Respectful Insolence

It’s been a week now since my wife and I learned that our beloved dog, whom we’ve had for eight years, had terminal cancer. At the time I was so sad and down that I just couldn’t even imagine getting myself into the appropriately light-hearted frame of mind that I try to maintain. In the week since the shock of learning the diagnosis, I still can’t achieve that frame of mind, although, as you may have noticed, I’ve been able to achieve the level of sarcastic snarkiness directed against pseudoscientists and antivaccinationists that my readers have come to expect. It’s easy when you’re angry that a member of the family will soon no longer be with you. Still, it seems best for now to put Your Friday Dose of Woo on hiatus for a while until I’m more able to achieve the appropriately wacky frame of mind that this weekly exercise requires. This can also be an opportunity to take stock and see what changes I would make in a resurrected and revamped version to make it more entertaining and educational. Maybe I could call it Your Friday Dose of Woo II.

In the meantime, I’ll give a brief doggy progress report and then later today post another piece written last night. Echo has had some ups and downs in the week since the diagnosis. On the down side, the mass on her hind leg has clearly grown. There’s just no doubt about it, as much as I’d like to pretend it’s the same size as it was. She’s also favoring that leg a bit more, but doesn’t appear to be in any pain, as far as we can tell, but, more ominously, she’s seeming to get short of breath more and more often. On the good side Wednesday night, I even took Echo out for a brief walk, and upon seeing the leash she went into her usual conniptions of delight, wiggling and squirming as I tried to secure the leash. She even pulled at the leash with surprising strength. Still, her endurance wasn’t so hot. We made it up and down the block once before she was slowing down and showing definite signs of being very tired–but not so much that she didn’t have an amazing resurgence of strength when she saw two dogs being walked nearby.

Still, my wife and I are acutely aware that any time she could take a turn for the worse, and we torture ourselves with the question of when it will be the right time to euthanize. It’s a heart-rending, agonizing decision that we never suspected we’d have to face so soon.

When Echo finally dies, I will post a tribute. I don’t care if it ends up being self-indulgent twaddle. It is something that will need to be done, just as my post last week was something I felt that I had to do. The tribute will contain a brief video snippet with incontrovertible evidence that Echo is and will have been the Best Dog in the World.

None will be able to deny it.

Comments

  1. #1 Chemgeek
    July 11, 2008

    Take as much time away from the Friday Woo as you need. It’s always good to read, but really much less important than your friends.

  2. #2 HCN
    July 11, 2008

    Indulge all you want. Those of us who love our pets will understand.

  3. #3 Regan
    July 11, 2008

    Please, keep in touch with how it is going, and anything that you feel about writing about Echo is welcome by me.

  4. #4 Ms. Clark
    July 11, 2008

    My own dog is loved, but she’s a brat. Certainly not in the running for the best dog in the world. I am sure I will agree with you when you share the tribute video… which I hope is a year from now if possible.

  5. #5 Jeff
    July 11, 2008

    Orac, my sympathy goes out to you. My cat is beside me now and I dread the day I lose him. Pets are our faithful companions and losing one is never easy, made tougher by something like cancer.

    Don’t apologize for however much you’d like to share about Echo. She deserves the attention, and we understand. I still remember being there with the vet to euthanize my previous cat (he was old, stopped eating, lost a LOT of weight) and the way a friend helped me deal with it was to talk about all the happy moments with that orange furball. :) Some people know you better than others, but regardless, you’re among friends here. Celebrate Echo. Share her with us for as long as you would like.

  6. #6 ben
    July 11, 2008

    I miss my dog every day, and he wasn’t even 7 … but as soon as a dog’s life is anything but joy and dreams of rabbits it needs to end. Please, never keep a dog alive for you to hope and him to suffer.

  7. #7 Liz D
    July 11, 2008

    Orac, my friend on whom I rely,

    we torture ourselves with the question of when it will be the right time to euthanize

    Please don’t torture yourselves that way. Let me explain why I say so.

    I’m an amateur animal ethologist with a non-trivial amount of experience stretching back 30 years and five species, including more than 20 decisions to euthanize horses, dogs and cats, and raising sheep and cattle for market.

    Here are a few points relative to what I’ve learned (not in order of importance, but as they occur to me)

    First, animals don’t fear death the way humans do. I believe they are cognitively incapable of doing so.

    Second, dogs are a top-of-the-food-chain prey species. On the whole, they don’t fear incapacitation the way smaller predators and prey species (such as horses, sheep, and cattle) do. That’s what animals are cognitively capable of: fearing being helpless.

