Goodbye buddy - we have had the time of our lives
Saying Goodbye to Buddy
At 6 A.M., I wake up my husband, Bill, and say, "I just can't do this to him anymore. It's time."
I've been up all night with our ancient beagle, Buddy, who is deaf and nearly blind. For the last 14 years Buddy has slept in our bed, but recently, to avoid his falling off, we've taken turns with him on a mattress on the floor. Last night, I watched as he restlessly circled, lost control of his back legs, fell, then tried painfully to get up to circle some more. Our Buddy used to climb all the way into the dishwasher to lick the dirty plates; now he turns up his nose at fresh grilled salmon and homemade meatballs. This morning, as I cradled him to calm him down, I looked into his face. I don't know how else to say it except that all of his wonderful "Buddy-ness" appears to have left him.
Bill and I don't know what's wrong, though the vet is guessing a brain tumor. To find out, Buddy would need to have an MRI and then what? Surgery? We can't afford it, but even if we could, we don't want to put him through that. At most, he'd gain a few months. But with what quality of life?
It's said that an animal will tell his owner when it's time to go. I wish it were that easy. Maybe they do tell us, but we can't—or don't want to—hear it. The humane thing might be to put an ailing animal down, but how can you give up on a member of the family? What if a pet could have lived another year? How do you know?
The answer is, you don't. An animal can't be made to understand what's happening to him, can't tell you explicitly when the price of dragging his failing body around one more day, one more hour, is too much to bear. Deciding what to do is agonizing, an achingly personal decision that no pet owner ever takes lightly.
We have to make the decision for our Buddy. Today, it seems the fight has gone out of him altogether, and, frankly, from me as well. So, at dawn, I approach my husband. After I tell Bill about the night Buddy and I had spent, and how I think we have to end this for him, I tense up, waiting for an argument. Bill is fiercely devoted to this dog. "I need your permission to call the vet, and I feel like we need to do this today," I press on. To my great surprise, Bill slowly nods.
There are veterinarians who will come to your house to put an animal to sleep, but Buddy is getting worse by the minute: He appears completely confused. We wrap him up in a favorite blanket, get in the car and drive to the vet's office. When our vet comes into the exam room, Buddy lets out a long beagle bay, like we haven't heard from him in years. He seems to be telling the world that he is still here, and it shatters our hearts. Even then, part of me thinks,well, if he can still do that, maybe we shouldn't be doing this?But no, we have to. Today. I don't think any of us can take any more.
Crying, Bill says his goodbyes. I kiss Buddy's gray snout and lean my cheek on that silken ear I know so well as the vet gives him an injection. It's a surprisingly gentle process. First, Buddy is sedated. When he is sleeping peacefully, the vet administers the final dose. It is a very gradual letting go—so much so that the vet has to tell us when Buddy is gone. The vet then leaves the room to give us a minute with him. Bill closes Buddy's eyes, as I whisper, "Good-night, sweet puppy. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
That was a year ago, and Bill and I miss him every day. But never do I feel we made the wrong choice. He wasn't living—he was just existing. When I talk to Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, a specialist in emergency veterinary medicine at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists in Stamford, CT, she confirms for me what I already know on some level: "Euthanasia is a gift that you give an animal so he is no longer suffering, the gift of not getting worse. It's a selfless gift, often wrought with guilt, but I hope some people find peace knowing their animal is in a better place." On the next page, you'll find other considerations to help you with this very difficult decision.
Making the toughest call
There is no right answer when it comes to making end-of-life decisions, only what makes sense for you and your family. Below, some points to consider.
Your pet doesn't experience time the same way you do
In fact, animals have no sense of the future at all, says animal ethicist Bernard E. Rollin, PhD, professor of philosophy and animal sciences at Colorado State University. "To the animal mind, there is only present quality of life," Dr. Rollin says. There is no point in buying your pet a few more weeks if it comes at the cost of pain and suffering—at least not from your pet's perspective. Often, pet owners project their own feelings onto the animal—and of course you want him to live forever. But as much as your pet feels like a part of you, it is his experience that is most important.
Weigh all the costs
It sounds callous: How do you put a price on a family member? You may feel guilty that you can't spend every cent to save your pet. But paying for more surgeries and treatments that are unlikely to help will only offer you a temporary feeling of action—especially if old age is the main culprit. When you look at treatment options and interventions, find out if they will give him a good quality of life for a long period of time, says Franklin McMillan, DVM, author ofUnlocking the Animal Mind. Treatments themselves can be painful, and you don't want to put a pet through stress unless there's a good chance it will make a difference. Don't beat yourself up if you opt out of exorbitant procedures. It's perfectly OK to set a limit on how much you can afford.
Think about the whole family's well-beingHow much can your family take physically and emotionally? We had turned our lives upside down for Buddy. In his last months, only one of us could leave the house at a time, which was stressful, as was staying up all night with him. Were we crazy to do that much? Were we horrible not to do more? In the end, there is no right or wrong. We all do the best we can, in every way, for our dear friends.
Check with your vet to find out about local pet grief support groupsonline or in your area.
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