Friday, January 28, 2011

The hardest part of pet ownership

When the time comes, and one has to make the decision of letting their most beloved companion go.... this is undoubtedly the toughest decision of being a pet parent.

The first time I went through it personally, was with our second dog (first dog after moving to FL) Rafiki. He was a Pomeranian / German Spitz and a dog that stole the hearts of many non-dog people. My aunt, who was terrified of dogs and quite to the extreme, over came her fears because of Raf... she even asked to keep him for a weekend once!

Raf had never been ill in his life. He was always a healthy dog or so we thought. After moving to Orlando to attend UCF, my mum started taking Raf to a groomer for his regular grooming. Prior to that, I groomed him myself once a week.... and it took me three hours to do him. He always looked stunning after a good brush out!

Within days after his first grooming appointment, Raf developed a massive infection in his ears. Days later it spread around his eyes, then mouth and nose area. Within weeks, all these areas were covered with scabby, scaly, dry sores... his nose discolored and dry, eyes lost life and slowly he was heading towards a path.... we were unfamiliar with.

Over a course of 8-9 months, Raf had seen 6, maybe 7 veterinarians. They diagnosed him with a condition called "Auto Immune Disease..." which basically means they had no idea what it was and what was causing it... but he was dying.

Closer to the end of his life, Raf's belly started swelling up, and felt like a massive rock. His belly would drag across the ground, the swelling forcing his penis off to the side. He appeared to be dying slowly, but yet had days in between where he would greet my mum and dad at the door, bark at the golfers on the golf course, and still demand his fruit and carrots at the end of the night.

My mum knew we had to let him go, but we could not fathom having to make the decision of taking away a life... what right did we have to do this? And then of course the thoughts... what if there was treatment for his condition that we just did not know about?

Months went by, and Raf's condition got worse and worse... he looked like a dog we were not familiar with at all, and started behaving aggressively... even towards us.... which he had never done in the past. We were so wrapped up in his current state... we almost forgot his life as a healthy dog.

Finally, my mum, uncle and brother came to Orlando with Raf... and we decided it was time. I spent one last weekend with him, and then I went to the vet to say our goodbyes. My mum, uncle and brother met me there... they were in Gainsville that weekend so that I could be with Raf.

Raf and I walked around the parking lot waiting on my mum to arrive. Our backs towards her... as soon as she pulled up, he immediately recognized the sound of her car. He pulled me toward her, and there he was, as though he was perfectly fine just a fat belly, rusty skin and no hair! How could we do this to him.... clearly he was not ready to part.

We walked in and the vet assured us this was the right thing to do. He told us, Raf's heart rate had increased.. but that was because of his excitement to see mum... and that he would have to give him two sedatives... the first one that will put him in a state of relaxation, and then the second... that will put him to peace. We were just a mess!

This was about 11 years ago... and till this day my parents refuse to ever have another dog. They said "dogs hurt more than children." I guess we must have been pretty bad kids!

For a long time, I pondered about this decision... and it was this that led me to my career and beliefs today.

I was saddened because we prolonged his life without improving the quality of his life.

I was saddened because all our minds were filled with the misery we put him through, and the the pain, and agony he suffered because we were thinking about ourselves.

I was saddened because for months after his death, we only remembered his last 8 months... and they were horrible.

I was saddened because we did not know if we had made the right decision... we did not know of anyone aside from the vets that could assure us of this.

I made a promise to Raf, that I woud not ever allow another animal of mine to suffer like he did. And if I have the opportunity to help someone else realize and understand that it is a blessing that we can make this decision for our pets not a right.... that I will comfort them each step of the way.

I promised him that if I got called upon to accompany a family to their dog's last vet appointment... I would.

And till this day I have. It never gets easier, it never feels different.... it is always hard and very emotional, but it is comforting to know we were of help. I would not ever make the decision for the family or the dog, but I will be there to hold them through it, if they felt right by doing so.

Beyond that, it is the greatest feeling to allow a family to cherish the greatest moments of their pets lives as opposed to filling their memories off all the things they should not have done.

And on this note, I want to share a more recent loss of a dear friend dog. His name is Champ. Champ, a brindle boxer, owned by my dearest friend Kelly and Micah Humphrey passed away on Christmas Eve.

I did not even know this was an option available to pet owners... but they called their vet to see if they could have them come to their home.... and they did.

Kelly said, this was the best way she has ever said good bye to any of her pets. It was comforting to know he was not in a place he dreaded most, and in the loving arms of whom the dog loved most... surrounded by all the other family pets (some of whom choose to stay close by, others walked off into separate rooms... fascinating!)

He was calm, at peace, comfortable, and ready to join his brother who awaited him on Rainbow Bridge.

1 comment:

lucy's mom said...

Thanks for passing on the valuable info that many vets will make house calls when the time comes to help a dog end their suffering and move on to a better place. I've had the privledge of being present when three of my dogs passed, and I can positively say that it is a very moving and comforting experience - especially when the dog has been suffering with cancer as one of mine had. She was so terrified of the vet, and in such poor health at the end, that I felt like it was a gift to help her go to the Rainbow Bridge. And I was left with the memory of taking good care of her right to the very end. As you say, it never gets any easier, but it can definitely be harder if your dog is panicked at the idea of being at the vet for one last time.