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.
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.