Yesterday was a beautiful day weather wise, but an extremely heavy day emotionally. I awoke from a pleasant dream, feeling that something had worked toward resolution with regard to an old emotional wound. A good start to a good day, was my hope.
When I took Greyla out for a walk, the day began to turn emotionally darker.
Greyla is 15 years, 5 months old, and has some neurological degeneration in her hindquarters, along with arthritic changes. Her vision is poor and her hearing less than perfect. However, her sense of smell and the pleasure she derives from sniffing is topnotch. We walked through the grassy area that she loves, out to the highway, where she always stands with her nose scenting the breeze from the Sound, which I am sure is rich with salty sea smells. Then we returned to our space and RV.
As we walked the area between our Jeep and the RV, Greyla misstepped and fell down. Because her hindquarters are weak, I tried to support her as she attempted to rise. This resulted in her front legs giving out for the first time that I had noted, and her snout hit the concrete.
When I finally got her inside the RV, and explained to R what had transpired, he seemed to think it was an anomaly. My thinking was more dire, which set me on a path of wondering how we will know when the appropriate time comes to put our girl down.
With Blue, our first dog, I had the guidance of both our regular Vet whom I trusted implicitly, along with the Vets I worked with at the emergency Veterinary clinic, and my dear friend Carol, also a Vet. Blue had dual problems, in that she had a tumor on her liver, as well as renal dysfunction. It was the hardest decision we ever had been faced with at the point in our lives, yet we knew what and when it had to be done.
With Jake, our second dog, the diagnosis was less clear, and we took the necessary step to gain clarity before making any decisions. Once we were relatively certain his 13 year old body was suffering from Leukemia, I was still unable to let him go. I loved that boy with my heart and soul, and so for a short time, while he was on steroids in massive doses, I slept on the floor of our sunroom with him, as his IV bag hung from the ceiling fan. He was unable to stand on his own. I remember awaking from a nap in the middle of the night, on the floor next to him. He had had a bloody bowel movement and attempted to scoot himself away from it, resulting in his beautiful face being inches from the poop. I am haunted by the look in his eyes. At that moment, in perfect clarity I saw that I was keeping him alive only for me.
Our third dog, Baxter, was a rescue who came to us at six years of age. We loved him for six years. At 12 he began to have problems with walking and balance. After x-rays and lengthy exams and observations, it was determined that he had a brain tumor, in the area controlling his balance. It would only exacerbate with time. It hurt, but there was clarity about the decision.
Katie was the fourth dog we put down. She came from a shelter and lived with us for 13 years, which made her probably around 16 when we faced her euthanasia. She made the decision easy for us. She stopped eating, gradually and then refused to drink. She communicated her need to move beyond this life very clearly. She was the only one of our dogs to that point, who didn't die at home, yet it seemed fitting, as she loved all the people at our Vet's office, so when the time came, she was among lots of people who loved her, in addition to her family.
Greyla is another story all together! There were those, including our trusted Vet, who counseled us to put her down in April of 2013, when abdominal x-rays showed the reason for her labored breathing to be a mass, extending from her diaphragm to her small intestine. But, because nobody could site the origin of that mass, we chose to have an ultrasound, ostensibly as part of the diagnostic process. From the ultrasound we discovered that the point of connection for Greyla's mass was her spleen, not her liver, as we had feared. After much consultation with both the Vet who did the ultrasound and our steadfast, caring Vet, Ed Bennett, we opted to go forward with surgery to remove Greyla's spleen and the mass, knowing full well all the ramifications. Greyla's recovery after the splenectomy slow, but steady. And there has not been one day when we have regretted that decision.
I need to say, that all of that did not take place in a vacuum. Only three months before Greyla's surgery, I had received information that my Daddy had stage four lung cancer, discovered when he required emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction. I was not prepared to have so little control over so many events in such a brief period of time. Keeping Greyla alive at that point, gave the illusion of some control.
While we were in Pittsburgh, both last year, and again briefly in late April of this year, Greyla has had follow ups with her Vet. We currently have her on a combo of meds to ease her arthritic inflammation, as well as to ease any pain she has. We do not have a Vet here on the Island. However, All Pet Animal Hospital and their staff have been wonderful even via long distance.
The problem is, now that I see deterioration, and although she still enjoys going outside to sniff,and she has never peed in the house, although she does poop in the house in a laying position regularly, she still eats though with less gusto, and drinks normally, and we are mostly able to manage her pain, I'm not sure how to gauge when it is time to let her go. Add to that, the complexity of R's relationship with her. Greyla is technically R's dog. She was a gift to him for his 50th birthday, as he had expressed a desire for another female black lab.
The other night I thought I saw just a shadow of the look that Jake gave me that haunts me still. However, I don't want to be the one who makes this determination. I don't fully trust myself ~ the past year has been a difficult emotional one for me, filled with loss and mourning, on many levels. And Greyla, although a sweet dog in many ways, is not the brightest bulb on the tree :) I'm not certain she has the depth of spirit that Jake had, so it could be that I'm allowing guilt to see things that don't really exist.
R's response to my queries yesterday regarding Greyla's health and general well being was, "Her life's not so bad right now". Is he correct? Or is he delusional?
How do we know what is right and when it's right? Do we wait for her to be unable to walk at all? To pee in the house? To loose all interest in food? Does her dignity come into play? And does she even have the self awareness to have "dignity"?
Yesterday, my conclusion was to wait it out until R sees and resolves that the time has come. Today I find myself wondering if he sees through eyes so blinded by love for her, as I was with Jake, that he is missing important clues to her well being.
I spend too much time crying because I fear the loss, yet cannot bring myself to say with certainty that now is the time to let her go. This sucks.