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  1. Thank You Notes from The Edge

    January 13, 2017 by lpiotrowski

    It has been 17 days since Hank has been gone and although I still cry every day, the pain from his loss is finally starting to loosen its grip on me. Although complete peace and acceptance still seems unattainable, I can say that it is getting better little by little and I do have hope that the mopey bitch I have become is on her way to healing and getting back to being herself.

    I have obviously had a lot of time for reflection and I realized that there are a lot of people I want to thank for their support and love for Hank and I during this process. And as usual, it’s a perfect excuse to make a list. So here goes….

    Thank You…

    1. To Adam. For supporting all the decisions we made for Hank and reassuring me that I was doing right by him. For helping with every aspect of his care during the past year. For the countless times I asked you to get up in the middle of the night to give Hank his meds while I was at work….and the fact that you were happy to do it. For crying with me through it all and for allowing yourself to be vulnerable. For accepting Hank into your life and loving him as much (if not more) than I did despite all of his quirks. For allowing me to grieve in my own way. For not judging me or making me feel guilty for the many days I lay around the house doing nothing (despite having a ton of crap to do) because I am just too sad. For simply holding me when you hear me cry. For wanting to still make Hank a presence in our lives.  For picking up the slack I have left in taking care of our other fur babies without being asked. For just being you and for loving me.

      Adam and the Kids

       

    2. To my Mom. For all your help. For coming to the house after Hank’s surgery to help me with bandage changes, giving meds, draining his seroma, getting him outside and up/down the stairs and everything else when Adam was at work. For giving me company and helping to drive on our many trips with Hank to Fort Collins for his initial Oncology consult, his chemo sessions, his radiation, etc. after I had worked all night and was running on little to no sleep. For taking care of Hank every time Adam and I went out of town the past year because I couldn’t trust anyone else to care for him (and for not getting overwhelmed with the pages of instructions and bags of crap I would leave with you). For forming a bond with Hank that I have never seen between you and a dog. For talking me off the ledge the many times I called crying about a bad day he had. For showing up to the house the day after Hank died (without being asked) and bringing me coffee, a burrito and The NY Times. For sitting on my bed with me for hours that day and crying with me and somehow knowing that’s EXACTLY what I needed. For watching Marley and Me that afternoon because I wanted to (despite what a horrible, horrible idea this was on my part….this movie should be off limits to anyone that has recently lost a pet) . For putting a party together for Hank on his last day. For grieving with me. And just for being my mom and understanding the pain I feel.

      My Mother and I

       

    3. To all my amazing colleagues, coworkers, ER nurses/staff and friends. To Somer for getting me the night off of work the day he died. To Dr. Bill for working my shift and being the veterinarian that night when I was completely incapable of doing so. To Eddy for taking such good care of Hank, for driving all the way to my house so I didn’t have to be the one to euthanize him, for taking his body away so I didn’t have to deal with it and for being a great friend. To my ER crew that left flowers, a card and a bottle of wine on my desk the day I returned to work. To Nicole (both of them!), Amanda, Irene, Kirstin, Christa, C.C, Lauren and everyone else that called and sent me texts to make sure I was okay (and alive) after Hank was gone. To Brooke for being my yoga idol and for giving me a place to heal and ground myself through it all.
    4. To the rest of my family. To my sister Megan for driving to the clinic on that day to pick up the supplies I needed to put Hank down at home when I couldn’t show my puffy red face at work, and for taking the amazing pictures of Hank that I will cherish for a lifetime. To my brother-in-law Dan and my nephew Nathan for coming over, hanging out with Hank and loving on him before we said goodbye. To Adam’s mother Karen for her unwavering support/love and for not caring when she would come to our house wearing black and would leave covered in Hank hair. To Adam’s daughters, Kendra and Ashlyn, for loving Hank, accepting him into your lives (and letting him be a part of it whether you liked it or not) and for putting up with my multiple moods and personalities that have developed in dealing with my sadness over his loss.
    5. To Tripawds and everyone that has read my blog, commented and shared your support through this journey. For being an amazing resource to those of us who have no idea what we are doing in caring for a three-legged pet. For being a strong community of people joined together simply by the love we all share for our pets no matter how many legs they have, if and what type of cancer they have, what type of treatment has been sought. I have no idea what I would have done without you all and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

