Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saying Goodbye

It was four years ago last week that I had to put Maddie to sleep.  While all my pets have been special to me, Maddie's place in my heart holds a slightly bigger space. 

Maddie was a yellow Lab.  I've had five Labs: one chocolate, one black, and three yellow.  All but one were rescues.  Maddie and Suzie, her mom, came from a Lab rescue group in Kentucky.  My Mom and I drove the hour and a half drive to meet them, and of course, they came home with us.  We put their new collars and leashes on them, and they rode in the back of the car.  By the time we got home, Maddie had chewed a considerable chunk of her leash. 

The two girls quickly adapted to being in their new home.  Because they were so "ball" happy, I discovered that I could walk them without leashes, as long as I took a tennis ball with me.  They watched the hand with the ball the entire walk.  Every day, we'd walk through a small wooded area to a grassy hill, and I'd throw balls and they would fetch.  Sometimes, I would stand in my driveway and throw the balls up the drive and they would bring them back, drop them at my feet and anxiously await the next toss.  Maddie's signal to me that ball toss was over was when she'd put two balls in her mouth and sit down. 

Maddie was bigger than Suzie and healthier, because Suzie was only with us for a year and a half, before she had to be put to sleep.  Suzie had bad hips and had started falling against the wall while walking.  One day when I got home, she was out on the porch and had fallen and gotten wedged between the screens and a pallet leading to the doggy door.  She was lying in her own waste unable to get up.  I knew it was time to let her go, because I couldn't leave her at home not knowing what might happen the next time. 

After Suzie left us, I got Dolly as a companion to Maddie.  Maddie didn't take to Dolly right away, but they did become friends.  Poor Dolly was sick with cancer when I got her, but it wasn't until she woke me up one night with a horrible cough, that I found out she was ill.  We got up in the middle of the night and drove to the emergency vet clinic.  I sat in the back with Dolly while she coughed until blood came up.  Lots of blood.  The tests showed that Dolly had cancer. So we took her home, laden with various drugs to help until her quality of life was no longer good.  She lasted another month, playing ball, eating, sleeping with Maddie, and taking drugs hidden in her food.  One day, she wasn't interested in eating, so I made her a steak.  She wouldn't eat it, and she wasn't getting her medications.  I made an appointment at the vet's. Because I didn't want her to leave me, I actually asked him how long she could go without food.  He gently told me that starving would not be a good way for her to die.  So, I let Dolly go, too.  She had just started feeling comfortable in her new home, and now she was gone. 

I was hesitant to get another Lab from the place where I'd gotten Maddie, Suzie, and Dolly, so Maddie's new companion was a Golden Retriever mix named Shelby from a local shelter for Golden Retrievers.  Shelby was about two years old and not quite ready for prime time alone in the house, which I discovered when she'd chewed all the rungs on my dining room chairs. Live and learn.  Shelby and Maddie were good buddies right away.  They loved their Kongs and playing ball and taking walks and getting treats.

One of the things I remember and loved about Maddie was morning when the alarm went off.  Maddie would appear standing next to the head of the bed to remind me it was time to get up and feed her.  Because it was a narrow space between the bed and the wall, she would back up doing a kind of shimmy with her back hips.  It was her happy dance. Eating was one of her favorite things.  On Fridays, I would proclaim to the girls that it was Friday, the best day of the work week, because I'd be able to spend more time with them on the weekend.  Her shimmy told me she was excited about that, too.  

When Maddie was twelve her hips started getting worse.  Her gait had changed and she was moving slower. Her breathing was becoming more labored, too.  Still, she loved for me to throw a ball right to her, so she could still enjoy one of her favorite things. 

