When Letting Go Is the Kindest Thing You Can Do
Ellie loved a good joke. One time, when we had just had a blizzard and it was nearly impossible to walk through the snowdrifts at the top of the hill behind our house, she simply lay down in the huge mounds of white powder and refused to budge. I started laughing when she wouldn’t come forward, which only made her dig in her heels all the more. She liked that she was making me laugh. On another occasion, she and I took a walk into town to return a video that I had rented at the local package store. It was a bitter wintry night, and when we arrived, who should already be there, sitting in the car and waiting to drive us home but my wife? “Good one, Mom!” the grin on Ellie’s face was saying.
So of course I panicked the day we had company over and Ellie tried to get out of her dog bed but couldn’t stand up. We knew she was getting weaker — she was approaching 16, after all, and I had been carrying her upstairs to bed for a few months as well as keeping her upright outside when she needed to relieve herself. But she had clearly reached a tipping point. Our friends who were visiting insisted that we take her to the emergency room, and the vet there confirmed our worst fears. Ellie, our first dog, our rescued love who fulfilled our need to be parents before our little human finally came along, was very, very sick. “I would support your decision to put her down,” the vet said. “She is suffering.”
We had probably already waited too long. Ellie was clearly miserable and was ready to be relieved of her pain once and for all. So we said our good-byes while the vet waited outside the exam room. Then she gave Ellie the injection that would let her body go, with us kissing and petting her and leaving afterward with aching hearts. We still ache for Ellie, in fact, as much as we love the dogs currently in our lives. You can never “replace” a dog. But to make her keep us company any longer than she already had would have been cruel. More on euthanasia, and how it’s usually a fact of life for dog owners (you no doubt have your own story to tell if you’re not caring for your first dog), on page 9.
Other topics in this issue: what bully sticks are really made of (if you say “ick” I won’t blame you); news about how a condition called laryngeal paralysis that affects dogs’ breathing is really part of a larger syndrome; whether tug-of-war is the right game for your dog; and an update on Sydney, a beautiful golden retriever with the canine version of Alzheimer’s who we introduced six months ago. All things considered, she’s doing remarkably well, even better, in certain ways, than before.