Saturday, November 15, 2008

Canine Quality of Life Issues

Life here on the Village Green has been hectic in these post-election days. The fall play, the common cold, the demands of the every day work schedule -- all have left me devoid of words and energy for blogging.

Worst of all, my faithful pal Oberon the Huskador Retriever, is in his final days. We just got back from the vet. Obie's arthritis is compounded by extreme loss of muscle mass. Thursday night, I returned home after the show opened, to find him unable to walk on his hind legs. They simply splayed out in opposite directions. He's been on one drug for pain, but it obviously was losing its power to keep him going.

Oberon was a foundling, a stray scrawny puppy with no collar and ribs showing, that I spotted wandering around in the middle of East Ave as I walked home from school fifteen years ago. Those were the early days of my teaching career, when I had yet to purchase a vehicle. I used to walk to and from my job every day. It was a healthy and green thing to do, but at that time it was done out of financial necessity.

At any rate, I saw the puppy and I called frantically to get him out of the way of several oncoming vehicles. Once he came to me on the sidewalk, he had nowhere to go except follow my heels as I trudged home. I already had a dog, but Obie insisted that I take him in. He's been with me for 15 years and now I'm trying to negotiate a few more relatively pain-free weeks for him as we prepare to say goodbye.

The vet gave him an additional prescription for pain. I've moved down to the sofabed on the main floor, because he will attempt to struggle up the stairs if I sleep in my bedroom. The fall play will be over tonight, and I'll have a few weeks of arriving home at reasonable hours before rehearsals begin for the spring musical. Time to hang with him, brush out his amazingly thick coat, and tell him how much his presence has been appreciated over the years.

It is difficult to know when to let go. Humans often have the option of speaking up and telling their families and medical doctors when to stop treatments. With animals, it is up to us to figure out when to say goodbye. Obie is eating well, is in control of his bladder and bowel movements and still insists on being at my side whenever I am home. He sleeps a lot and as long as we can manage the pain, I'd like him to stick around a little bit longer.

Here's a picture of him in happier times, demanding that I stop taking pictures and play catch with him instead:


redhorse said...

Sorry to hear about Oberon, but it does sound like you've had a good run with him.

We put one down in September and struggled with the same issues re: when. He was eating, in control of his body, but the cancer was spreading and he was losing control of his rear legs. He had also lost about 20 pounds.

Still, he appeared happy and was only 9, and that's why we struggled.

Good luck to you both.

KevinBBG said...

Darcy and I went through the same thing with our cat, Nikko, a few years ago. She had cancer and we didn't want to put her through expensive and debilitating medical procedures. We tried to make her life more comfortable, giving her jumbo prawns, her favorite, every night, along with petting her a lot.

We were puzzling about when we should but her down, not wanting to at all but knowing it would have to be done.

Then one night around dinner time I found her lying in bed and gasping for breath. She was in such desperate straights she couldn't even react to my presence.

I laid down on the bed with her and put a hand on her for comfort, but tried to make sure I didn't block her breathing in any way.

Eventually her breathing went to normal and we fell asleep, but it was in my mind that we had to call the vet tomorrow, time had run out.

In the middle of the night I woke to her crawling over me and off the bed. She fell because she was so weak. I put a hand out to pet her and she shrugged it off and kept walking, she was always very willful, so I let her go and fell back to sleep.

In the morning I found her in her favorite spot in the living room, getting cold. We still miss her.

Village Green said...

Thanks for the supportive comments, Kevin and Redhorse.

I've had it go both ways. My 16 year old foundling terrier, Dogberry, just got slower and slower until one day he died at home. Puck, the beagle-shetland sheepdog, got cancer inside his nose and that was a hideous experience as he started to sneeze blood.

I've moved my sleeping quarters downstairs and put down lots of additional non-skid throw rugs on the linoleum and hard wood floors so Obie can move around with more ease. He still has to go down four steps to get outside, but the new pain meds are helping a whole lot. He is much more alert and happy today. We'll take it day by day and when it appears that he can't go any further without constant struggle, then we'll face the final curtain.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to both of you. You and he were so lucky to have fifteen years together, but that just makes it so much harder, because every year is a stronger bond.

I just lost my fifteen year old foundling lab this year, and three months later my twelve year old talking shepherd. I miss them every day.