Monday, February 13, 2006

Droning On

Because obviously, I'm not sleeping, and obviously, it's Rosa that's on my mind, and what I could have done differently for her, maybe. This is the third time in my life that I have lost a very old pet, and the third time that I am second-guessing my decisions in regard to them.

The first one, almost 10 years ago, was my precious miniature poodle, Zorro. He was 16 years old. He was falling apart, and in his case, looking back, I KNOW for sure I should have had him humanely put to sleep weeks before I did. I was so selfish with that situation--I just didn't want to let him go, and it was really all about me, right up until the end, when he refused to eat even cooked chicken. He was practically begging me to let him die. I dug a grave (at night, in the rain, sobbing), and called my wonderful old cowboy horse vet, who agreed to stop by. I held Zorro in my arms, on our spot on the sofa, stroking and petting and talking to him, as the drug took effect and he slipped away. Even the salty "hoss doc" was choked up, and it was the only time in our years-long vet/client relationship he ever hugged me. I buried my best friend, and was suddenly all alone for the first time in my life. I called my sister at 2:00 am, and we bawled over it together. I cried for days, and dog-GONE it if I'm not crying now! I swore, after that, that I would do better the next time.

And then, this summer, my dear friend and Best Dog Ever, Cappy, was 14...a good, long life for a standard poodle. I knew he was a little achey, some days more than others, and I knew he had some degree of dementia, because there were times when he didn't seem to know quite where he was. The last time I took him to the vet, which was months before he died, she cried at his condition (he'd always been a favorite of hers), and told me that the time would be coming soon. To watch for loss of appetite, increasing pain, etc. I thought I was ready for this one, and when "the time" came, I'd be on the ball. Well, "the time" doesn't come with a flashing neon sign. One day, I'd see him barely able to stand up, and decide, "I must do it soon," and then the next day he'd be up, spry, barking (at things he couldn't see, but barking because Delta was barking), and wagging his tail, and he always had an excellent appetite, and still liked the top of his butt scratched, just above his tail. And then one morning, he was just gone. Took the decision out of my hands; ever the gentleman. And I have spent months debating inside my head, "Should I have done it myself? Could I have spared him some pain? Did his last weeks have any appreciable quality of life?" On this one, I just don't know.

And now, Rosa. For nearly a year, she'd been going downhill. She had all kinds of veterinary and farrier attention for her "sore feet" (that was the "official" diagnosis, believe it or not), to the tune of around $1,200 in the last several months. Bloodwork, x-rays, ultrasound, dental work, special worming programs, special senior feed and name it. I thought she was foundering, but diagnostics showed no sign of it. She was failing, but she just wouldn't die, and the doc didn't see any immediate need to put her down because the special shoes we had put on her (egg bars) did help her pain somewhat. She bore the miracle foal, and since he was about 4-5 months old, she had declined steadily, no matter what we did. She looked and felt worse every day, but again, when I would say to Alex, "I think it's time to end it for poor Rosa," the very next time I'd go out, she'd be bright-eyed, eating well, and neighing to me, and looking after that foal. We've been going over to the other house where the horses stayed until today and feeding after dark--because, well, it's winter--and while Alex saw Rosa Friday around noon, she did not come up to eat Friday night, nor did she come up on Saturday night. We were at the house Saturday during the day, but stayed inside working until time to leave, which is when we fed. No Rosa. That's when I knew we probably had a problem.

A caring friend who is also a neighbor called Alex and I just as we were leaving to head over and start moving horses yesterday. She said, "Do you know that your old mare is dead?" My heart sank, and I just said, "No, but I'm not surprised." We think she died sometime Friday night.

The guilt over this is immense. It feels like Rosa willed herself to live long enough to birth and nourish that colt to weaning age, come what may. I feel like I should have taken that decision away from her some weeks ago, because she was doing so poorly.

I wonder if I've learned anything, and if the next time one of my animal family needs me to make the hardest decision for them...will I step up to the task, or will I fail them, too? Have I failed these others? Will I act TOO soon next time, out of fear of repeating my mistakes?

The Townsend quote in the post below has always summed it up perfectly for me. In choosing this life, and sharing it with these creatures, I've chosen to bear witness to a lot of deaths if I myself live out a natural life.

I'm beginning to understand why my mother said, when Zorro died (he had been the family's dog, and just moved with me when I left home), "NO MORE." We thought she was kidding--how can you live without a poodle? But so far, she's held firm. A few years ago, when I brought over a new little puppy that reminded her of our first poodle, Jolie, she held him, smiled ruefully, and handed him back to me, saying, "He'll break your heart, you know."

Mom? I know. I really, really know.


  1. It is always so hard to know when it's the right time. You are in my thoughts:)

  2. there's always a lesson to be learned in everything that passes in this life. sometimes we get it and sometimes we just don't. i've been in your shoes more times than i care to admit and in the aftermath, i always ruminate over what i should and could have done differently. don't we always do that? isn't that what hindsight is all about? my heart goes out to you and hope you know that many empathically share your pain.

  3. I am so sorry to hear about your horse.
    Your mother has done what many of my friends have done after losing a pet, they can't take the heartache.

    You are a stronger woman than you give yourself credit for.

    As for the life and death decisions, I think God took it out of your hands, I wouldn't worry that you did anything wrong.

  4. I'm so sorry, it's so hard to lose a member of the family.

  5. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm glad you have the foal to remember her by. Whether we're parenting animals or people, we just do the best we can with knowledge we have at the time. I KNOW you're doing your best by these animal members of your family, and they know it too. That's good enough, honey.

  6. They do break your heart, BUT, it is the life that they led and the companionship that you provided one another that makes it all worth while.

