Friday, April 09, 2010

The Fisher King


My dog is dying.

I don't mean to sound fatalistic, but it's the truth - Fisher, my beloved yellow lab, will be dead soon.

Actually, if I'm being completely truthful it's not that simple. He is not technically dying as there is not one illness that is ravaging his body and leading to his inevitable demise. There is no cancer spreading through his organs causing failure, no disease that will stop his heart at any moment. Instead he is cursed with a number of ailments which individually would allow him to live much longer but together will force us to make that difficult decision no pet owner wants to make - when to consider euthanasia. So I was wrong. He's not technically dying, just close to death. Six of one, half dozen of another - the result is the same, it’s the way he gets there that’s the kicker.

To date, Fisher has hepatitis, bladder stones, occasional elevated kidney values (due to hepatitis, we think), two torn ACLs, recurring UTIs (due to his medication), constant and painful ear infections (also due to the medication but also because of his breed and a predisposition) and the latest, a slipped disc in his back. The last one may just be the proverbial straw. He's in so much pain - So. Much. Pain. - and, unfortunately, nothing is really operable. I guess it's more than slightly ironic he was named for a tragic character.

It's the pain and obvious discomfort that is making this difficult for everyone. A Labrador Retriever is a tough breed. A dog bred for icy waters and thickets and extreme activity. They do not feel pain the way some other breeds do, so to actually witness the grimaces and twitches, to see his anxious, expectant face at the bottom of our deck stairs while he waits for me to come to him so that I can help lift his back end up over the few steps it will take for him to get back into the house, to see him take a few steps and have to lay down... It's heartbreaking.

And he's not even 8 years old.

In two weeks he'll have his birthday. For months I've been saying, Please, just make it to your birthday. Make it to 8. I don't know why 8 seems more reasonable than 7, why a few weeks or months make such a difference in my heart, but they do. He's supposed to live to be 12, I'm supposed to have at least four more years with him. It's not fair, I rail to myself and to my husband and to whoever else will listen. It's not fair, he's too young, too loved. It's not fair. But dying at 7 is unconscionable.

I watch him as he restlessly paces a few steps, trying to find a comfortable place to rest. He doesn't go far, he just can't, but he's up and down often. I watch him stare at the grass from his perch in the sunroom and I can almost hear him weighing the importance of walking down those deck steps to relieve himself against the pain he'll inevitably feel going up and down. But walk down the steps he must; one of the side effects of the Prednisone he takes is excessive thirst and frequent urination. Pee-dnisone is what some call it. At least it helped him get his appetite back. And I have a couple of rug cleaners, so there's that.

Sometimes I feel like we're living the canine version of hospice, waiting for the "patient" to decide when it's time to go, but there will not be a time like that. We need to decide for him. I suppose that's where a dog has the advantage - we can euthanize if things get too bad. There will be no machines or ventilators or life saving measures beyond what we've already done, no unnecessary suffering. If one more thing happens or if he gets much worse we'll need to end his life. His vet agrees. You've already done so much for him, she counseled as I worked things out while she listened.

Fisher is a dignified dog, we will let him go with as much of his dignity intact as we can.

But yet...

That all sounds so simple, doesn't it? Like a day will come when we'll just... know? When the combination of disease and pain and, oh how I hate to say it, cost will come to a head and we'll be forced to make the appointment to put everyone out of their respective misery? I don't think it will be that easy. There are far too many factors at work.

I feed him his pills in bits of bologna, the prednisone, the pain killers, the various antibiotics and assorted medications for ailments I do not understand, and sometimes I think, it would be easier if he were gone.

God help me, it would be easier.

The expense, the damn expense, would be gone. Oh, the expense. You'd choke on your tongue if you knew. No more yellow dog hair covering every square inch of my house, both inside and out. I'd get my sunroom back, since it would no longer be the sick ward. The constant smell of urine would abate. The trips back and forth to the vet. The looks from the vet techs when they see I'm there again with Fisher. Fisher's here! We love him, he's such a good dog, they say as they scratch his head. Ooh, he's even worse this time, poor Fish. However, he still wiggles with happiness. He somehow musters the strength to reciprocate the love. He still gets excited about meal time and treats and the occasional marrow bone. He stares expectantly when I come near. My puppy is still in that beaten down body. Somewhere.

