Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When do you know it's time?

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 :)


Laura said...

I go by the "five good things" with my furry critters.

Write down the top 5 things he LOVES without question. When he can't do 3 or more of them, that's when it's time to seriously discuss it with the vet.

Something tells me he still has time. :)

LoFan John said...

That "five good things" is a good warning sign. I figured, a few very good dogs ago, that as long as my dog can enjoy at least three things then life can be good. If it's just walking around the neighborhood, getting food and treats(yes, the glucosamine is a big help), and getting petted, that may be enough. When everyday life (not just a few days here and there) between petting times is painful, then you're near decision time. It sounds as if your boy has some time yet. Best wishes.

Christina RN LMT said...

Thank you for posting this. I'm struggling with a similar decision, with my pup Tucker, who's only NINE. NINE, for God's sake! I shouldn't have to be thinking about stuff like this with my nine-year-old pup. But I do have to. He's perked up a lot since we moved and since it's gotten warmer, but the swellings on his neck have gotten worse. I know it's only a matter of time, and I'm heart-broken. I also don't know how Harley is going to deal with the inevitable. Horribly, I'm sure. They've been inseparable since they were puppies.
I will take your excellent example and treasure the time we have left.

Jennifer said...

Sounds like he's still got some good, quality time. Enjoy it.

Mike W. said...

Laura and John, thank you for both putting it better than I did. He has good days and bad days.

Example, usually he goes down steps one step at a time, putting one front paw down on the step in front of him, then the other on the same step, rinse repeat, but the other day, going down the beach steps, he forgot himself and went down the entire flight one leg per step, like a young dog. Even jumped out of the back of my mom's SUV.

He seems to *love* letting nasty gag inducing silent farts go from time to time when he's resting in the same room as me, and then will calmly get up, go lay down in the next room and leave his chemical warfare. :P

I'm hardly naive about it. I know the average lifespan of a lab is only about 10-11. He has had a good life :)

Christina, it sucks, but the most important thing is that he enjoys himself and has fun just being a dog

Evyl Robot Michael said...

I like the "5 Things He Loves" rule of thumb, but we already know Laura as a smart gal. Our oldest cat is showing his age; a little slower now and a little more crotchety. But, he's still enjoying life. Our dog has more gray on her face than yours, but you'd swear she was still a puppy by her action. Fortunately for me, the only time I've had to have a pet put down, it was pretty obvious. The poor cat was going to die of the thrombo aortic embolism that he'd just suffered, and it would have been longer and more painful if we hadn't put him to sleep. The pics and description of your beach trips make it obviously clear that your dog is still loving life, even if he is a little creakier than he used to be. He has outlived his life expectancy, and that's a wonderful thing! Cherish that, and keep doing what you're doing.