Unknown to most of my readers, I took in two puppy mill survivors who were adopted by a family from a local shelter (“local” being a relative term here in the West). Unfortunately, the family was in a serious automobile collision necessitating emergency back surgery. Because of this … and the fact they lived in a second story apartment … they were no longer able to care for the dogs and get them in/outside.
Unlike our first mill survivors (MaeMae and McKenzie) who came to us at less than two-years of age, Andy (5) and Tess (6) had spent many years in the mill. They both bolt from their crates when the door is opened, like it’s on fire. To my knowledge, the only time Tess was handled (if one can even use that term) was when the miller reached into her cage, grabbing whatever body part he/she could to pull her out and then remove her puppies. Given that’s the only contact Tess had with humans, her behavior was like a wild, cornered animal. If one managed to get her picked up (and in the process sustaining long scratch wounds from her nails), she emotionally shut down. Her fear of handling by humans so great that she defecates on the spot, physically shutting down as her heart races and her eyes lose focus.
Separation from other dogs causes anxiety as well. She’s climbed a 24-inch exercise pen, a 30-inch exercise pen and a 27-inch baby gate. Contained in a crate, she managed to break a lower canine chewing at the door. Any anxiety causes her to soil her crate. Short of putting her in a 2×3 or 3×3-foot pen with a secure lid on it, there is no other way to contain her. Certainly that’s doable but then she’d be removed from the other dogs as space is an issue. Putting her in with one of my dogs doesn’t work because they get upset with her behavior.
That someone could do this to a dog — solely for for profit — just infuriates me. And it greatly saddens me because Tess could have been a sweet dog given even the littlest bit of handling and socialization.
When I first became involved in rescue, my mentor shared the following: “Some dogs are so damaged they can’t be fixed … some dogs are so badly damaged they shouldn’t be fixed.” After several consultations with my vet (who does rescue herself), a trainer, use of an anti-anxiety drug and a course of Rescue Remedy, we came to the conclusion that her psyche is so damaged she will never accept handling. Her fear is so great that she is miserable, living on the fringes and scurrying away from humans. I also had to accept the fact that if I … an experienced rescuer and dog owner of some 28+ years … could not handle/manage her behaviors, then she was not, by any definition of the word, adoptable.
I have cried over no less than seven dogs on the euthansia table in my lifetime. Some my beloved, long-time companions; others, badly-damaged fosters, victims of circumstance or greed. It never gets any easier even when we know it is the right thing. Godspeed Tess … I hope you can, at last, find the joy that eluded you here on earth.
The next time you see a cute puppy in a pet store, remember Tess. Remember what was done to her, all in the name of profit. Remember that she wanted to be a good dog but didn’t have even the basic skills to interact with humans. Remember that there are thousands and thousands more like her, living in misery in the mills. So broken that they can’t be fixed by anyone. Remember.
Andy is one of the lucky ones … he’s making weekly progress, is learning to interact with humans and to play with his canine housemates. My deep thanks to John and Neil who said “yes” and took on the challenge.
Friends recently had to said goodbye to their 16-year old terrier mix, Sophie. A delightful little sprite, she had a good long life with her owners and the two Apsos in the household. As is so often the case with elderly dogs, quality of life became the deciding factor. Difficult as it is, we owners are called upon to take their pain and make it our own, giving them release from a body and/or mind shuttered with age and disease.
In my many decades as pet owner and rescuer, I have been at that crossroads seven times now. While it does not get any easier, each passing has given me a deeper experience base from which to call upon when the next time comes around. And there is always a “next time” for those of us who choose to share our lives with four-legged companions. Over the years, I have learned to set aside my grief and look objectively at what is best for the animal, whether treatment should or should not continue, and how any of it will change the outcome and to what degree. Are they here because they find enough interest in each day to carry on … or is it because I, in my gathering grief, can not let go? Sometimes, the hardest part of letting go is seeing beyond what the heart feels.
