Tag Archives: dogs

The hardest goodbyes

This week, I had to say goodbye to my rescue dog, Magee. I cared for him just shy of two years. They were challenging but rewarding years. He had been abandoned by his former owners at a boarding facility so his past was unknown, but he had health issues that were difficult to identify. We made great strides in securing a diagnosis (leishmaniasis) and just beginning treatment for this rare (in the U.S.) parasitic condition when out of the blue, cancer struck. A very aggressive tumor began growing on his eyelid, and in just weeks, was bulging across half his lower eye, bleeding and causing him great discomfort. It was confirmed to be melanoma. Removing the eye was an option, but melanoma, especially as aggressive as this was, typically comes back soon.

Putting a dog like Magee through major surgery and the required aftercare would not have been a good quality of life for him, as he had an anxiety behavior in which he would attack himself when he became stressed out. After his last vet visit, he experienced one of the worst episodes I’ve seen since I adopted him. This behavior continued over the ensuing days. (He had been on various medications to address his anxiety but none had worked well.) To put him through so much stress to buy a short amount of time before the cancer likely came raging back … it was an extremely difficult choice but I opted not to let his suffering continue.

I thought about my father, and how his dementia made him a poor candidate for recovery from surgery. He couldn’t understand that he needed to eat even if he wasn’t hungry to regain his strength and that he needed to follow the instructions of the physical therapist to get safely out of bed and walk. Instead he wasted away and became bedridden. My mother had a slow, grueling recovery from her cancer surgery, only to have it come back about a year and a half later. As caregivers know, rarely does a major procedure go off without a hitch. In my mother’s case the complications (blood clots) were life-threatening and required multiple medical interventions.

As I champion for people, quality of life is important for pets as well. It’s tricky because animals tend to be willing to put up with a lot more than people are, and our pets seem to focus on the happy moments. Dogs especially would live with us forever if they could. They trust us with all of their heart to make the right decision for them and we have to trust ourselves in the same way.

I never expected to have to say goodbye to two pets during this most difficult of years. Before Magee’s passing, I had began a new writing project, collecting the various things I’ve written about the pets I’ve had and my experience fostering dogs. Being a caregiver for animals can be just as intense as it is with humans, and I want to share my experience with those who also are grieving the loss of their beloved pets and agonizing over the medical care choices they made for them. What we see on social media, the smiling photos and the happy updates, are just one part of the story. Caring for a pet with health issues can be exhausting, frustrating, and depressing. It can also be rewarding and teach us valuable life lessons. If we could love ourselves the way our dogs love us, the world would be a better place.

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The best kind of birthday gift

magee eye shut smile

Birthdays are bittersweet for me now, as I have fond memories of my parents singing “Happy Birthday” to me across the miles each year. They would rehearse and make a big production out of it. Even as my father descended into the depths of dementia, he rallied for the birthday performance.

I’ve been fostering dogs for the last several months, something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. It has been a rewarding and enriching experience. While I enjoy fostering, my eye (and heart) was always on the lookout for “the one.”

And now, as a birthday gift to myself, I am adopting my latest foster dog, Magee. He is a sweet rat terrier/fox terrier mix that has proven to be a good fit in my life. (The cats disagree, but I overruled them, haha.)

Like me, Magee is middle aged or so and has a few personality quirks, but is overall a dedicated and loyal companion. Unlike me, Magee overflows with happiness and dare I say … joy.  Anyone who spends time with dogs know there is much we can learn and gain from them.

As we grow older, we learn that the simplest pleasures are often the most rewarding. I now have Magee to guide me on that exploration of everyday joy.

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