Yesterday, we had our nearly 15-year old border collie, Buck, put to sleep. It was a hard decision, and a hard day. Buck was an extremely affectionate, male border collie of about 75 pounds. We brought him home as a pup, and I think he had a good life. We have five acres of land in Texas hill country, and we constantly have deer in our yard. They fascinated him. He came to me for cookies and went to my wife to play ball. He was definitely the smartest dog I've ever known. He would come into the den and either shake his head or put his head in my lap when he needed something. When I responded, he would stop at the front door, the food bowl, the (cookie) pantry, or sometimes just walk to the back door. In the 15 years we had him, I think he only had a mistake in the house three or four times--and I think those were due to feeling bad.
Unfortunately, in recent years his health had been declining. He had cancer on his tongue a couple of years ago, and lots of bleeding--though that had stopped. He had lost a lot of capability in his hind legs, and occasionally he had to be helped up if he was on the tile floor. We had to get a ramp to get him up into the sedan for his trips to the vet. He had also lost an eye a couple of years ago, and that made it harder for him to get around. He would trip every once in a while, and more frequently recently, go down when he did so. It was getting hard to get him to get up and go out. And he didn't seem to like any of his food anymore--unless we put something soft and new in it. And before our recent vacation, he had been coughing and choking a bit more frequently.
We always boarded him for our vacations. He actually seemed to like the kennel and the other dogs. This time, when we picked him up, they told us he was vomiting and excreting blood, and hadn't eaten for the last two days. He seemed pretty much himself, except he didn't want any cookies. He acted like he did, but he would just lick them and let them lay. He was vomiting occasionally on his walks, had diarrhea, and both had blood in them. We decided it was time to put him to sleep.
My wife called the vet around 9:30 am, and they wanted us to wait till 2:30 pm to bring him in. It was a tough several hours. We stayed with him while they administered the shots at the vet.
I found out if you cry a lot, don't take benadryl to put yourself to sleep. It results in a significant head-ache.
Part of my problem, in addition to loosing a dog that I really loved, was that I felt guilty. Was there something else we could have done to reduce some of his health problems? Better food and water or more vet care? Could we have gotten through this latest problem with patience and veterinary assistance? I don't know. I do know I don't think my wife could handle any further extended grief. Her dad's about to go into surgery, and both her parents are getting old. Her organization at work is going away, and she's got uncertainty there.
But this was the first time I had ever had a pet put down. We had cats and dogs when I was young and lived at home. But they either got hit by a car or ran off (a couple of the cats). The grief was sudden and short, and without any guilt. Before I got married, I avoided pets for the inconvenience of taking care of them--especially in apartments. But after we got married, my wife wanted a dog. We waited till we had some land for him/her, then she found a dog she wanted. Buck.
Having Buck pass brought back memories of my mother and father dying from cancer. Mom passed when I was in high school, from brain cancer. It was a long ordeal (inoperable), and we were at the hospital when she passed. It is very hard to lose her. Dad died just a few years ago. He had both lung and brain cancer. Again, they didn't operate, but Dad went through chemo. He had remarried and was living in Indiana near my step-mother's children (my wife and I were in Texas). He didn't seem to suffer like my Mom, though the chemo was pretty rough. He decided not to do another round of chemo. What was especially hard was that my sister and step-mother decided to move him to a nursing home just after Christmas that year--without consulting me. I would have preferred to bring him to Texas and our house, though he might not have wanted that. He died two weeks after being put in the home. During his chemo and my visits home, he seemed pretty much himself, though weaker and less active. As far as I was aware, he didn't get the excruciating pain my Mom went through.
But the point of discussing all of this (besides releasing some of my pain), is the fact that I have some measure of guilt associated with both Buck and my Dad in their passing. While I think I made the best decisions at the time, was there something more I could have done?
I don't plan on having another dog. They are great companions, but I don't want to go through the grief of their passing again.
Since I don't get many readers (including my wife), I thought I would add a comment or two on similar situations. I do not approve of abortion in most situations, nor of assisted suicide. In abortion, the girl, young lady, or woman, must either have a hard heart or live with some degree of guilt for their actions. I cannot imagine being in that position. But for their sakes, and those of their unborn child, I hope they decide to keep the child, or in the worst situation, put him/her up for adoption.
Assisted suicide is a little different. In that case, the person makes a choice that they do not want to live, and my libertarian leanings push me to accept their decision. In the terminal stages of a disease, with significant pain, I can understand that choice. But in any other situation, and even in that one, there may be other options for the future. Life has too many ups and downs to bail during one of the downs. If you lose a capability or some functionality, you work around it, just like in old age. It's helping the suicide that I believe is wrong; you should instead try to help them to get through the down time in their life. If you help, how can you live without guilt that maybe they would have recovered and lived years of enjoyable life?
If you read this, thanks for staying with me. Putting down my thoughts has brought me some relief. Maybe some day I will see Buck again...