      Hank in his Four-Legged days

       

    6. Most of all, to my Hank. For the many, many  miles you ran with me all over the state of CO. For being a constant presence at my feet for the hours and hours I spent studying in vet school. For being an awesome dog to camp with. For being a pillow to cry on and a distraction from my life while I struggled with major depression, an eating disorder and the horrific stress of pursuing my veterinary degree. For giving me a reason to get up in the morning when I was going through my internship and the divorce and loving me during that time when I was almost certain no one else did (including myself). For coming to work with me every night and spooning with me on our cot at the clinic at 4 a.m. when I would cry over the multiple pets I had euthanized or failed to save that night. For always adjusting to my crazy sleep schedule. For staunchly protecting me against any man who dare approach. For every wiggle, every crotch punch and every water glass/beer bottle/cocktail/vase/picture you knocked over with your ridiculous tail.  For never chewing on my stuff. For making me laugh more times than I can count and for letting me dress you up in clothes. For letting Lulu torture you for all those years and for letting Scout hump your bed all over the house when we would leave. For bringing Adam to me, for never barking or growling at him, for stealing his heart and for making him realize that we will always own a Vizsla because of you. For fighting cancer like a champ and for letting me take care of you, even though I know at times you hated it. For knowing exactly when it was your time to leave and for telling me when you were ready. For letting me hold you. For visiting me in my dreams and for finally letting me feel your presence around me. And lastly, for reminding me every single day why I became, and why I love, being a veterinarian.

      One of our last selfies

    I miss you every day.

    LP


  2. Goodbye My Darling Boy

    January 4, 2017 by lpiotrowski

    I have sat here for at least an hour staring at this blinking cursor and wondering where to begin. So I will make it easy….

    My Hank, my angel, my “heart dog,”….is gone.

    And there is a huge, gaping hole inside my chest where my heart used to be, but he took it with him. And I am left with this persistent feeling of cold air sucking into this wound and filling my heart space to the point I feel physical pain….and a feeling of breathlessness takes over until I remind myself to breathe again. I couldn’t get out of bed for the entire day after he was gone (which I have only ever done ONCE before and it was because I was so sick with the flu that I literally couldn’t move).  I didn’t want to get up and walk downstairs because that meant I would see his empty bed where we said goodbye. It meant I would see his harness and leash near the front door yet he would not be there for me to put it on. It meant that I would be reminded that our house no longer contained the best part of it…the part that made it our home…… our Hank. For that entire day I didn’t ever get out of my pajamas, I didn’t shower, brush my teeth or my hair. I just had no desire to do any of it.  And I cried, actually sobbed, all day. Hank had been my shadow, my companion, my protector, my soul, each and every day for 9 years. And in the past year since his diagnosis, my entire day revolved around care taking for him. And I LOVED this job- giving him his pain meds five times per day, giving him a daily rub/massage, getting him out for his walk, preparing his meds and meals for when I was at work, or taking him to work with me.  And now he was gone. My heart was gone. And despite the many, many emotionally and physically painful things I have endured in my life, this pain is a type of pain I don’t think I have ever experienced.

    He was doing great until the week leading up to Christmas. I had just worked 5, 12-hour night shifts in a row and when I came home on Wednesday morning, Hank was crying when we got into bed. It didn’t last long, so I didn’t think much of it. But when I went to bed with Adam on Wednesday night, he did it again and Adam confided in me that Hank had been crying a lot during the night. It also seemed as if his tumor had grown exponentially during that week. I could never really “feel” it when I ran my hand down his right hind leg, but by now it was easily a large and visible swelling. Thursday night and Friday night, Hank woke me up twice in the middle of the night crying, restless and painful. I would get up, give him an extra dose of pain meds and lay with him in his bed, running my hands over his body until he fell asleep. I can still feel his fur under my fingertips if I close my eyes. We also noticed that he was pretty much functioning on two legs multiple times during the day, yet he still somehow made it on his walks. He needed help getting up out of bed and was actually accepting the help, which for him, was not a good sign.

