How to Lose a Pet

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How to Lose a Pet

  Early this year, our family had to make one of the toughest choices we’ve faced in a while. We had to choose to lose our dog. I know what you’re thinking…no, we didn’t leave him on someone’s doorstep or drive him out to the country. He was always more than capable of getting lost on his own accord since he always had such a penchant for running out open doors/gates/car windows. We always eventually found him, and brought him home again. But, choosing to lose your pet for the last time, well, it’s hard.   We had Louie, our Damnation (Dalmatian) for 9 years…When we adopted him, the rescue estimated his age at 3ish, so he was rounding the bend on 13 years. Think of the highest energy dog you’ve ever encountered, then multiply that by 10. That was Louie: sleek, muscled and bred to run.   Every morning he’d wake up, let himself out his dog-door, and sprint 60 laps around our yard. Then he’d jog inside, drink half the toilet bowl (for the love) and go out again for round two. I once saw him take a running leap off the porch and catch a bird in midair. He was more than a little indignant when I turned my nose up at the “gift” he brought into the kitchen a few moments later.   Louie liked to tempt Death with his stupidity. There was the night he ate 2 large, steaming-hot pizzas off the kitchen counter in all of about 8 seconds. I was sure his stomach would explode and that would be the end of him. He went and laid quietly on his bed for 5 minutes, let out an enormous belch, and then was back in the kitchen sniffing around for more.   One Saturday afternoon there was the type of urgent knock on our front door that must be a required skill of every cadet that graduates from the Police Academy. I believe the cop’s words were, “Ma’am, do you own a very dumb Dalmatian?”   “Oh man, sir…we didn’t even know he was gone!”   I looked out to see Louie in the back of the squad car covered in Cholla cactus barbs. Apparently, he’d taken himself on an “adventure,” across several major intersections, before he decided to chase a rabbit down a desert gulch. That afternoon and into the evening, my husband held him down while I used needle nose pliers to pull nearly 300 cactus barbs out of his face, nose, mouth, gums, tongue, ears, chest, legs and feet. Somehow, miraculously, he didn’t get any in his eyes. Our vet called him in a prescription for some antibiotics, a pain pill and recommended we “keep him quiet for a few days.” I retorted that “keeping him quiet” would require something a little stronger, like a horse tranquilizer.   At age 10 he reduced his morning laps to about 20, and when he turned 12 this year, he was just walking a stiff patrol around our property’s perimeter, vigilantly protecting us from kitty cats.   All this backstory provides a reference for how devastating it is for a dog with a tempo like Louie’s to completely lose mobility. His arthritis slowed him down but pain medicine seemed to do the trick for that. The biggest blow came when I arrived home from work to find his hind end completely lame. With my husband out of town, the girls and I drove him to the vet pretty certain that we were losing him that night.   The vet diagnosed degenerative disk disease and suggested that we try medications to reverse it. And, to my utter shock, after a few days of prednisone and anti-inflammatory drugs, he was back up and walking again.   The drugs worked for a few weeks, and then he started having trouble standing, walking and then the lameness came again too swiftly. We were carrying him to his food and water and outside to use the bathroom. Even though he still wagged his tail, smiled his goofy Dalmatian grin and could roll over for a belly rub, we knew that this was no life for Louie the Wonder Dal.   Losing a pet, grace based parenting, family matters, karis murraySunday night we held a family meeting to discuss with our 10 and 12 year old daughters that the end was coming soon for Louie. We talked about love, stewardship, animal husbandry and responsibility. We decided that we wanted to make a few calls, talk to his vet to see if there were any “ace up the sleeve” options, but we were all pretty sure we would find that all paths led to the same place. We weren’t going to put him through an MRI. We weren’t going to do surgery.   Somewhere along the way, one of the girls asked why, if we could treat his pain, carry him to food and water, why couldn’t we just let nature run its course. I’m rarely at a loss for what to say, but I didn’t know quite how to answer her. My husband is quiet, but has a way of imparting firm but gentle wisdom when it’s needed.   He said, “Honey, we have never let nature run its course with this dog. We have stood in nature’s way this dog’s whole life. We’ve provided daily food, water, shelter, protection, rescue and medical care. We took over for nature. We have always intervened. We have a responsibility to intervene now.”   By Tuesday afternoon, we were resolved that together we would have to give one final act of love to our friend.   We scheduled  a vet to come out to our house on Thursday afternoon and euthanize our dog.. He was outside in the beautiful spring sunshine, on his familiar doggie bed with his precious girls and family around him, and after the shot, peacefully went to sleep.   Sure, we could have had Dad take him in while the kids were at school, but after discussing it with them, telling them that it was their choice if they wanted to be with him, they both felt very sure that they did. This was certainly not the emotionally easy choice. We spent a couple days dreading it. Those final days with Louie were spent in tearful snuggles, photo ops, and a sad series of “lasts.” And the day we said goodbye was one of the hardest days our girls have ever faced. But it was an opportunity to teach them about responsibility, sacrifice, loss, grieving and courage.   I’m not preaching at you here. I am not telling you that this is the right way or the only way to lose a pet. Often, we don’t get to pick the way we say goodbye to our loved ones, furry or otherwise…but, I guess what I am suggesting is that given the choice, it’s often the path that requires the most emotional courage that ends up building the most character and teaching us powerful lessons.   What did we learn by losing our pet? We learned that you can’t have real love without pain. Loving someone, even a pet means risking your whole heart. It means you might face the choice to lose your heart.   But it’s worth it.    

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