10. February 2012 · Comments Off on Sometimes Love Means Letting Go… · Categories: General

That might be true today.

It’s hard to know where that fine line is between being ready to say goodbye to a much-loved pet, and giving up too soon. We’ve all faced it, or we will, if we haven’t yet. The gray hair creeps over the senior muzzle, eventually whitening the entire face; the eyes cloud over, the ears stop up, and the gait shifts from exuberant to hesitant. But still she eats, drinks, roams the yard (bouncing off the fence due to the clouded eyes), and barks imperiously when she needs your attention.

Then one day she just doesn’t get out of bed, choosing instead to sleep all day. You wake her up and carry her outside (if she’s carry-size), and when you set her down, she falls over and can’t right herself. She stands spraddle-legged, shaking from the effort of maintaining balance. You bring her back inside to her food dish because she hasn’t ‘t eaten since the day before, and she sniffs it and turns away. You take her to the water bucket, because she drinks water 20 times a day, and she sniffs it and turns away. You put her back in her bed, and she goes back to sleep almost immediately.

So you call the vet, make an appointment to have them checked out, and you worry. And you cry, because you realize that 16+ is a fantastic age for an iggy, and her paws are totally entwined all around your heart.

Meantime, you glance over and she’s standing up, getting out of her bed, hobbling to the water bucket and drinking deeply, and your heart smiles, thinking maybe it was a false alarm. You bring some BilJac liver treats to her bed, and she eats them with no hesitation. You pull the expensive lunch meat from the fridge, and give her a couple slices, breaking it up into bite size pieces. Your heart smiles again, thinking maybe it really was a false alarm.

You cuddle with her awhile, loving the weight of her 10 lbs gathered in your arms and resting on your chest, grinning when she rests her head on your shoulder, hoping she’ll fall asleep there. But she lets you know she’s had enough, and you gently place her back in her bed, in front of the little ceramic space heater that’s been running all day for her on this fairly warm day. You notice, as you rearrange her blanket before putting her back in bed, that the bed is damp, and your heart sinks again. The little one has never peed the bed before, to your knowledge. Maybe it wasn’t a false alarm.

At any rate, there’s nothing you can do tonight, so you make sure she’s warm and cozy, the water bucket nearby in case she wakes up thirsty, and you head to your own bed. Your other dogs curl up beside you and you find comfort in their presence and their enduring, unquestioning love.

You find yourself waking early the next morning, listening for the imperious, demanding bark of the senior iggy that always starts your day, and it doesn’t come. Then you realize you haven’t heard her bark since the previous morning, and she usually barks several times a day. Your heart sinks again, and you lie there cuddling the big dogs while pondering the little one.

What is the right thing to do for her? What is BEST for HER? It’s hard to say. She eats, she drinks, but the sleep-aggressive dog has to wear a muzzle 24/7 because she’ll walk into him while he’s sleeping, not realizing he’s there. She has to be carried into the yard so she doens’t walk off the side of the ramp. Once there, she walks in circles, like a canoer paddling on only one side of the boat.

You think about your friends who have faced this journey before you, about Giorgio, the IG who lost both is eyes to glaucoma and lived at least one more year, confined to the kitchen and carried in and out for potty breaks. You remember how you thought that was no fit life for a dog, and you remember hoping it would never reach that point for yours. Has it now? She used to have the run of the house. Now she has a portion of the kitchen and laundry room, and her bed in the office during the day. She lost her human bed privileges when she started pooping in her sleep.

You ponder the next 10 days on your schedule. The first three are relatively light – a Friday doing course development instead of teaching, and a weekend. But the next week is packed full with a tight schedule that would leave no room for an unescheduled vet trip, if one is needed. You remember the pain of letting your last dog go without being able to be there to say goodbye, because that was best for her, and you resolve to not face that this time.

You think about asking an animal communicator to talk to your little one, but remember when she tried to do that with another dog, and how she said the dogs were surprised you had asked her, because we all communicate fine with each other. And you realize that the little one *has* been communicating with you through her cloudy eyes, the unhappy droop to her head, her gentle snuggling the night before. And you weep as you realize you might be saying goodbye today to the best little iggy that ever walked the face of the earth.

Then you start doubting yourself. Maybe you misunderstood what you saw. Maybe she’s not that bad. She still eats, doesn’t she? Still drinks? Maybe it’s not time. We’ll let Doc tell us. Doc is good at knowing this stuff.

Having decided that you’re not making a decision, you get up and take hte big dogs outside. When you come back in, you go wake the little dog, and realize as you lift her from her bed that she’s soaking wet. Your heart sinks again as you realize maybe you didn’t misunderstand anything. You carry her outside and set her down, gently catching her before she falls over, and watch her stand spraddle-legged to keep her balance, head shifting from side to side like a snake, entire body quivering from the strain of standing. Your heart sinks again as you gently pick her up and bring her back inside to her bed in the office in front of the space heater. Since her bed is wet, you appropriate one of the beds from the big dogs and put that in front of her heater.

Then you go to your PC to type a post on GreyTalk.com and are interrupted by the sound of her toenails scrabbling on the kitchen floor. You bring her back and put some water in a dish. Because you love her, you hold the dish of water directly under her pretty little nose until she realizes it’s there and starts drinking it. Then you find the BilJac liver treats and feed her some of those for breakfast, becuase she ignored her food dish when you pointed it out to her in the kitchen.

And you doubt yourself again, because she’s eating and drinking, standing and walking, looking for what she wants and needs. To be honest, at this point you don’t know if you’d rather she be ok or not. You don’t know for sure how happy she is with her very limited life that would drive *you* crazy. So you email Doc and give her a status update, and end the email with: “Just so you know, if we have to let her go today, I’m ready.” And you try not to hate yourself for saying that, and try not to think about whether you’re saying that because it’s best for the little one entwined in your heart, or because you can’t bear the thought of watching her decline further over time and aren’t willing to do the heroic things that other friends have done with/for their dogs. You reassure yourself with the knowledge that she is a much-loved dog, and she knows that she is loved and will continue to be loved no matter what happens today.

And then you sit and weep because you have no idea how this day is going to turn out, and 11am is still so very far away.

Update: 11am came and went, and at 1140, I left Doc’s office alone, a tiny blue collar tucked into the pocket of my jeans, and a big piece of my heart lying on a table in Doc’s exam room. Run free to good health, baby girl. Your mama loves you more than she has words to say.

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