Fifteen years ago when we first opened the doors of The Promised Land Dachshund Sanctuary, blind, deaf, disabled, disfigured, ill, and old dogs were not valued in our society. More than once over the years we have been told that our special-needs and senior dogs would be better off if we had them put down. Their quality of life was not considered worthy of the efforts it took to care for them. Thankfully, that perception has changed and now special-needs and senior dogs are not only being adopted, but some of them have been elevated to a public persona that is adored. I run across people everyday that have dogs with some sort of disability, and those dogs hold a special place in the hearts and lives of their families.
What has not changed, however, is the point in all of our pets’ lives when we must consider the hardest choice any animal lover faces. As the care-giver at a sanctuary for senior and special-needs Dachshunds I have been asked many times over the years how we make the difficult decisions that must be faced when end of life issues arise. The answer to that question is very personal. Each dog lover must make those choices at some point, and that point varies for each individual.
At the sanctuary we face determinations of this nature more often than most people. For our own peace of mind we have set some standards that help us make those choices when our hearts are breaking. The first criteria we consider is pain. Managing pain in our dogs is much more sophisticated now than it was fifteen years ago. All of our dogs take pain meds after surgery and dental procedures. This is short term and the dogs benefit tremendously from proper pain management.
Last summer we cared for a four year old that suffered from bone cancer. He underwent three surgeries in seven weeks to remove aggressive tumors. His levels of pain were kept under the threshold until after the last surgery. The pain meds had been increased several times and his pain could still not be controlled. We made the hard choice to end his battle.
Patch is a fourteen year old that was born blind, but she has enjoyed an exceptional life. At six years of age she ruptured a disc in her back and had surgery to repair it. The recovery was long and at times painful, but Doc Jess did an excellent job of regulating Patch’s care and she recovered. Her pain was temporary. And her quality of life returned to a high level. Long-term outlook and short-term manageability were the deciding factors in both of these dogs lives.
The other criteria that we consider is nourishment. Many of our dogs eat special meals, or have to be fed in a special way. But they are getting what their body needs to thrive. I am not above trying lots of different ways to get calories in my dogs. The tell tail sign that we always dread, mostly in our seniors, is when we have tried and failed with our entire arsenal of special foods to get them to eat. When all medical possibilities are exhausted and they continue to refuse food, we make the hard choices.
Years ago I discussed these two standards with a well respected breeder of Dachshunds. She felt that we should add one more consideration to our policy. Her opinion was that when dogs can no longer do what makes them the happiest- digging in the yard, chasing a ball, wrestling with their friends, etc., that ending their lives is a service to them. I disagreed because our dogs derive great pleasure from their relationships with each other and with Rick and me. As humans we don’t give up on life when we can no longer run a marathon, or swim thirty laps in the pool. We teach others to do what we love, we watch others do what we love, and if we’re really determined we find new things to do that we love. I can no longer do cartwheels up and down the sidewalk, but I can enjoy watching my granddaughters doing cartwheels.
This morning after ten days of struggling with our fourteen year old Colton to get him to eat, we made the hard choice. We made the most important decision we have ever made for Colton, with the single exception of the decision we made to rescue him ten years ago. We nursed him through IVDD. We loved him through fear aggression. We taught him to love and respect the friends available to him here. We could not, and would not fail him this morning because our hearts were broken. RIP sweet Colton!