Friday, January 6, 2012

One Week

It's been one week since Dave and I took Ernie and Ruby to the vet for the last time. Since then I've cried, and then stopped crying. I've cleaned the house and enjoyed its incredible neatness, devoid of dog blankets and the smell of dog food. I've missed the dogs' warm bodies around my ankles in bed at night, and their steady, snoozing companionship during the day.

I've experienced denial, anger, guilt, depression, relief -- all the standard feelings, some of which I didn't recognize right away. This has been quite a psychological adventure.

Everyone says they feel guilty upon euthanizing a pet. I had no idea how deep that guilt could run. "How could I have let this happen?" I've said to myself. "I was responsible for them. They trusted me. Did I do all I could? What if I'd tried another medicine, another veterinarian? What if I hadn't taken Ruby off her medication? Was it really the right time for them to go? Couldn't they have lived another day, week, month?"

These messages have run like a river through my head, fed by a wellspring of denial. I picture the dogs in their healthiest recent moments, wagging their tails or trotting with a brief burst of energy across the parking lot. I don't picture them sleeping their days away (they slept all the time) or bleeding or shuffling slowly on their walks. Ruby's heart failure had her panting for air, after all -- and she had that awful necrotic tumor on her side. Ernie, with metastasizing lung cancer, was losing weight and energy. Yet I could deny those illnesses enough to question what we did.

I've felt anger -- in a very subtle, involuntary way -- at Dave for supporting our decision, even though he was right. (And even though they were his dogs, for Pete's sake, and had been for a decade or more!) I've doubted the vets and their dedication.

Now, a week later, I'm in a calmer place. It's not without sorrow, but it's not quite as desperate. I have brief flashes of pain when I see something that reminds me of the dogs -- the corner of the elevator where Ruby always put her nose, for example. Last night we had chicken for dinner, and I took the skin off, like I always do -- and had no dog to feed it to. It just sat limply at the edge of my plate until I threw it away.

I read some pet grief web sites that indicated my feelings are very common. I especially liked this quote from a reader of one forum:

"As compassionate and caring people we have to think about what is best for the pet when they get sick -- especially with a terminal illness, remembering that they are not humans. They don't reason like us. All they know is that they are in pain and suffering. It is our job to help them out of that pain and if experts tell us it will get worse then we have a moral obligation to relieve them of it -- even if it hurts us."

That says it all pretty clearly. I'd already worn myself out trying to keep them healthy, and I was losing the battle. We really didn't have much of a choice. I loved them dearly and always will, but it was time for both of them.

(Photo: A lamp at Gordon's house on New Year's Eve.)


  1. oh steve, i'm so sad to learn of your and dave's loss. somehow i missed this news (i've been very lax with keeping up)

    the decision to euthanize is agonizing but necessary - our pets can't just wander off when their time comes anymore, but most often depend on us to help them cross the rainbow bridge.

    hugs to you and dave....

  2. Reading your post, had me in tears. I remembered what it was like when I went through it with my pet. It was so bad, I have not been able to have another pet again. You have my sympathies and support.

    Ms. M
    Ms.M's Blog
    A Teacher's Plan

  3. I totally understand this. At some point your good memories of Ruby and Ernie will replace your feelings of guilt and grief. Go for a run and think about all the wonderful times you had together.

    Is Dave processing his grief in the same way or are you taking different paths?

  4. Yes, indeed. The storms of emotion that surround the death of pets are truly intense, inescapable. You are very healthy-minded to allow them to run their course. There's no way to avoid them.

    On occasion I still shed a few tears over Jake - with all the same feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness. Bringing these beings into our lives is a real commitment. Holy cow.

    I remember when your cat died suddenly, the experience was very different for you. She did you a favor by passing away without you having to make the decision about when.

    Holding you in my heart.

  5. Thanks for the support, Kim and Ms. M. I do appreciate it.

    Barbara: Dave is much more internal. He's certainly grieving, but not as outwardly. I think he was also more resolved about it being the right time.

    Reya: Yeah, it's interesting -- the cat experience WAS much different. You're right that being relieved of the decision-making was a crucial part of that difference. I had far less guilt about Armenia, though I worried I'd left her alone too much or hadn't noticed critical signs of illness. I also just didn't feel for Armenia what I felt for Ernie and Ruby, or for my cat Howard, who had died a few years earlier. Armenia and I were always a little bit at odds.

  6. Today's photo is breath-taking.

    It sounds like you're going through all the normal stages of grief, with the added emotional complications that euthanasia causes. I have no doubt that you & Dave made the right decision. Even if you had been able to add more time to Ruby & Ernie's lives, I'm not sure time alone is the goal. It's about quality of life, and if you want to preserve that, sometimes you have to make a move before things reach their very worst.

    Ruby & Ernie had reached a point where things were only going to get worse, not better, so you saved them from the worst of their suffering.

  7. Thanks, Lorianne. Their quality of life was definitely slipping, maybe even plunging, downhill!