Life is sometimes a very scary road to travel down. When you are forced to listen to the harsh reality that is “malignant mixed tumor” spoken by your child’s veterinarian your whole world is turned upside down. In fact, it will never be the same.
One day you share your life with a goofy Golden and the next a large mass appears. You hope for the best, but as the mass seems to grow your heart begins to ache for the unthinkable you have experienced so many times before with the four-legged children you love. When a natural death doesn’t occur it is left to you to decide what is best for the child you love. Unlike the human world, however, the animal world does allow for humane euthanasia when circumstances dictate that is the right thing to do. It is a power you are granted, but with that power comes an agonizing choice to decide what’s best for the four-legged members of your family.
That decision was recently thrust upon my wife and I when our Golden Retriever Sarah got sick. We remember the day almost three and a half years ago when Sarah entered our lives as a rescue from Houndhaven (http://www.houndhaven.org/) seeking nothing more than the love and affection missing from the first five years of her life. Over time she became our mess of a goofball with nicknames such as care bear, grummy, grumbly, Sarah beara and more, but always was first and foremost our girl with the big heart and a beautiful smile.
The past few weeks have seen a lot of tears exchanged in our household, but with those come the funny and heartwarming memories that only animals can bring to our lives. Sarah has always been a silly girl especially when she made her way down each morning to extract lumps of ice from the water bowl and carried them to the carpet for her crunchy delight. The girl loved her ice and loved to eat whatever came her way. If the refrigerator door was open she was right there peaking inside to see what looked good. If there was a sandwich on the table you’d better push it far enough away so she couldn’t reach it during her numerous table surfing escapades.
Sarah would devour her meals and kept a watchful eye on her brothers in case a piece of kibble found its way to the floor. After her meal, she’d find her way to the backyard to see what else she could find to meet her hunger needs whether that be a poop delicacy, rocks or grass. Once back inside floor mats and sometimes leashes were also considered by her to be fair game; whatever her chewing habits allowed. Through it all though you just had to laugh at our constant refrain of “Sarah, don’t eat that!” as she played a game with you to see who could reach the poop first. What a disappointed look she had when we managed to get to the poop before her to hurriedly clean it up.
You never know the full story when a rescue animal enters your life, but you’re always determined to make this a forever home. When Sarah first came to us she hesitated outside after we let her out as if she was afraid we’d not let her back in. When it was time for bed, her first steps upstairs were delivered with trepidation as if she had never been allowed into the human sleeping area of the home where she lived. She just wanted affection, but was hesitant until she knew her forever family accepted her as a real member of the family unit. It required a lot of petting and patience to let her know she was with her forever family now.
My wife and I have always had a much greater affinity for animals than people. There’s an innocence and dedication to the family unit that animals deliver while people struggle with their relationships in life. The bond between a four-legged family member and their human is very special and requires a certain courage and perseverance to never let go during the course of each other’s lives. In Sarah’s case that time together was much too short, but we never regretted the time we did have only hoping it would have been much longer.
Sarah barked like a fiend and she loved lying in the dirt on a spot she picked out herself in the backyard. She liked to feel the earth and reflect on life as the sun shone on her golden locks of hair. She often felt the need to see how deep in the sand she could sink so her body would be partially covered by specks of dirt and the grist that sand leaves on your being. Sarah was also very prone to bite and lick her paws to the point where baby wipes were required to give her some relief. The “wipes” were a call to action and required one of us to distract her as the other applied a wipe while Sarah went into “grumbly” mode. We were never afraid she’d actually bite, but this certainly wasn’t one of her favorite moments of the day. However, as four-legged parents it was one of our many jobs to help keep our girl healthy and safe.
The thing is unless you saw the big lump on her back the average person probably wouldn’t have known Sarah was so sick. Following her biopsy Sarah’s tumor continued to grow and forced its way through the stitches causing bleeding that required constant changes in her bandages. We sought one last chance with an oncologist, but any hope we had left disappeared when informed the tumor had metastasized in her lungs. Only palliative care could be offered and we recognized the quality of her life was rapidly fading.
The reality of hearing that your child is dying is shocking. Take the worst time in your life and multiply it by more than a thousand. It feels like your world has been turned upside down and you start to tear up each time she lifts her head to see what’s left in her world. According to an article in the Spring 2012 edition of The Paw Street Journal (http://pawstreet.com/), the decision to euthanize your four-legged family member “. . . almost always causes much soul searching. It is easy to become emotionally caught up in keeping your pet alive when you know that there is no hope of him regaining his health. But consider: euthanasia is an act of love towards a pet that is no longer able to enjoy life . . . But when a pet reaches the point when life is no longer enjoyable, the owner must decide whether it would be kinder to prevent further suffering rather than prolong it. Ideally, he will die peacefully in his sleep, like many do. But if not, we hope he’ll let us know when it’s time to let go.”
The reality of what you must decide is devastating; especially when you can feel their urge to continue to be with you. However, the reality is often that her body is giving up. To watch Sarah struggle getting in and out of the car at the end was heartbreaking. When we returned from the oncologist it took us more than a half-hour to convince her to get out of the car until her nose followed the scent of food in a bowl we brought to help her move along. We just couldn’t imagine watching her agonize each time we had to get her back in the car to go to the vet to change her bandages from the seeping incision or to go to the oncologist for radiation treatments that probably wouldn’t buy her anymore than three to six months in palliative care.
Although sometimes “grumbly”, Sarah really was a sweet and gentle girl. At the end, however, as we tried to help her from the car she would snap at you because the pain was often too much to bear particularly in her hindquarters. This was not our Sarah and we knew her tolerance for pain was quickly coming to an end.
Sarah was being so brave and yet she knew she was dying. We believe this is what she tried to tell us a few days before the oncology visit when she made her way upstairs for the last time. I was going to sleep downstairs with her, but she cried out with a whimper that we didn’t know was pain or wanting something else. Upon her own volition, Sarah started to make her way upstairs so she could be with her whole family. When Sarah climbed up on the couch in the bedroom, a spot she favored often, we later surmised she was trying to send us a message saying goodbye and letting us know it was alright to let her zest for life and the affection she craved go.
My wife and I traded the last few nights sleeping with her downstairs. I found myself crying in the dark as she gently laid her paw on top of my hand. I couldn’t help thinking whether she was going to close her eyes forever or wait for us to make that fateful decision to let her go and bring her body to peace. We had been down this road before with other of our four-legged kids, but despite that this decision never gets any easier.
Sarah’s quality of life was deteriorating right before our eyes and we vowed not to let her suffer any longer. You never really know if the decision to humanely euthanize a four-legged family member is the right one, but you have to consider whether keeping her alive for you is really the best decision for her. There must be dignity in death and we knew now was the time. Our veterinarian and a veterinary technician came to the house late in the afternoon and from the moment they entered we began to lose ourselves in emotion and tears.
We each kissed our Sarah goodbye as the injection of the death-inducing juice was administered. Following the injection, Sarah went silent and still. Our vet checked her heart to make sure and confirmed our baby girl was gone. She was finally at peace. We each kissed our Sarah again as a blanket covered her up for the final journey beyond.
Now there was no more pain for our baby girl. We miss her terribly, but someday we’ll see each other again. Sarah, rest in peace and look across the Rainbow Bridge (http://petloss.com/rainbowbridge.htm) to see Miss Kiri waiting for you to enter. We love you always goofball . . . Dad, mom, grandpa and your brothers Mr. Tee and Mr. Toby.