When to Say Goodbye?

How do you know when it’s time to say good-bye to a beloved friend and companion for the last 13 years?  How do you know when it’s no longer wise, or compassionate, or caring to keep that beloved companion with you any longer, no matter how much you wish she could stay forever?  When is it time to say, “No more medications, or tests, or anything…….it’s time to say good-bye?”

This is Lady

Lady, my 13yo Shepherd - Chow mix, is showing signs of her age.

I first found Lady at the Humane Society Animal Rescue Center near the airport in Charlotte in the summer of 2000.  I’d been in Charlotte for a year and a half, and been in my new house in the University area for about 9 months, and I was feeling ready to bring a dog, or dogs, back into my life.  I really wanted a golden retriever, but when I passed a kennel with these 2 shepherd-mix puppies, I paused for a moment.  Reading the sign on the kennel, I realized they were scheduled to be put down the next morning unless someone signed up for play time; in that case, they’d get all their shots and be kept awhile longer.  Being the softie I am for dogs, I knew I had to do at least that, so I signed up to come back the next morning for to check them out.  And naturally………..I ended up taking them home.  🙂  Because really, who can resist 2 adorable, playful puppies (they were sisters)?

Sadly, Lady’s sister passed away in an accident a couple years later, but Lady has been with me ever since then, through a period of devastating depression, meeting my wife and her daughter, our wedding and the birth of our younger daughter, the ups-and-downs of owning a small business, and all the good and bad things in life.

Lady is Showing Her Age and Sick

Lady and my daughter, ElizabethAs I write these words, I am unable to hold back the tears, just knowing that Lady may not be with us much longer.  She was diagnosed recently with Atypical Cushing’s Syndrome, which is treatable, but she also has stenosis of her spine, making her back legs not work quite as well. She’s a lot stiffer, and is starting to have difficulty just going up and down the 3 steps on the side of the house when I take her out.  When she lies down now, sometimes I see her slip and hit the ground a little hard, and when we’re going for our walks every morning and night, she is stumbling much more frequently.  She’s having difficulty controlling her bladder, leading to numerous accidents in our new home, and on hard-wood floors, that’s really not good.  The doctor tells me we need to test to see if the dosing of her medication needs to be adjusted, and that should stop – trying to set that up for this Friday.  Honestly – we purchased our dream home this year, and we can’t have the floors ruined – they would cost a fortune to replace.  But I don’t want Lady to spend her last months or years stuck in a crate 2/47, either.

But even if the medication fixes the bladder problem, there’s not much that can be done for her spine.  And I’ve seen that getting steadily worse over the last few months – this weekend, when we were running a bit, she nearly took a bad fall on a perfectly smooth, straight street.

 She’s Too Old to Adopt Out, and I Won’t Put Her in the Pound

So I’m stuck with this horrible dilemma that is breaking my heart.  Pretty much nobody will adopt a dog with only 1-2 more years (probably at the outside) to live, and medical bills to pay.  And I’ve thought of what it do to her to be put in the pound anyway, because she’s always been neurotic and skittish.  At her age, being surrounded by a lot of other dogs going crazy all the time, that would just be too cruel.  But neither can I keep her crated non-stop except to take her out for food/water/exercise, and neither can we let her keep having accidents that could ruin the floors & cost a very large sum to fix.  And yet…………..she’s still alive and has energy and wants attention, and she loves our walks and when we come home, she’s so incredibly happy.

I know the time to say good-bye is probably coming close…….but how am I supposed to have the wisdom to know when?  How do I know when it’s finally time to say good-bye?  And how the HELL am I supposed to have the strength to do it?   Because right now, it’s just ripping me apart inside.

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BTW – any advice on how to prepare my daughter Elizabeth would also be much appreciated, because I have no clue how the heck I’m supposed to tell her that it’s time to take Lady to “sleep.”

  • Tammy Jakubik

    First of all, Chip, let me offer my prayers for your family in this difficult situation. I’ve been in this situation too many times – always swear I won’t replace but I end up doing it. I do not know what you should tell Elizabeth except do not use the word sleep. You do not want her to equate sleep with death or separation.

    I do remember a dog we had that my parents said went to live in a home with a childless couple who wanted to treat her like a baby (corn flakes with cream for breakfast!) and I am pretty sure she was put to sleep. I am the oldest in our family and the youngest in our family is seven years younger so I think the situation was sanitized for the younger children.

  • Lady does not want to suffer and is horrified by the accidents. she is suffering physically and is just as sick about dissappointing you. Cushings effects body temp regulations and soon you will see shivering and whimpering in her sleep and then congestive heart failure will kick in. Tell your girls the fist two sentences, and that Lady has taught unconditional love and given unconditional love, but now it is time to go. tell them that when they love unconditionally, Lady will be with them in spirit.

  • Roni

    Aww, Chip..my heart goes out to you on this one. I have a friend who is on the very same path and I’ve watched how difficult it is. I’m sorry you’re going through it too. She’s beautiful. Whatever decision you make will be tough because you loved her and it’s so very hard to let go. It’s amazing how much a part of our families they become, isn’t it? Sometimes, there aren’t words for things this deep, other than, I know it hurts… I love you, Elizabeth, and I hurt too. A friend of mine said to me recently, “Cry now, but smile again tomorrow.” I understood his meaning. Feel what you feel in the moment. It’s perfectly ok. Love to all of you as you turn toward some difficult decisions.

  • Charles Payet

    Thank you so much, Roni, Tammy, and Tom. I really appreciate your thoughts and comments. I just dropped Lady off at the vet for some follow-up testing, to see if her medication needs tweaking. The vet also suggested an anti-inflammatory for her back, as the inflammation and discomfort could also be making bladder control difficult, too. We’ll pick her up in a few hours and get the results next week.

    I’m slowly coming to terms with the idea that Lady’s time to go isn’t that much further off, but not quite yet. Still, I don’t want her to live just because some meds give her temporary relief that cover her worsening condition. I’m trying to slowly plant the idea in Elizabeth’s head that Lady won’t be with us much longer, but not yet too directly. I’m not ready for that yet, either.

    I am making sure to spend a lot more time with her for sure, and I will have to get someone to take some pictures of me with her, as I really don’t have any. She doesn’t like me taking her picture, never has.

    Oh geez, the tears are coming again just writing this…….