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I am sitting here tonight with our 13 year old greyhound.  For a dog of her size, the equivalent human age is 96 years old.  On occasion, she still acts like a puppy, but those occasions are increasingly rare.  Most of the time, she sleeps, and when she isn't sleeping, she seems anxious much more frequently than she has those puppy-like moments of joy.

I remember when we first got her, fresh from the track.  Anybody who thinks greyhounds are "forced to run," as I've seen some descriptions, should have seen her then!  She missed the track so much that she wore our fenced backyard down to bare dirt along the edges of the fence, always running in a counter-clockwise direction.  We even had to remove a couple of shrubs that she kept cutting herself by not quite avoiding.  I happened to come across a website with the bugel "call to the post" which they'd had at her track when the dogs were paraded in front of the grandstand.  When she heard it, she started jumping around with her tail madly wagging, clearly wanting to run.

Those dirt areas have long since returned to grass.  We used to take her to the dog park, where she would match herself running against all the other dogs, and would outrun them every time, and tail wagging, go looking for the next dog to match herself against -- until she totally exhausted herself.  But she eventually got impatient with the roughhousing of the younger dogs, and clearly didn't enjoy that anymore, so the trips to the dog park stopped.

More below the squiggle.

Her exercise then became a short daily walk on a leash.  At first, she enjoyed "meeting and greeting" other dogs, but more recently, she clearly has no patience with them and their sometimes overly-enthusiastic greetings.  The daily walks continue, but with an effort not to encounter other dogs.

She was on a couple of different kinds of medication, and was on a kidney diet.  But then she got to the point of refusing to eat her food, and her body weight was wasting away to nothing -- well below the weight she was at the track, and even more below the weight she was once she was retired.  We figured that since she was clearly going to die if she ate nothing, we'd tempt her with some different kinds of premium canned food.  She's been eating well for the past several weeks, but even though her caloric consumption is decent, she's begun dropping weight again.  And she's developed diarrhea -- including some incontinence.  She's good for no more than 4 hours between trips outdoors -- which is why I'm awake at this hour.  I have the late shift and my wife has the early shift of letting her out.

And we've got a decision.  Do we take her to the vet to find out definitively what's wrong with her, even though it will be traumatic for her (she HATES visits to the vet) and it's unlikely that anything can be done to really improve the situation for a dog her age?  Or do we simply make her as happy as possible for as long as we can?  Or do we decide that the most merciful thing is to give her a humane exit while she still has somd dignity?  I'm not really asking for advice, since nobody else is sitting here, but mainly thinking out loud.

The reason that I posted this is that if we're fortunate enough to make it to old age, we will all go through the stages that our greyhound is experiencing, and we need to think about what we want, AND WE NEED TO COMMUNICATE OUR WISHES TO THOSE WHO MAY BE MAKING THE DECISIONS FOR US AT THAT POINT.  My mother broke a hip and then developed pneumonia just as she was moving from the middle to the late stages of Alzeheimer's at the age of 93.  She had made it abundantly clear, when she was still mentally competent, that she would not want hospitalizations, IV antibiotics, or artificial hydration or nutrition at that point.  But even though I KNEW what she wanted, refusing to permit her to be hospitalized one more time, or to be given IV antibiotics, was the most difficult decision of my life.  I don't know what my decision would have been had she not made her wishes so clear, but I know positively that my anguish would have been much worse at the decision that I had to make.

If you care about those you love, PLEASE prepare a health care power of attorney and advance directives, and urge your loved ones to do the same.  You don't need a lawyer to do this, since the forms are available online from all (or almost all) state attorney general's offices..

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Comment Preferences

  •  Sorry about the tough time you're having with (10+ / 0-)

    Your dog. Mine is 12 now and I expect to have to make some tough decisions in the coming months or years myself.


    Also a very nice set of directives by state at this website. Very detailed (much more so than the forms you get from the state) and free:

    For the record, I am not a member of Courtesy Kos. Just so you know. Don't be stupid. It's election season. My patience is short.

    by mdmslle on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 02:32:19 AM PDT

    •  Thank you for the directives (6+ / 0-)

      They'll help a lot of people, I'm sure.

      Bin Laden is dead. GM and Chrysler are alive.

      by leevank on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 03:16:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  gee, I just went to the site and sadly I don't (6+ / 0-)

      see the lengthy document there that I filled out some time ago, just a simple directive.

      It was a very detailed document that forced me to think of a lot of things including, for example, who I wanted around me and who I didn't in my final days; how important certain things were to me, for example, knowing the truth about my condition, having good hearing, being able to speak; it had a dementia provision and even had a page where I could designate my specific wishes WRT specific therapies, for example, Do I want antibiotics if I develop a ilfe threatening infection - yes or no or for a short period to see if there's improvement, then discontinued if not helping.

      I can't understand why it's not on the site anymore but I'm probably going to contact them and ask why. I may even duplicate it, even though mine was for Florida, it's pretty much the detailed stuff I really liked.

