The pain of letting go.

Dogs ought to live far longer!

I have spoken before of the bond that we humans make with our dogs, and vice versa, and the love that flows from such a bond.

But they don’t live long enough! And the end of their lives is a very difficult period for us.

Doug Goodman writes a blog. He is also an accomplished author.

Recently Doug wrote about the most difficult decision he had to make. Doug kindly gave me permission to republish his article.

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The Difficult Decision to Euthanize Ryder.

By Doug Goodman, April 20th, 2021

Unfortunately, all dogs die. There’s no easy way to do this, but it’s a fact of life as a pet owner. For me, the key decision was when is the right time to do it? I don’t want to wait too long so that Ryder suffers, but I’d feel guilty putting Ryder down too early.

We’ve talked about this many times, in fact. Often on walks or long rides in the car, my wife and I go through the bullets, like a checklist of emotional redemption. There are many “easy” decisions when owning a dog: which food? That bag of Purina over there. When do you pick up after the dog? At least twice a week in the spring and summer, sometimes every other day. Should you pet the dog? Well, it’s a German Shepherd, so if it wants to be petted, you better do it now because it may not want to be petted the rest of the day.

Deciding to euthanize is nothing so simple.

Years ago when we went through end-of-life with Mojo, a veterinarian recommended as a litmus test to pick the three things the dog enjoys most in life. When the dog can no longer do one or especially two of those things, it’s time to euthanize.

But that litmus test doesn’t apply to all dogs, and certainly not to Ryder. She’s always been a peculiar dog. She likes her backyard and playing with Koda, and she likes to eat*. She still does those things. For me, it is a pain factor based on arthritis and lack of mobility. People will talk about the dignity of life for a dog, and I think there is some truth to that. I remember laying in bed one day and Mojo walking in and telling me he was ready. A few months later, he again looked at me, and his eyes were full of truth. He wasn’t happy, he didn’t like this anymore. He was ready. Sometimes Ryder gives me that look, but I’m not sure. She’s always had a pained, scared-of-the-world emotion in her eyes.

But there is “pained” and there is “pain.” Ryder can’t put in words her suffering, so it’s up to me to observe her closely. Over the past few months, and certainly over the past year, my family and I have noticed changes to her behavior, physicality, and mental state:

-She had urination problems. She was diagnosed as a UTI and corrected. Alone, this is not a sign that she is close to dying, but I believe it may be a sign of the severity of her back arthritis. She’s not cleaning herself. This is especially troubling considering…

-She has problems holding in poop. Sometimes she’s sitting there, laying in it, and she doesn’t realize she’s pooped herself. Often, she can’t make it through the night without releasing her bowels in the house. If she isn’t able to clean herself, and she isn’t aware that she is going to the bathroom, this can lead to discomfort and additional UTIs.

-She stopped climbing the stairs. This was a subtle one because our dogs aren’t allowed upstairs. But last week we had a major thunderstorm, and as anyone who owns German Shepherds can attest, GSDs only want to be right next to you when the thunder booms and the lightning crashes. Koda busted down the dog gate and ran upstairs for solace. Ryder, who is usually the first one to bump against the bedroom door until we wake up, stayed downstairs and didn’t attempt coming to us. At least, I didn’t see her attempt it. She may have tried, failed, and gone back downstairs. That’s a first in her lifetime, and she wouldn’t have stayed down there if she didn’t absolutely have to remain on the first floor.

-She is stumbling. She often stumbles in the house, especially walking inside and out. She has fallen doing little playful jumps at my daughter. I’ve seen her fall to the floor and not be able to stand for thirty seconds or more.

-This will sound weird, but she sits a lot, and not on purpose. One of the things she does is get in the way of her people (helloooo, herding dog). She backs out when she realizes I want to get through. Now, she backs out, and her butt falls down, and she stares at me like “That wasn’t supposed to happen. What do I do now? Sorry!” until she can get back up.

-She is whining and yelping. This is the big one. My dogs don’t whine or yelp for no reason. They aren’t talkative dogs. For the past year, though Ryder will yelp when roughhousing with Koda. She wants to jump on him, but she’s incapable. Lately, she’s really reduced her roughhousing. Additionally, Koda is being a son of a bitch about this. A few days ago I noticed they were playing their favorite game of “I’ve got a thing and you don’t.” I posted about this when during one of these games, Ryder knocked the poop out of Koda. That old chestnut. But this last time when Koda wanted the random stick, he bumped her rear with his chest so that she went down. I scolded him, he didn’t understand, and eventually Ryder dropped the stick and guarded it with strong play-snaps. Koda wasn’t going to take any further action to take the prized random stick, but the fact that he knows to exploit this indicates to me that one day we could find out he’s hurt her, perhaps broken her back from bumping her, and now you have to put down Ryder immediately in your backyard. Nobody wants that. 

