Yesterday morning I had our family vet euthanize my dog, Wiggy. I say I, because while Mom and I both discussed it, and she was certainly involved in the entire process, I made the calls, I consulted the vet, and I made the final appointment. I say euthanize because I hate frilly and misdirecting euphemisms, and with my love of things Latin and Greek I find it both an elegant and accurate description of what happened. Doesn’t help the fact that it happened, though.

I’ve been wrestling with the concept for the last week or so, and I think it’s still a part of the covenant we’ve made with our pets. As we take them ever further from the wild in which death comes quickly for the old and weak, and we prolong their lives beyond that limit, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure that such lives remain at least comfortable if not as full as before. I believe that the same gift should be available to those humans who, being of sound mind, no longer wish their lives prolonged. It seems to be the appropriate consequence to accompany the advances of modern care. The difference between pet and human is the burden placed on the pet’s caretaker to make that choice.

When I was about 10 or so, our German Shepherd x Rhodesian Ridgeback mutt, Humie, had to be euthanized after his spine, weakened by years of epilepsy, snapped during a headlong race down the stairs after an intruding possum. He’d been my dog since I was 3, and was pretty mellow even as a puppy. I don’t have many very clear memories of Humie, but I remember him always being a really – really – good dog. For him, euthanasia was a relief from a night of pain and immobility. There was no question that it had to be done.

Then, several weeks later, I picked out Wiggy from the litter at the Humane Society. My friend’s mom, a dog trainer, had recommended that we choose a mellow puppy. Wiggy was mellow at the time … I suppose he’d just worn himself out playing and lay down for a nap right about the time we arrived.

From that afternoon on, Wiggy was a good-natured although stubborn and rambunctious member of the family. I’d wrestle him to the floor regularly, which turned out to be a good thing as far as him considering me to be above him in the pack hierarchy. Lest there be any doubt, he was a big dog. Black Lab x Airedale cross, we think. At maturity, he was a good 90 pounds and not inclined to accept limitations, if you catch my drift.

Wiggy also fancied himself the protector and enforcer of the household equilibrium. If the cats were out after dark, he’d bark or whine until we brought them in. He’d get anxious every time I brought the rabbits out of their cages. I remember one instance when he was about 2 years old and I had a dwarf hamster who escaped while I was cleaning her cage. Wiggy managed to catch her between his paws and licked her until I retrieved her. Not one scratch or broken bone, just a bedraggled and bewildered little rodent.

He was also a most intimidating guard dog. If you came to our door, the first thing you’d see is a mobile mound of black and tan hair, jumping and barking its head off … until we opened the door and welcomed you inside. Pretty good, actually.

I also remember the antics my cousin Megan and I would get up to with the dogs. Casey, her tricolor Aussie mix, was a joyful bouncing puppy at every age. Wiggy and Casey got along quite well, so naturally Megan and I assumed that they should get married. I had a few Cayuga ducks, which are large greenish-black quackers. We made Emerald, the best-behaved of the drakes, wear a little Roman collar and got the dogs well groomed. Emerald quacked, the dogs barked, he quacked some more, and we celebrated with biscuits and bones. Later on, Megan filed for divorce on Casey’s behalf (I don’t remember the reasons), Wiggy settled with her out of court for something like 27 biscuits and 3 tennis balls, then while Mom and I were living at Grammy’s the two dogs got back together for a couple of years. Much like in Megan’s and my relationship, Casey was usually the instigator, with Wiggy happy to follow along and provide momentum to her mischief.

The last year or so has been hard, as far as pets go. Grammy’s dog Bonnie came to live with us after they moved, and her health deteriorated pretty steeply last spring and summer. Her death was less dignified but perhaps easier for us. She had never really been our dog. Wiggy, however, stayed alert and attached to us even when he grew unable to follow us around the house as was his wont. It got to the point this weekend where Wiggy, a conscientious and house-trained beast, couldn’t stand up or go outside. Exacerbated by the facts that his lungs weren’t operating at anywhere near full capacity, his bladder control had been shutting down, and his systems had been weakened by an infection over the last month, this latest development had left very little rambunctiousness or independence in my dog. I spent two nights on the couch downstairs next to him, and neither of us slept well.

I don’t feel that I made a bad decision. Wiggy’s last morning with us had him lying outside near our table as we fed him bits of our breakfast, with both Mom and me reaching down from time to time to scratch behind his ears. When our vet arrived, Wiggy had a fairly peaceful end. If it had happened in the office, his last minutes would have been frightening and stressful. If we had waited another week or two, wrestled him into the car for more tests and procedures, he might have lived longer but not well.

I’m not sorry I did it. I’ve just been arranging myself around the fact that it happened, and the fact that I made such a weighty decision. I don’t believe animals think the way we do, I don’t think they have the same sense of the future and past that we do, but I do believe they have the same dignity. When I consider the possibility of some kind of heaven, I believe animals would have the same right and access to it. I would rather release a pet to whatever exists next than prolong its life with disorienting, painful, or unsettling actions. There’s an act of faith involved – ours that we are doing the right thing, and theirs that we will do it. I hope I didn’t betray Wiggy’s trust, and I hope his death was as peaceful for him as it seemed to me.

~ by jackelopette on July 25, 2007.

%d bloggers like this: