Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Hardest Appointment

We've recently made the difficult decision to put our dog down.

Wayne and I adopted Dax in 1998 when he was 10 weeks of age. We had only been married for 3 years when we welcomed him into our lives. We affectionately call him our first-born.

Dax and I the day he joined our family,  October 1998.
Through three houses, three job changes between the two of us and two babies -- now two growing girls -- he has been our ever patient, sweet and snuggly dog. 

Now, at age 15, he has a growth that the vet believes to be cancerous. He has lost sight in one eye, has limited sight in the other and is completely deaf. 

I've lost track of how long ago he lost his hearing. To be honest, when he first started having difficulty hearing I thought it was by choice, with a screaming infant and a loud toddler in the house. Turns out he really was losing his hearing, and now he is completely and utterly deaf. 

The arthritis in his back legs is so bad that just standing still his legs shake and quiver. He has lost control of his bladder, resulting is numerous accidents in the house, even when we're home and let him out every 20 minutes.

None of this makes this decision easier. Despite his ailments, he still loves popcorn and will come running as quickly as possible at the smell of popcorn popping. He loves to snuggle. He burrows under the covers and curls up next to a girl's leg to sleep. A roaring fire and a dog bed are his favorite comforts.

And, we seem to be going about it in an odd way. We've selected a date weeks in the future, February 14th. Yes, I know that's Valentine's Day. I feel awful to plan it this logically, but the girls have a release day from school that day so they won't need to be concentrating in school, but will be out of the house. Monday the 17th is President's Day, so they will have a long 3-day weekend to be sad and get as many tears out as they can before they have to get back to reality.

This has been a hard decision. Part of me knew that making the appointment that far out means that if we change our minds we can always cancel. And for a couple of weeks I couldn't sleep and had to pop Zantac a couple of times a day over this decision.

It doesn't seem right to pick the day my dog should die, when he would probably be perfectly content to carry on as he is, possibly for years. Yet he can't be comfortable and cannot communicate his pain. He can't take prescription pain meds for the arthritis because his liver enzymes are so elevated; we're quite sure that his liver would fail by medicating him.

Then I spoke to a friend who had to make a similar decision with her cat who had kidney disease. Sure, there are treatments, and sure, the cat could have lived longer. But because my friend had to give her cat an IV once a day, the cat cringed every time my friend came near. She stopped being close to the people she loved the most, for fear of a pinprick and pain. That's not living. My friend put the date a couple of weeks out, and every time the cat seemed to improve she got her hopes up that perhaps they wouldn't need to do this, but then she would get worse again. She felt guilty when she didn't pay attention to the cat, which happened quite often with a newborn in the house. Her recommendation was to move the appointment up and stop torturing myself with the time between now and then.

And yet, somehow, her relating this story brought me peace with this decision and with the timing of it. We will enjoy every minute that we have with Dax, and the last few days we will spoil him rotten. He will have all the popcorn he wants, raw cookie dough, snuggles and warm fires. 

Now, when Dax has accidents in the house I am more patient, because I know that this won't last much longer.  I'm not as annoyed when he is awake at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, insisting on being let out and fed, because I know that some day soon I'll be able to sleep in on the weekends. And I'll be honest, I am very much looking forward to finally taking down the gates we've had to put back up at our home, in order to limit his accidents in one area of the home. Baby gates are so incredibly annoying, and it feels like we went from having to put them up for babies and toddlers to putting them up for the geriatric dog with little break without them. 

I will miss him terribly. And I have no idea how I am going to be able to handle being the one who is there when the vet makes her final visit. But I now have peace that he has lived a wonderful 15 years with us, and that we are doing the right thing by him.

UPDATE: Jan 29, 2014 Due to the number of canceled school days due to weather, our kids' school district has now decided to hold school on February 14th. When Lindsey got the news she told me tearfully that she couldn't possibly be at school around all her classmates when she was going to be bursting into tears throughout the day. We've now had to change our plans to February 15th, Saturday. In the meantime, Dax's physical condition continues to deteriorate, making walking and eliminating challenging for him, further re-inforcing that the time is right for us to ease his suffering. Wish us well through this difficult transition.

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