My dog is ill. He is dying, and I think it might be time to let him go.
Last month, when I found out the tumor on the roof of Skunky’s mouth was malignant (with hemangiosarcoma, a cancer that most often affects dogs), I felt numb to the news, in part, because, aside from being a little less active (he is 14, after all), he seemed fine. He was still eating normally and happy as ever to get out of the house and go for a walk.
The vet, who told me he would advise his own mother against putting the dog through chemo, radiation, or cryosurgery, told me to spoil him rotten, make him comfortable, and to monitor his quality of life as I’d know when it was time to let him go.
As a kid, if a horse or dog had to be put down in a book I was reading or a movie I watched, I never understood it. Why couldn’t the doctor patch them up?
But in the vet’s office that day, I recalled a time when I took Skunky to Inwood Hill Park when we lived in northern Manhattan some years ago. It was late fall, an absolute beautiful time in that park, and during our walk, we passed by a man wheeling his German Shepherd-mix around the trail on a dolly as, presumably, his elderly dog could no longer walk. That was no life for the animal, I thought to myself. That’s selfish. That’s keeping the dog around for the owner, and I won’t ever do that, I thought.
And now, I find myself at that fork in the road. Yesterday, one side of his snout began to swell. Again, he is still eating and will go on a walk, but the swelling looks pretty bad. And he knows that I know something is up. When I look at him, or pet him gently, he starts to wag and gives me that look of shame he so often gave me as a pup if he thought he did something wrong.
I think it’s time to have him put to sleep. I know I will miss how he greets me when I get in. I will miss his extreme loyalty that ensures he never leaves my side. He’s part of the family, and that’s why my mom, brother, brother’s girlfriend, and the other pet living in the house (a shorkie!), don’t seem quite ready for him to go. (This is partly why I feel guilty about having to make this decision.)
I spoke with a colleague about this a few weeks ago, as he worked at a veterinary technician many years ago, and he said, more often than not, owners wait too long. It’s not like a pet can tell us if they’re really suffering, right? He assured me the dog wouldn’t feel a thing when being euthanized. That gave me some comfort.
But it’s still tough.
You see, this is happening at a time when my own father is nearing the end of his life. A very strong man who never had any health problems aside from his Parkinson’s disease, he’s been living in a nursing home for the past seven months. My father is not suffering, per se, but I wouldn’t say he has a great quality of life.
He is incontinent. His limbs are contracting. He is fed through a peg tube. He relies on nurse’s aides to reposition him every two hours. His ability to speak is pretty much gone. He does attempt to let us know when he is in pain. Sometimes, it’s not that, but it’s tough to understand what he is trying to tell us.
The best we can all do is make sure he’s as comfortable as possible. I thank the staff at the nursing home for doing that as best they can.
In many ways, it feels like he is already gone. I always loved talking to my father (he’s a very jovial and funny man) and I haven’t been able to do that in a long while. But, he’s not gone, and this is why 2015 has been a limbo year for me. I am constantly waiting for a shoe to drop. I cannot, I will not, enjoy myself. Being social is the last thing on my mind because it doesn’t feel right.
I control that, and I know I can make a better effort to “live my life” while my dad is at the nursing home, and while Skunky lives his last doggie days. But right now, I can’t seem to find my footing.