A Little Longer

They say that cats have nine lives, and I’m beginning to believe that is also true for my dog.  During the sixteen years Lucy has lived with us, we have prepared ourselves for that “final goodbye” no less than three times.

The first was when she was only eight years old and came down with a serious case of pancreatitis, which the vet warned us could be fatal and that required an extended stay at the animal hospital.  But she recovered and came home with no ill effects aside from a very large vet bill.  The vet did tell us there was a real possibility the disease had shortened her life span.  But since Lucy is almost seventeen now, I can only assume that no one explained that to her.

Then one night last summer we found Lucy staggering in tight circles around the yard, panting hard and drooling, and finally falling over, unable to get back up.  Assuming she was having a major stroke, we rushed her to the emergency animal clinic and called our kids to warn them that the time had probably come to say goodbye.  Turns out, she was suffering from Vestibular Syndrome, which is common in old dogs.  The symptoms do resemble a stroke but most dogs usually recover after a few days.   And sure enough, Lucy did.

These days, Lucy is really beginning to both look and act like the extremely old dog she is.  She no longer always eats her breakfast no matter what tempting and tasty treats we put in her dog bowl, so I didn’t think too much of it last Thursday when she left her breakfast untouched.  But she also didn’t sit begging at the table while I ate, nor follow me around the house as she usually does.  By mid-afternoon, she was struggling to control her hind legs and she couldn’t stand properly or walk across the room without falling and/or repeatedly bumping into the furniture.  She ignored me when I tried to comfort her and seemed terribly weak, confused and unhappy, panting relentlessly and staring blankly ahead.

I thought, once again, the end  had come.  I contacted my family to tell them it was time to say goodbye.  Then I called the vet’s office and scheduled a euthanasia for the next day.  Lucy slept, sprawled awkwardly on the family room floor, for a few hours until my husband came home.  I was surprised to see her get up and greet him.  Later, when my daughter and son-in-law came, she seemed to be back to her normal (if elderly) self.  And my family was wondering exactly why they were supposed to be saying their final goodbyes.

Naturally, I changed her appointment from a euthanasia to an evaluation, and the vet assured me that Lucy was fine for her age.  She believed that Lucy had a neurological episode which she somehow managed to recover from.  Knowing Lucy, I’m quite sure she heard me say “euthanasia,” and immediately thought, “Holy crap!  I’d better snap out of it!”  Lucy is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

fullsizeoutput_48feClearly, Lucy is not quite ready to cross over the proverbial rainbow bridge.  Equally clearly, she will not make that crossing until she is darned good and ready.  I know that we are living on borrowed time now.  As the vet so eloquently put it, we are in the “gift stage” of Lucy’s life, since every day we have her with us is a gift.  And it’s a gift we’ll gladly accept, each and every time she gives it.

97 thoughts on “A Little Longer

    • It is really challenging! Knowing what is best, and right, for our elderly pets is a bit of a challenge. That’s why I’m glad the vet was willing to do a quality of life/health evaluation. As I told her, I needed a bit of help to know what was the right thing to do!

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  1. Lovely! Keep hanging in there, Miss Lucy! We have had to say goodbye to two old dogs in the past two years. We’d been through the whole “this is it” thing more than once with each of them. So hard to watch them struggle, but such a gift when they get back up.

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    • Thank you! It sounds as if you know exactly what we have been going through. And I’m so sorry about your dogs. I honestly think the only bad things about dogs is that they don’t live long enough.

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  2. Glad to hear your girl has rebounded once again. It’s a terribly difficult thing, watching our beloved fur children get old and knowing they won’t be with us forever. Cherish every moment you have with her. She sounds like a great old gal.

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  3. Poor old Lucy … sure you aren’t crying wolf just to ensure these extra family gatherings? Am joking as you wouldn’t scare your kids that way … but glad she is determined to stay a bit longer. But it does sound like she is preparing you for the inevitable 🙂

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    • Ha! Sometimes I wonder if she isn’t just trying to get us all together, too! But seriously, these false alarms are preparing us for the inevitable. Even when we thought Friday would be her last day, my daughter said that this was easier to take because we could see it coming. When our other old dog died (also sixteen), she went from just fine to heart failure in the course of a few short hours. So that took us more by surprise and was harder to deal with.

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    • Then you know exactly what I mean! With old dogs, every day is a gift, and some of those old rules go out the window, don’t they? For the first time in her life, Lucy is eating whatever she wants (mostly) which also might be why she’s not in any hurry to leave this earth….

