On Saturday, May 19th, 2012 we said goodbye to our Greyhound, Jahzara. She had cancer in her shoulder and mobility had become more and more difficult. Even the morphine did not seem to make her all that comfortable. I cleared my schedule for Friday and Saturday to devote her last couple of days to hanging out and loving on her.
Anyone who has made the decision to share their lives and love with another species knows what a difficult decision it is to know when to let go. Is it too soon? Does she still have a good quality of life? Am I waiting too long, and putting her through undue suffering? These are the questions with which we all struggle.
Several people have told me that my dogs would tell me when they were ready to go. Perhaps that has been true for some people, but I have not found that to be the case. I have always had to make that decision.
It has never been an easy decision. There have been no clear signs – at least not that I have seen. When my first Greyhound, Gunner, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in his right front leg, I struggled with what to do. After much research and discussion with others, I chose to amputation of the leg in hopes of buying some time and giving him a decent quality of life for a while longer. He made it through the surgery, but passed away the following morning before I was able to pick him up to take him home. That was heartbreaking for me, and the grieving process took a long time.
When Joxer, our Smooth Collie, had surgery for a herniated disc, he seemed to recover well for the first few months then began to backslide. Then he lost control of his bowels. Then he started showing signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Then he began to lose control of his bladder. Meanwhile, he was also getting diarrhea. (Turns out the diarrhea was due to a change in formula of his dog food that customers were not notified about, and I will never feed that particular food to my dogs ever again.) For Joxer, it was a gradual decline, with one thing after another going wrong. Some of those things I thought we could recuperate from – like physical therapy for his disc problems and medication for his CCD. But nothing seemed to help. Because it was gradual – and most likely because I had lost Gunner unexpectedly – I probably waited longer than I should have to let him go.
So, when Jahzara was diagnosed with cancer (a large mass in her right front shoulder), I wanted to do better. I didn’t want to lose her suddenly but didn’t want her to suffer too long because I wasn’t ready to let her go. For the most part, she was still eating well, though she hated taking her pills. She loved going for walks, which were becoming increasingly slower and shorter until she no longer felt up to going at all. And more than anything, she wanted to be with me. She would cry if I went downstairs and she was unable to follow, or if I took Romeo out for a walk and she couldn’t join us.
While there were some things she still enjoyed, I could see that moving around was painful – even with her pain medication – and life was becoming more and more of a struggle for her. On Friday, May 18, I decided it was time to let her go before the suffering got any worse.
With each of these dogs, I found that my dogs did not tell me when it was time, but rather they were waiting for me to be ready to let go. Once I made that decision, Jahzara let me know that it was OK, and that she was in fact, ready to go. When I had made the decision to let Joxer go, he did the same. He let me know he was ready as well.
Rather than my dogs letting me know it was time, they waited for me to make that decision. Once I made the decision, they let me know I had made the right decision and they were at peace. In both cases, once the decision was made, I could clearly see they were both much more at peace.
So why didn’t my dogs tell me it was time? It finally dawned on me on Sunday morning. From day one with each of my dogs, I begin building trust. I do hold high expectations for each of them. I ask them to do things many other dogs are never asked to do. But it’s not about being dominant or being the boss. It’s about creating a partnership with my dogs. It’s about helping them understand that I will do everything in my power to provide everything they need and much of what they want. It’s about building trust that I will always do right by them. It’s about helping them understand that I will make the tough decisions, and they never need to stress about it. They trust me to do what is right. Even when they are suffering and nearing the end, they trust me to know when it’s time.
So my dogs don’t tell me when it is time to go. They have learned to trust that I will make all of the difficult decisions right up to the most difficult decision of all – knowing when to say goodbye. I take that trust seriously and do my best to do right by them.
Without a doubt, I am sad to see Jahzara gone. I will miss her terribly. But I also know that I made the right decision. Love you, baby girl.