    On Christmas Eve, we took him to my mothers for a family dinner and I remember looking at him at one point and seeing something different about his eyes, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. And I started having a sinking feeling that we were getting close to the end (but denial was hitting me hard so I tried not to think about it). He just didn’t seem himself. Except of course, when I gave him close to half of my lobster dinner 🙂 That night, he woke me up three times and I never was able to get him to settle enough to go to sleep. The last time he woke me up was around 5 a.m on Christmas morning. I laid down with him and cried. I reminded him that he needed to tell me when he was done and I promised him I would listen. Up to this point, when I would cry and say this, he would snuggle his face into my neck, wiggle and thump his tail on his bed as if to say “Mom, I’m OK.” But on this morning, he just looked at me. No wiggling, no wagging, no snuggling. And there it was….I just knew.

    Christmas Eve at Grandma’s

    We spent Christmas morning opening gifts and hanging out in our PJ’s like most people do. It was a nice distraction from what was weighing on my mind. Adam and I had breakfast and talked about Hank- I told him my thoughts and we both cried even more. Mid-day, we decided to take the boys for a romp around the lake. Despite his pain, Hank hopped along like he usually does, sniffing and galloping around with Scout. I watched them and tried not to think about the fact that this would be their last walk together. I sobbed most of the time, but tried to find joy in seeing Hank in his favorite place. Outdoors and free.

    Christmas night, he never slept. He cried the entire night and I was up with him every hour. He started to refuse his meds and by 2 a.m., we were both exhausted, so I put a Fentanyl patch on him out of desperation to take his pain away. It did nothing. Adam got up and went to work and I told him that this was it. We could not let him be in pain any longer. And then we had our last day. It all happened so fast.

    Its hard to know how to spend a final 12 hours with something you love so much, especially when there is a deep, dark abyss on the other side of the impending loss that is very uncertain. I figured I had prepared myself so much for this time, yet really had no clue about the effect this was going to have on my family and I. I tried to enjoy the day as much as I could. He actually ate breakfast. We cuddled by the fire. And then I took him for his final walk….just me and him. He ran around to his usual critter holes, but there was an obvious decrease in his energy that day. I watched him hop along in front of me as I had every day for 9 years and tried to burn the image into my head. I even took a video so I never had to lose that memory. He ate snow…one of his favorite things. Then we went to the park and laid in the grass. He barked at some kids. And then, he rested his head on my leg and we sat for a while; I cried quietly to myself ….he finally seemed to rest. I ran my hands all over his body, his face, his velvety ears. I felt his scar. I rested my hand on his chest so I could feel his heartbeat. I kissed his muzzle and his head. I whispered in his ear. Then we walked home slowly.

    Our last day in the park

    Later in the evening, my mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephew came over to say their goodbyes. We toasted to Hank with Champagne, ate guacamole and all sat on the floor around him. My mom cooked him a hamburger, he helped us finish the tortilla chips and I let him have a Jello shot that was leftover from Christmas. I drank wine….. a lot of wine. They left and Adam’s mother came over. She laid with him on the floor and he loved every minute of it. Then Adam’s daughters got their chance to say goodbye. Kendra, the oldest, whom I have seen cry once before since I have known her (3 years), collapsed on Hank’s bed and sobbed as she held him. I could barely keep myself together as she did this and I came to realize just how many people loved him. He was just as important of a family member as any one of us humans.

    Everyone left except Adam and I. Then it was time. And this was going to hurt.

    Our last picture

    My overnight ER nurse and one of my bestest friends, Eddy, came to the house. He was gentle and calm. He placed an IV catheter in Hank’s vein while he laid on his bed with Adam by the fireplace. I scooted over to Hank and put his head in my lap as Eddy gave him an IV dose of Fentanyl and a sedative to help him relax. For the first time all weekend, I felt him truly let go…he wasn’t in any pain. I held his head in my hands and pressed my forehead to his as hard as I could as if to be able to tell him how much I loved him by osmosis. I thanked him for taking such good care of me. I thanked him for bringing me to this place in my life where I was finally happy and safe. I thanked him for the unconditional love that only a dog is capable of giving and told him how much I was going to miss him. I whispered in his ear one final time how much I loved him as Eddy gave the final injections. I clutched his head as I felt him slip away and in that instant, I could not cry enough to get rid of the instant pain and emptiness I felt. And then he was gone.

