Holding life and death in your hands

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know I spent yesterday with Sasha at a Veterinary Surgery practice in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Last week, when I took her to a new local vet for her monthly intramuscular shot of Adequan, they found a new growth in the area of the malignancy she had removed in 2019. That it was in the same general area and not on the opposite side, was dire news. And worse: it was three times the size. We called the surgeon immediately.

His assessment was that, because of the size of this new one the chances were good that it had been there for a few months (it wasn’t there in February when she had her annual checkup) and had metastasized already. We could do an ultrasound, he assured me, to be certain, but it would be a fairly academic exercise, given everything else. Everything else included her advanced age, the size of the new growth, and the location of it.

I chose to go ahead with the ultrasound. It’d be $565 dollars (less if she did not need anesthesia). But at least when we got the results I’d be able to put her down with a clear conscience.

Wasn’t she adorable at three months?

To “Put her down.” What a euphemism that is!

Over these past many days I’ve heard from many dog owners who have gone through this ordeal. Indeed, I’ve gone through it with three of my eight dogs.

How do you know it’s time? I asked one Facebook Group.

  • They can’t walk, get up, pee, eat, etc. (pick one)
  • The light has gone out of their eyes
  • They give you a look.

Well, Sasha wasn’t giving me any look at all except that she was a bit bored yesterday and annoyed when I’d leave to run to the coffee house next door (the restroom at the Vet’s had broken just that morning!).

Besides, we’ve not had the kind of relationship where we gaze into each others eyes. So, I’m not sure about any light that may or may not be there. Have I missed something? I know the social psych research on eye contact says that if you hold a gaze for more than a few seconds you’re either going to kiss the other or fight them. Though she’s been known to give me kisses, I’ve never felt like reciprocating. So much for that sign.

As for that first one, well, Sasha still eats, pees, poops, and moves, just more slowly. She wants to walk with me into our woods, though she’s been cutting back home early since last winter.

Back at the Vet’s office, she got her ultrasound at 4:00. I got the report in an email from the surgeon at 10 pm, long after we’d gotten home.

He found no evidence of metastatic disease and in his opinion the mass appears to be resectable.   This puts another surgery on the table.  If everything else was (is?) going well, it is not unreasonable to consider surgical excision.  

Do we opt for surgery? How much time will that bring her? How much money will it cost? Another $1,000 to $1500 on top of the $450 (she didn’t need anesthesia; I knew she wouldn’t). But with no scientific certainty how much time this surgery can bring her, or how her recovery will go, we find ourselves in a new quandary. There are still unanswered questions. I think there will always be unanswered questions.

Is it worth it?

I do not want to wait until her suffering is too much to bear; I do not want to wait until she has stopped eating, or peeing, or pooping, or moving. I don’t want her to suffer at all.

I would love to get her cleaned up though — we’ve not been able to get her into the groomers until July — and there are no other large breed groomers in our area. We do as much brushing as we can, though she hates it. And we go swimming in the pond. Poor Jackson isn’t even to the doggie paddle stage yet. He stands belly deep and whines.

How will I know which day is “the day?”I do not know how to answer this question that I pose for myself. People tell me “I’ll know.” My hope is that I’ll be just one hour too early.

I know with absolute certainty I’d rather be a week too early than one hour too late.

I can let her go; I know I can. And it’ll be the hardest thing I’ve done in a long time.

It’s always refreshing to see Sasha sitting in the snow. Especially on such a hot day as we have today.

Have you been through this? How did you decide?

14 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Our beloved Me-Too was veering toward your first bullet point. The final straw, as it were, was the fact she would amble out and sit on the street. Although drivers in our neighborhood knew our pet was an outdoor pet and prone to this behavior, we feared she would get run over, which felt worse than “putting her down,” a hateful phrase.

    Finally, Cliff took her to the vet one final time for the injection. On returning, he said he felt like a murderer. For a long time, I couldn’t look down the pet aisle in the grocery store without a catch in my heart.