  7. ah, gosh, belinda, so sorry for your loss. try to take some comfort in knowing what a good life Rosa had with you. i often think that people who permit themselves to love animals come to understand in a profound way about the fragility of life, and the importance of love. it could be argued that all three of the animals you talk about in this post loved you so much they just didn't want to say good-bye until they really had to go. that's an honor in its own right, and a tribute to your bond.

  8. What a beautiful and heartbreaking post. I cried for your losses. I have three beagles right now who are my life, and I worry often about that day.

    I'm sending some thoughts and positive energy your way.

  9. i'm sorry, b. really. i'm thinking hugs at you.

  10. Belinda: Lovely tributes. Reading them makes my chest get that clenched feeling wondering how long my 15 year old dog will last and rememebring going through exactly the same thing with our 19 year old cat in 2004. So sorry you've lost Rosa.

  11. Here's something to brighten your day from Rita Rudner: "I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult."

  12. Hi Belinda,
    I am sorry to hear about Rosa. What I would have given for our horse to die and not have to make that decision. In the past 2 years we have put down our old App/Quarter, Mingo, and our pony, Sugar, it was about a year apart for both of them.

    Mingo we called our miracle horse, having survived his coffin bones rotating and many serious colics, he just refused to give in when all was against him. He was almost 32 years old and had been failing for about a year. We kept putting it off, saying "He is looking good today". Finally a day came that he could not walk anymore and my dad brought home the injection and we put him down with all the family there crying our eyes out. He was my first horse, my sister's second horse, my dad's trail horse, and my niece's babysitter. You never forget them and cry when you talk about them, but they leave an imprint on your life and heart that I think is good to have. You love them while you have them and remember them forever.

    When Sugar was diagnosed the following year with a ruptured heart valve and was having a hard time breathing, my mother would not let us wait until the very end with her. She felt so bad letting Mingo wait that we put Sugar down before the end came. I still am crying when I write this. You move on, but they will always be with you. I understand what you are going through and we never know when the right time is because they can't tell us. We just try to do the best we can by them and let them know that they are loved.

    Remember all the good times that you had with her and let yourself cry, it is good for your heart.

  13. HUGS!
    Your pets have the fortune of leading wonderful lives with loving care, fwiw.

  14. Belinda-I'm so sorry for your loss. You care so deeply for your animals; they are lucky to have you. Please be good to yourself.

  15. Oh, I am sorry. That is so hard.

    My heart broke when our dog of 16 years vanished without a trace. It was so strange. She never left the yard, then one morning was gone. We think she wandered off to die in peace. We frantically looked for her for months and never found a trace. The kids made up a story about how she got lost, and someone took her in and now she sleeps next to their fireplace and such. When we pass through our old neigborhood, they look for her in windows and talk about what she is doing now. It is sad, but precious.

  16. You know what honey -- I couldn't actually read your post because I realized about a paragraph in that it would put me in tears. I will tell you, however, that we always tend to second guess ourselves -- it's the nature of the beast - that beast = human. It's like anything else in life -- we do our best at the time, and if it turns out badly, we learn from that. I would love it if a book would drop out of the sky with special "Jessica instructions", but alas, it hasn't happened thus far, and I'm 39. So I struggle along and try to learn from my mistakes and what other people have to say, and that is just the damned best I can do! So, again, I didn't read the post, because I already have the flu, and more congestion from sobbing is just not in my lexicon tonight, but -- I'm sure you made the right decision in each instance. Animals are precious and part of our families, and of course, we would never do anything to hurt them. Actually, they would probably say, "Mom -- I'm so done -- could ya just let me go?" and we could legally do that, as opposed to with grandparents. Dying when we (animals included) want to is a huge hot button. I for one plan to keep doing my best. I don't have the courage to help a human, but I can sure as hell help an animal.

  17. Wow...your post brought me back to the day at the UF Vet school when they said the best thing they could do for Louise, our rabbit, was put her to sleep. I am actually getting teary right now thinking about it.

    Don't tell anyone. It would be bad for my image.

    I am going to go hug my other rabbits right now.

  18. OMG, Belinda. I didn't get by yesterday and didn't see your post about Rose.

    I'm so very sorry and this made me cry. My little Rat Dog is at least 14 and I'm so glad I'm under-employed and without health insurance, because I get to spend lots of time with her instead of stuck at some soul-sucking job.

    She's still very spry but I know what you've faced with your babies is coming.

    I'm so very sorry about Rose, but I think if an animal wants to live, it will. Rose wanted to live. She was happy until the very end of her days.

    And you "did good" by her. God loves all his critters and those who take good care of them.


  19. I've had the same misgivings about every time that I've loved so much it hurt. I thought about not getting married or having babies because I was such a mess when I had to put down the family Siamese that I thought it would be better to just cut myself off from the potential for pain. But it's not. The pain now is a reminder of the joy then--it only hurts because there was so much joy before. The love stays with you and is Rosa--and Cappy's and Zorro's--legacy.

    And trust me when I tell you that after working with rescue horses for a couple of years, we'd give our eyeteeth if the people we dealt with loved and cared for their horses one QUARTER as much as you do.

    Be good to yourself. You were good to Rosa and Zorro and Cappy, and they want you to know it.

  20. We just got a dog from the SPCA and your post is a good reminder to appreciate her while she's here.

    I'm sure I don't know what I'm talking about, but something feels right/natural in your animals being able to live out the fullness of their days. It doesn't sound like you were cruel, neglectful, or indifferent at all.

    I know there's nothing that can be said in the face of loss, but thank you for your honesty in the midst of your pain.

  21. I'm really sorry belinda - really.