Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Good Life

I've been thinking a lot about mortality lately. Not so much my own, as in general. And that of one of my dogs. And that of one of my friends. It's been a rough week.

Although it may be the cliche of all cliches, hitting my forties has caused me to reevaluate all sorts of things in my life. Yes, ye olde mid-life crisis. (How can I be mid-life, when I still feel 25?--See? Cliche, cliche, cliche. Now if I could only figure out how to type the "e" so that there is the accent aigu over the "e" in cliche, I'd be set.) What makes a good life? And am I living it? A Good Life, the life I'm supposed to lead?

As for this week, well, among other things, I'm facing the fact that one of my dogs, who's around 14 years old, is probably going to die sooner rather than later. I've been avoiding thinking about it, except in the most fleeting way, for some time now.

She had been finding it hard to get around because of arthritis and seemed so sad. So the vet put her on some NSAIDS (yep, the same anti-inflammatory stuff they give human arthritis patients). A few doses of that (what I thought was a) miracle drug, and she was like a new dog. So much so that our other dog perceived her as a threat to her alpha status and attacked her a couple of times. That coupled with a lot more activity than usual, caused her to re-tear the cruciate ligament in one of her hind legs. It must be called the cruciate ligament because it causes excruciating pain when torn. (I know, I know, it's not. I imagine, without looking it up, that the two words share the same Latin root having to do with "cross"). She was hobbling around on three legs in the most pitiful way.

Now, NSAIDS have a tendency in dogs (I don't know about other animals) to cause liver damage, so after about a month I had her liver enzymes tested. They were sufficiently elevated above the normal baseline that we had to stop administering the NSAIDS. The effect was almost immediate. No longer cheery, she was stiff, slow--and just looked so sad. The vet started throwing around phrases like "quality of life." Reading between the lines was not too difficult; he was using vet-speak to prepare me for the rather sooner than later decision I would have to make about euthanasia.

I couldn't bear it. She was my first dog. And (don't laugh) my canine soul mate. You know how sometimes you just know upon first sight that some person, be it friend or more, is connected to you in an intense way? Well it can be the same way with pets. And so it was with me and my dog. She was a rescue, had been abused and trusted no one easily--especially men. Yet, when we saw each other it was as if she instantly knew she could trust me, and we understood each other. She had the deep, melancholic eyes of an old soul. Even more telling, she immediately liked my then-boyfriend, now husband. The only male, at first, she was not afraid of.

To this day, almost twelve years later, she still wants to be with me more than anyone, and gets agitated when I leave the house, often waiting by the door (or going outside and barking incessantly) for my return. Even if the house is full of other people.

Someday, I'll tell her story. She is an amazing dog. And with us she has had a very good life (although with the advent of my kids, she did not get the attention she once did). For now, I find myself unable to think about the time when she will no longer be a part of my life. On the one hand, I want her with me always, and on the other I do not want her to suffer unnecessarily. I will soon have to make an impossible choice---and I can't bear it.


AnswerGirl said...

Oh, Karen, what a tough thing -- nothing in the world is as good as a good dog. She's had a great life, and she trusts you to help her at the end.

Anonymous said...

I'm writing this with tears in my eyes. I have often thought about you all(and me) when that day comes. Mom