Sunday, January 30, 2011

At age 15, our Molly's time had come

By David Horst
Molly waits for a butterfly.
Outdoor writers are famous for doing stories about their faithful hunting dogs, particularly when they lose them. 
Our Molly was more of a gatherer than a hunter. She gave the squirrels on the birdfeeders a run for their sunflower seeds in her younger years. More recently, pheasants passing through the yard had less to fear from her than did the tomatoes in the garden. I called her our fruit bat dog for her love of fruit and veggies.
We said good-bye to Molly this past week after more than 15 years of her being a part of our lives. Her legs had betrayed her. She could no longer chase, or even get up on her own. For three long days and longer nights, she struggled to walk with us holding her up and, finally, could not even stand.
Molly was a Fox Valley Humane Association dog – part lab and part collie. They called her Dusty for a feathery outer coat of white that dusted her black fur in puppyhood. She was much more of a Molly.
As we waited with her in the lobby of the shelter after a get-acquainted walk, “Dusty” padded over to a woman’s purse left under the chair next to us and extracted the wallet. What more getting acquainted do you need than that?
The good dog Molly became made us forget the early habits of jumping up – really leaping up – on people and eating that which she herself had deposited in the yard.
She walked off leash and responded faithfully – though sometimes with visible dissention – to a call of “Molly, come.” She loved to walk in the woods with us, but always preferred to take her own, slightly altered path.
Nothing beat walking in the snow, even though tightly packed snowballs would build up in the long hair between her pads. We tried booties, like the kind sled dogs wear. That required a second walk in the woods to recover the dislodged footwear.
Her ears definitely got the lab genetics. Infections were a lifelong battle. The arthritis would come much later, overpowering glucosamine and then prescription anti-inflammatories.
Molly was a good camper and liked car rides, though her stomach was too queasy to handle curvy country roads or tickle-belly hills.
She loved people and had a way of flicking her nose under your hand to position it just right for an ear scratching.
Looking into her warm, brown eyes you could see the soul of a gentle dog.
She wasn’t a barker. If the clock slipped a few minutes past 6 p.m. without her dinner being served, she would issue a well spaced “woof … woof … woof.” She would stare a hole into your forehead if you were about to forget the household tradition of giving the dog the last bite of a meal.
Now she could only manage a meek whimper to ask us to help her avoid the indignity of messing in the house.
In his book “Merle’s Door,” author Ted Kerasote quotes his vet’s caution that “euthanasia is forever,” as he struggled with the emotion-laced dilemma that comes with a dog’s decline.
We weighed that against Molly’s dwindling quality of life and pure speculation about how much she was suffering. Dogs still have enough of their wild ancestors in them to know not to show pain.
Her legs clearly were not going to get better. But those eyes.
Even in the middle of the night when her breathing labored and her eyelids narrowed to slits and I was certain death was about to take her, she would perk up and in those eyes I would see our dog again. It made it difficult to admit the obvious.
She had stopped eating and drank only what we squirted into mouth. Finally we gave in to the reality that her choices were slow starvation or euthanasia. Her vet was kind enough to come to our house to administer the shot. She died quietly with us comforting her.
I can’t offer you any advice on how to settle this question with your own dog. We asked ourselves a thousand times in those final days, “How do you know when it’s time?”
The fact is, you don’t. Even when, clearly, there will be no recovery and there is no quality of life left, you will still harbor a small degree of doubt that makes you want to cry out, “No, stop!” even as permanent sleep overtakes your beloved pet.
When was it time? Some of you are thinking it was damn sure sooner than after three days of immobility. Others are faulting us for calling the vet at all.
You can’t know the right answer. You can only make the decision out of respect and love.

1 comment:

  1. I give you such great credit. What you did with Molly was a very generous thing. A long time ago, my best friend and bed mate, Brownie(my dog), had cancer in her head at the top of her nose. The vet did tests and had special food, but Brownie still suffered. As you said, the eyes were still there trusting and knowing. But her body was betrying her. I couldn't get up the heart to take her to the vet for 'that final sleep', but my Dad did. Even though it's been over 30 years now, my heart still feels the loss. You did the right thing. Molly will always be a part of you. You gave her a great life and that's all we crave.
    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Mary Green
    Sturgeon Bay, WI