Chaos in Print

I hate making tough decisions, especially those concerning life and death. Who am I to judge? Who am I to decide? How can I possibly make a decision of such weight and magnitude? I know, it becomes a question of quality of life and all that. Does she really have a good life here? Am I really sending her to a better place? I don’t know.

My dog is eighteen years old. That’s like 95 in dog years. Her body is covered with these tiny growths. Last time we were at the vet, he said they were cancerous. The worst one is on her right eyelid. She constantly scratches it, turning her eyelid into one bloody mess. Naturally, the constant scratching and blood have turned her right eye into one pus-crusted mess. Not that it really matters, as she’s virtually blind. Deaf, too. There was a time when she’d run and cower from the slightest hint of thunder. Now, she sleeps soundly through the most violent storms. She’s all skin and bones; incapable of keeping any weight. Plus, she’s incontinent. If she sleeps in the same place for more than half an hour, we need to break out the paper towels because there’s a big wet spot when she moves.

And now, at 6 o’clock this morning, things took an even more tragic turn. I was awakened to the sound of dog yelping in pain. She was sleeping right outside my door, as she always does. She was lying on the ground with her hind legs in an unnatural position, and despite all her efforts, she just couldn’t stand up. After watching her struggle for 20 minutes, I finally helped her up and up the stairs. It’s now 2 in the afternoon, and she’s more like her old self, but we can’t help but wonder what happened this morning. Mom speculates that the dog had a seizure.

Talk of putting her to sleep has turned serious.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been faced with this decision. I went through the same thing about five years ago with my cat. Although, I will admit, that was an easier decision. One evening, my cat just started acting odd. He curled up in the corner, wouldn’t move at all, and constantly yowled in pain. Mom and Dad figured he wouldn’t last the night. But, the stubborn old cat did, so we took him to the vet the next morning. The diagnosis was grim. My cat’s kidneys had shut down. He was dying. The vet said we could either put him to sleep now, or his death would be slow and painful over the next few days. I burst into tears as I realized what the correct decision was. My cat came home that night in a burial shroud made from an old blanket the vet had. There was a humble service in the backyard, after which I went for a really long walk to clear my head.

But things are different with my dog. She doesn’t constantly yowl in pain, this morning’s incident notwithstanding. She still has a spark of energy. She can still run and jump and play. She still bounds and sprints around the house. Granted, some things have changed. A long time ago, when you grabbed the leash, she’d be there at the front door and ready to go. Now when you grab the leash, she runs and hides. It’s a much harder decision to make when she still has so much life in her.

My entire family is struggling with this decision. Eighteen years…she is, quite honestly, the pet we’ve had the longest. We got her when my sister came back from a friend’s birthday party. Her friend’s dog had just had puppies. My sister’s friend’s family invited us out one afternoon shortly after, we fell in love with the puppies, and wound up coming home with one. My brother had just finished reading The Call of the Wild, which is about a sled dog named Buck, so he figured Buck was a pretty good name for a dog. We all agreed and welcomed Buck into the family. We had her for about a year or two when we finally realized that he was a she. But still, she was stuck with the name Buck.

Eighteen years later. My brother and sister have moved out, and they are being consulted about what to do with Buck. Sister figures if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Brother is holding on a bit longer, though. It was always believed that Buck was “his” dog, so he’s having a bit of trouble letting go. When Mom and Dad first started making the suggestion, brother said that, if they do it, he’d never speak to them again. Of course, Mom has started telling people that I was the one who said that, but I don’t care. I think Mom is just grasping on to that as an excuse so she won’t have to make this tough decision, either.

But the immortal question is always this: why are we getting all worked up like this over a dog? I remember when the media posed this question. Shortly after the Americans did their regime change in Afghanistan, it was shown that even the animals in the Kabul Zoo fared badly under the Taliban. Charities all over the world were incredibly more successful at raising money to build a new habitat for the lions in the Kabul Zoo than they were at raising money to help out Afghani refugees. The whole world said “What the hell?” Sadly, though, that outrage didn’t turn into more dollars for the Afghanis. But the question was now out there: why do we humans care more about animals than we do our fellow people?

Theories abounded. It’s because they love us unconditionally. It’s because they’re so dependent on us; we develop a stronger attachment to them. They’re like children who never really grow up. Of course, no answer seemed appropriate. The human race just cares more for its pets that its own brothers and sisters.

All I know right now is that my dog’s time is drawing near. I don’t know if I can go through this again, especially with a pet that’s been with me for a significant portion of my life. She’s been such a big part of my life. I kind of wish this all happened while I was in Japan. It would have been easier if I were still on the other side of the world, with control so completely out of my hands. But now, she’s sleeping next to my feet as I write this.

I have a tough decision to make; one I feel I must. I just don’t know how to deal with it.

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