When your much loved dog is dying…

Our lovely dog Rosa is dying. It seems imminent and there’s no getting away from it. It’s a difficult thing to come to terms with.

She’s a cocker spaniel, 14¾ years old: that’s 104 in human years. She’s been deaf and has had very little sight for years, but has always been full of the joys of life, wagging her tail optimistically throughout her waking hours and always loving to meet any person or any other dog. She’s an inspiration.

Rosa goes out on the street every morning to meet the youngsters on the school run. Many of these very small children are so nervous of dogs that they can take a year to work up to stroking her; when that happens the parents are over the moon with the gain in confidence. Over her lifetime Rosa has taught innumerable children that you don’t need to be scared of all dogs, because she’s very gentle and just loves the attention.

Rosa is loved by so many people as well as us; and love is the big thing in this difficult experience of saying goodbye to her.

Five days ago Rosa had a crisis when she vomited and stopped eating and drinking, but it had been coming on for months; her weight had gone down from 12 kilos to under 9. Her kidney system has stopped working. She went into hospital very dehydrated and was on a drip for 24 hours. She didn’t seem to respond to this and the vets recommended putting her to sleep at the clinic.

We weren’t having that. We brought her home and after a couple of hours of lying on her side unconscious she suddenly leapt up and demanded to go out to the garden, wagged her tail and started drinking water.

My wife and I cancelled our work for the day and spent it at home with Rosa. It was such a precious time, even when she was flat out: like a bonus day of being with her when she seemed so likely to die sooner.

Rosa’s spirit and will to live is extraordinary. She hasn’t eaten for five days now, and it’s difficult for her to drink but she’s doing it. This morning she astonished me by waking up and insisted on going out to the street to greet the schoolchildren. It was a chance for these tiny ones to say goodbye to her too. So much love.

Being present with all this is challenging and sad but also strangely wonderful. There’s a lot of tearfulness, but also fleeting moments of unexpected and timeless bliss where everything seems just as it should be. For me, it’s all about being in the present moment, not jumping forward to ‘what will we do afterwards’ or ‘what shall we do with all Rosa’s stuff?’

It’s easy to find myself wanting things to be different, but that’s not helpful. I find myself trying to escape the uncomfortable and painful emotion of it, but it’s far better to be with it, and it’s different from moment to moment.

Every hour is precious, every moment is precious. I’m fortunate enough to be able to drop everything else; this is the only thing in my life right now. No news, no radio, no television, no music — just being with Rosa in peaceful quietness, sometimes through the night. I feel so fortunate that she can be at home — the best place to be ill and the best place to end your days, with the people you know best. It’s very beautiful and we’re very fortunate; it could have been so much worse.

The decision on whether to agree to euthanasia — which can be in your own home — is very difficult. It goes against the instinct of everything you’ve ever been doing for the animal all her days: caring for her, keeping her well, preserving her life. Obvously we don’t want Rosa to suffer unnecessarily. But how do you know when is the right time for that to happen? She still seems to have so much life left in her even though the overall situation is unsustainable. So currently we’re holding out for the best option: for it to happen naturally. We’re carrying on taking one moment at a time.

Being with Rosa has brought so much into our lives. And in these few days I’ve really learned the profound meaning of the Buddhist saying: “One day of life is worth more than all the treasures in the universe.” Maybe tomorrow will bring the gift of one more of those for her and for us.

Gerry Maguire Thompson

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Gerry is a best-selling author, book coach, humorist and blogger www.gerrymaguirethompson.com

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