During email conversations with Sophie’s mom, the subject came up of what to do with the remains of our companions. A profoundly personal choice with no “right” or “wrong” answers, there are a myriad of choices available now. Options that were not available in the late ’80s when faced with my first euthanasia! My beloved cat — Bear — was brought home, wrapped in a blue towel and buried in a corner of our large yard (a practice not allowed now in many communities). A divorce not too long afterwards precipitated a move back to my home state of Colorado and it has always saddened me that my old Bear was left behind. With that experience imprinted, my first Apso, Brittany, was cremated and returned to me in a little floral box. I’ve toyed with the idea of “planting” her in the yard with a spectacular specimen of some sort — high on the list at this moment is a yellow magnolia tree. Then the nagging questions set in, i.e., what if we move away? (And we will eventually move away, even if it is only on a gurney out the front door.) What if the plant dies and we have to dig it up and send it on? So, there she sits, on my bookcase with her collar and tags laid across the top.
After the death of my parents along with a major clean out of their house and 50 years’ worth of accumulated items, hubby and I embarked on a major decluttering of our own home. While dusting the bookcase one day, I began to think about how many boxes of ashes I’d eventually end up collecting … and why leave them for my niece to dispense with when our time has run. With four geriatric animals in the house at that point and certainly more in the future, I made the decision to let go of the ashes to come. When we lost Ali in 2011, she was cremated and then scattered at a pet cemetery in Northern Colorado … a quiet place with a stunning view of the Front Range of Colorado.
In all honesty, I did not let her go completely. Starting with Ali, all my dogs have been in full coat at some point. Just before being clipped down, I take a lock of the full coat starting at the top of the shoulder … a visual and tangible reminder of the life we shared when they are gone. These lockets now hang in the grooming room, a collage of sorts with fired clay name tags from another friend. Hubby has compared them to the shrunken heads one might find in a voodoo shack. But, in the same breath, I’ve also seen him reach up and gently rub the red braid between his fingers. A connection across the years and a whisper from the Bridge … all that remains.
… to a new star in the heavens tonight. A beautiful, shining red star. It is, indeed, fitting that we raise a glass of red wine to honor her memory. Or, perhaps, to drown our sorrow at her passing. What she added to our lives cannot be measured except by the heart.
Fly now, once again whole, to the high and ancient mountains … the ancestral home beckons.
… when it’s time to let a beloved companion go? As pet owners, we must all face this difficult decision if we are to keep the promises made long years ago. To keep them safe, to keep them warm, to keep their best interest at heart no matter how difficult. Whether it’s the first time or the fifth time, it never gets any easier.
Today’s post is more for me than anything else. We’re struggling with the question of euthanasia for our old girl, Ali. She has severe OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) that’s bordering on self mutilation. She’s always had some element of OCD but it has become markedly worse in the past year. Nothing we’ve tried in the past or the present has helped to a great degree. The current medication as prescribed by a behaviorist from CSU is losing its efficacy. She’s miserable — we’re miserable. As a self-admitted control freak, it is exceedingly difficult for me to concede that I can’t “fix” this. No matter what happens, I do not want to look back on this time and say, “I waited too long” as that means the dog has suffered. Needlessly.
The time has come to pony up and repay Ali for all the years of joy and unconditional love. To take her pain and make it my own, freeing her from the ravages of time and a deteriorating mind and body. I do not make this decision lightly … and I weep with the knowledge she will soon be gone, no longer my little red shadow. Ali holds a special place in my heart as it was through her that my involvement with the breed became a journey of education into what truly makes an Apso “an Apso.”
Many years back I saved the following article and, from time to time, have pulled it out to share with friends struggling with the same issue. Or to prepare myself for what was to come with a foster so badly damaged it was beyond my best efforts. This day, it soothes the angst of impending personal loss …
How Do You Know When It’s Time?
I don’t subscribe to the idea that dogs “will let us know when it’s time,” at least not in any conscious sense on their part. For one thing, I’ve found in my years of counseling folks who have ill pets and often accompanying them through the euthanasia process, that this notion is often interpreted in a way that puts a lot of pressure on people when they’re already stressed and grief-stricken. “What if I miss the signs? He looked miserable yesterday but not today. What if I act too soon or not soon enough? How could he ever let on that he wants it to end? But maybe I’m deluding myself that he feels better than he does.”
