Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The down-side of pet ownership…

A little more than a year ago, Sasha died unexpectedly. She was a sweet little Maltese who had an unhappy life until she came to us and was reunited with her brother and litter-mate, Nash. Nash survives her and, with Candy, his nemesis and sweetheart, at his side, he did not long grieve Sasha’s passing.

Shortly before Sasha passed on, we took in an elderly Fox Terrier. This sweet old lady never put a foot wrong in her life…she spent her first fourteen years with a family that, when they decided to move to the UK, decided that the UK quarantine was more than they were willing to deal with, and decided to either find the dog another home or, failing that, put her down. After a lifetime of being a faithful member of the household, this poor old girl was facing a lethal injection for no greater crime than just being a dog. My husband, the soft-hearted, couldn’t see that and opened the doors for her.

Last year Trinny, the Foxy, had to undergo some surgery for tumours. It took her a while to recuperate…she’s 15 now and at the end of her expected life span…but recover she did. Within a few weeks she was gambolling on the back lawn and leaping like a jack-in-the-box to greet us when we returned from shopping. My husband, who has been afraid of dogs his whole life until we got the Maltese, which are little more than animated stuffed animals, has taken firmly to Trinny. She is a sporting dog who is more dog than stuffed toy, and she has the most meltingly beautiful, dark, soulful doe eyes! Good natured and personable, Trinny just leaps her way into your heart.

This weekend I noticed she seemed down, and Monday she seemed to be disoriented, staggering about a bit. She seemed to be favouring her right front paw, but not as if it were injured. By Tuesday she hadn’t gotten any better and Hubby and I had a discussion about her health.

This is a difficult thing to do. How do you put a price on a pet’s life, especially if you have the resources to pay for surgeries and such? At what point do you stop? My primary concern was that her tumours had metastasized to the brain or spinal cord…surgery and chemo would not improve the quality of her life, it would simply subject her to more pain and feeling sick. If she were a much younger dog, then perhaps it would be a viable option, but for a dog who is already at the end of her life span, I cannot justify making her last days those of pain from surgeries and malaise from chemo drugs. Her symptoms could also be those of a mild stroke, but whatever the cause, she obviously needed a trip to the vet.

So, yesterday morning we headed for the vet’s office. Lately, Hubby has been taking Trinny our for walks on the beach…she just loves the beach…so when she saw the leash and got a ride in the car, I am certain she expected to end up at the beach. The look of confusion and disappointment on her face when we got out of the car in the vet’s parking lot was just sad. Poor thing, once inside she knew where we were and she does not have happy associations with the vet’s office after those two surgeries. She sat down next to me and started to moan.

The vet said that my fears were justified, that in an old dog like her that had had such a big tumour, metastasis could well be the problem and, given her age, stroke could also be a cause for her symptoms. I put her on the floor and let her stagger around for a minute so he could see what I was talking about. He concurred, then noticed something I had completely overlooked: she was holding her head funny.

On the examining table again, Trinny had every inch of her spine poked and prodded until the vet decided she could have a pinched nerve and her stiff posture and drunken gait could all be from that. He still did not rule out more dire possibilities, but gave her a shot of cortisone in the neck. I was handed a packet of Prednisone for her, with instructions to bring her back if she wasn’t better by the time the Prednisone was gone.

She seems a bit more cheerful this morning…although I am sure the nice fat chunks of cheese (with her Prednisone buried inside) she is getting twice a day are at least partly responsible for her eagerness at seeing me at the kitchen door. Hubby and I have come to an agreement on handling the last days of our dog babies’ lives and if this, indeed, turns out to be a recurrence of her tumour, then we’ll take her to the beach for a final walk, then go together with her to the vet where we will hold her and pet her as she slips into her final sleep.

My husband does not want to put a price on the lives of our little canine babies, but I see the situation differently. It isn’t a matter of the money, it is a matter of the animal’s comfort and well-being. What is kinder for the dog: repeated surgeries and chemo that will negatively impact the quality of its continued life? Or letting the dog fall to sleep…permanently…while being petted and comforted by its people? There has to be a balance between our desire to keep the animal alive and at our sides and the animal’s need for surcease from suffering.

We are looking for a puppy…a Yorkie, this time. Hopefully we will find one and have her home while Trinny is still with us so that Trin can enjoy the baby, too. She’s a gentle old dog and I think a puppy in the house would be delightful for her…she loves snuggling up with the Maltese when they allow it. We are trying to enjoy her as much as we can, but I can’t shake the Sword of Damocles I see hanging over her head. Fifteen is the expected life span of these dogs and she has reached it. Hopefully, she’ll go on a few more years…she’s not frail or fragile or incontinent or anything like that…and her life will be a happy one as she continues to enrich ours,

But if she doesn’t, then we embark upon the hardest part of being pet owners…letting them go for their sake instead of keeping them on for our own.

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