I got home from work one afternoon, and found Shelby standing next to Maddie, who was lying on the floor.  Her back legs were stretched out behind her, and she had been panting so hard that her tongue was blue.  She was lying in her own waste.  I got help and we got her up and took her to the vet's.  I knew I was going to be saying goodbye to her, because like Suzie's last day, I knew I couldn't leave Maddie home alone not knowing what might happen to her.  The vet told me that if she stayed with me, she would need to be on oxygen the rest of her life.  That was not an option, so I said goodbye to Maddie, like I had to Koa, Jessie, Suzie, Dolly, and Cleo, my cat.  I sat with her, petting her, crying, and telling her what a good girl she was, while the vet put her to sleep.  The sadness and pain of being with her as she breathed her last breath is still hard to bear if I think about it too long. If I have my way, I'll see her again along with all my beloved pets when we meet again on Rainbow Bridge.  I'll bet Maddie greets me with a shimmy and a tennis ball in her mouth. 

Friday, January 25, 2008

How to Know When It's Time to Put Your Pet to Sleep

I have software on my custom pet urns website which shows me some interesting things: how people find the website, where their service provider is, how long they were at the website, what search they performed to get there, and what pages they visited. I’ve had lots of folks get to the website by searching on “how to know when it’s time to put my pet to sleep.” It’s a common but perplexing question for pet lovers.

The answer is you don’t ever really know because your pet can’t tell you how it feels. I’m not an animal expert, and I’m not a veterinarian or even a vet tech, but I’ve had lots of pets, and none have died of natural causes. I can tell you that I’ve read that it’s part of an animal’s self-preservation to try to conceal pain or injury. If an animal is disabled or weak or injured, and another animal can sense that, then the injured animal becomes easy prey. So, it makes sense that if your pet is not feeling well or is in pain, it will try to keep other animals, even animals like us, from finding out. And it’s our nature, because we love these pets and even think of them as surrogate children, to want to keep them with us as long as we can. Not just because we love them and don’t want them to die, but also because we can’t bear the thought of our daily routine without them.

At the same time, we ask the question “how do I know when it’s time to put my pet to sleep?” because we don’t want them to suffer. It’s easier to tell there’s a problem if our pet has been diagnosed with a terminal disease or is unable to get up or to eat or has some visible manifestation of sickness. And if you really don’t know what to do, ask your vet. He or she has knowledge and experience that can guide you in your decision.

Of course, you don’t want to put your pet to sleep while it still has decent quality of life, but you should never let your pet suffer unnecessarily. One of the dogs I rescued was diagnosed with cancer six months after I had brought her home. She was just starting to feel like part of the family. The night I learned of the cancer was one in which she woke me up coughing. The coughing continued until she was coughing up blood. We got her in the car and drove her to the emergency clinic. She soaked the sheets in the back of the car. My roommate drove while I sat and tried to comfort Dolly but was unable to do anything to help her.

After learning that she had cancer, I took her home with various drugs. She was okay for about a month after the diagnosis. During that time, she was still able to do the normal things, like eat, drink, play, sleep, and walk. One day, she had no interest in playing ball, which she had previously enjoyed. She no longer wanted to play fetch with my other Lab, Maddie, and me. Soon after that, she became picky about what she would eat. I started getting her special foods to coax her to eat. Some days she seemed like her old self and I told myself that maybe the vet was wrong and she would get better. Then she’d get worse and I’d get sad again. Finally she wouldn’t eat anything, not even a special treat like a steak.

After a whole day of refusing to eat, which also meant she wasn’t getting her medicine since I put it in her food, I knew it was time to take her to the vet’s. I made an appointment for the last evening slot. I spent the day talking to Dolly and sitting with her on the floor while working on a pet urn for the ashes of a customer’s Staffordshire terrier. All that day I knew what I had to do and I felt guilty that I was going to do it, especially since she didn’t know what I had planned. I knew the other options to keep her alive were no better. Keeping her alive would just be for my benefit and wouldn’t make her feel any better.

It seemed wrong that she should be able to walk to the car to go to the vet’s. I took a friend with us because I knew it was going to be hard for me. Seeing Dolly sitting up in the back seat looking out the window was heartbreaking. When we took her into the vet’s, I actually asked how long she could live without eating. I still didn’t want to say goodbye. But I knew I had to do it and I knew it was the best thing for her. I left the room while they put in the IV and gave her the shot to sedate her. Then they called me back in because I’d said that I wanted to be with her in her final moments. I was the only family she had and I didn’t want her to be with strangers, even though they were very kind to her. So I stroked her head and told her what a good girl she was over and over until they told me she was gone.