    Third, dogs are pack (happily existing in hierarchical relationships) animals, and you and your wife are control the emotional health of the pack. If you and your wife are serene, your pack (Echo) is serene.

    Fifth: consider enlisting Echo’s veterinarian in your decision-making process. When I had to face end-of-life care for my best-beloved dog (BBD), my vet was really, really helpful in sorting out my desire for “one more day” versus what was really in BBD’s best interest.

    Sixth: talk to your vet: will he or she make a euthanasia house call? My dog & cat vet doesn’t, for a number of reasons, but he does refer to another vet who will make housecalls. Sometimes having the vet come to the house is the right thing to do, in terms of the animal’s well-being.

    Seventh: the veterinary euthanasia process. You may be unfamiliar with this, and be thinking of human lethal injection, which is fraught with problems. Veterinary euthanasia is well-studied and has established protocols for species, adjusted for body mass. After being present for at least 10 euthanasias, I am positive that the individual animal has no brain function (cannot experience pain or distress), even though the body may exhibit movement.

    Eighth: I’ve waited one day (or more) too long at least twice. My considered opinion: I’d rather make the decision one day too soon, than one day too late.

    Two final comments — I think you know I’m somewhere on the agnostic/atheist stripe. I don’t go to worship anymore. I miss the part of the Episcopal service where the priest says, “The peace of the Lord, which passes all understanding, be with you.” And the congregation replies, “And also with you.” And then the individuals in the congregation turn one to another, and “pass the peace”. I miss extending wishes for ineffable peace to people. I am so wishing now for you and yours.

    And every time I look at Jenny the Wonder Dog, you, your wife, and Echo are in my heart.

  8. #8 Kathlyn Ferrari
    July 11, 2008

    Having lost my heart dog to cancer several years ago I’m currently crying my eyes out reading your article. Less than 6 weeks passed after finding out about the cancer before I gave Strider the best gift I could. Echo will let you know when the time is but you must make that choice and be firm. Animals will endure pain without question looking to you for relief. Their love never wavers and yours will never leave. Eight years later I have 2 more greyhounds I will soon be facing the end of their lives with. There never is enough time with them but I look at it as a chance to give another dog and myself a chance to bond. Strider is always in my heart. They say someone never dies as long as someone remembers them. Take as much time to be with him as you can. That is my only regret-it is never long enough.

  9. #9 Dawn
    July 11, 2008

    I have to say, I agree with what Liz wrote. If you have a good vet, euthanasia is very un-traumatic for the pet.

    Our cat was terrified of the vet’s office at all times. When we had to put her to sleep, the vet came in and gave her a small dose of sedative. It was a blessing to watch the sedative take effect; our cat snuggled down on my hand, curled up and began to purr (she never purred unless very relaxed, due to her early kittenhood before being turned into the shelter from which we got her). When the vet came in with the drugs to euthanize her, she opened her eyes a little, then snuggled back down with her eyes closed. She never moved when he injected the drugs, and the only way we knew she was dead was that the purring stopped. Comparing it to the last cat we had to put to sleep, it was day and night.

    I’m crying typing this. It was easy for her, but not for me, even 8 months and a new kitten later. We still miss her.

    Hugs to you, your wife, and lots of pats to Echo.

  10. #10 wazza
    July 11, 2008

    Orac

    we never got an official diagnosis, but this sounds like exactly what my first dog died of, when I was 12. She had a lump on her stomach, but because she was so old we knew there would be nothing to be done in any case. The night before she died she went out into the field behind our house, then turned around to come back to the house, and that was how I found her the next morning, lying in the field facing towards home.

    The vet came out to the farm, as they always do in small towns, and drew fluid from her abdomen, showing massive internal bleeding, and so she euthanized her right there in my arms (she was a huge, smelly golden lab, but there was no way I was just going to let her lie on the ground). I held her until she stopped breathing, and then a while more, and then I loaded her into the wheelbarrow, took her out into the smaller field in front of the house (which dad never grazed stock on) and dug her grave. It took me all day, and I missed a day of school, but it was something that I had to do for myself – we’d had her since before I had memories. Then I took some stones and built a cairn over her grave. So far as I know it’s still there.

    I hope Echo’s last days and weeks are as enjoyable and pain-free as possible, and that you store up lots of good memories. Kia kaha.

  11. #11 Phoenix Woman
    July 11, 2008

    Liz D.: Thanks for sharing that welcome advice. Orac: Never feel badly about telling us about Echo — your doing so is what led to Liz’ passing on some very good advice this Friday morning.