    Eddy carried his body to his car and I watched him drive away. Walking into the house was suffocating without Hank’s presence. Adam and I held each other all night and cried and all I have to say, is thank God for him. Thank God for this amazing man who loved my dog as much as I did. And when you are a veterinarian, you typically have a complex that no one will ever take as good of care of your pets as you would or love them as much as you would. Adam proved me wrong and if he hadn’t been there, I probably would have stepped into traffic that night.

    It has been a little over a week and the grief is still indescribable. I still cry every morning when I get home and before I go to bed. I cry at night when I can’t lean down to his bed and kiss him. I cry when I drive to work and don’t see his face in my rear-view mirror. I cry when I look at Scout and see a dog that is completely different without his buddy. I cry at work when I walk by his empty kennel.

    I have brief moments when I try to remind myself that we fought the good fight. That it was the right choice to let him go when we did and that he is finally free of pain. And I was lucky to have him as long as I did after his diagnosis; we did get him through to his birthday and Christmas after all. But those moments are quickly dashed by all the emotions that go along with grief. Anger that as a vet, I couldn’t save him. Emptiness, loss of purpose, depression, complete lack of motivation to do absolutely anything. More anger. I know time heals a lot of pain, but at the moment, it is fucking terrible and all I want is to have my dog back. The dog that reminded me daily why I became a veterinarian- because people suck. And what better way to spend my life than to make it my purpose to advocate for and to take care of those that take such amazing care of us. To love an animal is to live, and without him (or Roscoe, or my horse Little Bit, or my cat Lulu), I don’t think I would have ever made it. I am hoping that with more time it will get better and I hope the next time I write it will be from a place of acceptance and peace. I know I will get there. But today is not that day.

    So goodbye my darling boy. I will meet you at the Rainbow Bridge. And I can’t wait to whisper in your ear how much I love you.

    LP

     


  3. Happy Birthday Hank

    December 18, 2016 by lpiotrowski

    Today was a great day. Today was a day that I didn’t think we would get to celebrate…….Today we celebrated Hank’s 9th birthday.

    Despite the freezing Colorado temps and several inches of fresh snow, we braved the park in our neighborhood with Hank wearing his ugly Christmas sweater and a “Birthday Boy” pin. He ran in the snow, played with a stick (which he has never done before… I think he was mostly trying to keep it away from Scout) and ran up and down the sidewalk like his usual goofy self. Our paws/feet/fingers/faces were frozen after about 20 minutes, so we headed back home. Then there was steak, lots of good cuddles and of course, party hats (much to Hank’s very obvious chagrin).

    I will complete this short post with a picture diary of this day because I am struggling to find the words to describe how I am feeling……there is joy being felt over his reaching this milestone, yet deep sadness that it will be his last….there is frustration that I am even sad given that he is still with me, and an overall crippling uncertainty I experience when I wonder if his recent and obvious uptick in pain (despite being on a very regular and intensive pain management protocol)  is something I should be ok with…..or not.  So for now, I will sit here at work with him next to me and relish in the greatness of this day for as long as I can….

    Whats winter without an ugly sweater?

     

    Getting love from Kendra

     

    Its my stick!!

     

    Post park…he obviously hates his birthday hat

     

     

    Cuddle time with Mom….still hating the hat

     

    Steak makes everything worth it

     

    Journal reading at work while my staff loves on the birthday boy

     

    Passed out after eating a hamburger…. while Mom works on records

     

    Until next time,

    LP


  4. Ill Have a Meltdown with a Side of Pumpkin Pie, Please

    December 14, 2016 by lpiotrowski

    Now that I got the hard post out of the way, figured I’d update everyone on where we are with Hank in this journey…

    To start, Hank is officially 10-months post-diagnosis with OSA and I am super happy to still have his wiggly butt around. Didn’t think we would see this day when I found his metastatic lesion back in July, so I really have no room to bitch about anything. That being said, the past couple weeks have probably been the hardest. Hank had his first “bad day” ever two weeks ago (and they have been coming more frequently) and it went something like this…..