The lesson I am learning over and over in this life is how to let go. Whether it’s throwing away something that I no longer use or need, or not being able to move on after a break up, I have a hard time letting go. When it involves the death of someone I love, I feel a profound sense of loneliness and of having no one understand how I feel. For a while, it seems there is no one or nothing that can comfort me. And yes, I feel these same feelings whether I’ve lost a pet or a person.

Knowing that you are doing the right thing doesn’t make it easier to do, and it doesn’t make you feel the loss any less. What it can do is give you permission to forgive yourself because in ending your pet’s suffering you have brought about your own and that is a self-less and noble thing to do. Forgive yourself, and when you’re ready, please find another pet to love, not for you, but for the homeless pet that needs a loving and compassionate friend like you.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What to expect when you put your pet to sleep

I have repeatedly asked each of my pets to please die at home in their sleep. No matter how much I would prefer this type of death, none of my pets to date has been able to comply with my request. The death of a pet is difficult enough without having to take on the role of judge and executioner. But that's what I've had to be for each of them.

Inevitably, each of my previous dogs and cats, has suffered some disease or illness which has forced me to examine his or her quality of life and decide if it's time to get the vet involved. I try to wait as long as I can, but eventually they show me that it's time to say goodbye. For Spanky, it was her advanced years and the vet wanting to open her up to see what was wrong after 24 hour stay (and $1100 + bill) at the emergency facility. They'd shaved her in several areas, poked her with needles, put tubes down her, scoped her, x-rayed her, and made other attempts to find out what was wrong, but couldn't figure it out. She'd been in a small cage overnight and was trembling when I saw her. When I'd rescued her seven years previously, she'd been in a kennel for over a month and had licked all the hair off her paws and beat her tail on the floor until the hair was missing. She was neurotic when I took her home from the kennel, and I worried that the night in the cage brought back bad memories. I regretted having left her at the emergency clinic overnight after seeing how scared she was. And I believed that whatever was wrong was major, and that given her advanced years, the kindest thing would be to have her put to sleep. And so I did. They let me visit with her before they came into the room, and I stayed with her while they injected her and she faded away. As she was fading, I continued to tell her what a good girl she was and that I loved her, all the while crying. It never gets any better no matter how many animals you have to put to sleep; it just gets more familiar.

For Koa and Jessie, the end came a month apart. Jessie, a black Lab, had spinal problems and could no longer walk at the age of eleven; and Koa, an Akita, had bad hips and could no longer walk at the age of twelve. The vet, who is a mobile vet, had been coming to give Jessie shots to help her spinal problem, but eventually the drug stopped working. While Jessie was never fond of his visits, watching her try to crawl away from him as he inserted the needle was really heartbreaking this final time. Koa was sitting on the floor on a quilt I'd made (which he was buried in) and was put to sleep there. It seemed to take forever for him to die, but I think it was my emotions that made time stand still. Although it was nice not having to take them to a vet's office to be put to sleep, I've since had to take several pets to an office to be put down and I now prefer it. I think that's because it seemed to be less traumatic and go a bit smoother in the vet's office. When my dogs were put to sleep at home, the vet and the dog and I were all on the floor which was awkward. I also didn't like taking the role of the vet tech and holding the animal still. One aspect I liked was that other pets I had were able to sniff their buddy after he'd died, which seemed better than the animal just never coming home from the vet's. In the vet's office, I was able to leave the room while they inserted the IV and gave the initial sedative. (Being phobic about needles, this was especially helpful for me.)

Some people can't bear to be with their pets while they are being put to sleep. As difficult as it is, I feel that I owe it to them to be present and to let them know how much they added to my life. It's a heartwrenching event, but after all they've done for me, it's the least I can do for them.