  12. #12 J
    July 11, 2008

    So sorry to hear about your dog Orac, as a pet owner I know exactly how you are feeling. My heart goes out to you.

  13. #13 Craig Willoughby
    July 11, 2008

    Orac, spend all the time you can with her. Sadly, the end is coming for her, and you guys need to say your goodbyes soon. She needs lotsa doggie treats and the good kind of doggie food (I don’t think a hamburger would do her any harm, do you?). And of course, lotsa hugs and snuggles from her humans.

    What kind of dog is she, btw? She is such a beautiful animal!

  14. #14 Bee
    July 11, 2008

    The very hardest thing, I found, when I had to have our beautiful dog euthanized, was continuing to be calm and reassuring so as not to upset her, while just wanting to bawl like a baby myself.

    One note: my vets have proved to be excellent doctors in every way, and were tremendously kind to the end, but for some reason, my dog really felt the insertion of the final needle in her foreleg, enough to whimper loudly. I wish that hadn’t happened, and suggest discussing that aspect with the vet.

    And I hope Echo has more time than you think.

  15. #15 Liz Tracey
    July 11, 2008

    My thoughts are with you and your animal family…thank you for reminding me just how precious and awesome our animals are.

    (And Liz D., thank you for your informative comment.)

  16. #16 Sarabeth
    July 11, 2008

    I agree with Liz D on asking if your vet makes a house call for this. Our ancient golden retriever had anxiety about going to the vet on a good day. When my vet told me he would make a house call, I cried with a strange joy that our sweet dog wouldn’t be stressed going to the vet.

    Orac, my sympathies are with you. Losing a pet is painful.

  17. #17 Danio
    July 11, 2008

    *closes office door so lab-mates won’t wonder why normally steely rationalist is sobbing her fracking heart out*

    Orac, once again, I thank you for sharing your contemplations on Echo’s last days with your readers. I don’t consider it self-indulgent at all–I think most of us completely understand the achingly sad experience of saying goodbye to a beloved pet. I assume that writing about it must have some therapeutic value, and I hope it helps further to know that you have the support and sympathy of the many people who find your blog an entertaining, engaging, and educational place to visit.

    You, your wife, and dear, spunky Echo are all in my thoughts. Be well.

  18. #18 SC
    July 11, 2008

    My thoughts and sympathies continue to be with you. I’m so sorry you all have to go through this, but glad that you have this time to spoil her with impunity and make her last days as wonderful as they can be.

  19. #19 Hesitant Iconoclast
    July 11, 2008

    Hi Orac,

    I quietly enjoy your blog and I’m a big fan of your Friday Dose of Woo which often has me literally laughing out loud. And so I will eagerly await its return.

    I ws sorry to hear about your dog and completely understand the need for a hiatus. Please take all the time you need.

  20. #20 Bagheera
    July 11, 2008

    Orac,

    Everyone’ll say it, but take all the time you need. She needs you more than we do. Echo cares more about being with her Pack (you guys) than anything else. She doesn’t really know why her Humans are upset, but she does understand “My Human’s are givin’ me lots of affection, so this limp don’t matter so much.”

  21. #21 Patrick
    July 11, 2008

    Echo, you, and yours have my sympathies too. Take the time. My sister had a black lab that had a different kind of problem and was on meds for several years, though she had her moments, in all she was an adorable and pretty loving dog.

  22. #22 spondee
    July 11, 2008

    Take all the time you need, Orac. Those of us who have been in your place understand. The love for a pet is a pure and uncomplicated bond, but it’s strong. It hurts like hell when time runs out.

    It’s been almost 10 years since we put my Petey to sleep. We got him when I was four, and we let him go when I was 20. He was like a little brother to me and I relied on him so much for love and support. His death was the death of my childhood.

    Reading everyone’s stories has brought up all the pain I feel missing him. But it’s also brought up the memories of joy and love and friendship from growing up with a wonderful dog. It’s a joyful pain with joyful tears.

    Thanks Dawn for the story of your kitty. All of this has got me cherishing my sweet cat right now, and I hope when the time finally comes to let go of her, it’s a peaceful as your experience.

  23. #23 jeanne
    July 11, 2008

    Orac, I’m so sorry about Echo. I missed last Friday’s post, so this is the first I’m hearing about her condition. If talking about one’s pets with love and compassion is self-indulgent twaddle, you can see you’ve got a lot of twaddlers for readers.

    I’ve got one of my 14 year old cats sleeping on my lap as I type. He, more than his cranky sister, is accruing more and more age-related maladies, i.e., anemia, arthritis, an as-yet unnamed gastrointestinal problem that has caused him to go from 12 lbs. to 8 in six months. I hate to imagine life without them – I’m tearing up as I write, and today he’s having a good day.