    It was  the week of Thanksgiving and I had just had a really, really, really long night at work. Lots of sick patients that I couldn’t seem to fix no matter how hard I tried. I came home from work that morning already feeling a little defecated and overall wrecked, but then when I walked in the door, Hank was not there to greet me. No biggie, I figured maybe he was outside with Adam or still eating breakfast. But when I came up the stairs from our mid-level garage, I was met by Adam in our kitchen who told me that Hank had gone downstairs to the lower level with him while he ironed his shirt earlier, but never came back upstairs. Weird, but again, I wasn’t too alarmed…yet. I put down my work crap and expected to see him coming up the stairs to greet me, because, well…that’s what he does. No matter what. He knows when I come home and he never wants to miss a good ‘ol crotch punch. But after a few minutes….still no Hank. So I walked down to the mid-level and peered around the corner to the last flight of stairs leading into our basement and there he was, laying at the foot of the stairs. The second he saw me he started wagging/thumping his tail on the ground (I LOVE this sound- no matter where he is laying in the house, if he starts to wag his tail, the thumping can be heard far and wide), but he didn’t get up. I even called him…and he thumped louder and harder….but he still didn’t get up. So I called him again….and this time, he was able to get to his feet, but he put his (only) front paw on the lower stair and then stood there and stared at me. He couldn’t get up the stairs. My heart plummeted to my big toe and then the tears came…big time. I sobbed as I helped him hop to our main level where he didn’t seem near as bothered as I was about this whole situation. My mind became an intangible fury of thoughts, some of which included, “this is it,” “if he cant get up the stairs he must be in horrific pain,” “is this the end?,” “he must have fractured his leg at the tumor site,”….it was bad. Really bad. Adam thankfully had a few minutes to talk me off the ledge before he left for work, but I resumed sobbing the second he walked out the door.

    Our pre-decorated tree and resident Tripawd (who clearly hates his pic taken)

    I of course couldn’t sleep that morning because I was such a mess, so I spent the next 3 hours clutching the poor dog as if that was going to help. Right….pretty sure Hank was just perturbed that I was taking up some of his very spacious and comfy bed. But I could tell he was uncomfortable, I could tell there was just something a little different about him today. And it broke my heart. I finally decided about 11:30 am that I needed to go do something for myself before I completely lost it, so I got changed and left to go to my usual Monday yoga class.  I should have known on the drive to the studio that I should not have let myself out of the house in such an unstable state. Mostly because as I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a woman walking a beautiful Rottie and I started crying…. again. And it was an ugly cry- there was lots of snot and snorting and wailing. Again, this is when I should have just backed away, but the stubborn side of my brain told me it would be good if I go in get some exercise and find some balance. Get yourself together Linds….

    Well, it just so happens that my Monday yoga class is an aerial yoga class, so we spend most of the time doing poses suspended in a silk that hangs from the ceiling. One of my favs. Well, I hurried into the studio and climbed into a silk before anyone could notice my red face, puffy eyes and overall disheveled appearance. The instructor, Brooke, is a good friend and someone I have been taking yoga classes from for over 2 years now, so she knows me well; I know she noticed me hurry in without saying hello…..balls. As everyone arrived, she started walking around to each silk in the class as usual with her stack of Moon Oracle cards- a stack of blatantly hippie, mother-earth based tarot cards that each person draws from….the card you pick is kinda like getting a vague horoscope and is supposed to help to give you an “intention” for your yoga practice that day. I dig them….well….except for that day. Brooke came to my silk and I reached out and grabbed a card. Well, do you know what fucking card I picked? The god damn “Cycles” card. Yep, it had a picture of a whimsical horse head on it above a phrase that said “Life is a cycle of rebirth and death. Don’t resist the cycle. Be with the emergence of this next cycle with faith and grace. The time is coming.” Shit. Are you kidding me right now? THIS is the card I have to pick when I am in the throws of despair about the process of my dog dying. Great.  Why couldn’t I just pick the “Love” card or the “Screw Cancer” card or even the “Your Dog Will Live Forever” card? Ugh!! And that was it….my eyes welled up and I started to cry as quietly as possible. And I cried. And I cried more. Pretty much throughout my entire yoga class. I am sure it was an interesting sight….my silly self, doing “plankensteins”, bicep pulls (did I mention it was an Aerial for Strength class?), side planks, etc. hanging from a silk while my tears collected in a puddle on my yoga mat beneath me. Finally, halfway through the class, I waived the white flag of the Yogi That Has Given Up by climbing out of my silk and plopping myself into Shavasana (yoga-speak for adult nap time) on my mat….and this is where I stayed, crying, until the class was over. I am fairly sure everyone in that class thought I was bat-shit crazy. Never, ever, ever, have I cried like this in public. Thanks Hank- you have turned me into a complete disaster of a human.