      For the record, I am not a member of Courtesy Kos. Just so you know. Don't be stupid. It's election season. My patience is short.

      by mdmslle on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 03:22:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for your heartfelt diary (9+ / 0-)

    and may you be guided to make the right decisions. Your story resonates deeply with me as I also am an animal lover and had to make the painful decision last year regarding my mom to say, "no more".

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 02:52:59 AM PDT

  •  My dog is relatively young (11+ / 0-)

    Just turned 5, and seems to have several good years left, but things can "go south" pretty fast for very large dogs (he's a Mastiff). I plan to euthanize him when the ravages of aging start multiplying, and it won't be a popular decision with the kids. It won't be easy for me, either, but I know it will have to be my "fault" that the dog was "put down too soon."

    My wife's grandmother went from a vigorous 90 year old, sufficiently agile and alert to drive in the day time to bedridden 92 "faster" than anyone close to her assumed possible. She lived well very late in life and as much in control of herself as anyone could expect. And I know she is the exception to the rule. Most of us will die with less dignity and more turmoil. It doesn't have to be that way.

    When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Egalitare on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 03:05:08 AM PDT

  •  people told me (9+ / 0-)

    "you'll know when it's time". I don't know if I totally believe that, but my 11 (almost 12) year old lab mix had bad hip problems and one day just couldn't get up. We had issues with incontinence and various other things-she'd been on meds for arthritis for year.

    But when she couldn't get up-we knew it was time.

    The one question you can ask: does she seem happy? Is she upset about the incontinence?

    There are vets that will send someone to your home for euthanasia-a very nice option for that last time. I don't know where you are located, but you might call your vet to find out. There are also occasionally mobile vets who will come to your house do to basic diagnostics too.

    Inconceivable! You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    by hopeful on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 05:09:36 AM PDT

  •  I have had to put down two dogs and it is always (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elmo, cotterperson, weck, Louisiana 1976

    hard. I felt guilty when I watched them suffer and then I felt guilty when I decided that it was time to have them killed.

    We didn't have a problem when I was a kid in Arizona. Our cats stayed outside and when they started to slow down the coyotes got them. I doubt that was any better for them, but I never felt guilty.

  •  I feel it leevank. (8+ / 0-)

    My Gracie is 15. Once a joyful and athletic trail dog and killer of rats, she is feeble and deaf.  i will know when it's time though. She will tell me, as my old Irish Zack did, as others have. You are well tuned to your girl, you will know in your heart, as it's breaking.
    We are fortunate in having a wonderful large animal vet who will come out to send the dogs on their next journey. Don't know where you live, but that may be a possibility for you. The one animal, a cat, that I had to take to vet's office, was done outside the building at my request.  At least he did not have to smell all those sick smells, and be in a place that made him uncomfortable.
    I also went through it with mother. At the time of her death, it was illegal in the state to not take "heroic measures" , Had she not been a nurse in that hospital for many years, I don't know how it would have gone. I stood at the door of her ICU room, grabbing people as they flooded in, in response to the code, saying "you know she didn't want this!"  Finally an old battleax nurse who was a good friend grabbed me and said "You need to leave. We're just going to hold her hand and say goodbye, but you can't be here."  That was ok with me, we'd already said goodbyes.
    Hang in there. Scritchies to your girl. You've given her a wonderful life.

    Only thing more infuriating than an ignorant man is one who tries to make others ignorant for his own gain. Crashing Vor

    by emmasnacker on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 05:47:55 AM PDT

  •  Take her to the vet (5+ / 0-)

    I sympathize with your dilemma, but I worry that she may be in pain that she is not communicating to you (dogs can be so stoic), and that a vet might be able to diagnose if there's a malignancy that is causing her to lose her appetite and waste away.  I am sure you would not want her to suffer.  

    My cautionary tale, which I've shared here before, is that many years ago my beloved Border Terrier Geordie (my Dkos handle is in his honor) started walking stiffly - I thought it was just arthritis.  As it got worse, I took him to the vet, who didn't insist on x-rays so we didn't get them done - he thought it might be a disc problem in Geordie's back.  Long story short - no it was not a disc problem, it was bone cancer, and it was only diagnosed when he collapsed and couldn't stand up.  He suffered terribly for weeks because I just didn't see it, and the vet didn't push me to get the right diagnostic tests done.  I will never, ever forgive myself.

    Moral of the story - don't avoid the vet just because she hates it. Look for a mobile vet in your area who could come to your house, but for proper testing, I would imagine you'll have to take her in.  You may find out things you don't want to know, but that might help you save her pain and suffering.  

    •  Geordie, forgive yourself (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I've had (and known) those stoic dogs, and feel quite confident in telling you that he hid is pain so he could "do his job" which was to be with you and bring you joy. It would be a fitting monument to Geordie if you would allow yourself to be comforted in the same way he would comfort you if he were still around. Forgive yourself.

  •  Such a difficult decision (5+ / 0-)

    I have had to euthanize two beloved animals in the past few years and both times were so incredibly sad.  We loved them both so very much.

    Incontinence is a strong signal that your sweet dog's quality of life is gone.  If dogs are well housebroken, it's distressing to them if they soil themselves or have an accident.

