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Is It Time?

I made a list of all the things I loved and how many of them I could do without and still want to live. Perhaps I could go without skiing and hiking and running, but not reading, not spending time with family and friends. I came up with a number: 30 percent. If I could still do 30 percent of the things I loved, I would want to live.

I made a list for Riva. She could no longer chase chipmunks or swim, but she could eat treats and relax in the sun. From what I could tell, she was at exactly 30 percent. That’s when I started googling “When to put your dog down.” During this period, my friend Sandra came over. When she saw Riva, she said, “You have to put that dog down.” She was not being mean. Sandra is unflappable, and she is not one to couch her opinions in euphemism. She has an aging Pit Bull, Luna, who goes everywhere with her; they even went out together last Halloween, both dressed as witches. Sandra said, “When it’s Luna’s time, I want you to tell me.” I should also say that in addition to old age, Riva had Cushing’s disease, and her spine was a column of stones. Her belly was bloated and her fur matted with old age. Her milky eyes probably no longer looked intelligent, but I had not noticed. At one point that evening, Riva had fallen on the slate floor (recently installed because of her incontinence) and cried, and I picked her up. This, from the dog who never complained. Sandra said, “Put that dog down. You can’t let a dog lose her dignity.” I knew Sandra was right, that she was only trying to encourage me to do the humane thing, but of course I could think only this: That is coming from a woman who dresses her Pit Bull in a witch costume.

I asked my husband what he thought, and he said, “It’s your decision to make. And you have to do it alone. Riva would want that from you. She expects it.”

But I called my ex, and we decided together that we would put Riva down in one week’s time. He would come to the house. The vet would come to the house. I put in for a day off work. But still, I kept searching online for something that would make things easier, something that would tell me when it was time. Again, I googled “when to put your dog down” and landed upon lists and surveys, which I took for Riva Jones, checking whether or not she ate or wagged her tail when I got home (the answer to both of those, by the way, was “yes” until the very end).

All week, I fed Riva steak and chicken and rice. I doubled her pain medication. I spent as much time with her as I could, and she improved. The weather had warmed, so she was sleeping on the deck, happy in the spring Sierra air. Some days, she could walk a half-mile up the trail behind my house. My ex came over, and we ended up sitting on the deck, sharing a bottle of chardonnay with Riva at our feet. We caught up on our friends, but talked very little about Riva. I wondered why he didn’t spend the time on the ground with her, but figured that we all deal with these things in our own way; maybe he didn’t really want to admit she was going, could not bear to say good-bye.

He came again the next day, the day before the appointment, and we took her walking. She made it about a half mile. We saw a bear, and she seemed happy to be among the wakening wildlife. We didn’t talk about the appointment, which was how things had always been between us. But after he left, I cancelled it. I told him we’d wait and see, take it day by day. My ex went home.

In the end, it really would be my decision to make. Among the survey questions on the “Should you put your dog down” test was Did you make euthanasia appointments and cancel them? I now checked “yes.” Riva was now at 50/50, the point at which, according to the survey, one should “put the dog down.” But did it count? Did I make a mistake when I made the appointment in the first place? So I waited.

I am here to tell you there will be an answer to your question, “When should I put my dog down?” but the answer cannot be found on an Internet survey.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Jacqueline Guerin | March 18 2014 |

Thank you to Editor in Chief Claudia Kawczynska of The Barkand Firend of the German Shepherd contributr Clarence Goodlein for sharing these moving End-of-life essays with our group. Thanks to Suzanne Roberts for writing it. J. Guerin

Submitted by CathyJo Buley | March 21 2014 |

I too am a member of Friends of the German Shepherd. Thank you so much Claudia Kawczynska for allowing this link to be posted in our forum. Thank you Clarence Goodlein for your efforts in bringing these articles to us. I'd also like to thank Riva's "Mom" for sharing her story with us. I know it was harder to tell that story than it was for us to read it. In my case it was a "two hankie" story because of the tearful memories it brought back. I have been at that crossroads myself many times. Riva will live on in the memories of hundreds that don't know you because you shared her story with us. May God comfort you in your loss.

Submitted by Sue Vilsack | March 22 2014 |

Being in rescue for many years, I always read these articles (and books) and have never come across one that is so perfect. Thank you Suzanne Roberts for writing this and thank you Bark for publishing it. It is beautiful... Riva Jones... you were so very loved... rest in peace beautiful girl!

Submitted by Jill foley | August 23 2014 |

Thank you for the painstakingly beautiful article. My golden retriever Trooper is12 suffering from cancer. He is still comfortable on medication, still wags his tail when I comes home, eats and drinks well, loves his apples for a treat... I'm not ready.... I may never be, but he will be. He is my first dog and first baby, I don't know how to know or how to cope but he will go out with dignity .... Thank you for the car advice, I will use it when it's time.... Thank you although I sit here and cry waiting for him to tell me, I know it me that's going to be strong enough to make the choice. It's not yet but it will be soon....love Jill and Trooper

Submitted by Abby | September 20 2014 |

I only read up to the end of the first page and have no interest in reading further.
How could someone who loved their dog so much, make her sleep in the garage? Especially a blind and deaf dog.
It's nothing short of cruel.
I have been cleaning up after my soon to be 14 year old lab, for almost 10 months now. She has been incontinent of feces from neurological side effects from frontline tritek I had to put on my dogs when they got ticks. And the worst part of it, it didn't even work. Didn't kill one tick on any of my dogs, just made four of them throw up, and made my Maxie's back legs go out. I've been helping her up ever since.
I get up often in the middle of the night to clean up stool, not to mention what I have to clean up during waking hours, and can't tell you how many times I had to clean up stool that was smooshed all over the place. There were times I just wanted to cry, but at no time did I ever consider putting her in the garage or outside on the patio. Ever! On top of it, my oldest dog also became incontinent at the end of her life, and recently passed, so I was cleaning up after two dogs.
I would like to know if the author would have put her human child or mother in the garage if either were incontinent. It's really despicable to treat an old, blind, deaf dog that way.
They depend on us to take care of them, through thick and thin, and to do right by them, through all stages of their lives.
Banishing an old dog to the garage, as a matter of convenience, is heartless.

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