Thursday, November 13, 2008

Farewell To A Friend

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

It’s always hard to lose a precious pet. It’s pretty much part of the deal we make with ourselves when we get them, and we spend their lives not thinking about the day they’ll be gone. I had to go through that (again) myself just two days ago.

My 15-year-old golden retriever, Sprocket, went to the proverbial Rainbow Bridge on Tuesday. He was my first foster dog for Retrieve A Golden of Minnesota in 1997. He was 4 years old at the time. When the family I’d chosen for him changed their minds at the last minute, I knew he was meant to stay with us, and he did, for 11 years.

Sprocket was a sweet, willing boy. He took the blue ribbon in his obedience class, and worked with me and his golden-brother, Ripley, as a Therapy Dog for several years. He loved our annual trip up north to a lakeside cabin, where he could ride in a boat, swim, fetch, and roll in the pine needles. He was a very agreeable dog, never wanted to make trouble or be in the way, and enjoyed the occasional sip from my wine glass. He was the tug-of-war champion of the world, and liked to sneak up on the other dogs when they were busy and “stealth sniff” them.

15 is really old for golden retrievers. Sprocket had always been a very healthy dog, aside from all the times he’d “accidentally” swallow bits of a toy, or a sock, or a wash cloth, get lots of x-rays and narrowly avoid exploratory surgery. His problem the last several years had been progressive loss of nerve and muscle function to his hind quarters.

I know that we were able to keep him for at least a couple of years longer than might have been expected, thanks to feeding him raw food, and providing him with great Standard Process whole food supplements, joint support, and herbal pain treatments. He benefitted from chiropractic care, acupuncture, and Healing Touch for Animals ™. But, ultimately, the progression of his condition could no longer be managed.

It was only in the past month or two that I had to resort to giving him prescription pain medications. I’m adamant about not giving any of my dogs unnecessary prescription drugs, and this includes antibiotics, steroids, and NSAIDs. While they might suppress a symptom, making the dog appear better, they can cause just as many problems as they alleviate.

He’d been just chugging along, declining slowly but hanging in there. Then, on Monday, I arrived home and found him sprawled spread-eagle on the kitchen floor, urine and stool around him, a sopping mess. He couldn’t get up on the slate floor. I got him up, and managed to get all 80 pounds of him into the tub to clean him up. (And then I broke down a bit.) When my husband got home, we spent a nice evening with him, baby-gated in the bedroom to keep the other dogs from disturbing us. He fed Sprocket pizza and M&Ms (not good, but at that point it hardly mattered). We knew that in the next several days we would have to make a very tough decision.

Never wanting to be a problem, Sprocket made the decision for us. The next morning, he couldn’t stand up at all. I hoisted him upright, but he didn’t have enough control of his rear legs to stay that way. So, it was time.

Afterwards, I was so grateful that I still have Brody (3 year old Great Pyrenees), Ozark (9 year old Pyr/Golden mix) and Darwin (4 year old golden). All the years I’ve worked in the veterinary business, I’ve worried about people with only one dog. How awful it must be to go home to an empty house, after saying goodbye to your only dog.

I even worry about the people with just two dogs. I feel sad for the “only dog” who is left. I’m definitely a “pack animal,” and insist that I’ll always have at least three dogs, though my husband thinks two might be better. We have three now, of course, and that’s a tiny pack for us. In the 12 ½ years we’ve been in this house, we’ve been “over the limit” of three dogs for all but March-November of 2007. We’ve had as many as seven at one time. I don’t think I could do that anymore, but I do love my three-dog pack. I just wish we were still “four.”

I’ve counseled people for years about how to know when it is time to say farewell to their pets. I know all the answers. I tell people to think of two or three things the pet loved more than anything, and whether they can still do/enjoy those things. Do the bad days outnumber the good ones? Is there any realistic expectation that he or she will see improvement in their condition? Finally, look deep into your heart and ask yourself if you’re keeping the pet alive for the pet’s sake, or your own.

Yes, I know the answers… except when I’m the one who has to answer them. Then, I struggle as much as any of you do.

Please keep my Sprocket in your thoughts, as he adjusts to his new existence, where all good dogs go. I’m sure he’s with my Ripley, who went ahead two years ago this month. Ripley took care of him in life, and will do so now. He’s also getting reacquainted with former pack-mates Porsche, Cricket, Flash, Gulliver, Seko and Ruxpin.

Friends keep telling me that Sprocket was lucky to have found us, and maybe that is true. But I know for sure that we were truly, truly fortunate to have found him, and to have had him for 11 wonderful years.

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