Having pets is an ever-changing experience, their lives are a compacted version of our own existence as they go from infancy to elderly in a fraction of our own life span. Yet, their impact can be very meaningful to us as they quietly accompany us through the ups, the downs and all the in-betweens of our lives. We are comforted by their affection and sometimes simply by their mere presence. They are capable of eliciting deep affection in our hearts.
They often make us laugh at their silliness and their reactions. Sometimes they might make us angry when they violate a house rule. We run the gamut of human emotion because of them and ultimately, their passing may leave us with a level of grief that many of us are embarrassed to admit.
Our responsibility to them is all encompassing, we are either directly or indirectly responsible for every single thing in their lives. Think about it, if you have a pet, you determine when and what they eat, where they live, how large or small their world is, if they have companions of their own species, their daily routines; literally every aspect of their lives. And in the end, we may also be tasked with the heavy decision of when they “cross the rainbow bridge.”
We all hope that our beloved pets reach a dignified old age and then simply pass quietly in the night; rather like what we wish for ourselves. Personally, I have had many pets through the years and never, not once, have I been so fortunate. I find myself in this spot again as I watch the quality of life for our 15-ish-year-old pit bull deteriorate.
She originally came into the shelter’s care as part of a cruelty investigation back in 2008. She was emaciated to the point where every bone in her body protruded, she was dirty, parasite infested and nursing a litter of puppies; but her life was about to take a dramatic turn for the better. Within a very short amount of time, her pups were weened, her body and mind began recovering from the ravages of neglect and she became a treasured family pet.
She is the epitome of a dog’s resilience in overcoming abuse, neglect and trauma. As her body healed, so did her emotional wellbeing; she blossomed as her intelligence, self-confidence and dignity emerged. I think it is those qualities in her that make it so hard to watch her decline. Senility has fogged her mind making even the simplest maneuvers, like circumventing a stool, challenging. Her hearing and vision are minimal, which robs her of her self-confidence. Getting up from her bed or off of the floor often requires assistance, she stumbles over the slightest obstacle and has frequent accidents in the house; all things that viewed through an anthropomorphic lens, seem to diminish her self-dignity.
As pet owners we may at some point have to answer the question, “when is it time?” In the case of my dog, her bloodwork is good, her heart sounds fine, she is on arthritis and anxiety medication to keep her comfortable. She has bad days and she has days, that although I would not call good, I wouldn’t call them bad.
I’ve been in this terrible position before, yet, it never gets easier. It is all very confusing and gut wrenching. I wait for some sort of event that gives me a clear signal that she is suffering, and yet, I cannot stand the thought of her experiencing anything frightening or painful. I wait for some sort of sign that she is exhausted by her struggle to do the basics, such as get up from the floor, eat, walk outside to relieve herself; and yet, I dread the day that she gives up. I think I will be the one needing anxiety medication before this is all over.
As we go through these last days and hours of her life, I can only hope that I am doing everything possible to keep her comfortable and for her to know, even through the fog of senility, that she is loved. There’s a quote by Art Williams that rings true during the difficult times with pets, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”