How do I measure my dog’s quality of life against life itself? A dog whisperer on TV whispered a guideline for when to euthanize your dog: when bad days outnumber good days.
Some say the dog lets you know when he’s ready to park in Paradise. Last year, at 13 years old, Casey began to have a ratio of 0 good days to all bad days. The pain in his neck was so severe that even if I walked three feet away from him, he cried.
Confession of a worrywart: Though Casey has arthritis, I caused his neck suffering by yanking on his leash, which was linked to his collar. (I now yank on his leash attached to a harness.)
Adding to my guilt, the vet pointed out that because dogs are pack animals, they do not admit to pain as readily as we do; Casey’s anguish was more acute than I could imagine.
It was unbearable to watch my Angel Cake endure so much. I took him for xrays and exams. One vet said he must remain as still as possible; she advised carrying him outside to relieve himself, so he wouldn’t have to descend the single step from our stoop. And she advised keeping him in a crate indefinitely.
Honestly, what would be the point of that?
At risk to my own neck . . . and back, I did carry all 32 pounds of him up 16 steps to my bedroom each night. I was prepared to move a bed downstairs so I could continue to sleep with him, as I had done for myself while recovering from hip replacement surgery.
Thankfully, a friend suggested acupuncture.
The holistic vet came to us and sat on the floor sticking pins all over Casey’s back, while I fed him treats to keep him from bolting. Before leaving, she gave me a bottle of Chinese herbs, to mix with his meals.
Within a day or two, my Caseminster Abbey was back to himself, barking at the mail carrier and flying up the stairs at night, apparently pain-free.
During the day, a child safety gate prevents him from mounting the steps; climbing stairs, they say, willexacerbate his arthritis. Yet his favorite activity is gazing out the window at the second-floor landing. When a neighbor and her labradoodles prance by, his thrill is palpable.
His joy is also my joy, but I worry I will be cutting his life short by allowing him to use steps more than at just bedtime.
After my hip replacement, a physician’s assistant told me that biking would shorten the lifespan of my hip prosthesis. At first I thought,Oh dear, I guess I’d better bike less.
But then I decided, no way—what would be the point of limiting something that gives me more pleasure than getting a foot massage while eating chocolate ice cream and has its own health benefits?
As for my little Pot Pie, I am inclined to compromise with part-time access to the stairs. This raises questions.
Do I let him roam freely to the second floor when I am home, which would bring me the pleasure of witnessing his pleasure? Or, do I let him roam freely only when I am away, to compensate for my absence? How much are our pets here for our pleasure?
It’s an easy decision for Casey to have window access when I’m away, since I like having him by my side when I’m home. The only time I pause by that window is when he breaks loose and I find him there; I then sit beside him and wrap my arms all around his torso for one of the best hugs ever.
Speaking of hugs, ever since I read that eight hugs a day stimulate production of oxytocin in a quantity that results in greater happiness, Casey and I have been hugging more often.
And, by the way, how much inconvenience are we willing to put up with for our pets? If your beagle has more life in him but requires a lot more effort and expense to keep him alive, what do you do?
I often wondered what the cut-off dollar amount would have been if Casey had needed an operation when he was younger. Now that he is nearly 15, I consider it moot and wouldn’t put him through a surgery. Or, am I just saying I wouldn’t put him through it to protect myself against vet bills and the inconvenience of his recovery?
Lately, Case has been as energetic as a teenager, and recently I heard a vet refer to dogs living to age 25! So I hope to have a lot more years to worry about this. Despite the questions I raise, he feels as essential to my life as air.
(If I hadn’t already ruminated for so long, I would question why we allow mercy killing of pets but not humans.)
I’d love to hear from you about caring for aging pets (and/or humans)!