Having very old animals is one of the most wonderful and heartbreaking things I have ever had to go through.
When I lost my old greyhound a year ago, it was soul-crushing but also necessary. She was very ill with kidney disease and she went downhill very fast in the end - it was the only humane option and therefore the choice was easy.
This year, I am facing losing both my very old Twiggy the corgi, and my very old Darby too. Both of these descisions are weighing heavily on my mind and heart right now, because neither one of them are easy to make. Both of them involve locomotive failures and not sickness. It's not like I haven't gone through this before - both Metro and Gogo were chosen euthanasias because of lameness issues. Both of them were much younger though - the idea of them having to face a long lifetime of crippled limping sealed the decisions, as I felt it was unfair to both of them. Both Twiggy and Darby are very old and lame, which means I know the decision is looming.... but when to make it? When is the right time?
The old corgi is my companion of about four years. We found her running on the freeway several years back, drying up from nursing puppies - her pads were super soft, like she had never really been outside. We think she may have been a breeder dog who got too old and got dumped - we never found an owner, and fell in love with her while we were looking, so she stayed. She used to be my work buddy, always riding along in my truck with me. About two years ago, her arthritis got to be bad enough that even a half day of work was too much for her, and she'd be pretty lame the following day. Up until about 6 months ago, she was still able to go for little 1/2 mile walks once or twice a week. As of late, she is now struggling to rise from her bed in the morning, and a lot of the time I have to help her stand. She's very lame and pain meds don't control it well anymore. Her back and her hips are very bad and there isn't anything we can do about it except keep her comfortable. Some days, she is great - still manages to lope around the yard, still barks at the big dogs when they play, still has her voracious corgi appetite. But some mornings, I can't get her out from under the bed. Today she didn't even lift her head when I called her to go outside - I thought she was dead. It was only after I turned the lights on and looked down at her that I was able to make sure she was still breathing.
I made an appointment for her once already, but she rebounded so well in the week leading up to it that I couldn't in good faith put her down just yet. Now though, I am facing that decision again. I'm not ready but I'm also not willing to make her suffer longer than she already has.
|Only the cutest corgi you ever saw|
I'm also not sure what to do about Darby. I took her on knowing full well that she was going to die. I took her on knowing that she is crippled in all four legs, and that she is never going to be sound or normal again. What I didn't anticipate happening was how much she really has bloomed at our place. She really filled out - she looks fantastic! I've never seen a horse of her great age look as good at she does. Good food has taken ten years off her life visually. She absolutely sparkles in the sunlight.
But she is not sound. She gets around well enough but she never really recovered from when she tanked so badly in the spring, right before I brought her home. If her feet get wet or if she packs anything in up against her soles, she is dead lame. She grunts and groans with every step when she is sore. Some days she looks really good, but a lot of the time she doesn't. On her worst days, bute helps her get along.
I think about how lame Gogo and Metro were when I euthanized them. Neither of them were ANYWHERE near as bad as her on even her good days. I think about ever letting either of those two get to Darby's level of lameness, and there's no way I would have EVER let them suffer that much. I would have - and did - let them go long before they ever got to this level. There is some level of lameness that is controllable and acceptable to me - like P's lameness, it certainly isn't enough to warrent euthanizing her just yet. She is not very sound if she is in work, but she is able to run and play and go for light hacks - that is definitely a decent quality of life. Darby is not even able to do more than walk, and never has, ever since I have known her.... which actually I think is making the decision more complicated for me. I think that because I never knew Darby when she was sound, I have an altered idea of what comfortable is for her. The fact stands that she is so much better now than she was a few months ago when I first brought her home - and that makes it hard. She has really improved from what she was back then. That makes me want to keep fighting for her, to keep helping her feel good in any way that I can, because she deserves it.
But she also deserves to be comfortable and pain free. She deserves respect and dignity. She deserves the right thing - but what is the right thing?
|Darby the day I brought her home|
I am helped in these descisions by knowing that horses and dogs aren't thinking of what is going to happen tomorrow. They live in the here and now - they only think about what is happening right now, or when they anticipate something in their daily routine. They aren't thinking these existential thoughts, wondering what life is all about, wondering if they are going to feel better tomorrow or in a week or a month. And when they are old and infirm, they pass gently when they die, their old bodies ready to be free of their everyday suffering. I don't know what happens after this life, but I like to think that animals are restored to their full health and vigor somewhere off in the universe, able to run and play again. I don't believe in suffering or making animals live longer just because these decisions are hard for us humans to deal with.
It's weighing heavily on me and I'm not sure when the right time to make these decisions is. Is there ever a right time? I don't know.