Sometimes I wonder whether I'll really know when it's time to bring Zack for that final vet trip. He's still a happy go lucky dog most of the time and is honestly in pretty good shape for a 13 1/2 year old chocolate lab.
There are times though, where he's laying down and looking up at me with this kind of sad, resigned look on his face that says "I'm tired and I hurt" and he lets out a big sigh.
He was a very very sick dog from mid to late February through early April. There was misdiagnosis, miscommunication between the vet, myself and my mother. There was blood, there was vomit, there was diarrhea in the backseat of my car in the middle of the night. I've also been recovering from a broken left leg that happened in early November and trying to help my Poppop, who has dementia, as much as I can. Zack is a tough old pup though and he made it through a 3 day stay in the vet ER.
Then, less than a week after the ER, someone has the balls to say to me "He's 13 y'know, you'd better get used to the idea that you're going to have to put him down soon." I am pretty easy going, but damn that shit made me mad. I felt like saying, yeah, and if you were the one taking care of him you'd have screamed at him when he had accidents and left him on his dog bed to die. Yeah asshole, as if I wasn't already acutely aware of this reality, having taken care of a sick dog for over a month, setting my alarm for every hour or so at night for weeks to check on him, driving home everyday on lunch breaks, cooking him meals. When I come home to a weak, frail dog who doesn't get up to greet me, refuses water and chicken out of my hand, and who finally manages to drink an entire bowl of water only to throw it up, tinged red with blood, I am more than aware of the inevitability of the death of my pet.
So now that he has finally recovered and put weight back on I'm trying to make his last bit of time, whether it be another 6 months or another 2+ years as fun, happy and carefree as possible. I know he has a lot of hind end weakness now, osteoarthritis, especially in his right rear leg (the area that took the brunt of the impact when he got hit by a car as a pup) degenerative disk disease in his back and possibly either spinal stenosis or degenerative myelopathy. (I'm guessing the former)
The vet and vet tech did tell me the day I brought him home that he was a sweetie and a happy, alert dog who didn't appear to be in constant pain / distress. I have certain markers in my head that will tell me "It's time" I just hope I stay true to that and make the right call, not for myself, my mother or sisters, but for Zack.
The old guy and I have been having a blast, going to the beach as much as possible of late. The house has open, slick wooden stairs and he was having a great deal of difficulty, looking up at me and crying at the bottom of the stairs, even taking a few tumbles and then being scared and cautious. But a few weeks of practice seem to have helped a great deal. He gets daily glucosamine / chondroitin capsules now, which like a goof he thinks are delicious treats. He'll actually chew them, and then beg like I just gave him cheese or bacon.
People seem to love this dog, and every person who sees him is surprised he's going on 14 years old. I've been pleasantly surprised at how many times kids will actually ask their parent if it's ok for them to pet my dog and also ask me if it's ok beforehand.
Two and a half months later. He's still got some life in him yet, and so I won't have to make that decision. If this ends up being his last summer at the beach, he sure is enjoying it :)