    Of course, when I got home, there he was….at the door, wiggling and crotch-punching me all the way through the house. He was obviously limping more than he had ever been before, so I called my Mom, cried some more, and dreaded getting the dogs ready for their afternoon walk mostly because I was petrified that Hank wouldn’t be excited to go because he was in pain. And if he did that….if he did not want to do his favorite thing in the world, to go on his prairie-dog-chasing, rabbit-poop-eating (this is his new thing by the way), pee-on-everything walk….then that would be it.  That’s all he would have to do…and I was not ready for this today. But the second I got up from my chair, turned off the TV and grabbed by sunglasses (this is when he knows its w-a-l-k time), he ran/hopped/limped to the door, almost plowing me over in the process, and stood whine/screaming/barking at the door until I opened it. I let both dogs out onto our gated patio where I usually put their leashes on, but Hank ran right up to the fence, nudged our gate so hard it flew open, and both dogs were off down the path before I had even made my way completely out of the front door. I stood there dumbfounded for a couple minutes and then started feeling really, really stupid. I cried my entire day away over….what exactly??? The fact that my dog with a bone tumor had a little bit of a painful day? Ummm…hello Doctor Dumbass….isn’t that to be expected? Ya know, he does have BONE CANCER. And as long as he is happy, and wants to go on his walks, and crotch punch me, and eat whatever and his pain isn’t affecting all these things….and he has quality of life….this is the goal right?? Didn’t I JUST go over this? Well, needless to say, I ran after both pups and we had the best prairie-dog-chasing, rabbit-poop-eating walk we have ever had. And the video below is a recent, beautiful day at the park.

    Since that tear-filled day, Hank has been having “bad days” that seem to be getting more frequent…..these are days when he has trouble with the stairs, trouble getting in and out of bed without his harness, doesn’t finish his food or wants to spend most of the day chilling by the fire. It has been hard seeing this slight change in him. But no matter what, he is still happy and still asks for his walk everyday. He still chases little critters and plays with Scout. He still wags his tail when I rub him, he still licks my face, he is still happy to see me when I get home, he still loves playing with his toys and watching me get ready for work. He still begs for food at the dinner table and has to be the center of attention. He is still Hank. He is just Hank with a little more of a limp these days…and that I can handle…most of the time 🙂

    Fire time

    LP


  5. Knowing When it’s “Time”

    November 25, 2016 by lpiotrowski

    Don’t worry….it’s thankfully not Hank’s “time” just yet (however, there have been some recent changes, but we have still been busy loving life on three legs…hence the tardiness of this post…more to come soon), but as a veterinarian, I am asked this question by clients on a daily basis when their beloved pet is nearing that moment.  And, I have always had a good answer.  But will I be able to practice what I preach? I hope so. So here I sit, at work, with Hank next to me in my office…..and I write….and I cry….

    If there is anything I have learned from being in emergency veterinary medicine and dealing with illness, sickness, death and dying all the time, it is that being able to make the decision to end the suffering of those pets that are so very important to us is not only a blessing, but a curse. When I first started practicing, being able to provide humane euthanasia was probably one of my favorite parts of my job. Not to sound morbid or anything, but there is something very satisfying about ending suffering and being able to provide a terminally ill/injured/old/sad dog or cat a feeling of euphoria and painlessness while being surrounded by those that love them in the last few minutes of their lives. How cool. The majority of people dont even get that opportunity when they are terminally ill. However, something it took me a while to learn was the effect that having that power to make the decision to end a life (human or not) has on people. The guilt, the shame, the sadness….it goes home with everyone (including myself) no matter how prepared you think you are to make this decision. So, then, how do we know? How do we know when it’s the right time? The right time to minimize suffering and maximize quality of life? The right time to be able to be strong and say good-bye? How do we know if its too early? Or too late? I have realized that this type of thinking will send most down a rabbit hole they don’t want anything to do with. But, really, it is very, very simple…..

