I wrote this yesterday morning, partly as a way to think through my situation. But, I didn’t have the heart to post it then, it would have made it more “real” than I wanted at that moment.
Today I feel I am facing an excruciating decision. Chessie is doing worse and worse, and last night was miserable for us both. His decline is very slow, such that the increments are not noticeable. But, when I evaluate his overall quality of life now, and compare it to even just a few months ago: I see that there is virtually no quality left. Save eating, perhaps. He struggles to get up and lie down. Often he needs my help with both. The rest of the day, he shuffles around the yard (where he is left most of the day) in a daze.
He seems very senile, or otherwise mentally withdrawn. He barely acknowledges my presence, and no longer seems to take pleasure in being petted. He does not make eye contact, though I can tell he still sees. Sadly, I admit, much of my interaction with him is filled with frustration and impatience, over which I feel extremely guilty. I owe this dog compassionate care now, as he has been faithful to me all these years, and ever-tolerant of my mistakes and flaws. But, what I feel he deserves does not always show in my actions, when I’m struggling to help him get up and he is trying to bite me, or when he has just made a mess on the floor.
I searched the web a little bit for guidance on when it’s time to euthanize. This decision is so terribly weighty and fraught with ethical and spiritual complications! It is hard to think with a clear mind in times like this! Advice from others concludes: evaluate the animal’s quality of life, evaluate what’s stopping you from ending it, and use your best judgment on what seems “right.” And they always say “you’ll know when it’s time.” But I feel I don’t know!
I don’t think I am selfishly hanging onto him for fear of losing him-in fact; honestly, I am ready for him to pass on. That is one natural aspect of age-related deterioration, is that the person, or animal that you once knew disappears. It gradually prepares you for the complete loss of having them in your life, because you’ve lost most of them before the actual death event occurs. This morning when I awoke from what little sleep we both got, I was praying to find him gone, it seemed like the time was so right after such a hard night. But, no, he awoke when I touched him.
So, what’s stopping me from euthanasia? I think I am avoiding having to take the responsibility for it—I am wishing to be spared that burden by having him die a natural death. And yet, what remains is guilt that his passing may endure more suffering than is necessary, because I refuse to make this decision. So, I can’t win, no matter which path I choose, the emotional consequences for me seem the same.
I have tried to evaluate what end-of-life suffering means from a spiritual or religious point of view. Of course, that is one of life’s greatest philosophical questions anyway. And most religions don’t give a lot of advice that pertains to animals, since ancient texts mostly address animals from the standpoint of eating them! The best we can do is presume that there is meaning in suffering, that it is part of the soul’s growth, or perhaps penance for past wrongs. It seems we must trust that suffering is necessary, and we must embrace it and accept it as part of our term here on earth. Dogs are generally very good at that. Possibly end-of-life suffering is also instrumental in readying someone for their own death, in helping them come to the conclusion that they want to pass on to leave their suffering behind.
So, I think that is why euthanasia is so very complicated—that as much as I dislike seeing another suffer, and would like to end that suffering—is it my right, or my duty, to do so? Am I interrupting some natural, meant-to-be process by declaring “I will not allow this suffering”? Am I short-circuiting his own spiritual preparation for leaving his earth by removing the choice from him, his body, or the divine?
But, it breaks my heart that he cried most of the night, I don’t know why, or what was bothering him. And that he’s having more and more nights like this. He just seemed like he could not get comfortable. And I left him in the dog yard this morning, crumpled against the fence where he semi-collapsed- still whining. I can’t guess what his day is like while I’m gone, if he rests, or if he suffers all day, if he finds shade and water, or if he just sits where he lands out of apathy. I don’t know what’s happening in his mind, if he knows where he is, if he knows what he wants, or what lies ahead, outside of the moment he’s in. I know he’ll be complaining when he sees me pull in at the end of the day, but no matter what I do to attempt to address his complaints, he rarely seems to settle and be satisfied.
So, it seems that the decision is before me, that I must take that next step and own this choice. Only I can do it. There is nothing left of the dog that once loved to run, chase, play, jump, learn and be with me. He is only a shadow now, which wanders through each day like a ghost, biding his time for that which neither he nor I can know. It seems the only thing to do is to be the escort that delivers him to that place as gracefully as possible now, hoping and praying it was the right thing for his gentle soul.
I had a vet/acupuncture appointment scheduled this evening anyway. Maybe it’s time. Maybe.