How Do You Know When it is Time?
(Woodacre’s Rowdy Boy MB-CDX, OAC, OGC, NJC, VCC, TT, CGC)
In November of 2006, I had to put to sleep one of my best friends of 15 years. For me, in the final year of Rowdy’s life, I was consumed throughout each day with the question: How do I know when it will be time? And I hated that.
For several years, from 1993 to 1999, I showed Rowdy throughout Northern California in agility, Frisbee, obedience and temperament testing. For over seven years, he was my only dog. We spent nights at training class in Santa Rosa and weekends at shows. That was our life, and we both loved it.
I stopped training and showing him when my life changed and I had to find work at nights and weekends. We had full Utility training, but had not shown yet. He had passed a herding instinct test, and showed great promise in that field. But it never happened because I made decisions for us in another direction.
All these regrets and memories came flooding back to me daily in the last year of Rowdy’s life. Had I given him all the opportunities possible to him, or had I cut short his career for my own desires?
I went back to his photo album from shows over the years to remember all the fun times, and all that we had accomplished. I wanted to think about those memories instead of what was occurring in front of me. I didn’t want to acknowledge that his body was giving out on him, though his mind was sharp as a pin. I wanted to remember all the agility runs and all the Frisbee throws.
In his last year, Rowdy’s health deteriorated very slowly. He became incontinent, and started to have difficulty standing and sitting, yet his will to keep going was extremely strong. I asked other friends who had dogs that had died what I should be looking for. How did I know when it was time to make that horrible final decision? I got as many different answers as there are dogs. Some said that the dog would tell you when it was time. Others said I would just know. I asked my vet who had treated Rowdy for several years, and she give me her professional opinion. Each day went by, and each time he peed or defecated inside, each time he fell over while standing, or slipped while climbing the concrete stairs to our second story apartment, and each time I woke up in the middle of the night to take him out, I asked myself, “Is it time?” The next day he would be fine, and I was grateful I could put off that decision for another day.
Regrettably, I found myself becoming angry that the decision was not being made for me. That somebody was not stepping in to resolve it for me. I wondered why the situation was not taking care of itself, which, of course, is not realistic. I began to remember as a child the times when a pet died, or suddenly was not there when I got back from school. My parents told me and my brothers and sisters a variety of stories like, “Susie went to go live on a farm.” Or “Belle went to go live with a friend of so and so.” Or “We let Charlie go in the creek near the park.” Or “Dad took care of it.” I never saw any pet die as a child. They just weren’t there anymore. I didn’t really comprehend until much later what actually happened. I never discussed it with my parents or anybody else, but each time I saw their pictures in an old photo album, I would think about what really happened, and how simple and clean it all seemed to be.
On a parallel story, my dad was dying from a ten-year plus battle with Alzheimer’s, and passed away in June of 2006. One of the things I remember during that time was how my response changed to friends’ and other family members’ questions about my dad’s condition. “My mom has somebody to watch him at home while she is gone.” “He is now in a nursing home.” “He is in the hospital with no life support. We are just waiting.” “His services are this week.” And then finally, you talk about him in the past tense, recalling old memories. I remember, while he was still alive, being afraid of what it would be like once we, as a family, finally got to the other side. What would that feel like?
I recalled these feelings when trying to comprehend Rowdy’s state of health. I had just spent the last fifteen years of my life with this dog. We were both a bit grayer and older. What would my life be like once he had passed over? I would have to talk about him in the past tense and state the date he died in the conversation. Since I live in an apartment complex, and go for walks all over the area, I would have explain to everybody I saw why Rowdy was no longer with me. And I would have to write this article.
I did feel guilty that his life was coming to a close, but my life was ahead of me. I still had another dog, Scout, and she was in great shape and, at ten years old, showing in Rally, Obedience and Conformation. His health was fading, but mine was excellent. We loved going for long walks and hikes and trips to the dog park, but he had difficulty keeping up. I had to start leaving him at home, which I really bothered both of us.
I had only shown one other dog prior to Rowdy, and that was to a CD (though I was very proud of that CD with that dog!) Since we had done so much showing and competing, would all those accomplishments just fade away and be forgotten? How could I keep our lives together in the present?
I have worked and volunteered in animal shelters, and I have performed and witnessed hundreds of euthanasias on healthy, sick, injured and aggressive pets and wildlife. Technically, I knew exactly what to expect when an animal is euthanized. I knew the process with Rowdy would be the same, but I knew that my feelings would be different since I had known this particular animal for fifteen years and shared so many experiences. (Note: One of the reasons I no longer work in shelters is because each animal I euthanized or assisted or witnessed felt like my own pet, and I formed too much of a bond with each animal.)
Finally, the day came in November of 2006 that I scheduled with my vet. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I still resented having to make the decision. How can one life take away another? I did not want that power. What if I am making a mistake? Where was that parent that would step in and make everything better and keep you innocent and shielded? But that was the responsibility I accepted when adopting Rowdy fifteen years ago from the shelter as a six month old puppy, and I was not going to let him down now.
One of the things I promised to Rowdy was that I would keep his life in the present for everybody to remember, so that is why I created this website with all his photos and a history of his life. I have also decided to go back and do this with other dogs I have had to prevent their lives from being forgotten. I hope you enjoy knowing Rowdy and other dogs I have had as much as I have.