But I fear the morning I'll wake and find Fisher unable to move on his own and I'm terrified I'll have to deal with it alone because my husband is off on a business trip. Will I be strong enough to physically move him and emotionally to hold it together in front of my kids? I think of these things far too often.

So go ahead and tell me he's just a dog. I will passionately disagree.

He's is a good dog... no, a great dog. Cranky, yes, and sullen occasionally but a lot of that can be chalked up to his chronic liver problems that were there long before we knew about them. He's not perfect by any stretch but perfect for me. I'll miss looking into his deep, knowing brown eyes. I'll miss him at my feet in the evenings and absentmindedly letting my hand fall to stroke his side. I'll miss rubbing his ears and hearing his satisfied groan. I'll miss the bent tip of his tail, the silly tricks he does for a treat, the way he snaps to attention when he knows we're "working". He's my dog and he is important.

I miss him already and he's not gone yet.

But I'm preparing and while we wait I'll spoil him. I owe Fisher that. He was at my leg when I cried for my mother. He was there when I needed someone to help me off the couch when I was hugely pregnant. He helped me in my somewhat crazy choice to become a dog trainer. I owe him more than I've been able to give back so the least I can do is give him the best now while I can. A scratch, help up the stairs, a marrow bone and a comfortable spot to rest his painful body and someday soon, a kindness that at this very moment brings me to tears when I think of it.



Marrow bone, not a pound of flesh but it will do.

39 comments:

Boston Mamas said...

Oh T... so sorry. Yes, spoil Fisher rotten and enjoy all of the furry snuggles. xoxo

supermommy said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your baby, Fisher. I completely understand what you're going through. We just lost our 14 year old pitbull in January and had to make the painful choice to put him down because his body just couldn't keep up with his spirit. It's a very tough decision to make and there have been many times that we've had second thoughts about whether we did the right thing or not. Ultimately I just knew that he was ready even though I wasn't. There are plenty of times where I just sit and think about him, think I hear him snoring on his pillow or just see him standing at the front door waiting for me to come home. My 3 year old talks about him all the time and tells me that she sees him sometimes watching her from heaven. My advice: just give him all the love you can and remember these days as well as the better ones, keep lots of pictures around the house when he's gone.

We ended up getting a new puppy about a month after my dog passed away. More for the kids than for ourselves and there are times it's very hard not to compare him to our other dog but I think it's done us all good. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

duchessbelle said...

I'm so sorry. My parents had to put our family dog down a couple years ago for essentially the same reasons - all the little things adding up to make one insurmountable one. When she couldn't make it to her water dish was the tipping point. When I got the phone call I sobbed for hours. I got a basset puppy a few weeks ago and it helps to remember my first dog when she was young and energetic and ridiculous :)

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I feel like I know that sweet boy. I'm so sorry.

Please don't feel guilt over part of you wishing this were over already. When Zack was nearing the end, when I was tired of the injected fluid, the insulin, the pee smell and all that, I wanted him to go too. It wasn't that I didn't want my dear, sweet cat, it's that I knew he was no longer thriving.

Hugs to you guys. This is so hard.

Super Careo said...

This post brought me to tears, and I'm at work - so double points for that.

I can't even think about the fact that my own two dogs are starting to get on in years because if I think about it too hard I will totally loose it. People who haven't had their own dog just don't get it.

I am so sorry for you that you have to start thinking about this. I hope that Fisher has the best 8th birthday a dog could ever have. He sounds like he really deserves it.

This Little Light said...

I have 4 dogs who are all of advanced age. I have sent 2 to the Bridge already and anticipate doing it again in rapid succession with my dog family as it stands. In reading your post, and please do not think me cruel, because I have certainly be there - done that, it sounds like you are ready and need someone to tell you that it's okay to let him go.

