For the last 6 months, we have been watching and waiting. Our canine family members are all aging and it has been a bittersweet process watching the changes that age brings. These days, we affectionately refer to our pack as the “gray and cloudy gang”. This is in reference to their hazy eyes and gray muzzles, as these are some of the most obvious outward signs of the aging process.
In addition, Dr. Saria has been helping us to monitor the internal signs and symptoms that are of concern. In particular, we had been watching Pritzy, our female lab mix. She had been battling with chronic wound management for quite some time due to a lesion on her paw that just wouldn’t heal.
Diagnostic tests, including blood work and a bone marrow biopsy, told us that her red blood cell count was low and her immune system compromised.
These didn’t seem to hold her back – until about two weeks ago. Normally an exuberant dog, she started sleeping through much of the day. That Sunday evening, we were up with her throughout the night as she vomited up her dinner and had a very uncomfortable night. Pepcid and Tums didn’t seem to help and she continued to retch up her meals over the subsequent days. We then tried an inject-able medication to control nausea, to no avail. Our poor girl was clearly uncomfortable and miserable and we came to the decision that all of us dread. It was time to discuss euthanasia.
Our previous experiences with euthanasia had all been in a veterinary hospital. All have been compassionate and professional, but there was a catch. I always understood that there is a certain level of anxiety and stress that our pets associated with visiting the vet. I always felt a little guilty about this, even when I knew that we were making the right decision.
I hated that their last moments were full of anxiety because of the environment. For them, there were the stresses of other dogs barking, many people in the waiting room, unfamiliar smells and a team of doctors and vet techs running around trying to juggle the many patients who needed their care.
Pritzy’s passing was very different, and I’m so very grateful. We took Pritzy and our other dogs for a gentle walk around the neighborhood that morning. We sat and talked to her and gave her a gentle massage on the deck and grilled up some cheeseburgers.
She gulped those down with enthusiasm and looked for more in spite of her difficulty digesting food over the past few days. When Dr. Saria and Deryl arrived, she was resting on her own bed in the family room, gnawing on a marrow bone stuffed with peanut butter – another favorite. Pritzy knows Dr. Saria and Deryl well and showed no surprise or concern when they joined us. She hardly noticed the sedative that was given prior to the euthanasia.
We all reminisced about her many antics over the years and shed some tears as she continued to work on what would be her last bone. When the time came to administer the final medication, Pritzy was very relaxed and calm. She gently drifted to sleep in my arms, surrounded by the people who loved her. If there is any such thing as a good death, I have to believe this is it.
I am surrounded by a loving family and our animal companions are a big part of that. Dr. Saria has helped us to care for each of them over the past decade, through good times and bad, and has a personal relationship with each of our pets.
We are blessed to have her in our lives. Not only for the diagnostic and surgical skills that we so value and trust, but also for her loving support and spiritual connection with each of us. That loving care was never more evident than that beautiful summer morning when we said our goodbyes to the sweet lab who changed our lives.
Editors note: Susan Lydem is Dr. Saria’s assistant and has written for CtWatchdog before on pet issues.
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