Before we had our daughter, our house, and even before we were married we had our Beagle, Gabby. Our love for the outdoors had us taking Gabby everywhere we went. We took her camping, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and to her favorite place, the Oregon Coast. She could dig in the sand and play fetch in the ocean for hours; she loved that place! Two days ago we took her to the vet. Two days ago we signed the form giving consent for Gabby to be given a lethal dose of barbiturates to end her life. Gabby is dead.
Having a sick or injured animal put to sleep is humane. It is the logical thing to do and we should not feel bad for relieving an animal’s suffering. Yet, I feel so guilty for having our dog put down. I thought it would be easy, but that’s not the case. I have found it way harder to deal with than I would have thought. I now understand the pain that others go through when they put their beloved animals to sleep. Before, I would dismiss it with a simple condolence, but now I understand. Gabby wasn’t just an animal, she was a member of our family. She was like our first child.
Quality of Life
When we first decided to go travel for a couple of years, it was planned that Gabby would not be going with us. She was around 8 or 9 at that time and we assumed she would be at the end of her life span by the time we left and she would have already passed from old age. It sounded like such a easy plan. We would wake up one morning to find that Gabby had passed away peacefully in her sleep. But in the off chance that she was to be one of those Beagles that live an extra long life, we would find a caretaker for her while we traveled. But sometimes things don’t go as planned.
Over the past few years Gabby developed typical age related problems. She had arthritis, her vision decreased, and she became mostly deaf. Even though she was slower she still enjoyed going on trips to the coast, camping, and hiking. But over the last year she spent most of the time sleeping and stopped greeting us as we came home. Just 3 months ago she became incontinent and developed a bad cough. We took her to the vet and they ran a set of really expensive tests and x-rays and concluded that Gabby had a heart murmur, an enlarged heart, and pneumonia. The veterinarian prescribed medication to help her heart pump better, a diuretic to rid her lungs of the excess fluid, and antibiotics to fight the pneumonia. It seemed to help for awhile even though the heart medication made her really drowsy and she could barely get up in the morning. We used a baby gate to keep her in the kitchen during the day and night for the incontinence, and this seemed to work really well. But her heart problems were causing a fluid build-up in her lungs again and her cough became increasingly worse, often making her gag. The medication was increased, but she continued to get worse every day. She would pace at night coughing and gagging and look at us like she wanted us to make the discomfort stop. She was suffering and we knew that we might need to put her down, but neither Kerri nor I could do it. So, we waited for Gabby to miraculously get better, but she only got worse. This past week we knew it was time and I called the vet and made an appointment for Saturday at 10:30am.
Gabby’s Last Night with Us
It’s a weird having an appointment in which a family member is to die. But this also gave us time to say our goodbyes. For Gabby’s last night with us Sydney and I gave her a bath and a good dinner of canned gourmet dog food. We then placed her on the couch with a blanket and Sydney read her the book, “Walter the Farting Dog.”
Our Dog is a Faker
We awoke Saturday morning to the sound of Gabby coughing and gagging and a house full of large pee puddles and a pile of poo, which Kerri found the hard way by stepping in it. It seemed Gabby decided to leave us a gift. I gave Gabby another bowl of canned dog food, her last meal, and she looked very happy to get such a great treat two times in a row. We took Gabby for a short walk down the street and she coughed and gasped for air the whole way. Gabby was loaded into the car and we drove towards Sydney’s art class where she would spend the next couple of hours. We left a back window rolled down so Gabby could stick her head out and enjoy her last ride in style. Before getting out of the car Sydney gave Gabby one last long hug, and then went quietly inside the building towards her class. Kerri and I drove towards the vet clinic listening to Gabby cough and gag in the backseat and knew we had to go through with this. She was suffering. Just before pulling into the parking lot of the vet clinic the radio started playing Elton John’s “A Funeral for a Friend.” I am not making this up!
We walked Gabby into the vet clinic while she coughed hoarsely and gagged and they led us to an examination room. A vet tech came in and asked us what was wrong with Gabby and wrote everything down. The tech left the room and as we waited for the veterinarian we gave Gabby a good back scratching and told her how much we loved her. She looked like a very happy dog. The veterinarian came into the room and looked down at our happy dog and looked kind of puzzled as to why we wanted to put her down. Gabby was no longer coughing or gagging and looked old and gray, but healthy. The vet said she had to advocate for the animal and listened to us tell all about how sick our dog was and how we wanted to end her suffering, yet, Gabby continued to look healthy and happy and I don’t think the vet believed us. We felt very odd trying to advocate for our dog’s death and could not figure out of all times for Gabby to stop coughing and gagging and looking sick she chose now. The vet examined Gabby and then agreed that her lungs sounded terrible and were full of fluid. She explained the procedure for euthanizing Gabby and we signed the form and chose to have her body cremated and paid with a credit card. It seemed so surreal.
The first step in the procedure was to take Gabby in the back and give her a sedative so they can put an IV line in a vein for the lethal injection. As the vet attached the leash to Gabby she started coughing hoarsely again and the vet looked at us like she finally believed us about how bad she has gotten. I have since learned that as a defense mechanism in the wild, dogs will hide their pain and suffering so as not to look weak. After about 5 minutes they came back to the room carrying Gabby and spread out a blanket on the examination table and laid Gabby down on it. The vet told us to spend as much time as we wanted with her and to poke our head out when we were ready. We had expected Gabby to be coherent, but she was completely sedated and breathing quickly trying to get enough air into her liquid filled lungs. This was the point where we could have changed our minds, but we were seeing how bad she really was and how much of a struggle it had been for her to breathe. Even if we did change our minds she would continue to suffer until she finally died a painful death, or we would have to return to the vet clinic to go through this all over again. We took off her harness and then spent a few minutes petting her and telling her how great of a dog she is. When it was time I poked my head out the door and nodded to the vet. The vet came back into the room and laid two syringes on the table; one large one full of a pink liquid and one small one with a clear liquid. She asked us if we were ready and after saying we were she told us to pet Gabby so she knew we were there with her. As Gabby gasped for air the vet grabbed the large syringe and inserted it into the PICC line and pulled back on the plunger to see if the IV line was still in the vein and then started to slowly push the pink liquid into Gabby. She picked up the second syringe and injected it and Gabby’s rapid breathing slowed quickly and then stopped all together after just a few seconds. It was probably just my imagination but I swear I could feel Gabby’s soul, life-force, or whatever you want to call it leave her body and pass through the room. The vet used her stethoscope as we continued petting her and confirmed that Gabby was dead. The vet told us that we had made the right decision and that we could spend as much time as we wanted with her and to leave whenever we wished and they would handle the body. After spending a few minutes saying our goodbyes we picked up the leash and harness and made our way quickly across the waiting room filled with people and pets and out to the car.
We Miss our Dog
After 14 years of life with Gabby our house seems empty without her. When we returned home from the vet clinic we put away her food bowl and threw away her bedding. I tried to explain to Sydney about how peacefully Gabby had died, but she kept screaming at me, “I know” and then stomped out of the room. I guess that is how a 7-year old deals with loss. Kerri and I dealt with the loss by taking a break from doing house projects and went through all of our old photos looking for photos of Gabby and remembering all of the great times we had had together. We have compiled some of the photos we found into a slideshow as a tribute to our fine dog. You will be missed, Gabby!