Health Care
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Is It Time?

There is only this: On a Thursday morning in April, you will wake up and your dog will be throwing up. By the time you leave, she will seem fine. But still, you ask your dog sitter, who is also a vet tech, to check on her during the day. You will run a poetry slam in the evening and will not be home until late. When you call your husband after work and before the event, he will say your dog seems fine. You will ask him what the dog sitter’s note said—she always leaves detailed descriptions of what goes on.

“No note,” he will say.

“She always leaves a note. Find it. Tell me what it says.”

“I didn’t see a note.”

“Look on the counter,” you will insist.

“No note,” he will answer.

You will leave it alone, knowing something is wrong, but you are in charge of an event, so you will choose to believe that your husband is telling you the truth.

He isn’t. He knows you have to go to the event. The note says your dog has been throwing up. But your husband checks on her and she seems to have improved, so he doesn’t say anything.

When you get home, you will find your dog on the porch, dry heaving. Though it will not have snowed for months, on this night, it will be snowing. You will find your dog outside, trying to throw up over the deck. She will know better, even then, to make a mess outside. She will be shivering, and tiny frozen flakes will be caught in her fur.

You will coax her inside, start the fire and ask her to lie on her bed. She will be dry heaving, and every once in a while, yellow bile will come up. She will froth at the mouth, and you will wipe the fur around her face with a towel.

So here’s when you know: when it’s too late. Which is what you tried to avoid with your googling late into the night. You will apologize to her over and over, telling her how sorry you are for not having the doctor come to the house and put her down.

But you could have not done that. You needed it to get to this.

You will call your vet, and because you live in a small mountain town, the office is closed. You will be directed to the vet hospital in the nearest big city, more than an hour from your house. You will call the hospital, and the woman on the other end of the line will encourage you to bring your dog in. “Her stomach could be flipped, and this is extremely painful,” the voice will say. You don’t believe this, but it will make you cry harder. “But she probably won’t make the drive,” the vet tech will say.

You will ask, “Why would I force my dog into a long car ride she probably won’t make?”

“You should bring her in,” the voice on the other end will answer. You will hand the phone to your husband, and he will talk to the vet tech in the other room. You cannot, in fact, do this alone.

When your husband hangs up and comes back into the living room, you will ask if you are going to drive your dog to the big-city vet. He will say no. You will say, “Call Sandra. Ask for her gun.”

He will say, “What? I am not calling Sandra. It’s after midnight.”

“Call Sandra and ask for her gun.”

“I can’t do that.”

“You have to. Just get her gun.”

This is when you know it is time to put your dog down: when you have never shot a gun in your life, and you’re willing to illegally fire a bullet from your unflappable friend’s pink .22 into your dog’s brain.

Your husband will call your friend Sandra, and after she figures out who’s calling her so late at night and asking for her gun, she will say no way. She will tell you it is illegal to shoot a handgun in your town. Unflappable though she is, she will not let you shoot your own dog.

So you will pull your dog’s bed, with her on it, over to the couch, and you will sleep next to her on the couch. She will dry heave for a while but then fall asleep, mercifully, until 7 am. For the last time, you will sleep beside her.

Your husband will leave for a meeting. It will seem, for a minute, that your dog has stopped dry heaving, frothing at the mouth.

But she hasn’t.

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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