Monday, July 03, 2017

Psycho Killer? Qu'est-ce que c'est?

I killed my oldest dog today. And my oldest cat. I'm not malicious. I didn't do it myself. I paid someone to do it. And she was very kind.

Birthday girl's sweet 16
Lola was 16. She'd been diagnosed 7 months ago (!) with hemangiosarcoma in her spleen and liver. Prognosis for such things is basically, "could die at any moment." We didn't do any chemo for her, just 200mg of Yunnan Baiyao 3 times per day, 100mg of Artemisinin and 1 tsp of turmeric with each meal, plus other chinese herbs to deal with different symptoms. And we took her to the beach, most every day, for 4 months. But she was failing. Slowly failing. Falling over and not able to get back up on her own. Unable to stand through a meal. Walking in circles, sometimes circles so tight and walking so quickly that her backside would fall over and she'd still be straining to turn to the right while lying on the ground. She totally had good days, like her 16th birthday party, or pretty much any day we went to the beach. We weren't sure she'd survive the drive to San Francisco, last December, but we wanted to try and get her to Ocean Beach. When we got there, she literally ran down the hill to get to the beach.
11 years ago
As she was failing, I would compare her to how she used to be, 5 years ago, or 9 years ago, or 11 years ago. We were faced with determining, no actually deciding what she felt about these things, because we take it upon ourselves to decide when our companions should die. We don't always get a choice, of course. The last time we dealt with hemangiosarcoma our 8 year-old dog Harry had been reluctant to jump up into the back of our SUV for a couple weeks. So on the day before Thanksgiving, we took him in, and learned he had 2 liters of blood in his abdomen, and a leaky sack of tumors where his spleen had been. They recommended removing the spleen to give him more time, but he bled out from his liver at midnight, 8 hours after the operation was finished. But with Lola, as it had been with Jake, she was declining slowly, but we could see where her trajectory was leading. She'd accepted our using a spoon to help her get her food out of her dish, then being mostly spoon-fed, but had balked initially at eating while sitting or lying down. Now she was mostly OK with being spoon-fed while lying on the couch (on a towel, because turmeric stains like nobody's business). We couldn't leave her outside on her own for too long, or we'd find her lying on her side somewhere, distressed but resigned, waiting for us to help her up. But how could we tell what of all this was ultimately acceptable? Was life so precious to her that she would put up with anything, even being unable to walk on her own (which was likely to happen in the next month or two)? Does a companion need to get to a point where death is preferable? Does there have to be suffering to balance the ultimate suffering of death? I faced the same issues with Jake, but it's not like there's an easy answer.

To complicate things, we were feeling the strain of caring for her while she could collapse at any moment. We canceled trips. We didn't go to plays. I worked from home more often. I sort of wished she would bleed out in her sleep, so she could go peacefully and we wouldn't have to decide. All the grief and none of the guilt.

But this past week brought things to a head. It seemed each day her walks with Mari got shorter. She couldn't go up a long incline, then she couldn't go up a short incline, then she couldn't go up a slight incline. She was spinning more, but still happy when I got home (momma definitely came first, but she needed me there to be fully gruntled). She seemed to go outside just to prove to herself that she still could. What would happen when she couldn't?

Alice was much easier. She was 16 1/2 when she was diagnosed with lymphoma in April, fairly advanced. We thought it was her hyperthyroid coming back, but we were wrong. We started her on prednisone, and with a little pilling drama every night between Alice and me, she bounced back. Put on weight. Her fur became sleek again. About 2 weeks ago, Mari noticed blood in Alice's urine when Alice peed outside her litter box. Urinary tract infection, likely brought on by her immune system being compromised by both the cancer and the drug. Then she got an upper respiratory infection, and you could hear the congestion when she purred, which she did whenever you petted her. She gradually stopped eating, dropped all the weight she'd gained back, and spent her time in her heated bed. She had short bursts of energy, like this morning around 7:30 when she got up to come drink out of the big dog bowl, rather than her own kitty-sized bowl. She had come to us when she was maybe 10 weeks old, coming out of a bush on a dark and stormy night, mewing at us. I picked her up and tucked her in my coat as we went from door to door to see if anyone had lost a kitten, but no one had, or no one admitted to it. Somewhere in there, I said, "she looks like an Alice" and Mari said "Don't name her!" but it was too late. She was feisty but sweet, and taught different dogs their place. Our collie, Ferghal, took to her and they would cuddle and he would groom her ears. Later she would eat his fur, eventually harvesting it directly from his tail. She had a mysterious kidney mass in 2005 or 2006, and stayed at the emergency vet for 3 days for lots of IV fluids to encourage other parts of her kidney to come on-line. Each day we would visit her, and there would be more protective gear by her cage, ending with long leather falconer gloves, and a single word on her chart: Fractious. The mass vanished as mysteriously as it arrived, and she went back to cuddling with Sophie. It was clear that even if she recovered from the UTI, which wasn't looking good, she was liable to get some other infection. She'd lost so much weight, and she seemed close to miserable.

So this morning at 8:30, Dr. Sara from Compassion4Paws came for Alice and Lola, not to give them acupuncture, but with different needles to send them to college. And here we are, down two old girls, by choice, almost totally certain we did the right thing.

Lola used to give me lots of kisses, and I would say, "Are you giving me Lola kisses? They're as rare as grains of sand on a beach!" But now they're priceless.
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