Better Off Dead, Part II

You’ll be coming in in the middle, unless you first read, ‘Better Off Dead–Really?  When, Then?’

Every day, at least once, I have a thought which makes me squirm.  It’s this:  my dog Grace is living the kind of existence about which many people would say, “It would be kinder to put her out of her misery.”

But I can’t see it.  And if I can’t comprehend it for Grace, I don’t see myself ever comprehending it for any dog in any situation other than my frequently-reiterated, ‘terminal illness/unmanageable pain’ scenario.

Grace is old.  The Brooklyn, NY Animal Care and Control, from which I adopted her on December 1st, 2010, guessed her age as 13, and she could be that, although she ‘presents’ as much older than my Jiminy, who is 15 or even 16 by now.  Grace has severe arthritis in her hips, and was almost immobile when I adopted her.  Now, because of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and other supplements (if you need a product like this, I highly recommend ‘Next Level’, the liquid form), and the veterinary NSAID called Rimadyl, she appears much more comfortable, and can move around for very short walks (ten or fifteen steps).  I carry her when we need to go further than that, or push her in a shopping cart for walks in the ‘hood.

Grace has geriatric megaesophagus, a pouching of her esophagus, which means that food can collect there and trap bacteria.  I’ve written about all these things elsewhere, so I’m skimming over them now.  She’ll need to be on Clavamox, the ramped-up form of Amoxicillin, for the rest of her life.  I have to make sure her head is higher than her chest, while she eats, and try to flip her over to have her cough out anything that might have gotten stuck, twenty minutes or so after she eats.

She’s incontinent, most of the time, and often has trouble controlling her bowel movements, too.  I have little pants for her, which hold maxi pads meant for women, and they work very well, most of the time.  I have lots of waterproof mattress covers, and a special portable cozy pad which is waterproof on one side and soft cotton on the other, given to me by the mother of one of my cello students (she thinks it was from the hospital where he was born).  All of these things help a great deal.  But there’s still an awful lot of cleanup with Grace–laundry, floors, and baths for her.

Taking care of Grace is hard in other ways.  I have tendonitis in one hand from carrying her, because, although she’s only forty pounds, she is a complete dead weight in my arms, and unwieldy as hell.  If you read my entry, ‘Sticky Controversy’, you know another challenging thing about Grace.  She doesn’t have long periods where she’s comfortable, and she’s very vocal when she wants something, which is often (and that’s OK–that’s the least I can do for her).  She’s the first dog I’ve ever met who whines like a child.  It’s not the sound of a dog whining in discomfort.  It’s the sound of a kid saying, “I’m bored“, or, “Are we there yet?”  It gets to me.

A lot of these things aren’t new to me; in fact, only that, “Mom, it’s borrrring” thing is.  After all, I’ve lost five of my ‘six pack’ (only Jim is left), and many of them were tricky to care for.  But I think the thing which seems harder about Grace is that I don’t really know her, and I’m not sure anyone really knows her, and I feel sad when I think that some of the ways we usually get to know dogs aren’t options anymore.

Grace’s personality is muted, or so it seems to me.  I wonder if anyone ever did with her what trainers call, ‘working’.  Many dog owners don’t understand that the great part about ‘training’ your dog is not that you’re able to control your dog’s behavior; it’s that, through working with your dog in a training relationship, you bond, and you become true friends (if we’re talking positive reinforcement/negative punishment training, that is, and that’s the only kind I’m writing about).

So I feel that someone never took the time to really encourage Grace to be Grace, and I’m trying, but since she can barely move, it’s not easy.  And I confess that sometimes Grace seems to me like a forty-pound thankless job.  I know that at least some of my neighbors think I’m…maybe not crazy, but at least ill-judging, for keeping her alive. 

But I’m positive they’re wrong, and I think any truly good dog person would agree with me.  Grace is still enjoying life.  She certainly enjoys her food–she really wants it, and eats eagerly.  She likes to taste new foods.  She likes to get treats.  And she likes being brushed, and petted, and having me hold her in the warm bath.  She loves riding in her shopping cart.  She seems to like having the other dogs around her, and no matter how rambo they get–my mother’s word for rambunctious–no one has ever stepped on or knocked Grace, although they don’t take as much care about Jimmy, seeming to realize he doesn’t need it yet.

So, no, Grace is certainly not better off dead, not even close.  Thank goodness I have MVDVM, a vet who thinks as I do about euthanasia. 

I can more or less understand ‘normal’ folks who have ‘average’ relationships with their dogs and who are juggling jobs and kids and elderly parents and I don’t know what else, who, when faced with a challenging end-of-life situation like Grace’s just feel that it’s too much for them to handle.

But what I don’t understand is other rescuers, who’re really dedicated to helping save dogs and cats and who would almost certainly be doing for Grace what I’m doing, who say things like, “We can’t save this dog from the shelter if he’s got nowhere to go for a while–he’d be better off dead than in long-term boarding”.  I look at Grace, and that seems so illogical that I can’t yet see why they think there’s a leg to stand on there.  Aren’t we all in ‘long-term boarding’, in a way, as we’re at the end of our lives?  But in the case of the dog rescued from a shelter, he or she isn’t moving forward to death, but simply waiting for a home.  What’s so terrible about that?  Surely the dog would not think he or she is better off dead.  Even Grace doesn’t think so.  Really.  Somehow, you can just tell.

Grace, whining as I write this caption...

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2 Responses to Better Off Dead, Part II

  1. Mary Beth says:

    Bless you for sharing your life with Grace and being so dedicated to her care! I hope there’s someone like that for all of our shelter dogs one day!
    I think though, that sometimes, dogs have given up on life mentally after being in a non-home environment for too long. When they reach a level of intense mental pain that can’t be treated even by the most skilled of animal behaviorists and ethologists, then, we’ve reached that level of “better off dead”. These are the dogs that can not, with any enticement, be persuaded to give up their compulsive behaviors like spinning, flank biting, pacing or other even more harmful behaviors, for even a moment to engage in life. Very heartrending, and not common. I think we have to be careful not to give license to people to become animal hoarders in the name of saving them all. Grace is livin’ large, you can see it in the brightness of her expression and the prick of her ears.

    • cellopets says:

      I think you’re right about that level of intense mental pain, but as I’m sure you know, that can happen in a home, too. I remember seeing a spinning dog on TV, and a compulsive laser chaser–both in homes. That is so sad I can hardly think of it. I didn’t mean Grace was anywhere NEAR that, of course. I just think that, in her previous home (because she was at the shelter for only three days before her scheduled euthanasia–she came in as a ‘stray’ but it was probably actually her owner, since Grace could barely walk, much less stray), no one really interacted with her in a meaningful way. Of course I’m not sure–she could have had mini-strokes or something which give the effect of that muted personality. But I’m happy today, anyway, because it was a very good day for her–she moved around more, she seemed comfortable for almost the whole day, and I agree, the look in her eyes is getting better!

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