Tag Archives: euthanasia

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.


Filed under Memories

One of those weeks caregivers dread

Last Monday, I tried to call Mom but her line was busy. This is not that unusual, so I didn’t think too much about it. A few minutes later, I received a call from an unknown number. By the time I Googled it and saw that it was the Lifeline number, the call had gone to voice mail. I immediately called back without waiting for the message.

Mom had slipped off the bed and fallen. She fell on her butt, thankfully, but was still sore and shaken up. Fortunately, she was checked out by EMS and seemed ok, so no ER visit was necessary.

Still, I fear it is the beginning of the “no longer can live at home alone” phase. Mom’s done pretty well this past week, all things considered, but the tricky part for caregivers is knowing when to make these key decisions for a loved one’s care.

Beautiful Elle, RIP.

Beautiful Elle, RIP.

At the same time that was going on, our 16-year-old cat was rapidly declining. A cancerous lesion on the roof of her mouth meant she could no longer eat without discomfort, even with pain medications. Sadly, over the last few years, I’ve become used to the euthanasia process. While thankful that we have that choice for pets, it is still brutally heartbreaking to have to make that decision.

My mom wishes she could be like the cat and just go on. She says she is ready and she is not afraid of what is beyond. She is miserable with being in constant pain, and having a loss of appetite and fatigue. The doctors are no closer to diagnosing her than before. Is the cancer back? She’ll have to have a colonoscopy to determine that, but at barely 100 pounds and weak, she’s in no shape for the preparation.

She also hates to be a burden on others. While certainly I can’t deny the stress the last few years have created, I don’t want my mother to feel guilt over something she cannot control.

With wry humor, I know that we are going to have to get a bigger shelf to hold all of our memorials, for people and pets lost over the years. It’s getting crowded up there.


Filed under Memories

Putting Dad out of his misery?

There is a New York magazine article by Michael Wolff that I first saw thanks to Eva’s blog. In the lengthy piece, Wolff talks about his mother’s decline in health, both physically and mentally. He talks about the physical, emotional and financial toll it takes on him and his siblings. He laments how modern technology has extended people’s lives in terms of years but not necessarily in terms of quality of life, and how we as a society are turning a blind eye to this brewing epidemic until it touches our family directly. He makes some good points, though some readers may be put-off by the fact that he and his family apparently have plenty of financial resources to provide the best around-the-clock care possible for their ailing mother. Wolff’s piece also seems more focused on his woes versus his mother, who seems to be a fascinating person experiencing a tragic ending to her life.

Ultimately though, Wolff ponders whether families should be able to decide when it is time for an ailing family member to die a death with dignity, versus lingering for years with a disease like Alzheimer’s. Call it what you will: euthanasia, death panels, etc. It’s obviously a very controversial issue.

My dad holding me as a baby. Such a happy photo.

I can understand both sides of the debate. I don’t feel that the last year of my dad’s life had much value. He wasn’t in a terrible state of pain or suffering the entire time, but between the medications and the dementia, he seemed incapable of feeling any kind of emotion. He was wearing diapers and living with strangers. The dad I knew would have hated the idea of it. But would he have preferred I slip him some medication that could have ended his suffering? Dad had a fear of death. Even if it were legal, and I had Dad’s best wishes (and his written approval) it still would be a heartwrenching decision to make. Having participated in two (quite legal) euthanasias this year for beloved pets, I’ve experienced firsthand how having the power to decide life or death comes with its own special pain. Ending one’s suffering does not eliminate or lessen the pain and grief that comes with losing a loved one.

There are no easy answers. We can try our best to ensure our loved ones die with dignity, but ultimately, how much control do we really have?


Filed under Memories

Saying goodbye to another family member

Yesterday, I had to put my beloved cat Michigan to sleep. Michigan and I had a very close bond and he’s been in my life for over 14 years. He had battled a rare form of cancer for over three years. He was your typical scaredy cat that turned out to be quite the fighter when it came to the cancer. He wanted to stick around and for the most part, the last years of his life were still good quality. But finally, it was time to say goodbye. I was prepared for the event, but not for the moment.

My kitty Michigan, 1997-2012. RIP sweet boy.

Of course, Michigan’s death made me think about my father. I was not present at the moment of his death, and that bothered me as well. I’m actually headed out to Mom’s this week to pick up my portion of his ashes. Little did I know that I would be receiving two urns this week.

My dad never met Michigan, but he would always ask about him and the other pets when we talked. When his memory started fading, he asked me once, “How’s Missouri doing?” Close enough Dad, close enough.

Hopefully Dad and Michigan/Missouri are in a better place now, free of pain and suffering. Michigan was picky about the people he liked in his life, but I think he would have approved of Dad.

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Filed under Memories