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  4. Gift stage is a good expression, which I would like to apply to my own life at age 76. Let us enjoy each day that we have left in reasonably good shape and let us count our blessings as long as we live. That is the message for me from today’s post, Ann.

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  5. Thanks for the warning about false alarms. Our corgi Heidi is only 12 but has already had that first trip to the vet (surgery etc) but nothing more other than just getting up slowly. Enjoy Lucy some more.

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    • I hope Heidi is with you for a good long while! And yes, when we have older dogs, we need to remember that we may well have our share of false alarms. I’d never heard of Vestibular Syndrome before Lucy got it, but apparently it’s rather common in old dogs. Meanwhile, we just enjoy Lucy!

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    • Thanks! I really did want the vet to check her and make sure she wasn’t suffering in any way. But aside from the usual symptoms of old age, she seems to be okay for now. I think, for reasons of her own, she is determined to stick around as long as possible. And my Lucy is nothing if not stubborn!

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    • I think anyone who has had to make that difficult decision understands what an emotional time it is. I know what’s coming, but I’m glad we got a reprieve. I’m sorry that you had to go through the same thing with your cats!

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    • Yes, it is so hard when we do have to make that final decision. Meanwhile, we just cherish the time we have. And know that when the time comes, we’ll do the right thing, because our beloved pets are counting on us for that.

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  6. This is such a bitter sweet time for a dog owner. I suspect you’re cherishing the days you have with Lucy. Nothing else to say but I’m thinking of you.

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    • Exactly! That’s why I wanted the vet to check her, to make sure she wasn’t suffering in a way I could no longer see. When she is suffering, I’ll make that decision to end it. Until then, we just enjoy having her with us!

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      • Aw 🙂 I hope she lasts and lasts without any suffering. By the way, for some reason known only to the God of French bulldogs, I have fallen in love with Frenchies. I almost talked myself into looking into that possibility, but your post reminded me a Frenchie would go the way of all (pet) flesh, too. I think I’m too scared of any more sorrow to love anything else, but I truly rejoice that others are not.

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        • It’s a personal decision, and I do have one friend who mourned so deeply when her beloved dog died that she’s never had the nerve to get another. But for me, the pain of losing them is simply the price we pay for the joy of sharing our lives with a dog. That’s a decision that each of us have to make for ourselves, I think. There’s no right or wrong!

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  7. Yes, “Gift Stage”. I’m a dog lover, always have been. My pals have been family as long as I have been alive. It’s tough during the gift stage. I like to remember how different their lives would’ve been in the streets or a kill shelter if they hadn’t found a good home. You make a huge difference each and every day in her life. Maybe she sees you as the gift.

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    • Thank you for that thought, the idea that she might see us as a gift is actually very comforting. And yes, when I have had to make the decision to euthanize a family pet, I always remind myself that they lived a good life with us, much longer than they would have otherwise, and that animals tend to know when it is time to let go. And they are counting on us to end their suffering when needed. Meanwhile, I’m just enjoying the gift of these final days with Lucy. (I was eating pizza tonight, and she was right at the table, begging for what she considers to be her fair share!)

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  8. Years ago, I had to have a beloved family dog put down. Being the man and the dad and all that, it fell to me to take Josie to the vet. I was strong. I did my best – but when it came time to write the check for the service, I literally could not hold the pen.

    Here is where the hard part came in.

    I asked if I could walk around the block to steady my nerves. No, they said, not without your dog. 😦 Next, after finally writing out the check, I was told that I would have to leave her there and they would do the deed at the end of the day.

    So I left. I have never had such a hard time walking out a door. I have never gone to that vet again either and I would encourage anyone who has to go through that to ask their vet what the procedure is.

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    • Oh, Greg, I’m so sorry you were put through that! I can’t believe how insensitive they were!!! It’s never easy to put down a beloved pet, even when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are doing the right thing. When we had to euthanize our Sandy (16 years old and in heart failure) two years ago, they let us take all the time we needed with her before they did it, we held her as they gave her the shot, and they left us with her afterwards for as long as we wanted, alone. When I left the room in tears and approached the counter to pay the bill (as usual), I was told that the policy was to mail the bill so that I didn’t need to deal with it now. That’s how a good vet handles it. What happened to you borders on emotional abuse, for both you and your dog.

      But I’m glad you shared your story, because you raise an excellent point: check the policy first, rather than assume it’s a humane one. Even though it should always be humane!

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  9. Making this decision on behalf of our beloved dog was one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make. Lucy will let you know when it’s time but for now it sounds like she’d like to hang around with her loved ones a bit longer.

