This has been a tough week for my family. Our sweet dog, Isabella, is dying, and any day now we will be saying goodbye to her forever. She is still mentally alert and seemingly happy, but her agility has long passed and it seems to be tugging at her to follow in its path to nonexistence.
Coming to terms with the impending death of our dog has been forced upon us and, though cruel, it is a reality we must face. Death is part of life and, in Isa’s case, life is part of death. She is a Bernese mountain dog weighing in at 105 pounds. Tall and lean with very long legs, she is a supermodel in the Berner world. Stretched from back paw to front paw, she is nearly as tall as I am and probably as strong. Yet, she never pulled me on our walks, unless you count the time she darted toward her doggy friend next door, dragging me across their lawn with the greatest of ease. This beautiful body of a dog can no longer be supported by those long muscular legs, but her mind, so far, seems unscathed. Isa has, most likely, a spinal tumor and her body seems to have died while her will persists.
If you’ve ever had a pet who had to be euthanized, you most certainly understand what we are going through as her health rapidly declines. I think most people would agree that if an animal is suffering, the right thing to do is to stop the misery by euthanasia. But in a case like ours, where we have a dog with a sharp mind and an appetite for treats, how can we entertain the idea of euthanasia just because she can’t stand or walk? She doesn’t seem to be in pain; she’s not whining or whimpering. The problem is her inability to use her legs. While she can occasionally rise on her own and take a few steps, thanks to steroids, she mostly lies on the floor. She waits for us to pick up her 105-pound body and take her outside, where she stumbles around like a drunken sailor, desperately trying to stay on all fours long enough to relieve herself. You can imagine how difficult a task that is for her. Soon, the efficacy of her meds will diminish and she will once again be unable to use her legs and possibly suffer unpleasant side effects.
The thought of making the decision to stop her beating heart is too difficult to keep in our minds. We know that she can’t go on like this, struggling to move and feeling exhausted, not to mention the fear of falling every time she stands or takes a step, but we also know that she depends on us to make the best of her life. I don’t think she’s having fun anymore. She used to love her walks and car rides. And she lived to do tricks for pancakes. I guess that’s the answer; she can’t do tricks, she can’t walk, she’s not living the life she knew and loved.
My column is due soon and I didn’t know what to write about this month. Perhaps the rhythmic panting coming from beneath my feet gave my fingertips something to clack about. When this goes to print, I hope that Isa will still be by my side, breathing on my bare feet and giving them an occasional lick for good cleaning. But if she’s not, we’ll know that we made the best decision for her sweet soul.
Our family will miss her and it will hurt, but the richness she added to our lives for the past seven years will always exist. I love you, Isabella.