Life and Death Meet in a Vet Clinic

Lots of big dogs in here today, I thought, as I sat in the waiting room of the Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Leavittown this afternoon. That Bernese mountain dog is huuuge!

Two men with a large, black dog, maybe a lab. A woman and her two young children with her cocker spaniel. Only one other person in here with a cat. It’s a dog day, for sure.

My eyes were suddenly drawn to the front doors, where, just outside, five people had gathered and seemed to be crying. A couple, with their teenage son and two older daughters, who had come in separate cars, met at the door. Yes, they were crying, dabbing tears with tissues.

I watched everyone hug, and then the dad entered with a pudgy, beige dog trailing behind. It was old and seemed frail. It had a bandaged foreleg and walked with a limp. The dad walked straight back to the clinical rooms. The mother, who entered behind the dog, stopped at the desk for a few moments, dabbing her eyes. The daughters and son remained outside, seeming to console one another. The boy was mostly silent and lost unto himself.

I suspect everyone witnessing the scene knew exactly what was happening. The old dog’s time had come to an end.

Putting a beloved pet to death is a sorrowful task and as inevitable as our own demise, and as many times as I’ve had to do it, the task never gets any easier. I find those final moments — from a distance only — to be unique moments in life. It is there that we see death in all its raw power, emanating from a decision that we, ourselves, have made. We, ourselves, are causing this animal’s death. The vet may be carrying out the decision, but the decision has been ours alone.

Grim. Necessary. Unforgettable.

After about a half hour the dad and mom came out again. They walked straight out, shoulders heavy from what had just happened, and joined the three younger attendees in kisses, hugs, and tears. The dad and mom bid the girls adieu, and then left with the son walking silently behind.

And just like that it was over. We were the same people in the same waiting room, waiting our turn, relieved that we were not putting our pet to sleep, that we were just bringing it in for treatment, that life, for our pet, would continue, but also knowing that someday, sooner or later, those sad people would be us. Someday we would arrive with a pet and, in tears, leave without one.

Life and death, in one waiting room on one day in one town.

R.I.P, Wolfgang, You Were a Great Companion

Oh, how Wolfie loved an open briefcase.

We had to put a pet down recently, a horrible event under the best of circumstances. Wolfgang, or Wolfie, was a ridiculously handsome cat, black, shiny, strong, with a sphinxlike face and a loving personality.

Earlier in life than he should have, he developed acute and then chronic kidney failure. The vet prescribed subcutaneous fluid infusion three times a week, a procedure called hypodermoclysis. I had given tens of thousands of cc’s of fluid intravenously over my years as a nurse, so I took on that task at home.

We gave him several rounds of subcu fluid, but he reacted more and more violently as time went on, and why wouldn’t he? Hypodermoclysis is a painful, drawn out procedure that effectively blows up the fatty area on a cat’s neck to three or four times its natural size.

Awful.

There was no other valid option for therapy, though we did try a low-protein diet for a while, but in the end we decided that we weren’t going to torture this poor guy three times a week for the rest of his life only to have him slowly waste away and die anyway. We would give him all the love we could, while we could, and let nature take its course.

That course finally ended when our favorite vet, Jim, gently, professionally, and compassionately euthanized Wolfie, just as he had euthanized three other beloved pets in the past. He came into the exam room, took one look at the waiflike cat on the table and said, “Poor little guy. He’s had enough.”

It was difficult, but we knew in our hearts that Jim was right, that Wolfie had indeed had enough. He died silently, calmly. I thanked Jim for his help, loaded the cat into the car, and drove him home for burial in our back yard, right next to Katie, Max, and Lucy.

We’re down to one four-legged friend, Princess Sadie, Ruler of All Who Enter, Table Beggar Par Excellence, Holy Devotee to Queen Gay and Most Unholy Archenemy of Yours Truly.

Hoo, boy.

Saying a Gradual Goodbye to Our Wolfgang

Wolfgang “Wolfie” McPhee

Our poor kitty is on his last legs, I believe. Only 8, he has chronic renal failure for reasons unknown.

They could be known, I’m told, if we just get an ultrasound. Worse-case scenario, I suppose, would be that the ultrasound shows either a carcinoma or amyloidosis, a condition of protein buildup in the kidneys. Not good either way.

His renal failure is progressive and incurable.

We’ve put him on a special low-protein food, which he hates. We’ve tried clysis, an infusion of fluid in the subcutaneous tissues in his back. He hates it. Hates it.

Who wouldn’t? Clysis is painful, quite painful. Imagine the last time you had a “shot” in your arm. It was probably all of 0.5ml, a teensy amount. Did it hurt? Probably at least stung.

Now imagine someone gives you a shot with 100 times that amount. It hurts.

My wife and I decided that we were not going to put him through the agony of clysis three or four times a week. It seems inhumane.

He is losing weight and drinking water like it’s going out of style. But he remains as loving now as he has been all his life. He’s a great cat, and I will miss him terribly.

This is the part of pet ownership I hate the most. I can clean poop all day, if I have to, and pick up after his spittles. But this.

This is awful.

So we will give him the best life we can for the time he has left, and we will love him as we always have. We will not get an ultrasound or more blood work to tell us what we already know. We will pet him and hug him and give him long, slow pulls on his tail, which he loves, and when it’s time, we will say goodbye.

God, I hope we’re doing the right thing.