Becky – I will forever be grateful you came into my life. You will make my heart smile forever.
It is a sad but true fact that most of us will have to make the decision to say goodbye to a furry member of our family at some point. As members of our family, it can be one of the most difficult decisions we will ever have to make and yet, one of the kindest as well. Our pets look to us for everything, food, water, exercise, love and when the time comes, they look to us to help them cross the rainbow bridge when their suffering becomes too much. After all of the unconditional love, they have bestowed upon us, humane euthanasia is the final act to relieve them of their suffering and only we can decide when that time is right.
We have friends, family members and our Veterinarian’s to help us with this decision, but ultimately, it will come down to the main caregiver.
You will hear things like, “you’ll know when it’s time”, “watch for signs such as not eating, not wanting to go for walks”, “evaluate their quality of life, take the three things they enjoy most in life and as those disappear, you know it’s time.” All of these things run around in your head, but only you can make the call. You have to be ready.
As tough a story as this is to write, I feel that in sharing it with you, it may in some small way, help you with the inevitable decisions we have to make with regards to our beloved pets. Hopefully, you will also come to realize that we at North Hill Animal Hospital are here to help you every step of the way.
My Labrador Retriever, Becky, came to us when my husband and I found out we could not have children. I was going through a deep depression and adding another furry member to our family seemed right. We named her Becky as this would have been the name we would have chosen had we been blessed with a baby girl.
Becky was a bouncy, playful, bundle of energy. Just what I needed at that point in my life. We started dog training and she was a natural, always willing to learn and wanting to please me. My very knowledgeable Vet (Dr. Kerr) told me, “you don’t always get the dog you want, you get the dog you need.” This could not have been truer for me and my Becky. Becky very quickly earned her Canine Good Neighbor Award and her Companion Dog Certification from the CKC. She was my pride and joy.
Training was a breeze and she quickly learned to get the newspaper from the end of the driveway (or if ours was missing, she would grab the neighbors for us), she would gently take the TV remote from my husband if he fell asleep on the couch and bring it to me, she would get me a blanket, a pillow, the Kleenex box, anything I needed, even a roll of toilet paper. Anything that fell on the floor was quickly scooped up in her gentle mouth and returned to the person that dropped it.
Becky and I bonded, she was my shadow, my constant companion. She made my heart smile as I often told her. She had her health issues over the years, some of which required surgery and me nursing her back to health (including sleeping on the family room floor for weeks at a time as she couldn’t do stairs to get to the bedroom.)
There were also quite a few occasions where I was ill or recovering from surgery. Becky was always there to help me through those times, picking up dropped items, retrieving items out of my reach. She was a natural helper and caregiver. We took care of each other.
As she began to age, I started to ask myself (as we all do), “what will I ever do without her?” Her presence in my life was SO HUGE! I chose not to think about it too much, she was a fighter, she will always bounce back I told myself.
May of 2016, Becky was diagnosed with a calcified disc in her spine. It was inoperable as the potential for paralysis if we attempted surgery was way too high. This time, I could not “fix” what was wrong, I could only help to manage it and keep her comfortable. So we started her on steroids and she did fairly well. She was slightly weaker in her back end, sometimes her toes would scuff, but she was still spunky and happy and always wanting to have a “job” to perform.
In October, after returning from vacation, Becky was very ill. I spent our first night home on the floor of the emergency clinic with her. I never left her side. She was flat, refusing to eat, sad. After a few days, she responded to treatment and was back home, happy and her old self. Whew! That was a close call. We didn’t think she was going to get better from this illness.
The winter of 2016 was particularly hard on her. Not being able to go for walks because of the cold or the ice, being unstable on the snow and ice in the backyard, etc. She started to slow down. She was now 13 ½ years old, had battled a broken bone in her foot, gastrointestinal surgery, 4 surgeries to remove malignant tumors from her back legs, a torn cruciate ligament in one knee and now the back issues.
But she still wolfed down her food, brought me her toys to play with, went upstairs to bed with me every night (although a little slower), and got up to greet me every time I came home with a wagging tail and a smile.
At the beginning of May 2017, Becky would go to the bottom of the stairs at bedtime and look up. It was obvious she no longer felt comfortable going up the stairs. As I was having surgery in a couple of weeks and would not be able to get up the stairs for some time, we decided that we would set my bedroom up downstairs early and I would stay with Becky. This surgery left me fairly immobile for 12 weeks. When I was up and moving, it was with a mobility aid walker. Becky followed me everywhere, right at my side, if I dropped something, I didn’t even have to ask, she would pick it up and return it to me. She was my nurse once again.
A follow-up appointment at the end of June with my surgeon led to the decision that I could start walking and could attempt stairs again. WOOHOO! Or at least, you would think I would be happy. But I looked at Becky and thought to myself, she has become so used to me being with her, I can’t leave her down here all night by herself, so I told my husband we had to leave my bedroom set up downstairs for now.
Now, to backtrack a little, I knew to watch for the signs that her quality of life was fading. I had multiple breakdowns as I thought we were “there”, but she would have a bad day or two and then bounce back. I said to her, “Becky, I am going to need your help here. If you are ready, if you have had enough, I need you to give me a sign.” Knowing that the prednisone would keep her from losing her appetite, I knew it wouldn’t be that. I knew her desire to work and to please me was high, so she would always try. I told her, “maybe when you are ready, you stop getting up to greet me with a wagging tail. That will be my sign.”
Knowing that our time together on earth was coming close to an end, I decided I had to make decisions regarding her aftercare ahead of time. I felt guilty at first, almost like I was getting too far ahead of things. But I felt as though I owed it to Becky to make the right decisions with a fairly clear head and knowing that once those decisions were put into play, there would be no going back if I waited till afterwards. I wanted everything to be perfect for my girl. So I chose her urns, one for home, one for my desk at work and a heart pendant to wear everywhere I went with a small portion of her ashes. I chose the paw prints I wanted ahead of time, even noting which paw I wanted to be used for the impression. Making these decisions ahead of time allowed me the time to grieve afterwards without having to think under pressure.
Three days after I got the okay to use stairs again, Fraser and I were out for dinner. When we got home, Becky would not get up, her tail didn’t wag, she was telling me she was ready. We called Dr. Kerr, he came over right away. He told us it was her heart, not her back that was giving out. She would not have made it through the night. She let me know, obedient till the end, somehow she knew what I had asked her to do.
She went peacefully, with tons of lipstick kisses on her nose (the only mark you should ever leave on a dog) and loving arms hugging her. Dr. Kerr was the first person she met on the day we brought her home and he was there when we said goodbye.
Of course, I still miss her every second of every day, and I will always wish I could have one more slobbery kiss, one more paw shake, one more cuddle, but that would never change, even if she lived many more years, I would always want “one more.” I have to be thankful for the 13 years, 357 days she was on this earth bringing so much joy to everyone who knew her.
Now, the reason for me sharing this. All of us at North Hill Animal Hospital know what it means to have a relationship with your pet like no other. How hard it is to say goodbye and how difficult it is afterwards. We have all been through it. We grieve with you as we also get to know and love your pets. We are here to help you. If you have an older pet and you simply want to talk about the aging process or if you want us to guide you through pre-planning so that you can simply concentrate on your beloved family member when the time comes, we are here for you. A lot of humans pre-plan or pre-pay for their own aftercare so it’s okay if we do the same for our furry family members. Let us know if we can help and we will be here for you every step of the way.
Written by Cheryl Base, Hospital Manager, and Becky’s Mom – best jobs ever!