When is it Time to Euthanize?

Over my lifetime, I've struggled a lot with the decision to euthanize, or not.  It's a very personal decision, having a lot to do with how you've been raised, and what lessons your life has taught you over the years.  Understand that, as I make this decision, it's not a single decision made for a single animal... I've made this decision more times than I feel any person should be required to, working with rescue as I do.  And, too, I've always tended toward keeping animals with me, when they had issues that would likely have landed them in the shelter or be relegated to live out their lives chained to a tree out back... AND I could maintain safety for the others (human and animal) in my home.   I remind myself that I can always change my mind, and there have been times when I've decided to call the vet's office in the morning after a long day of struggling, then changed my mind the next morning when the struggles didn't seem so ominous that next morning.

As I write this, I draw a lot of my thoughts and feelings from the past 72 hours, so I'll warn you: it's going to be emotional.  Tory, my friend and companion for the past 7+ years, finally succumbed to her physical ailments yesterday, and much of the last 6 or so months has been spent tailoring and re-tailoring our life together so that she was able to still participate in the activities that she always enjoyed so much.  I didn't come to this decision lightly... there was a great deal of thought and preparation that went into it.  But, I also feel that I gave Tory the best ending to a wonderful life that I could have managed.  She was loved and valued until the very end.

Things Tory loved to do

I've been a jogger for many years (jogger, not runner... maybe Power Walker is a more fitting term), but my dogs were always Really Big dogs whose feet and joints couldn't handle the impact of jogging.  So, until Tory came into my life, I didn't have a partner for this.  Tory went jogging with me every day, and was so excited that if I put her leash on to get in the car, she'd often run past the car and down the driveway so that I had to pull her back.  She was almost disappointed to get in the car instead of going for a run.  On days when the weather was bad, we'd jog in the house... my house makes a circle, and we'd jog together (sans leash) for 30 minutes or so, often playing old rockNroll at high volume.  Tory often coached me by running backwards and barking at me.

As her arthritis worsened, I purchased medications at the vet's office to help allay the worst symptoms, and we were able to continue on our way... finally, though, I made the decision about a year ago to stop the outdoor runs altogether, when Tory started needing 'rest breaks' under the dining room table.  When she first started her 'breaks', she'd often rest a few times for a minute or so at first during a session... but as time went on and her pain worsened, she'd spend more time under the table, only coming out when I passed that point to cheer me on with barks.  Then she'd lay down again.

During this time, it was getting progressively harder for her to go up and down stairs... there is one floor of stairs in our house, and our living room and bedroom are on the bottom floor, kitchen, office, bathroom and dining room are upstairs.  She developed her own way of moving floor to floor, slowly, and almost sideways to avoid hurting her hips.  Going up the stairs, she'd often stop and look at me, waiting for encouragement... my husband would laugh, because all I had to do way say 'I'm helping" while I walked behind her.  She'd do the rest.

A couple of weeks ago, she stopped coming out altogether, often laying under the table with her back to me while I jogged.  She often didn't even lift her head to look at me when I tried to engage her.  I was lifting her backend now to do stairs.  She still managed on her own going down, but needed more and more help increasing almost daily to go up the stairs.  The last day or so, she spent some time under the table trembling and whimpering... it wasn't a lot of time, but it was enough for me to get it.   But, always wanting to be with her family, she never made the decision to stay away from us, choosing to stay on another floor.  Even on her last night with us, she hobbled from the living room to the bedroom, sleeping on the carpet beside the bed to be close.

I tend to compare the struggles that I see in my companions with those I see in human lives as we age... being a nurse in a geriatric facility, I feel that I understand the quality of life issues maybe better than someone who doesn't share my perspectives.  I've always felt that death was not the worst thing that could befall a human or animal in this life, and I still feel this way.  

I try to make this decision giving the Quality of Life issue the most weight in the decision... first, I thank God that I live in a world that allows me to decide this for my pets.  I don't believe that we should be kept alive 'at all costs'... I've seen this mindset in operation too often, both with humans and animals.  

No one can really help you  make this decision... you can get opinions (and I recommend that you do), but remember that those who give you these opinions aren't living your (or your pet's) life.  Only you know what you're able -- emotionally and physically -- to handle.  

My house feels very empty today, even with my 3 hoodlum cats here.  It's the first time in over 35 years that I haven't had a dog, and I'm feeling it.  I don't feel ready for another one yet, but Tory is really missed.

Brenda Rushman, CCBC

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