My long-time companion dog Sass has reached a ripe old age of nearly 13 years. Her recent behaviors had led me to think it might be time to put her to sleep.
It’s amazing how quickly a spry “mature” dog gets to be a wobbly “elderly” dog. In the past two years, Sass has gone from lizard chasing and playing with my younger dog, to placidly watching the lizards and rabbits saunter by her, and growling at the young dog’s playfulness. She’s rapidly lost much of her eyesight and hearing, and arthritis has taken over her hindquarters, making it difficult for her to move.
So when she started crying, barking, panting excessively, and licking her paws raw, I thought maybe this was “time.”
Now, Sass has been my best buddy for more than 12 years. She’s been with me through some really difficult times. She is not so much a family dog as my dog, following me from room to room, “protecting” me from any perceived dangers, and generally offering her doggy comfort whenever possible. For this outstanding loyalty and love, I have given mine in return. I take care of her every need and probably spoil her in the process. She’s my girl.
Knowing her age is considered extremely advanced for a Doberman, I have tried to prepare myself for what is inevitably coming – the day I have to put her down. As I said, I thought that time had come last week. Fortunately, I was wrong.
To explain my ignorance, I have never had a dog live to old age before. Sadly, they have all died early of one disease or another – cancer, congenital heart failure, kidney disease, etc. Not one of the eight dogs I’ve owned has made it to 12, so I don’t really have much experience with the elderly canine. When Sass started to display these out-of-character behaviors, I assumed she was miserable and sick, so I made an appointment with my trusted veterinarian, Dr. Rick.
Days before the appointment, I began steeling myself against what I was afraid was coming. I told myself repeatedly that Sass had lived a terrific life and had outlived the “average” dog of her breed. I promised myself a puppy in the future, or perhaps a rescued Doberman (I am firmly attached to the breed). I was ready, or so I thought, when I loaded her into my vehicle and drove to the veterinarian last Wednesday.
We walked in the door of the vet’s office, and I started to cry, completely surprising myself. The kind women behind the desk jumped up, asking, “What’s wrong?”
“She’s old!” I sobbed, and immediately felt like a fool. “I’m sorry! I thought I was OK with this, but clearly I’m not.”
So I led Sass into the examination room, explained my concerns to Dr. Rick, and he began to examine my dog. By this time, I’d been handed a box of tissues.
After careful examination and listening to my concerns, I was told what I did not expect: Sass was “fine.”
“You know, dogs are a lot like we are.” explained my vet. “When people get old, they often get needy, anxious, and whiny, right? Well, dogs do too. Sass is in extremely good shape for her age. She’s just old, needy, anxious and whiny. I think we can give her some medicine that might help.”
I felt as though a boulder had been taken off my shoulders. “Really? She’s OK?”
“She’s OK.” he smiled.
Of course, this is a time-limited assurance. Sass is old and rapidly getting older. I dodged the proverbial bullet this time, but the gun is still loaded, and the day when she will leave me is only getting closer. But I have my “old lady” buddy for a little longer, and we are both glad.
I hope, if I reached that advanced age when death is imminent, there is someone there for me. Someone who loves me and cares for my quality of life the way I care for Sass, and who won’t let me suffer unnecessarily when it is my time to go. I think it’s time to make out a Living Will to help ensure that happens.