Today culminated the certainty of a difficult decision. And this decision would ultimately spell the end of a life. This morning, my parents had to put our dog to sleep.
Three years ago, we adopted a hopeless case from the SPCA. Sweet Pea was a ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgeback who had obviously come from an abusive situation. She was utterly terrified in the shelter. Two times we visited her she was in the special glassed-in rooms the SPCA uses for showcasing animals & she was shuddering behind furniture both visits. She absolutely freaked when we took her outside on leash. But we ultimately decided to adopt her and see if enough love and attention would turn this girl around. She spent the first two weeks at our house huddling in her crate and remained terrified of every man she met. Women, on the other hand, she did well with and kind-of came out of her scaredy-cat shell. Outside, she was happy-go-lucky with a plastered-on goofy grin, flagging tail, and perky ears and would play until she collapsed. Inside, she went back to her neurotic freaked-out self. We got her a friend, which is how Dori came to live with us, thinking this would help Sweet Pea adjust to life as an indoor, spoiled rotten housedog. But ultimately, even this attempt failed. But an opportunity arose that we thought might make her the always happy-go-lucky girl that she was when she was outside: one of my brother's dogs, who was living with my parents, dropped dead one day leaving his Rhodie Kuzya behind to mourn...and mourn she did. She went into a right blue funk. We all saw this as an opportunity to give Sweet Pea the outside life that she obviously loved and Kuzya a new buddy that she so obviously craved. And so we shipped Sweet Pea off to the country. Some people might argue that we were dumping her--my neighbor certainly thought so. But if you could have seen this dog's face when she was outside versus inside. She was clearly a dog who wanted to live outside. It's the only place she ever wore the happy face.
Anyway, last week she began to refuse her food, though still drinking large amounts of water. My mom was concerned that she might have developed diabetes. Late in the week and after no improvement, they took Sweet Pea to the vet, who determined it definitely wasn't diabetes but thought it was some kind of bacterial infection given the temp SP was running, though no specific diagnostic testing was undertaken at the time. So the pumped her full of good drugs and sent her home with more, which my parents faithfully gave her as directed. Her condition continued to deteriorate through the weekend. She continued to refuse food despite everything my mom cooked for her. Yesterday afternoon, she was unable to get up under her own power, and my mom rushed her to the vet. This time they ran a full screen plus x-rays. The blood panels and x-rays were clear: Sweet Pea had a very aggressive form of lymphoma and it was very advanced. Our options were limited: go to a specialist or end her suffering. My mom and I discussed the options last night. My mom's a nurse so she was able to cut to the chase. Given the aggressive and fast-acting nature of the cancer, we didn't feel that treatment was really an option, particularly given the advanced stage. It didn't seem right to put Sweet Pea through the paces of chemotherapy and radiation only to lose the battle in the end when it was ultimately for our own "we tried everything" that we did it in the first place. And she was already so sick, the treatment itself likely would have killed her and not in a nice way. It didn't seem fair to prolong her suffering simply b/c we wanted to hang on to her a little longer.
This morning when my mom went out to get her ready to go, she was sicker than yesterday, vomiting everywhere, skin hanging, giving that "why don't you help me" face with the big, brown puppy dog eyes that just make you cry to even think of them. We knew that our decision was the right one. Mom and dad loaded her up and took her back to the vet, where she immediately collapsed upon entry into the office. The vet and his team sat with my parents as Sweet Pea quietly slipped away, giving words of comfort and encouragement and shedding a few tears themselves. My parents loaded her back up and took her home for a proper country burial under the big oak tree, where she can forever rest in the shade and watch the squirrels and birds play.
I write all of this as my own way of dealing with the grief of pet loss. I mean, this is the dog that I didn't think I cared that much about. She just didn't endear herself to you like my Dori does. And then it reminds me that my little four-legged friends won't be around forever. Their lives are fleeting, just like ours. Yet we mourn them just the same. They are our friends. They are our family. They are loved.