Life’s Brevity

Despite the human qualities we’ve managed to breed into our dogs, there’s one thing we’ve not been able to change:

Dogs’ lives are shorter than man’s.

That means most of us who love dogs will share our lives with several beloved pets.

It also means that we’ll have to “man up” and end the lives of some — the ones who are in pain, the ones facing incurable illness.

As Dallas’s breeder has reminded me several times since I purchased him, that’s a contract between us and the pet, and it must not be broken.

Now before anybody starts worrying, this is NOT about Dallas. He’s fine, thank you very much; he’s young and healthy and plans to be here for a long time!

But as we were taking our walk this morning, we came across a lady and her Husky.

I imagine this was a beautiful dog — once.

I imagine it was young. And healthy. And strong.

But I never knew it then. All I’ve ever seen is the old dog. The one barely able to drag its hind legs. The one who typically crumples to the ground every time it tries to potty. The one who “dribbles” long before exiting the house because it can’t hold it any longer, despite having parents who regularly are home to tend to its needs. The one whose eyes seem to indicate he’s straddling two worlds now.

‘How’s he getting along?’ I asked her.

‘My dad says we need to put him down before the ground freezes, or we’ll have to have him cremated,’ she tells me. ‘But we just can’t. Not yet.’

On one hand, I empathize with her. I’ve been there. I, too, had a dog that begged to be put to sleep. A dog whose soulful eyes followed me as he lay in pain on the sofa. A dog who often soiled my apartment and fell over when trying to lift his leg outside.

I, too, didn’t want to make that choice. But it was the right thing to do and somehow I managed.

She will, too. At least she has a husband and they can heal together. I was young and single, so I wept alone.

Putting a pet down is one of the harder things I’ve had to do. Pets become members of our family, providing companionship and unfailing loyalty. They call forth our best traits, enabling us to give unselfishly, prompting us to exercise, and calming us with wet kisses. They’re babies who never become mouthy pre-teens, model children who never ask to borrow the car or increase their allowance; they’re happy just to be near us, even if we’re not rich and famous. Or “cool.”

Chances are, I’ll outlive Dallas. While I’d prefer he simply pass away peacefully in his sleep, I know that might not happen. I pray I’ll have the courage to do that one final kindness for him, when the time comes.

Just don’t expect me to do it dry-eyed.

20 thoughts on “Life’s Brevity

  1. Love the cover photo. LOVE IT. LOVE IT. Did I say how much…well yes I guess I did,-love it.
    I have been through this so many times (as you can imagine) with clients and my own pups and what I have learned is a dogs loyalty, devotion, and love is immeasurable. To leave us is unbearable hard for them, and as you put it so well by “manning it up” and “fulfilling our contract” we return that love, loyalty and devotion at the end by helping them leave us. It is heartbreaking sad but we owe it to our pets not to insist they hold on longer than they should because we are unable to accept the pain of losing them.
    One a bit lighter note I did have one 18 year old camper and she need to IV fluids and a supplement to keep her eating (she mostly ate lasagna and chicken pot pies, believe it not)–in any case the owners could afford to provide this kind of care and the pups quality of life was not suffering one bit–she still went outside to potty, moved fairly well for an old lady and would clamp her jaws tight when it was time to take her meds that she was on years before old age set in. Her quality of life (even with the extra care) was very good and she lived for about another two years before she died peacefully. We all cried but knew her life was spent to the last drop. This is by no means usual. But every once in awhile…..
    Thanks for clarifying about Big D up front. Considerate.

    • I loved hearing about your 18-year-old camper scarfing down lasagna and chicken pot pies, right up to the end. What a good memory — I’m sure her owners like to think of her waddling off to the Rainbow Bridge, where they’ll surely see her again.
      I know you know how hard this is. Would that the “Husky lady” could accept this difficult task as a final kindness to her beloved baby!