After the pet dies, you will need to decide what you're going to do with the body. Will you bury the remains or have the pet cremated? If cremated, will you let the facility dispose of the ashes or do you want them back? If you get them back, where will you keep them? It's best to make these decisions before the animal dies, because you won't be in a good frame of mind to make decisions after he dies; at least not right after he dies.

What sort of emotions will you feel before and after your pet dies? I think putting the pet to sleep is fraught with more emotions, or at least different ones, than if the pet dies naturally. For me, there was some guilt and there were some questions. Was it the right time, or should I have waited longer? Did I wait too long and let him suffer more than he needed? It's impossible to know the perfect time to put a pet to sleep, and you shouldn't second guess your decision after the fact. Sometimes, you can tell it's time if there are signs that your pet isn't enjoying life: he won't eat or drink, won't play, can't move, and other indications of no quality of life. Sometimes, your pet will rally and you'll see improvements, but in many cases, this is just temporary. If you really can't decide what to do, talk to your vet. He or she should have a much better idea of whether the pet will improve or not.

After your pet is gone, you will grieve and rightly so. Don't let people tell you you shouldn't be sad just because the loss involved an animal and not a human. For many people, pets are part of the family and we feel like parents to them. They are like surrogate children to us. They are friends that offered unconditional love to us. They greeted us, played with us, slept with us, amused us, protected us, accepted us, and we built our routines around them. Of course we miss them and are sad that they are no longer in our lives.

I would ask that you not allow this sadness to inhibit you from getting another pet when you're ready. I've heard so many people vow to never get another animal because their sadness was so overwhelming. I know it's hard and I remember how painful it is. But there are so many animals in need of good homes with loving people to care for them. And the benefits of having a pet are so numerous and override any negatives that their loss brings. We owe it to them to give them a good life no matter how long or short.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Bonds of Love

As pet lovers, we share a special bond with our pets, one that continues when only the spirit remains. It seems fitting that we should remember them in the same manner that we cared for them in life, which is why Spirit Remains was created. Urns from Spirit Remains are for animal lovers who want a one-of-a-kind remembrance for their one-of-a-kind pet. There are many other places that offer pet cremation urns, but urns from Spirit Remains are not manufactured on an assembly line in a factory. They are unique and made with love. It may sound hokey and corny, but it's true. The first urn was made out of love for a dog, and the desire to remember her in keeping with her spirit in life; and the company was started to try to provide a similar remembrance for other pet lovers.

The idea to create a pet urn came after my yellow Lab, Suzie, died in August of '05. Her ashes from the vet's were in a very nice, black, wooden box that had a tassel on the top. I kept the box in a room out of sight, but that didn't seem right. I decided to make a pet urn for her ashes that was more uplifting and more about the way I wanted to remember her. Suzie made me happy, but that black box didn't really reflect her spirit. Something whimsical and light-hearted was what was needed. A pet cremation urn with different colors on the box and "tennis balls" on the sides (Suzie liked playing fetch) was just the ticket. An autumn tree was placed behind her, because she liked being outside. She had lots of heart, so glittering hearts were added around her. Small "posts" (dowels) raise the box, which signifies she is no longer grounded on earth. There are only three posts to symbolize something is missing or not balanced without her. Inside the box are her ashes encased in fabric with dog images on it. And her picture is in a frame inside the lid with her dog tag. I enjoyed making Suzie's pet urn. Seeing it reminds me of her love of life, her playful nature, and the bond we shared. I thought that other pet lovers might appreciate something similar. I also make cat urns, in the same spirit as the dog urns. Even if there are no ashes, the decorated box makes a nice keepsake and small tribute to man's and woman's best friend, whether feline or canine.

I'm interested in knowing what happened when your pet died, and if you did something special to remember him or her. Did you bury or cremate your pet? If he or she was cremated, did you keep the ashes and display them somewhere? Did you have more than one pet; and if so, could you tell if the remaining pets missed the one that died? Did you get another pet right away or swear you'd never have one again because the loss was too much to bear? Did you give yourself some time before you got another pet?

Thanks for visiting and participating.