Several months ago, Rocky started having trouble using one of his back legs. This was followed by trouble with the other back leg. He had to move to my kennel where there are no steps. His condition has progressed and I now carry him out to the kennel side yard and back in again. He’s such a champ – never grumbles, never fights me. He just lets me hoist him up, take him outside, and hold him in place while he “does his business.” He has a huge orthopedic bed in his run, a raised feeder/waterer to make it easier to eat and drink, and an outside run that he is slowly losing the ability to get to. I keep a blanket wrapped around his bed (that can be changed out) because he is incontinent part of the time now. But he’s still happy. He loves to be talked to and petted. He loves to eat his senior food and he even loves his medications because they are in tasty pill pockets. And his favorite thing of all is a new bone. So he’s been getting one quite regularly these days. I have no idea how much longer I’ll have Rocky around. But I’m going to make him as comfortable and as happy as I can for however long that is.
That was in December. He made it another three months.
I probably should have assisted Rocky to The Bridge before now. Over the last three months, he has progressively deteriorated. About a month ago, Rocky became unable to hold himself up long enough to finish a meal. As I said above, he had a raised feeder/waterer. But in the last few weeks he could not stay up on all fours long enough to finish eating. I would re-position him at least a couple of times to get him through a meal. He also completely lost the ability to take himself into his outside run. For about the last week of his life, the only thing he could do without help was to lie on his big bed. I kept feeling guilty for not making the decision to let Rocky go. But this was different from how so many of our animals have gone. It has usually been the case that old age brought organ failure. It’s easy to know it’s time when an organ fails. You can look at the animal and KNOW he or she is suffering. A blood test confirms organ failure. But with Rocky, there was no sudden turn into suffering. He had virtually no quality of life, but he was not struggling to breathe or crying out in pain.
Until last Wednesday.
For at least the last two months, I hoped and hoped that I would know when it was time. I wanted a concrete sign. In hindsight, I should have let him go sometime in the previous two weeks. But on Wednesday morning, I got my definitive sign. I posted to my blog that morning and headed down to my kennel and cathouse to start the day. When I opened the front door to the kennel, I could hear Rocky whining. I raced over to his run and my heart broke. He had scooted around on his giant orthopedic bed and managed to end up over by the opening to the outside run. His back end had slipped off the bed and pushed through the flap and onto the concrete. I pulled him inside and onto the middle of his bed. How long had he been like that? Ten minutes? An hour? ALL NIGHT?
I sat with Rocky on Wednesday morning for a very long time. I petted him and massaged his muscles (which I did every day). I’d wanted a sign. This wasn’t a senior who was going to suddenly fail due to organs giving out. For months I’d worried about Rocky’s quality of life. Then for almost two weeks I’d known that his life, though without great suffering, was little more than an existence. The fact that he could now not even drag his own body out of an extremely uncomfortable position was enough. It was the sign I’d needed. I told Rocky I wouldn’t let him stay in that broken down body any longer.
When one of our furry family members fails acutely and euthanasia takes them out of extreme pain and suffering, there is relief mixed with the grief. You know you’ve done the right thing when you offer your precious loved one a way out of suffering. It’s still awful. This will never be an easy thing for any of us. But when that furry family member needs to move on, and you have to make the decision based on quality of life vs. mere existence, it’s hard. To assist them out of suffering is something we KNOW we must do. To pick a day when “existence” is no longer enough is really really tough.
Rocky was 15 years old.
Rocky – Farewell.