    img_4009

    Whack-a-Mole at its finest...he literally had his head in this hole for a solid 3 minutes

    Whack-a-Mole at its finest…he literally had his head in this hole for a solid 3 minutes…

    My first experience with euthanizing a pet was my childhood dog, Roscoe. He was a 90-lb pitty from the “pound” that belonged to our neighbors and good family friends during my adolescence. They had three dogs (including Roscoe), and they had a swimming pool. Two things I definitely did not have, so as you could imagine, I was at their house constantly as a kid. Well, it became evident very quickly that Roscoe took a liking to me and I to him. But my mother had asthma and I grew up with the understanding that dogs and cats were not going to ever cohabitate with us in our house unless we wanted our mother to suffocate to death on pet hair and end up sounding like one of those people on the anti-smoking commercials that have to talk and breathe through a hole in their neck. But…it got to the point that when I would leave from a visit, Roscoe would literally lay by the front door of my neighbors house, with his nose pressed to the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor until I returned. He wouldn’t eat, he wouldn’t drink, or even move for that matter. So, the neighbors begged us to take him when I was ten for fear he would starve to death during my upcoming horse-show season when we would be traveling a lot and my visits to Roscoe would be few and far between for a few months.  Thankfully, my mom was a sucker for my pouty face and agreed to give it a try….and then I had a dog.

    Roscoe was with me for thirteen awesome years and my mother even shipped him out to Colorado to be with me when I went to college. He was my companion, my protector, my first dog. He came with me just about everywhere and, since I lived in the worst ghetto of my college town (it was bad…drug dealing, questionable characters on every corner, random toddlers walking down my street in nothing but a diaper with no adults anywhere to be found, but hey, the rent was super cheap!), he was a great reminder to all the creeps in my neighborhood to never mess with me. He was always healthy, but his last year I watched a slow decline. His mobility was terrible thanks to typical big-dog arthritis as he aged, he developed several tumors on his rectum and near the end, he would have accidents in his sleep on his bed which mortified him. But, he was still happy as ever. This was before veterinary school, so I remember expecting him to just die in his sleep one night, as many people with geriatric pets do. And then, “the day” came. I still remember that day not only because of the profound impact it had on me at the time, but also for the unknown impact it would have on my entire veterinary career.

    It was an early summer Saturday in Western Colorado between my Sophomore and Junior year of college, which for me at the time, meant I would get up at 4am to head to the barn to ride the 5-6 horses I needed to train for the day before it got scorching, Western Colorado hot. Then I would get home around 1 or 2pm and nap for the rest of the day in my air conditioned apartment. Roscoe and I had a routine in which I would let him out and feed him quickly before I left in the early morning, then I would take him on a much longer walk in the evening once it cooled down. But this morning was different. I couldn’t get him out of bed for breakfast which was VERY abnormal for him. This is a dog that never missed a meal in his entire life and ate an entire one pound box of chocolate covered coffee beans the Christmas prior that was wrapped and under my Christmas tree- he even ate the packaging, so he was pooping wrapping paper and bows for a week.

