said an unkind thing to him, and he slunk away. I was still mad, so I went to the computer, and pulled up your blog, thinking that might make me feel better.

Now that I've dried my tears, I will go to him, and love on him a bit. For me, for him, for Polly, for all of us who cherish our animals.

And I will quietly curse the unfairness of one human year equals seven dog years.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Stuart said...

The decision whether or not to put a pet down, well it sucks. Not that you need or want some some random comment guy's approval - I think you made a good choice for your entire family, Polly included. I'm sorry for your loss.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Love to all of you, Quinn.
-Cheryl

3:23 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

So sad.

I will miss hearing of Polly.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

I'm sorry Quinn. So sorry. Polly did have a beautiful life because of you, though. Thank you for taking such good care of her.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Chewy Mom said...

I am so sorry for your loss, Quinn. Beautiful post, though, and timely as we are trying to make a decision about our 12-year-old "little mutt."

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. I lost my Murphy in September of 2004. I know that it hurts right now, but it does get better. Gradually thinking about the good times makes you smile instead of cry. I adopted Emma in January of 2006, and I know Murphy is safe and happy. My thoughts are with you!

7:31 PM  
Blogger Crystal said...

I'm so very sorry for your loss. You've made me want to run to cuddle my fur babies.

Sorry again... sounds like Polly had a good life.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Antique Mommy said...

Putting down a tired and ill pet is a gift you give them. When I put down my 13-year-old Schipperke two years ago, some said "Oh I could never do it. I don't know how you did it." She had acute kidney and liver failure and I didn't know how I couldn't.

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously, this was the longest day in maternal history. While reading your blog, Max, my almost ten year old terrier walked in and jumped on the couch behind me. Just the day before the vet had said this behavior HAD to stop so that his newly aquired back problem would get better. When I finished reading, I went to him to gently remove him from the couch and he reached up and licked the still streaming tears from my face. You know, there are a ton of things worse than doggie breath all over your face and one of them has to be knowing when to say goodbye. In the Deep South they say a lady always knows when to leave a room, Polly, with your help, was a lady to the end.

Elle

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just catching up on your blog and found this today.
So sorry for your loss Quinn, we lost our 13 year old husky last year .. just wiping tears .. and I tear up thinking about it. We didn't have to make the "decision" you did, she passed whilst at the vet.
I'm certain she was well loved by you and yours.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Reading this was difficult...my 6 year old, Holly, was recently diagnosed with Lymphoma. We're doing the chemo and at the moment she's okay. But the vet was realistic and said this will probably only buy her a year to 18 months. So reading your post brought home the reality that I'll be doing this way before I want to. Holly is that one dog that no other has ever compared to.
I went back and read the history on your Polly and her previous owner. She was very fortunate that you both found each other.

6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hopefully polly
will meet tiffany (tt)
up there :-)

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently found your blog, so my comment is late. I rescue animals, I always have. When you do that, you deal with death. It never gets any easier. But you know that you made a difference in the lives that you bring into your home. I am sure that Polly was much loved, and I am sure she knew this. It is often difficult to determine "when" in the right time. But there are times that you just know that it is far kinder to let go than to keep them here. It seems that you found that balance. My heart goes out to you. It's a tough call.
Biggest of hugs to you.

11:06 AM  

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