  2. Oh my gosh, Debbie, you are speaking directly to me in this post. Our beloved 13 year-old Golden Retriever, Rosie is slowly fading away. She’s on “comfort care” – appears blind, deaf, with weakening back legs. But she still eats, drinks, after a time, gets up and goes outside to do her business and she still wags her tail. Some days she is even perky but most days she is curled up under our dining room table. I so wish she would go peacefully in her sleep. Her time seems near and yet my husband and I can’t bring ourselves to put her to sleep..not quite yet. This means we are unable to travel for the time being. We’ve been preparing ourselves for the inevitable. Wayne even dug her grave in our side yard in preparation. It’s tough. If she doesn’t go on her own, I hope she’ll let us know when it’s time to hasten the transition for her. Until then, we honor the special place she has had in our lives. She has been such a joy and we want what’s best for her. Thanks for listening.

    • Poor Kathy, I do empathize. I didn’t realize your Rosie was 13. That’s getting up there for a Golden, isn’t it? I’m sure she knows how much your family loves her, so she’s probably not ready to leave. Age alone, as you’ve pointed out, is no reason — it’s when they’re in constant pain or have an incurable disease that we’re forced to ease the transition. Let’s pray she dies peacefully in her sleep, and you don’t have to face the what-ifs.

  3. I just can’t stand these posts. Well, I can, but they’re painful. I’ve had to put two pets to sleep (a squirrel and a prairie dog – weird, I know) and one stray kitty who’d been around for months, and clearly came to me for help. It’s such a hard experience, and every time I read about someone dealing with it again I look over at my kitty and think….oh, gosh. She’s eight. Nine, maybe. One of these days the time will come.

    But you’re right. They depend on us for so much in life, and one of our most important responsibilities is allowing them a peaceful and pain-free end.

    Your post is also a reminder that I often tend to spend less time with Dixie than I should. Cats are less demanding than dogs in some ways – no need to go outside, for example – but that doesn’t mean they don’t need just as much attention!

    • I’ve never really owned a cat, if anyone can own a cat! Still, I have friends who love their cats as much as I love my dog, and I know putting them down can’t be easy. You had a pet squirrel and a prairie dog? My Dallas would have LOVED chasing your squirrel around — he doesn’t want to attack them; he merely wants to force them to play with him, and he can’t understand why they won’t! No one wants to have to put a pet to sleep. I’m sorry the topic is so painful, but I needed to get this worked out in my mind, and I can’t very well force the “Husky lady” to make a decision she’s not ready for.

  4. Debbie, this is such a beautiful, poignant post. Thanks for the reminder. It’s hard not to think that Henry and I will be together forever. But there is no forever for us, and even less for our beloved pets. Henry’s been my only dog, not counting the two weeks we had a dog when I was a kid and none of us knew how to take care of a pet, so we gave it back to my uncle who had given him to us. I was sad for Flash, and I actually have one photo of him somewhere, but I never got a chance to bond, get to know him. It was a different world. I was nervous when I first got Henry as I still had no experience, but after 5 years, we’re comfortable together. He’s a bit independent, but he’s my dog all the same. When the film, Marley and Me, came out, Henry was about a year old. I saw that flick and came home in tears, hugging Henry desperately, fearing that “time,” which lingers in our future. I’m really dreading it, but in some way, your post here gives me comfort. Thanks, my friend.

    • You’ve very welcome, Monica. Let’s pray Henry and Dallas are with us for many more years! I, too, dread the thought of Darling Doggie leaving me. I can’t even bear to watch those tear-jerking animal shelter ads on TV and to hear the sad statistics on animal abuse. Every chance I get, I hug on my doggin and make sure he knows he’s “the bestest doggie in the world!” Fortunately, dogs don’t know time, so they really don’t know whether they’re with us for a month, a year, or several years. All we can do is love and care for them while they’re here, then not force them to linger when they’re ready for their next adventure.

  5. Oh, this is such a difficult thing to do. We had to do it with a cat once and with a dog once, and neither was easy…the mere thought is so upsetting I just can’t seem to even come up with a decent comment here, sorry. But so glad this was not about beautiful boy Dallas!

    • Dallas thanks you for the compliment and wants to assure you he’s “fit as a fiddle”! The dog I had to do it for was an especially sad case. He was a beautiful white American Eskimo but he was the victim of bad inbreeding. His spine never developed properly and by the age of two years, he was in excruciating pain, so the vet advised me to put him down. I still get bleary-eyed, thinking about it. He was such a good dog.