    In the case of our 19 year old Siamese, I was having to bathe him once or twice a week because he could no longer reach to groom himself well.  I put padding around the litter box when stiff legs prevented accuracy. The vet told us to just keep him comfortable and he enjoyed his canned cat food and quiet petting.  My biggest regret was coming home and finding our sweet cat on his side, piles of foamy vomit dotting the carpet- I had put off the decision to let him go and now he was at the point of suffering and we headed straight for the vet's office.

    With our old rescue horse, he was becoming more stiff and sore- beyond what the vet could treat.   The horse that loved long trail rides and gymkhana events was lagging 30 paces behind his buddies on the trail.  Supplements, pain medication, a lighter and lighter work schedule and then one day, I said, no more work.  We gave him several sweet months of attention, turnouts, treats and then came that sad final day when the mobile vet drove up.  

    It's never an easy decision- in the case of poor Milagro, his coat was shiny, his eyes were bright- but he was very, very sore.  And in a horse's soul, that is a scary thing.  They know they are easy prey for predators.  

    Our vet was so kind- she said that animals do not fear death.  They fear pain.

    Reason, observation, and experience; the holy trinity of science. Robert Green Ingersoll

    by offred on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 06:18:12 AM PDT

  •  You know best, but (4+ / 0-)

    Having been through this, I hope you don't mind my giving my two cents.

    I think taking her to the vet now will be most likely to give you the information you need to either (a) make the decision sooner to have her euthanized, so that you didn't needlessly extend the period of her suffering
    or (b) allow you to make her more comfortable at home (with a proper diagnosis) during her remaining time. In either case, I think the gain will outweigh the loss for both her and you. I know myself, having lost a pet, and having 2 elderly pets now, that doing so is most likely to  give you more peace of mind in your own future, that you had all the information you needed to make the right decision for her.

    I know that taking her to the vet is painful in itself for her and you. If it is really bad for her to go to the vet, perhaps you can get a vet who makes house calls, or get 1 tranquilizer pill from the vet and then take her.

    I feel for you - one small comfort for you is to remind yourself  that she knows how much you love her, and that she's been so lucky to have such loving "parents."

    Best of luck.

  •  We've always had dogs, and can't seem to get by (5+ / 0-)

    without them.  They make our lives more bearable, because their love is unconditional and unwavering.  Of the 3 we have right now, one is 15 and has the usual health problems of a pup her age.  We're doing everything we can to keep her comfortable and happy, but believe me, when the time comes, I won't hesitate one second to call the vet. It's a terrible and gut-wrenching responsibility having the power of life and death over another creature, but that's what we signed up for from the first day we brought her home. I wish I could say the same for what happened with my mother many many years ago, and no one, including her, was able to make that decision.

    Sorry this was so long, but your post really struck a chord. Thanks for sharing.

  •  We have an elderly dog, too (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DuzT, cotterperson, SuWho, Louisiana 1976

    Elmo is a 14 year old Boston terrier. We came very close to losing him last winter. He had trouble with eye ulcers, went mostly blind, and started losing weight.

    We took him to a canine opthamologist for his eyes, and told them explicitly that we wanted to make him comfortable above all else. We put him back on steroids to control his itching (which we think caused the eye ulcers, from rubbing his face on the carpet).

    His eyes healed, and he adjusted to being mostly blind. We had to fence off our pool because he couldn't see well enough to avoid falling in.

    We started supplementing his dog food with something we knew he'd like: cooked hamburger, ground turkey, etc. What he really loves are Ikea Swedish meatballs. He started gaining back the weight he lost, and now he's even a little bit stout.

    He sleeps a lot and doesn't play the way he used to, but boy does he enjoy his breakfast and dinner!

    For us, it's been important to explain very directly to the vet that we don't want to put Elmo through any uncomfortable testing or extreme treatment measures. We simply want to keep him comfortable. And when it gets to the point where he can't continue to live comfortably, we want to give him a painless death.

  •  From a retired veterinarian's viewpoint (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SuWho, Louisiana 1976, geordie

    What I used to tell pet owners as pets were having age-related issues: make a list of things your pet likes to do/enjoys. Do it earlier reather than later, preferably written down. Have a family discussion about it, too. When you reach the end of that list, it's time to consider letting them go. That final decision is NEVER an easy one (and is at least as hard on the vet & their staff as it is on the owners, believe it or not).

    In this case, it sounds like there was a previous diagnosis of kidney problems. This could be a worsening of that, or it could be something else. If it's kidney problems, then getting some extra fluids into the dog moght make a big difference - generally, about 24 hours would give you an answer as to how well that will work. It will require an exam to get an idea of how things are going (which may give you an answer by itself) and bloodwork before and after the fluids to check for response. This is offered as an FYI - you might choose to go that route, or make another decision.

    Call your vet about how things are going, let them know what you are seeing, and which way you want to go. If it comes to euthanasia, most vets will work with you (making a house call, coming out to the parking lot, making special arrangements at the office, sedatives beforehand, etc). If they can't make a housecall, they may have someone they refer you to for homecare. They probably will also have information on cremation/burial options, if that's not something you want to take care of yourself.

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