    That morning I even had to carry him down the stairs of my apartment building to get him to go to the bathroom and when I set him down in the grass, he couldn’t stand for long. I remember bringing him back upstairs, placing him on his bed and expecting he would be better once I got home from working. I wasn’t too worried until I pulled into my driveway that afternoon and for the first time ever, I didn’t see his goofy face staring down at me out of my second- story living room window. He knew the sound of my car and when he would hear me pull into the drive way, he would usually jump onto the sofa by the window (if he wasn’t sleeping there already) so he could watch me get out of my car and come upstairs. I even remember sitting in my car for several minutes and waiting to see if he was just moving a little slower that day….his face never came to the window. I finally made my way upstairs and he did not greet me when I came in the door. My heart dropped. I walked around the corner and into my bedroom where he was still laying on his bed- in the exact same position in which I had left him. I stood in my doorway for a while already trying to think which vet would be open for me to take him to that day….and then, without even raising his head, he looked right at me. And for a dog I had owned for 13 years, I had never seen these eyes before. Something was gone from them….something was missing. And before I could even begin to analyze what this look meant, he let out a big sigh and instantaneously, his eyes literally said to me…… “Mom….I’m done.” I ran to him and collapsed at his bed side, cried and tried to tell myself that this hadn’t just happened, that I was making it up in my head, but I absolutely knew in my gut that he had told me he was ready to go. He told me he was in pain, and tired, but that it was ok. A good friend of mine (who happened to be a veterinarian) came to my apartment the next morning and put him down as I sat with him on the floor in my bedroom, cradling his head in my hands as the wind blew through my curtains and the sun shone in on us. It was an absolutely beautiful experience that I will never forget. And I feel like every pet owner deserves a chance to have this type of end-of-life experience with their pet.

    The combination of this experience and several years of practicing emergency veterinary medicine has taught me a lot about knowing the “right time.” And again, it really is quite simple. So in typical LP fashion, I have put my pearls of wisdom about this into a list:

    1. Dogs and cats are very, very good at letting their people know when they are truly “done,” exactly as Roscoe did for me; especially when dealing with old age or chronic illness. But each pet is different in how they will “tell” you and the kicker is you have to be open enough to see it and not fall into a pit of denial. Whether its a look (or lack thereof), no longer wanting to eat, go for a walk, etc., they will tell you. I had one client tell me she knew it was time for her cat because for the first time ever, her kitty didn’t bite the dog that morning when he came in from outside as she had every single morning for 16 years.  I have learned that this a common reason why people will often show up at my clinic at all hours of the night/morning to euthanize their dogs/cats that have been sick for several days/weeks/months.  This used to bother me (really? your dog has been vomiting ALL day and hasn’t eaten for a week but NOW its time at 3am?), but I have learned that that just happened to be the moment when that pet told their owner they were ready, whether the owner knew it or not. And now I am glad when those people come in because that shows they were open enough to not be in denial about the life stage of their pet and didn’t make them wait any longer or suffer.  This is the meaning of true love and selflessness when the decision to end a life is in your hands.
    2. People seem to never regret letting their pet go “too soon” when they are sick/elderly/have poor quality of life, but they almost always regret waiting too long. And that is the worst. The guilt that people feel when they all of a sudden realize that their pet may have been suffering and they were in denial about it is crippling and something I warn many about when they are contemplating the right time for their pet.
    3.  It is all about quality of life. ALWAYS. Our pets love us unconditionally and bring us so much joy in life. The least we can do in return is to not expect them to suffer the human condition of wanting to live as long as possible, even if completely miserable. A dog should always be able to do the things that dogs do- walk and/or play, eat, chase things, enjoy being around their people. Cats should be able to jump, snuggle, eat, play, groom themselves…and most importantly, they should all be able to do these things and not be in an unreasonable amount of pain. If your dog/cat no longer has quality of life….it is time.
    4.  If you wait until your pet dies at home without intervention, you’ve waited too long. In general, it is very, very rare that dogs and cats die peacefully in their sleep as most people expect them to do.  The diseases and problems that cause death in animals are not pleasant ones….and I guarantee are not ways in which you would want your pet to pass. And then you’ll never know for sure if they were in pain, if they were scared, if they suffered. However, when a pet comes to me for euthanasia, I can be 100% sure they were not in pain (thanks to the cabinet full of narcotics I have at my disposal and use without restraint in these cases), I can be mostly certain they were not scared (thanks to the shelf of Valium, sedatives and other good drugs I also have at my disposal) and that their last memory was most likely of you…their favorite thing in the world. What on earth could be a better way to cross over? I cant think of a single one…

      Recent fall day at the park

      Recent fall day at the park

    In remembering all these things, I can only hope and pray that I will do right by Hank in knowing when its his time. I have already promised him. And that is the least I can do after all he has done for me. I can make 100% sure he wont be in pain anymore, he wont be scared, and that I will be right by his side.

    Until next time (sooner, I promise!)

    LP

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