    The dog I loved for most of my childhood died 25 years ago, and I still miss her. The price we have to pay for the joy pets bring us is very high. Thankfully, we don’t really understand that going in; otherwise, we might miss out. But even knowing how much it will hurt when they leave me, I wouldn’t want to go through life without them.

  24. #24 Holly
    July 11, 2008

    hugs to you and yours. Pats and scritches and many cookies to Echo. How lucky she is to be so beloved.

  25. #25 LindaCO
    July 12, 2008

    “I don’t care if it ends up being self-indulgent twaddle.”

    I think self-indulgent twaddle is a by-product of compassion, and as such is A-OK for a doctor (and pet owner) to display. Science only gets us so far in our understanding of matters of the heart.

  26. #26 marciav
    July 12, 2008

    Also having tortured myself with the “when to euthanize” a number of times, my husband and I have achieved a fairly good feeling of serenity when it comes to “the right time.”
    (We’ve had to euthanize 11 pets in 11 years. These pets have always walked into our lives and happened to stay long enough for that strong attachment process to take place.) I let the first ones hang on too long with periods of anorexia coupled with force feedings hoping that prescribed therapy might work. I have learned , for me now, of course, that at the first signs of anorexia, I take the pet for euthanasia. I’ve often gone to the local emergency vet, instead of the regular vet, for euthanasia at night when symptoms worsened rapidly, which can happen. It seems that things can change quickly when the eating stops.

    (Just before they do the needle insertion I’ve found that somewhat vigorously massaging the insertion site is helpful to lessen the discomfort of insertion. Then, perhaps more for me than for my loved one, my pet, I get down to his or her eye level and stroke his or her neck. I like them to see a familiar face as they fade away.)

    My thoughts are with you and yours.

  27. #27 mary
    July 12, 2008

    I lost my keeshond to lung cancer, only 3 days after diagnosis, and only 2 days after she showed any sort of symptoms. So, made a photo tribute to our companions, that can be accessed via this link. My member name is mwskydiver, and the particular show is Our Dogs.

    http://www.photodex.com/sharing/

  28. #28 Amy Alkon
    July 12, 2008

    So sorry, Orac. And I second what LindaCO said above:

    I think self-indulgent twaddle is a by-product of compassion, and as such is A-OK for a doctor (and pet owner) to display. Science only gets us so far in our understanding of matters of the heart.

    Also, I think what you apologize for as “self-indulgent twaddle” (I understand – I hate to bore people) is a really healthy way of helping yourself through a really horrible situation.

  29. #29 Faithful Reader
    July 12, 2008

    So sorry, Orac dear. Haven’t been reading regularly so this is bad news to me.

    How odd that Liz D wrote what she did, as I am a Liz D and would have written almost the same words.

    Give us a Friday (or any other day) dose of dog as long as you like.

    And you’ll know when it’s the right time. I’ve had to euthanize some of my dear critters at a crisis, when it’s easy to make the decision. But others were just ill and going downhill, becoming more uncomfortable and unhappy, and it seemed they let me know when they’d had enough.

    The only things I regret are two dogs that for varying reasons I could not hold in my arms as they died.

  30. #30 Liesl
    July 12, 2008

    There is nothing self indulgent about loving someone else, even an animal. All you are doing and will do is a manifestation of that affection. Anyone who doesn’t get that is an asshat.

  31. #31 IBY
    July 13, 2008

    It is okay to lay it off as long as you want. There are other posts from your blog I can entertain myself with, which are excellent. I give consolations to you and your wife, and there is nothing self indulgent about it.

  32. #32 Tercel
    July 13, 2008

    Sorry about your dog, Thats always sad.

    At the same time, when pets die it always occurs to me that, with a good owner such as yourself, they probably had a more joy filled life than any human you’ve ever met. Furthermore, without being subject to the superstitious idiocy that plague human end-of-life decisions, your dog will also have a more dignified and painless death than many of us.

    I always find this comforting, while still missing the company of my late dog.

  33. #33 Jim Lippard
    July 15, 2008

    Orac: I’m very sorry to hear about your dog, you have my sympathy.

    LizD: Thanks so much for your comments.

  34. #34 Chris Krolczyk
    July 15, 2008

    Damn. About 20 years ago I had a dog (which, like yours, appeared to have had a good deal of Labrador in her) which had to be euthanized after the vet discovered she had stomach cancer.

    Suffice it to say that I haven’t had a dog since.