So we have elected to euthanize Ryder. 

Damn, there’s a lot of finality in that statement. She is a family member, and we lover her very much. I picked her up from the tiny town of Buda, Texas and drove her three or four hours back to Houston. She never liked car rides after that. We have a lot of memories with that dog, some I’m sure I will share in the coming weeks, but for now, I want to focus on the decision.

We are reaching out to companies that can euthanize at home. With all of Ryder’s fears, it seems like the best option. Of course, home euthanasias are the popular choice in the pandemic. Earlier in 2020, some of the vets we looked to wouldn’t allow owners to be present for euthanasias. So we will see if we can make the home euthanasia happen.

In the meantime, I give her half an aspirin to help with the pain, and my daughter purchased some CBD-infused peanut butter, too. We’ve had her on joint vitamins, but that only goes so far. We do as much as we can to keep Ryder comfortable, but it’s clear that she’s in near-constant pain and that her hips/back have greatly reduced function. She is an eleven and a half year old GSD, old for one. So as difficult as it is to decide to euthanize, I know that it is a necessary part of ownership. If I’m willing to own a dog, I must be willing to take care of it throughout it’s life, not just the happy puppy parts, but all of it, including her last days. 

*Ryder only eats infrequently over the past few weeks. It is one of her three joys: play, eating, and protection/perimeter walking, and I would argue that food is her highest joy, so not eating is a big clue that her time is soon.

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I met Jean in 2007 in Mexico. Jean was rescuing street dogs, looking after them for a while, and then finding homes for them in the USA; primarily Arizona. I was then living in Devon, England together with my German Shepherd, Pharaoh. Jean loves all dogs irrespective of size. I moved out to Mexico, with Pharaoh, permanently in 2008. Living with so many dogs around the home quickly brought an awareness of the integrity of dogs, of their ability to love unconditionally, and I started this blog in 2009.

Now Jean and I live in Southern Oregon. Indeed we have been here since 2012. We are down to six dogs: Cleo; Brandy; Sheena; Oliver; Pedi and Sweeny. That means we have had many dogs die in the past. I still miss Pharaoh who died in 2017. Or rather it should be said that the decision to euthanise him was in June, 2017.

In the end we have to make that final decision for our beloved dogs. It is, frankly, so much better than leaving dogs to die because the last few weeks or days can be very brutal.

So we know only too well what Doug is going through. Our thoughts are with Doug and Ryder.

9 thoughts on “The pain of letting go.

  1. Doug’s story reminded me of the painful decision my husband & I had to make when we moved to VA so long ago. Luckily, we were able to find a vet who came to the house to euthanize Abby. She was able to pass on peacefully & in our arms. I hope Ryder has that option.

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    1. There is no easy way to do it, Susan, is there. Thank goodness that the pain at the end is more than compensated hugely by the love, companionship and joy that we receive from our dogs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sure Doug’s article will really resonate with anyone who has ever loved a dog. (Or cat, rabbit horse etc) Many pet owners have been through it – the guilt if you do it too early and the guilt of you leave it too late.
    The last two dogs I euthanised (one at home) had a wonderful death. Our Cairn terrier was 18 and had started to suffer from seizures. He was becoming incontinent and was rapidly losing his sight. He could no longer walk far. I stopped the vet coming to the house on two occasions but finally decided that it was better to do the deed before our boy experienced pain. Fortunately he still enjoyed his food so when the vet came, she first injected him with a sedative. During the 2 or so minutes before he fell asleep, and before the ‘green dream’ was injected, he happily licked a large bowl of gourmet vanilla icecream, whilst I stroked him.
    Our other dog was a Labrador, nearly 14. He had been diagnosed with a rapidly progressing cancer. The vet said not to leave it too long otherwise one night we could wake up to the sounds of him in respiratory distress – an awful thing. Again, he had reached the stage of being hardly able to stand or walk but still loved his food. The night before the visit to the vet, I cooked him a beautiful steak and rice dish, plus he chewed on a lamb shank. The next morning on the table at the vet’s, I stroked his back as he happily sucked on a big Kong stuffed with chocolate and mozzarella cheese. He was ‘in heaven‘ and enjoyed this for a full 5 minutes before he fell asleep with the sedative.
    As Doug said, as much as we don’t want to say goodbye, our primary responsibility is to face reality and do the right thing for our beloved pets by avoiding any unnecessary pain or suffering.
    A peaceful death at the right time by modern euthanasia methods is a real blessing.

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    1. Dear Margaret, (and I am sorry for the lateness in replying) you are so right. It was a powerful article and as you said: “I’m sure Doug’s article will really resonate with anyone who has ever loved a dog.” And that means millions of people!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It is, frankly, so much better than leaving dogs to die because the last few weeks or days can be very brutal.

    So true. As you know, Boris is moving into this bracket. It’s so desperately sad to witness.

    Liked by 1 person

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