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    • Yes, that’s the message she is sending. Her body is slowly failing, but her spirit is strong and she is clearly not quite ready to go. I know that difficult time is coming, but we dodged the bullet this time!

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    • She is very resilient! And you’re right about their desire to survive, especially if they sense that’s what we want. Honestly, that’s why I had the vet examine her. I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t suffering and just powering through it. But I do think that when she’s ready, she’ll let us know. Thanks for the comment!

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  10. Such a lovely heartwarming post! We just lost our old dog Teddy (15) who waited for our return from a trip and then after greeting us happily two days later, stopped eating. We spent the wee hours of the morning with her in her final hours until the clinic opened. Just before she was going to get an anaesthetic and it’s a Buddhist country and they won’t do euthanasia (per se) she died in Ben’s arms. We were expecting it as a natural life event but even so it was sad and hard and emotional of course. Love the photo of Lucy, she is a treasure!

    Peta

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    • Oh, Peta, that must have been so sad! But it does seem as if Teddy died on her own terms and in her own time, and I hope that offered some comfort in your grief. Our pets are part of our family, and they leave such a hole in our lives when they die. But the joy they bring us during their lives is so worth the grief!

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    • Yes, aging is hard on all of us, two-footed and four-footed! But so far she is handling the issues with grace and seems to want to stick around. She has a very strong personality, so that really shouldn’t surprise me. And we love her very much, and I like to think that helps!

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  11. Oh, I was expecting the worse whilst reading most of this, and know full well what a terrible wrench it is to lose one’s beloved dog — a family member, as I’m sure Lucy is to you. A beautifully crafted piece, Ann, and worthy of the beautiful subject of its content. All best wishes to you both, Hariod.

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  12. Looks like a lot of us here really related to the “Gift Stage” idea. I love dogs as well and sometimes think that owning them is not worth the pain when it comes time to let them go. But I keep getting them anyway! I too was bracing myself for the worst but I’m really glad to read that Lucy is still with you. Every day with her really is a gift.

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    • Thanks, Des! It is so hard when we have to let go of our dogs, but I do think that the joy and love they give us while they are with us makes up for it. I think that’s the reason we keep getting another dog, no matter how much our hearts are broken when we say goodbye….

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  13. So glad Lucy is well again. It’s a real worry when our pets become sick or elderly. My Mum’s tabby cat had a kidney condition and wasn’t expected to live her full lifespan. She had lots of treatment throughout her life with us. We had lots of scares with her too, but we didn’t lose her until she was twenty-one-years-old. We were all so upset when she died, but equally relieved that she didn’t suffer in the end. We do, understandably, get so attached to our pets too, and we can feel their loss when it’s their time, as acutely as the loss of a relative. I think you’re right to look at her very golden years as gifts.

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    • Sounds as if you know exactly what we’re going through! I’m glad your mom’s cat lived such a long life and that she didn’t suffer when her time came. We never thought we’d have Lucy with us this long either, so that makes it easy to see these days as a gift. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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  14. Lucy’s so beautiful and clearly she’s not ready to go yet. She loves living with you too much. 💕
    My sister adopted mum’s cat after mum died and, after a few similar episodes to yours, is still going strong at 21 years. They have their own agenda.

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    • Thanks, Miriam! They absolutely have their own agenda. As I was saying to a friend this morning, Lucy has lived life totally on her own terms, so what made me think she wasn’t going to die on her own terms, don’t ask me. She’ll go when she’s ready. And she’ll let me know when she’s ready. Meanwhile, I just count every day with her as a gift!

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  15. Ann,
    I think your Lucy has spirit.
    My Labrador Chelsea used to pretend she was so sick.
    I’d come from work and sit on the floor next to her and feed her, she’d eat then.
    She’d pretend to not breathe and I’d panic and shake her. A few times I catch her in the act, faking it.
    The children thought it was hilarious the way she faked it for attention.
    Privately, I thought she spent too much time with my mother…. thankfully my mother won’t see this as she never gets near a computer!

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    • That’s so funny! Your Chelsea was a very clever and resourceful dog! I’ve never heard of a dog faking sickness before, although my dogs have “pretended” to need a bathroom break, just so they can get a treat when they come back in. (I know this from watching them out the window after I let them out. They walked down the porch steps, then turned around and walked right back up again.)

      The vet has assured me Lucy’s health issues are real, but I have to say, if it would have occurred to her that faking an illness got her better food, she absolutely would have done it. Thanks for the comment!

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