By Kathy Genuardi, Client Relations Manager
An animal lover shares the final precious days with a beloved companion.
Lena was going to be 14 on June 9, 2005. She died one day after Valentine’s Day that year—not bad for a “pit bull.” During her lifetime, she had been pretty healthy. That fall and winter she seemed to tire easily, but she kept trudging along. She followed me through the snow to feed the birds. When I teased her that she was old and fat, she stepped up the pace, like the good dog she was. I didn’t know I’d only have her for a short while longer.
A difficult diagnosis
I brought Lena to the clinic on Feb. 4 because she had a tooth abscess. However, it wasn’t the tooth that worried her doctor. Dr. Rubin hadn’t seen Lena in a month or so and noticed a dramatic change in her appearance that I hadn’t recognized (or maybe didn’t want to) in the day-to-day. A chest X-ray confirmed her fears. Lena had advanced cancer that had spread to her lungs. A large mass was pressing on her trachea.
Faced with a choice
The cancer was inoperable and untreatable. I could euthanize Lena immediately or take her home and keep her comfortable—a hospice program. I was not ready to let go, and neither was Lena, so we went home with steroids to help ease her breathing.
Keeping a companion comfortable
Lena’s condition seemed to decline almost immediately. She began to gag from the mass pressing on her throat, so I gave her steroid injections once or twice a day to help open her airway a little more. Our walks were slower and shorter. At night, I slept in the living room, so I could comfort her and give her a shot if she needed it. If she had a hard time catching her breath, I would prop her up on a pile of pillows. I also used “wee wee pads” under her at night, because she couldn’t always hold her urine when she coughed.
On days when she didn’t feel like eating her regular dog food, I would cook her steak or hot dogs or buy her a roast chicken. The key was to feed her whenever she would eat. At this stage, it’s not about nutrition, it’s about calories. When she wouldn’t drink. I would give her fluids under her skin to keep her hydrated and comfortable.
When is it “time”?
On one of Lena’s bad days, she was at work with me so I could keep an eye on her. Someone came into the office and said, “You know what you have to do. She is suffering.” I resented that statement. I knew my dog best, and she was not ready to leave just yet. If you decide on hospice for your pet, you will hear these well-meaning statements from family, friends and strangers.
Every day her breathing got worse, and I agonized over making the decision. I would think it was time, and then she would have an OK night. That last night I knew—and so will you—that it was time. The steroids were no longer working, and she would not touch food or drink. That morning, I carried Lena into work and laid her on a blanket behind my desk. She liked coming to work with me, so to her it was a regular visit. She had no stress. She sat with me for a few hours, and then it was time. I took her into the quiet room and waited for Francie and Liz to come in and say goodbye, and then it was over.
Am I sorry I didn’t euthanize her immediately? Not at all. She had her ups and downs, but until the last 48 hours, she had more ups than downs. Death, like life, is a process we have to see through from beginning to end. That’s what hospice care really is—the final process of life: dying.