The Hardest Decision

We’ve seen it happening over the last year. The decline in Spot’s health has been evident to all of us – losing weight, whining at night from pain, weakness in her back legs and the lackluster fur that used to shine. Through it all, she keeps on going and continues to look at us with those big dark eyes. She still tolerates the overzealous advances of our young grandchildren. And she remains totally loyal to my husband, Rich.

How do you decide when a pet’s life is no longer worth living? We’ve been over this ground so many times, hoping to delay the inevitable. It’s too easy to look past her failings and focus on her loving personality, wanting things to be all right. It’s hard to separate our desire to hang on to a beloved member of the family from the facts of her discomfort and failing body. Finding the balance is nearly impossible. Facing the hard reality of the situation is even tougher.

Photo Jul 03, 8 58 59 AMHow do you explain to two toddlers that their favorite dog is going away forever? Once resigned to the decision, we consoled ourselves with one final family week at the cabin with Spot. It’s a place she used to love to roam, enjoying her freedom from the leash, and her choice of critters to chase. Watching the grandkids petting Spot for the last time without really understanding was heartbreaking. Tears flowed freely as our daughter knowingly bid Spot farewell. Tonight our sons will have their opportunity, one via Skype from Washington DC.

How do you console a husband, who is losing his faithful friend? She may be a family pet, but when we rescued her as a stray and brought her home with us, she immediately attached herself to Rich. For twelve years he has taken her for the lion’s share of her walks. She has slept by his bedside every night. And she is the only dog he’s ever had.

Tomorrow is Spot’s final day. She’s had a good life, and greatly enriched ours. She will leave a big gap in our lives, which we will endeavor to fill with many great memories. But it’s still a hard decision. Very hard.

IMG_1999 cropped

Spot in her younger days, patiently tolerating a new kitten

We thought she was a goner

It didn’t look good.  Spot’s accidents in the house turned out to be more than a nuisance – she was sick.  Blood in her urine and losing control of her bladder could not be a good sign.  At 15+ years old, we knew her time was limited and we had pledged not to resort to any heroics to prolong her life.  It was with heavy hearts that we acknowledged we could be facing the end.

The difficult part was waiting.  It developed over a weekend, and we wanted to get her in to see her regular vet who had examined her just two months prior and knew her history.  So we kept her warm and as comfortable as possible and doted on her.  We had to keep her confined to the tiled area in the house, which meant she could not sleep beside our bed at night.  I awoke in the morning to find Rich missing from his spot beside me.  He had gotten up in the middle of the night, scrounged around for a sleeping bag and laid down with his beloved pet.

We called the kids to let them know and give them warning of what seemed to be a likely outcome.  We promised not to do anything until they could come over for their final good-byes, and planned a Skype session with our son in DC so he could “see” Spot one more time.  It was pretty grim around our house.

We were able to get in to see the vet first thing Monday morning.  Rich and I went together, but he could hardly speak, given his sorrow.  The upbeat attitude of the assistants in the office and the professionalism of the vet were somewhat calming, but I wondered if it was false hope.  It turns out not!  A urinary tract infection seemed the most likely cause of Spot’s woes, and could easily be treated with antibiotics.  That didn’t sound like heroics to us, so we agreed to give it a try and left with our bottle of pills.

Miracle medicine we called it.  Spot’s system rapidly responded to the treatment.  With the help of frequent trips outdoors, her accidents ceased. She lost that haunted look she had been wearing.  The appearance of the dog across the street initiated vigorous barking.  That’s our old Spot!  She also figured out that the additional pills meant more peanut butter – her favorite treat.

We’ve gradually given her greater range in the house, and she’s still enjoying pampered treatment.  We’re just glad she’s still with us.  Her time wasn’t up after all.

The Peanut Butter Dog

Spot is a Bassamation.  She’s a stray that wandered onto the Texas farm of my brother’s fiance shortly before they were married, while they were preparing the grounds for their outdoor chuck-wagon wedding reception.  Try as they might to find her owner, she was still around when their wedding day came, so they tied a bandana around her neck and she mingled with the guests.  Our kids were enamored with the gentle dog but it was my husband, Rich, who surprised us all.  After years of resisting the kids’ persistent pleas for a dog, Rich looked at me and said “I could live with Spot.  Should I go tell the kids?”

Not too surprisingly, we were the hit of the reception – the family that was rescuing the black and white dog.  But getting her home to Minnesota was something else again.  Turns out that various shots and a health certificate were required – fortunately my niece volunteered at a vet’s office who obliged by seeing us on a weekend.  And then there were the flight restrictions.  Our airline didn’t take dogs.  Period.  And all the others would not fly dogs in the heat of the summer.  The idea of renting a car to drive her home was not appealing, but was slowly becoming our only option.  In step my mom and sisters and a wonderful breeder.  While out on a drive in the country, Mom and the others passed a breeder’s sign that said “We ship our dogs anywhere.”  Anywhere?  Not being shy, they trotted up the drive and relayed our predicament. Given her love of dogs, the breeder immediately offered to assist in our rescue of this stray.  Once we identified a flight that a) left before 7am, b) was heading north, c) was non-stop, and d) the temperature had not yet reached 70 degrees, Spot was winging her way to her new home.

At the time, the vet estimated she was 3-5 years old.  She has spent over 11 years as a beloved member of the family.  And although it was the kids who pleaded for a dog, it’s Rich that Spot adopted.  The two are inseparable.  They say that strays are devoted to the person who rescued them, and somehow Spot knows it was Rich.  She’s slowing down these days – at age 15 or so, she’s entitled.  And I finally found a way to worm my way into her heart.  Peanut butter.  The arthritis in her bones is evident in her stiffness and the way she moans.  The vet recommended a homeopathic tablet to help ease her pain, and it’s working.  The trick to getting her to take it three times a day is peanut butter.  I administer the doses, so she now follows me around the house looking at me with her big eyes and a look that says “more peanut butter now?”  I still may not be her favorite, but I’ll take it.