I know many of us, indeed most of us have encountered this point: a much beloved pet clearly enters a point where it just feels cruel to go on.
Ruby, my massive German Shepherd is old, she has been/remains a wonderful pet, but there is no denying that she is now more than just slowing up. She appears to be in distress and her back legs keep… well, just not working. This is much more than not being able to run or jump into the car anymore, but is actually giving out. Today she came to me in proper distress, and I knew she needed the Vet which is (thankfully) just down the road. She couldn’t make it the car so I tried to walk with her the 300 yards down the road. She collapsed three times. In the end I had to go back for the car and manhandle this 8 stone bundle of hair-shedding into the boot and drive her the remaining 150 yards (you can’t just carry her… you really can’t).
Whilst we were waiting for the vet to return from a callout, I felt I had to sit by the cage, to comfort her in what might be her last few hours. I don’t know.
And here’s the thing: it is a mistake to transfer human values and ethics onto animals. I feel bad about thinking “this might be it” but at the same time I hate to see her suffer. In the real world, I am ambivalent about the realities of Euthanasia (having been in too many grey, difficult, ethical situations) and the mantra Thou shalt not kill, and yet thou shalt not strive officiously to keep alive is very real for me. See Rundell, S No way to leave. Nursing times. 86(38): 1990 Sep 19-25 where this Staff Nurse 22 years ago speaks of the cruel ways in which we often keep people alive, just to make us (and certainly not the patient) feel better: it’s not the same as Euthanasia.
I know that the love I have for my pets is a qualitatively different love from that which God loves me, I love Lou or my children, and yet if it needs to be, it will be love which forces me to enable her life to end. I do not want her to suffer. Sitting here watching her panting and looking so miserable… it’s heartbreaking.
Blood results back. Not good. I have had to make a decision. There was a possibility of expensive, extensive treatment, but talking it over with the Vet, it might only have held things off for a few weeks. A few more weeks of suffering was more than I could bear, and so (and I do slightly regret this) I had to come to the decision myself. Sign the form. Take a deep breath and come with her into the operating room.
I stayed with the old lady until she was gone. I’m not going to say “asleep” because that pretends that death is not real. One wakes from sleep. Two large syringes of blue barbiturate and within seconds her laboured, struggle was over. She was peaceful. She looked like she was asleep.
I kissed the dog goodbye, took off her collar and left the Vets. I’ll deal with the paperwork (and the bill) later. Now I have to tell the rest of the family, which is why this post isn’t going to be finally posted until later tonight. I need more time to reflect on it all, on the briefness of mortality, the power of life, the nature of grief. Liam, Emma, Zoe and I were all in tears. For the children, Ruby is the only pet they can remember, and I know Zoe has taken it really hard tonight.
I have lots of happy memories: of walks and of failing to persuade her to walk, of treks in the country and long runs on the beach which inevitably ended with her paddling and getting really messy. I remember the night she caught a man peeing in our garden in Southsea (he climbed the fence really quickly), and the way she protected Lou when the stranger called asking to use our loo. Of clobber and so much moulting, there will be lots of memories…
I have recently had to reassure one of my parishioners a number of times my strongly held belief that all dogs go to heaven. They don’t have souls, but as part of God’s creation they have a place in that place beyond creation. We know God loves dogs, and now Ruby is at peace. There is no soul to be prayed for, but lots of good memories and a shedful of dog hair.
Farewell you lovely girl.