Wednesday, May 17, 2006

When Is It Time?

This is going to be sad. It's always sad when a much-loved pet is sick. I'm sorry about this, but I don't have an outlet for this confusion I'm feeling and it might help to write it out.

My dog, Daily, has congestive heart failure. She's 11, and the heart failure has slowly been getting worse since her diagnosis in the summer of 2004. Right now, on her latest x-ray a couple of weeks ago, her heart is huge--the size of a softball. It's so large her lungs aren't as visible because they have been pressed against the sides of her chest and her trachia has been pushed up almost parallel with her spine. As I type this, she's panting, taking short shallow breaths and looking up at me with her brown eyes that I can see all too clearly since she was groomed a few weeks ago. When I pet her, I can feel the bones in her shoulders, her back, and her bottom, but her stomach is large and round because the fluid from her lungs has seeped into her abdomen. She can't jump up on the couch with me any more, and I've even helped her up the steps into the house. Her tongue and gums are pale to light pink. She's on the max medication. All signs of a very sick dog who may be suffering.

So, here's the hard part. She's still eating, although not as much or as regularly as before. And if she's offered jerky or treats, she happily wags her tail and accepts them. She's still drinking. She's still urinating and everything else she needs to do by taking herself outside through the doggie door. She still sits up and wags her tail when we walk into a room, and even greets us at the door sometimes when we return home. All signs of a dog who is going downhill, but still maybe having a viable life.

Everyone tells me that I'll know when it's time to make the decision to put her down. She's not going to pass away in her sleep--the vet said that rarely happens. It's the way we want it to happen, but it just doesn't. He admitted that every time we bring her in for a problem, he wonders if this is the time he's going to have to have "the talk" with us. But when she's at the vet, the adrenaline kicks in, and she's almost perky. Hubby thinks I'm obsessing and thinking about it too much. "She's fine," he says. He's waiting for her to pass out--that seems to be the final sign for him. The vet says that she'll get dispondent where nothing will interest her. We're not at that point yet.

She's staring at me because she wants something. What does she need? It's so easy to give human feelings to that canine face. I think she's looking at me saying, "Help me! Can't you see I'm having trouble breathing here!" But then I'll ask, "Wanna cookie?" And her ears perk up and her tail wags. So, I give her a cookie.

She's my dog, my responsibility. The love she has brought to my family has been immeasurable, and I don't want to fail her now. But if it's not really time, am I just trying to get something really painful over with? Am I really seeing things worse because I'm so afraid that I'll let her suffer too long?

She's inching closer to me, dragging her heavy hind quarters. "Do you want a cookie?" Ears perk up, stops panting, wags her tail. I think that means "Yes."

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