Thursday, October 21, 2010

What are we going to do about Carly?

Carly is a people dog. When I work in my study, she lies patiently in the doorway. When I go downstairs to start supper, she follows me down. If we aren’t in the house, she lies next to the sofa awaiting our return.

Although we live on a farm, Carly really isn’t a farm dog. She certainly enjoys farm life when we leave the barnyard gate open. She slips in to eat sheep poop and scavenge the compost pile. She barks protectively when a strange car comes down the driveway, and used to enthusiastically chase squirrels. We noticed this summer that Carly wasn’t able to keep the squirrel population under control. They got all our sweet corn and nibbled almost every single squash. I know Carly would really love to chase squirrels, but this summer, her breathing didn’t allow it.

In the last two months, it has gotten worse. Even when she lies perfectly still she takes loud painful sounding inhalations and exhalations. Night times are the worst. She breathes heavily, stridorously, and then seems to stop. Seconds later, the stridor begins again. We’ve wakened half a dozen times now to her panicked movements as she wakes from an apneic spell and tries to control her body enough to rise or run away. I get up in the dark and snuggle her, stroke her head, murmur platitudes. When she calms, I return to bed, sure she’ll be dead by morning.

Carly is thirteen or fourteen years old, ancient for a Rottweiler. We took her to our vet and explained that we’d like to ease her discomfort, but not do anything heroic. Dr. Weckwerth put her on prednisolone and for a month she seemed a little better.

But now, her breathing is bad during the day too. It seems rational to have her euthanized, but when she settles beside me at meals quietly waiting for the intermittent rewards we’ve used to train her to sit quietly beside us at meals, she seems content. When she tracks me in the kitchen, hoping for a dropped tidbit, she seems herself. When she eagerly joins us for a walk, short tail wagging, she seems fine.

How can we take an alert, content dog to the vet to be euthanized?

Part of the problem is that Carly is an anxious dog. She came to us twelve years ago, in the middle of a blizzard, starving and afraid. Afraid of loud noises, raised arms, squeaky drawers, and new situations. Afraid she wouldn’t get enough to eat.

Over the years, we’ve reassured her, taught her to trust people, and to relax in her home even when it is full of activity and people. For a long time we kept her on a leash when we had company. She now runs loose even on fiber days, enjoying the activity, the crowds and the spilled plates of food.

As her breathing has worsened, so has her anxiety. She paces beside the bed as soon as Dave or I whisper in the morning. She follows us frantically around the kitchen, hoping we’ll feed her. She pants continuously, pausing only to lick nervously.

You can’t euthanize a dog because she licks her paws and pants, so Dave and I are learning to dial down our responses to Carly’s anxiety. Besides, our irritation just makes her more anxious.

But the day is coming when we’ll clip on her leash and lead her to the vet’s office. That will be the day when our estimate of her discomfort exceeds our grief at her loss. Until then we try to appreciate Carly for what she is and set aside our discomfort at the idea of euthanasia. Then we can make the decision to have Carly put to sleep. I know that’s not the proper word. I know I should say euthanize or put down. But that’s not what I want for Carly. I just want her to go to sleep, one last time.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, especially, ".....when her discomfort exceeds our grief"