When is it Time?

And how do you know?

In addition to my three human babies, we have a yellow lab.  Our first child, really, as we got him as a baby and have loved him ever since.  Like any child, there have been trials and tribulations.  If you've ever seen Marley and Me, then you get an idea of what Churchill was like.  He's been a great family dog, although he had a lot of trouble adjusting to the humans when they started coming home from the hospital.  After some medication, lots of love, and a basic resignation to the fact that those squirmy little things were here to stay, he settled in to his role as family dog.

He's 13 now, and he's gotten very old in the last year.  You might even say the last 6 months.  He has trouble walking (arthritis and some hip dysplasia -- all too common with labs but remarkably late onset for a dog his size), sleeps most of the day and has gas.  Lots and lots of gas.  Lately, though, he's also been having accidents.  And sometimes his legs will give out and he has to drag himself around the yard.  We recently learned that was due to nerve damage in his hip.  A couple months ago, he started having little accidents just trying to stand up.  His back legs were working so hard to stand that he was losing control of other faculties.  And now, this week, he's had an accident in the house every day, sometimes twice, even after he's been outside (if he goes outside at all).  The vet gave him meds to help with the arthritis, but a side effect is diarrhea (one of the issues we're trying to combat) and they upset his stomach.  He spent last night in the garage for fear of another accident after an unpleasant episode that affected the family room, dining room, kitchen and hallway of our house last night, right after he'd been outside.  And hours after a similar incident that morning.  This morning, he refuses to come inside.  He's spent the better part of the last week hiding behind the bed in the guest room, shaking because he thinks he's in trouble, or because he doesn't understand and he's scared...I don't know which.  Maybe both.  He's not in trouble.  Although our carpeting and rugs are taking a hit, you can't be angry with him -- he's too pathetic.

What do you do?  When do you know it's time to move on and how do you know?  I can't imagine our lives without him.  But as his mother I see he's miserable, and scared and in pain.  And I can't do anything to help.  In our selfishness of not wanting to say goodbye, are we being cruel?  If we decide it's that time, are we giving up too easily?  I've been crying all morning, careful to wear sunglasses so Meems couldn't see me on the way to her tutor and school.  She is now saying she wants to cancel a much anticipated mother/daughter outing to the American Girl store tomorrow because she's worried about him.  She's afraid he'll have an accident.  She's so intuitive to emotion and suffering...does she sense something?

The weekend awaits.  I am hopeful that our lack of schedule will give us time to love him and the clarity to know what to do.  I pray that life will get better for him with his meds, and I pray for the strength we'll need to decide what to do if it doesn't.  And, in the meantime, we will love on him and cherish what we have.  Because who knows how much longer we'll have it.      


Jennifer Cullinan said…
My heart goes out to you all Jennifer, but I can relate all too well. We had to put our sweet chocolate lab, Zack (also our first baby) to sleep just last fall. It was probably the most difficult thing we have ever had to do. For us, things came on quickly in the end and the pain and suffering that Zack seemed to have was more than we could bear. He deserved a better quality of life than he lived in his last 36 hrs. and once we saw how miserable he was. . .we knew it was time. We watched over a day and a half the labored breathing as it became more prevalent. We peered into his sweet sad eyes as we sat up all night one night with him petting him as neither human nor canine could rest. Tears stream down my cheeks now as I type for the memories, while dear, are still somewhat raw. We soon realized that Zack deserved so much better. We also realized that we wanted our boys to cherish fond memories of good times and not memories of pain and suffering. I recall the moment that we backed Sean's car into our garage early one morning and we collectively carried Zack out (as he was unable to walk on his own at that point). We had made a decision to send Zack to the vet to see if they could "pep" him up with meds. We decided at that moment that if the day at the vet left him in the same state, that we had to let go and a few short hours later it was all over. Our vet told us that no medicine would work at that point.

My hope is that you all are able to cherish time together this weekend. It will not be easy. . . but it is important. Our sweet vet made a plaster mold of Zack's paw and we smile each time we see it b/c we know that Zack is in a much better place in heaven. Thinking of you and here if you need to talk . . . you can always call.
Jennifer, Thank you so much for your note and kind words. Hearing feedback from others who have experienced it, while sad, is helpful. I'm sorry to hear about Zack. The loss of a pet is more profound than I ever imagined. We're hoping for a good weekend on some medications and then we'll see where we are. He's doing better (no accidents in 24 hours), but his leg keeps giving way.

Thank you for your thoughts. I hope you and your family are well. I can't believe our little boys who played together are so old now! Miss those playdate days!
Jerry said…
Our Hobo dog went through the same thing and we struggled to know what to do. The day came when we looked into her beautiful browm eyes and she just wasn't there anymore. Our wonderful Vet summed it up best when he said she had been a loving dog and a major part of our family always looking out for us, it was now time to do the same for her. It didn't lessen the pain we felt but we knew he was right. I held her to the last, she would have been there for me. She's gone but forever in out hearts, you will know when it's time Church will tell you, with his eyes. We love you.
Anonymous said…
We had cocoa, a cocker spaniel that we had to let go, a few months later we were at a store and T.J asks me, mum can we buy this? I looked down and he had found a bean bag toy of a cocker spaniel, he named it Cocoa, he held on to cocoa for a long time until we got our next family member, it is hard and you never forget....Churchill is very special, I remember how he guarded TJ when he was sleeping and how he talked to him through the glass door and they rubbed noses through the glass. He holds a special place in so many hearts and he will not be forgotten. May he have a blessed journey and may he guard and love over cocoa and all our other loved pets, for Churchill is a friend that loves and looks out for all his friends and family. We love you.

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