Last week, we had to make a very difficult decision in our household. Our beloved 12 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Ryker, had been struggling with a partially torn ligament in his hind leg for a few weeks and it wasn't getting better. After a few vet consults, it was determined that he was a perfect candidate for a new treatment called PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) injection since the ligament was only "partially torn". We scheduled his appointment to receive the treatment and took him to the doctor so his leg would feel better ASAP, after all, he had already been dealing with this for a month.
About a half an hour after dropping him off, we got a call from our vet who was going to do the treatment. It wasn't good news. Long story short, it was suspected that Ryker had bone cancer. Of course, we did the test to be sure... I mean, what if they were wrong... but I knew in my heart that our vet knows what he's doing and I suspect he's rarely mistaken. We were looking for peace of mind or at least some type of reassurance that whatever was causing his discomfort wasn't fixable. It wasn't. And Ryker, although very stoic, was in pain.
Many of you reading this entry have gone through something similar. THE toughest decision in pet ownership. If you haven't gone through it but have a furry family member, you're likely to go through it at some point. I look at it this way.... it's the ONLY thing that your pet ever asks of you. When it's time and they are suffering or uncomfortable (or will about to be), we need to make the decision and be their voice to make sure that they don't continue to suffer. We have to be their voice to ease their burden of pain. Ryker gave us 12 wonderful years of joy and love and the only thing he ever needed from me was to put HIM FIRST when the time came. All we wanted to do was take him home and snuggle up close to him. Press our faces into him and breathe deeply to smell him and feel his warmth beside us. Cover him with a blankie (his favorite thing) and enjoy simply being beside him. In our hearts we knew that time would never come. Why? Because taking him home to do that with him would have been ONLY for our benefit. The whole time, he would have tolerated it but would also have been in pain. To take him home that day would not have done him any good at all, not one bit. So we made the difficult choice to allow him to be pain free and let him go to the Rainbow Bridge in the most humane way possible. Why? Because we loved him.
We stopped at McDonald's and bought him a burger & fries and proceeded to the vet clinic. We had a picnic on the floor with him and he gobbled up his treats with excitement. We hugged him, kissed him and spent some time with him before saying our final goodbye. We stayed right beside him so he wasn't scared and, in a blink of an eye, he was gone.
We took him to the vet that morning for a treatment that would make him better only to not have him come home at all. Why am I sharing this today? Because I think it's important for people to know about responsible pet ownership. Some people get furry family members sometimes already recognizing that they are taking on a responsibility but very few realize the enormity and duration of that assignment. When you bring one of these souls into your life and into your home your are signing up to take care or and protect a life.... for a lifetime. You are signing up for 12 - 20 years of training (yours and theirs), education, nutrition, socialization, healthcare, creating stimulating activities (physical, mental and emotional) and the responsibility of making sure that, at the end of the time you have together, you are there for them and do what needs to be done for THEM. Twelve years of happiness, comfort and joy and only one moment of despair (although it feels like an eternity sometimes when that moment is happening).
I have counseled many friends and clients through this process over the years. Not one of these conversations has been easy. It's the toughest part of having and loving a family pet. We give them great loving homes and happy/healthy lives and they ask for only one single thing from us... to do the right thing for them when they need us the most. So what do I say to my clients? My wish for them is that the time is short for that final memory. That the picture and memory of the pet's final moments is soon replaced with only the happy memories that came before. It will happen... eventually. I wish them peace in knowing that they did the most selfless thing when it was the hardest to do. I wish them a heart that heals quickly. Finally I offer the reassurance that for the lifetime of that pet, they showed great love, compassion and kindness to a furry soul who needed them.
So the question is.... how will you spend the 12-20 years with them before that final moment? Make those moments count... make memories together! Snuggle in, breathe deep, share adventures... those are the moments that are going to count when YOU need them most.
Until next time, hugs your furry family members a little bit tighter tonight and be thankful that you get to be a part of their lives.