    What a dilemma! Of course, you have my condolences. :-/
    Marian Beaman recently posted…The Right Thing to Say Too LateMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m so sorry you went through it that way. But thank you for your kind thoughts Marian. It’s such a huge responsibility to be a pet owner. When we are forced to play god in their lives, it’s especially hard.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Holding life and death in your handsMy Profile

  2. Susan Tayllr
    | Reply

    Ah, Janet and Woody. I have been through this so many times with dogs, cats, donkeys, horses. And it is always hard, the decision making filled with waffling and dread. As I look back, I (we) just always “knew.” With Fergus, I thought it was time, but he gave,me signs that be was still okay. A month later it was time. Now I want to avoid an emergency situation when we already know the time is close. I have learned to trust the animal and trust myself. Hugs.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for this, Susan. You have been down this road often, I know. It doesn’t get any easier though does it. Sasha chased a bear the other day. I was happy for her.

  3. Lori Costanza
    | Reply

    Sasha is living on love. She seems fine for now. She still has quality of life just from being with you and in her sweet day to day. They do inevitably break our hearts, but there is a reason why we do it again. I would say it’s a win win for everybody, but the truth is we really don’t deserve dogs.

  4. Susan Scott
    | Reply

    Can you let Sasha decide when to die? I ask because 3 dogs we’ve had died at various times at our home. I remember those times so well. It was if they had made the decision. They’d been unwell a few days prior, no eating, listless. It’ll be tough whatever you decide Janet –

  5. Vicki Litzinger
    | Reply

    So, let me try this again. I created a post, bawled the whole time, then accidentally deleted it. Sigh…

    You will know when it’s time. Don’t fight your gut on this. I knew Topper was fading. He had many great days as well as days where he wasn’t himself. I was afraid of him bowel and urination problems, of losing his dignity. And he was a mighty dignified dog. So, I kept telling him that it was OK for him to go. We’d walk in the field, sit down together, I’d cry, and tell him it was OK. I was so afraid of having to make the decision, and it was an exceptionally stressful time for my spouse who was going through the tests for ordination. I was worried about her. So, I kept telling Topper it was OK. He had a wonderful walk in the woods with my spouse, chased some deer, it was a beautiful fall day. At night he often took himself into another room for napping. He did this evening. I heard a scrabbling noise on the floor and thought he’d just been moving around. It was probably when he had his heart attack. He went well. I just wish I had been with him for those last moments. He was the best…except for his fear of thunderstorms, motorcycles, jets flying overhead, and fireworks. Be at peace Janet. Everything will be alright.
    Vicki Litzinger recently posted…Holding life and death in your handsMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Vicki, thank you for this. I so appreciate your kind thoughts. Sasha has been slowing down more and more each day. And then she saw a bear and tore through the yard like a bullet, her old self for a few minutes. Adrenalin is a miraculous thing. I’m now juggling decisions on Sasha’s surgery with vacationing vet surgeons and visiting grandchildren. Through it all Sasha lives her life patiently. I’ll know more July 8, if not before.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Holding life and death in your handsMy Profile

  6. Lea
    | Reply

    Janet, my heart goes out to you. I wish there were words to make this easier, but there isn’t. My husband and I have been down this road many times before. It is the hardest part of loving a pet. You love Sasha with all your heart and she knows it.

  7. Joan Z Rough
    | Reply

    So sorry, Janet. It is never an easy thing and we ask ourselves over and over what to do. This afternoon we are taking our sweet Lilli, our cat of well over 15 yrs, for a check up. She is in kidney failure, begs for water even if the has a bowl in front of her, then pees where ever she happens to be. She is still eating though. Our vet is great in that she doesn’t believe in letting them suffer either, and there is nothing we can do to help her. Today is probably the day.

    As long as Sasha is chasing bears, just let be herself. She will tell you when it’s time. Sending you all lots of love.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Unfortunately, it’s been two weeks since I wrote this and already we see a difference in her. I send you heartfelt hugs on this difficult day for you and Bill.
      Janet Givens recently posted…HOW SHALL WE TALK ABOUT RACISM?My Profile

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