Well, it's okay to not let him suffer anymore. He can't make that decision. You have to be strong and do that for him. It is the suckiest thing to have to do and I know that you will struggle with whether you do it too soon or too late or if you could have found something else to make it better. I know. I struggled and I still cry but in the end, I knew I was doing right by my dogs and knew that their quality of life just was not there.

You'll make the right decision. Be brave. Big hug to you!

AnnetteK said...

I'm so sorry. You should definitely spoil that sweet boy, and be good to yourself too.

One Sided Momma said...

i too, am so very sorry you're facing all of this now and that your sweet fisher has to go through this at all. i have an 8 yr. old yellow lab also and she is most definitely the first born even though we have two small kids. i cried the entire way through this post b/c my heart aches for you and the decisions you're having to make about this special member of your family. please know you're doing the best thing you can by him and that's all you can ask of yourself.

Issas Crazy World said...

oh honey, i'm so sorry.

he's a part of your family and it's hard to know when to let go. nothing about it is east. just spoil him for a bit longer.

tons of hugs.

Mags said...

This post brought me to tears too...You brought back many memories of our chocolate lab. Spoil him for as long as you can!!!

ClumberKim said...

I want to give you and Fisher hugs and bones (for him) and nutella (for you). We lost a 4 year old Clumber a while back. The expense horrific and the loss even worse. She was way too young.

We now have a 14 year old whose days are numbered. I am counting on him to let me know when to let him go, though I hope he just doesn't wake up some morning (and also hope my husband isn't on a business trip when it happens).

Here for you whenever you need a shoulder.

Suburb Sierra said...

I'm sorry. I don't know what to say other than I have been in your shoes and it isn't easy. It can't be because you love him as a child. It shouldn't be because he's brought such joy.

Whirlwind said...

I have tears in my eyes just reading this. I too feel your pain. I know what it's like. my heart breaks everytime I see my 9 year old rotti struggle down the stairs, or when she looks for help going back up. I pray everyday that she will wake and I won't be left alone with her. I curse the puppy everytime she wants to jump on "the big dog".

Hugs and hang in there!

Life As I Know It said...

Oh, I am so sorry. You had me almost crying as I read this post about your dear Fisher. A dog, any pet, quickly becomes part of our family.

Hang in there. If I lived closer, I'd come and help :)

d e v a n said...

:( I am so, so, sorry. :(

Working Mom said...

He's just... an integral part of your family who you will miss. I am so sorry. I don't get people who don't understand how pure the love between a person and their pet is, and how much of a mark it leaves on your soul.

((((Fisher)))) and ((((Tania))))

Tracy said...

I'm so sorry.

I haven't commented in awhile, but I read religously. We have a yellow lab, too. Our Gus is 125 pounds and his shoulders and hips are already swaying. He's only 6-1/2. He's just a big dog, not fat, so it's hard to shave weight off of him. Things are made even more difficult because of the multi level house we live in that requires constant stair climbing. We actually just sold our house and are building a house with no stairs...and a big reason for that is Gus. We know that it won't be long before he can't handle them.

Again, I'm so sorry. I understand. They're not "just dogs." Gus has been my near constant companion since I went on bedrest 2 years ago. Sometimes I hate the dog hair, and the constant underfootedness of it all, but it's so worth it. He's family.

Mahala said...

It's so hard, I know. Hugs.

TwoBusy said...

What a sweet boy. What a wonderful life he's had. And what a gift he has now - even in these last times - to still have someone watching over him so carefully, loving him so well, keeping him as wrapped in familiar comforts as he possibly can be.

This is a terribly tough time for you, and for your family. And my heart aches for you. But for Fisher, the important thing is that even now... he's with good people who love him. And in the end, you can't ask for more than that.

bernthis said...

I'm so so sorry. I had to make that decision many years ago and it was the most difficult thing I ever did. My heart breaks for him and for you all.

thenextmartha said...

We put our cat Chilly down in Jan. He was 14.5. He too was dying though did not have anything critically wrong with him. It got to the point where it was hard to see him in that condition. The week his food intake was getting less and less was the week I decided that it was close enough. We have his ashes and plan to spread them under his favorite tree. Losing a pet no matter how old and no matter how you are losing them is hard. Hope you are at peace with whatever the future holds.

carrie said...

