Saturday, July 11, 2015

This Indecision's Bugging Me

For the past 3 months or so, I've been struggling with a decision. It's harder than deciding where to go to college. It's harder than asking the woman who is now my wife whether she would spend the rest of our lives together. My oldest dog is dying. Very, very slowly. The question, of course, is when do I help him finish the job?

At the start of February, he had some vestibular problems -- couldn't stand up, his eyes kept flicking back and forth -- that lasted for a day. At the end of March, he had another episode, and this time it seemed like it was caused by a couple of strokes. He couldn't stand to eat, or drink, or eliminate. He'd just turned 16. But here's the thing: we've been here before.

Back in 2002, Jake went through months of not being able to walk, owing to a bad combination of rabies vaccine and anesthesia that inflamed a bunch of his nerves. Fed him through a tube for 7 weeks. Worked from home for 3 months, before the time of ubiquitous WiFi. Loaded him into a little red wagon and carted him to a local park twice a day, where he was able to shuffle around a bit after squirrels. Had a diaper in the wagon so he could pee while we walked. We moved our mattress into the dining room, on the floor, where we slept for 3 months. After that we moved the mattress back upstairs, but it would be another year before he was able to climb the stairs on his own. In the meantime, I carried him up and down as needed.

So in April, I put a puppy pad and an overnight serenity pad in the wagon, and started rolling him around the neighborhood. Great success. I figured he'd either get better or get worse and things would resolve one way or another by the end of April.

I was wrong.

He got better, but not better enough to be able to make it outside. He stands up to eat, with a little support, but rarely to drink. He pees standing up, but more often than not he poos off the back of the wagon. So I carry him up and down 23 stairs 3 or 4 times a day, to get to a patch of grass where he's got the necessary traction to take the necessary action. I go to the office for no more than 4 hours at a time. I don't exercise (other than carrying Jake). He wakes me sometimes early in the morning. Sometimes multiple times at night. Thank God for CBD tincture, which helps him sleep through the night. Sometimes he poos in his sleep. His life is so limited from what it used to be, but he's been here before. He doesn't get depressed or distressed. He trusts that I will be there. I will carry him. I will clean him. He gets frustrated some times. That makes two of us.

And yet. When we go out in the wagon, he's engaged, he looks around, he looks happy. When I sit on the floor with him, he rests his head on my leg and sighs contentedly. He's always interested in food, even when he was vomiting for a day. He always needs to know where I am, once I get back from my brief stints at the office.

He's never going to get back to walking out the back door on his own. But sometimes he's able to get up on his own and walk across the grass (as much as 20 feet!) to pee. That usually happens shortly after I've decided this is going to be his last week.

We have this notion that the time to send a dog to college (as we like to call it) is when his quality of life is sufficiently degraded. There has to be an element of eliminating the dog's suffering. The implication, though, is that a dog should suffer at the end of his life. Why should that be?

Certainly Jake's life is dramatically more limited than it was. We no longer go for morning walks. Don't really even go for morning rolls, because he's become Not A Morning Dog. He doesn't suck on his blanket any more. He goes out a few times a day and sniffs a little (too much and he'll fall over), and pees, and twice a day I load him in his wagon and roll him around different parts of the neighborhood. For all that, he seems happy.

My problem is, I'm not. I am stressed. I'm not as productive at work as I want to be. My blood pressure is up. I have tendonitis in my right elbow from the way I have to pick him up multiple times a day. I can't travel because Jake needs special care. I find myself feeling like the townspeople in The Visit, who would never kill Alfred Ill for the money the wealthy lady offers, yet who start buying new shoes and other things on credit: I think of life without him, getting back to normal. But putting a dog down because of the impact on my life feels selfish. Mari keeps reminding me of Ted Kerasote's list from Merle's Door, and by those criteria, it's been time for a while, except that his condition doesn't seem to bother Jake. He just keeps going, as he's always done. This weekend I came up with the criteria that if he can no longer stand through a meal, or he can't stand to poo two days in a row, then it's time. We're on day 1.
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