  6. I grew up with pets, and knew the pain of losing one. But I never knew how hard it would be to have to make that decision until it was time to say goodbye to my own first dog, Shelby. She had been with us 14 years and had grown up with my kids. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I learned from that experience. I learned that the pain of losing a pet is the price we pay for loving them so much. And I also learned that I could be strong, even in my pain. I was there with Shelby until she closed her eyes and breathed her last breath. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    • Terri, you are so brave and loving to have been with Shelby until the end. There was just no way I could have done that with my Eskimo dog — if I’d had to watch the life drain out of him…well, let’s just say I wasn’t that brave. Yes, it’s a contract we make with a pet when we bring him/her into our homes, but it’s such a difficult thing to endure. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. Being that I’m not an animal lover as you already know…I never thought about your topic today until today. I recently lost a ring that I had my moms diamond put in it to remember her by and I’m still upset about that…but that ring was not my best friend who was always there for me and show me love like an animal would…it was an object. So I can’t even imagine how a animal lover must feel. My husband told me how upseting it was to his family when he was a kid…but your discription made me feel…sad. I think God gave man a gift to make animals to be mans friend and some stories of how a dog will save a person’s life or travel miles to find their way back to their family is amazing.

    There was a dog recently in the news who would not leave his deceased owner’s grave. So thank you for sharing something so sensitive and heart touching!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Tanya. I’m sorry about your ring — we do get attached to things that remind us of people we love, don’t we? But you’re right, it’s not exactly like the unselfish devotion of a dog. I think Adam was onto something when he called the first dog ‘Dog,’ which is ‘God’ spelled backwards!

  8. I haven’t had a pet that passed peacefully in her sleep. We’ve always had to make ‘the decision.’ It isn’t easy. There’s second it too early…is it time…have we waited too long? I never stayed with either of my childhood pets when the time came. My dad did that. Since I’ve been on my own, we’ve had to make the decision for two of our pets- one cat and one dog. My dad came with us for the first one and it was a horrifying experience. My dad said that it was usually more peaceful. When it came time for the next one, my husband couldn’t do it, so I stayed with her. It was very hard for me and I tear up just thinking about it. (I still think me being that upset had a lot to do with me going into labor and having my second son the next day :))

    • Oh, mercy, you really had it, didn’t you, Janna? Putting your pet down one day and having a son the next? How did you manage that?? I’ve always heard that euthanasia is supposed to be peaceful — learning that sometimes it’s not presents a disturbing picture. We can’t know “the right time.” That’s what’s so hard — that, plus parting with something we’ve loved. Thanks for offering your experiences!

  9. Debbie, I read this post with a heavy heart. I say this because I know that you and I have talked about how difficult it will be when the time comes to say goodbye to our furry friends. Silly as this sounds, I never think of Roxy as simply a dog. I think of her as a furry friend, an excellent listener, a companion, a partner in crime. She brings me so much joy. She is unconditional in her love and I love her with all my heart. However, if the time came when I had to make that dreadful decision, I would have to be strong and think of her suffering. I would have to put her first and decide accordingly. My sister recently had to make this decision for her furry friend Rocco. That little dog has been in her family for over a decade. We cried on the phone for an hour the day before it had to be one and we cried another hour the day it happened. Heck, we’re still crying whenever we think about it. My sister tells me the hardest part is coming home and not having him come to greet her. It’s heartbreaking. I, like you, pray that I won’t be put in that position. I pray that God, in his ever merciful way, will take Roxy when it’s her time. And like you, I shall cry my eyes out when the time comes. Beautiful, poignant, and thought provoking post, lady!

    • Bella, your kind words are music to my ears — thank you! I know Roxy is like my Dallas — spoiled with love and attention! One could easily say that putting a pet down is harder at certain times (perhaps after one has just lost a parent, or perhaps when one is suddenly single again), but I don’t think all that matters as much as how much the pet is loved. I’m sad when a friend loses a dog, for example, but I don’t grieve the way I do when it’s MY dog. You’ve said it so accurately — our pets are more than just dogs. They’re so much more than that. And when a dog is really attuned to its owner, well, putting it down is almost like chopping off your arm.

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