Dogs are not people. We lovingly anthropomorphize our dogs during our time together and there’s no harm in that, even quite a bit of reward for both them and us. But the bottom line is that they are not people and they don’t think in the way people think. (Many of us would argue that that speaks to the superiority of dogs.) These amazing beings love us and trust us implicitly. It just isn’t part of their awareness that they should need to telegraph anything to us in order for their needs to be met or their well-being ensured. They are quite sure that we, as their pack leaders, operate only in their best interest at all times. Emotional selfishness is not a concept in dogdom and they don’t know how hard we sometimes have to fight against it ourselves.
Dogs also have no mindset for emotional surrender or giving up. They have no awareness of the inevitability of death as we do and they have no fear of it. It is fear that so often influences and aggravates our perceptions when we are sick or dying and it becomes impossible to separate the fear out from the actual illness after a while. But that’s not the case with dogs. Whatever we observe to be wrong with our sick dogs, it’s all illness. And we don’t even see the full impact of that until it’s at a very advanced point, because it’s a dog’s nature to endure and to sustain the norm at all costs. If that includes pain, then that’s the way it is. Unlike us, they have never learned that letting pain show, or reporting on it, may generate relief or aid. So they endure, assuming in their deepest doggy subconscious that whatever we abide for them is what is to be abided.
If there is a “look in the eye” or an indication of giving up that we think we see from our beloved dogs, it isn’t a conscious attitude on their part or a decision to communicate something to us. It’s just an indication of how tired and depleted they are. But they don’t know there’s any option other than struggling on, so that’s what they do. We must assume that the discomfort we see is much less than the discomfort they really feel. And we do know of other options and it is entirely our obligation to always offer them the best option for that moment … be it further intervention, or none, or the gift of rest.
From the moment we embrace these animals when they first grace our lives, every day is one day closer to the day they must abandon their very temporary and faulty bodies and return to the state of total perfection and rapture they have always deserved. We march along one day at a time, watching and weighing and continuing to embrace and respect each stage as it comes. Today is a good day. Perhaps tomorrow will be, too, and perhaps next week and the weeks or months after. But there will eventually be a winding down. And we must not let that part of the cycle become our enemy.
When I am faced with the ultimate decision about how I can best serve the animal I love so much, I try to set aside all the complications and rationales of what I may or may not understand medically and I try to clear my mind of any of the confusions and ups and downs that are so much a part of caring for a terminally ill pet. This is hard to do, because for months and often years we have been in this mode of weighing hard data, labs, food, how many ounces did he drink, should he have his rabies shot or not, etc. But at some point it’s time to put all of that in the academic folder and open the spiritual folder instead. At that point we are wise to ask ourselves the question: “Does he want to be here today, to experience this day in this way, as much as I want him to?”
Remember, dogs are not afraid, they are not carrying anxiety and fear of the unknown. So for them it’s only about whether this day holds enough companionship and ease and routine so that they would choose to have those things more than anything else and that they are able to focus on those things beyond any discomfort or pain or frustration they may feel. How great is his burden of illness this day, and does he want/need to live through this day with this burden of illness as much as I want/need him to? If I honestly believe that his condition is such, his pleasures sufficient, that he would choose to persevere, then that’s the answer and we press on.
If, on the other hand, I can look honestly and bravely at the situation and admit that he, with none of the fear or sadness that cripples me, would choose instead to rest, then my obligation is clear. Because he needs to know in his giant heart, beyond any doubt, that I will have the courage to make the hard decisions on his behalf, that I will always put his peace before my own, and that I am able to love him as unselfishly as he has loved me.
After many years, and so very many loved ones now living on joyously in their forever home in my heart, this is the view I take. As my veterinarian, who is a good and loving friend, injects my precious one with that freedom elixir, I always place my hand on top of his hand that holds the syringe. He has chosen a life of healing animals and I know how terribly hard it is for him to give up on one. So I want to shoulder that burden with him so he’s not alone. The law of my state says the veterinarian is the one licensed to administer the shot, not me. But a much higher law says this is my ultimate gift to my dog and the responsibility that I undertook on the day I welcomed that dog into my life forever. ~ Hilary Brown Reprinted by permission of the author