My heart is aching for you and your family. I'm sorry you are going through this.

Angie said...

My heart goes out to you and your family. It is a hard decision to make. We waited and in the end our dog passed at home. She struggled so much here at home we will never wait too long again. The do deserve all the respect we can give them as their time ends.

TJ said...

I can't remember life before I lived with my fiance and his (now our) dog Brinkley, and I find the idea that he isn't a permanent fixture in my life to be nearly unbearable.

It's so unfair that Fisher is going so early, and that you need to find the strength to be the one to "know" and make that call.

I wish you and your family the best in getting through this impossibly difficult time.

SUEB0B said...

You KNOW this stuff kills me. To see our friends suffer when they love and trust us so much is so damned hard. I am sending big hugs your way.

Patois said...

You've described him so well I feel as if I know him. It's so very hard, and I'm sorry this is happening. A dog like that deserves so much goodness. (So does a dog like that's owner.)

SciFi Dad said...

I'm sorry about your dog. If it would help, I can come over and pee on stuff so your house still smells like urine.

Ericka said...

you made me cry. gods, it hurts, doesn't it?

i'm so sorry you're going through this, but it sounds like you've already stalled longer than what was best for him. i know it's awful, but let him not hurt anymore.

*hugs*

Leslie said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. It sounds like you gave Fisher the best life a dog could have. You did the right things for him, and he did right by you. That's how the relationship is supposed to go.
Be gentle with him and yourself.

Forgotten said...

Oh, sweetie. I understand your pain. I truly do. My mom has our dog, Jazz, that is of advanced age. She was my brother's dog. He died in a tragic car accident 8 years ago. She seems to be holding on to her for dear life because I know she thinks of Jazz as her last link to my brother. I have tried to have this conversation with her myself but it is sooo hard.

I hope you find the peace in your heart that you need to let Fisher go. He deserves the best you can give him and if he's hurting so much maybe the best you can give him is to let him finally rest.

Milly said...

Having put a more dogs to sleep than I like to remember, I can only tell you that if you have a good, caring, kind vet the passing is easy on the animal. It's terrible on you . . . but for the dog, he simply goes to sleep and stops. That's how it feels. One minute he is with you and you know the moment he stops being there. I honestly think you should be with him, even if your heart is breaking. You gave him grace during his life and you need to continue to give it even at the end of life. And finally, putting your boy "to sleep" is a kindness based on the kind of life he's having now. All your life you will remember the event but in your heart you'll know it was right and good and proper and decent. This sounds odd to admit, but I wish that when my time comes, someone will simply help me go to a peaceful sleep with my dignity still in tact. Prayers are with you and your boy.

kgirl said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. Through the years we've gotten to know how much he means to you. This pain must be so hard to bear. Hoping it abates soon for both you and Fisher.

Hannah said...

I have a yellow lab too. I didn't want a dog, resisted for years, and within a week of him coming into our lives he became my dog, forever. He holds my heart.

I am so, so sorry to hear about poor Fisher. No wonder you are grieving.

kittenpie said...

Oh, chicky. *snurf* I'm so sorry. I'm sorry you won't have your companion for longer days, and that it is so hard to watch him in pain, and that he feels it at all. That is so hard. To be honest, I was so grateful that our one cat died peacefully on her own a while ago, and we were lucky enough to be spared this. I hope you will have peace when the time comes.

leeain said...

Hey... have you seen hachiko?! its the beset dog movie ever made. It made me cry nad realize how magnificent it is to have someone who is loyal to you even if you're gone.

R said...

so, so sorry for the loss you will soon be dealing with, and the grief you are already feeling... I've had to do this myself more than once, and every single time it sucks. they're more than pets, they're family... thinking of you with great sympathy... hugs to Fisher.

A Vapid Blonde said...

I have no idea where you are at with your boy at this point. But holy hell the very thought of all/any of what you are saying makes me cry. DAMN you woman!

Sef said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Triplet Pram said...

Dog is the best friend of humans. It sounds so low that your you are about to lose your best friend. Don't worry, you will recover from this loss as the time passes by. Cheer up!!!