Unfortunately, all dogs die. There’s no easy way to do this, but it’s a fact of life as a pet owner. For me, the key decision was when is the right time to do it? I don’t want to wait too long so that Ryder suffers, but I’d feel guilty putting Ryder down too early.
We’ve talked about this many times, in fact. Often on walks or long rides in the car, my wife and I go through the bullets, like a checklist of emotional redemption. There are many “easy” decisions when owning a dog: which food? That bag of Purina over there. When do you pick up after the dog? At least twice a week in the spring and summer, sometimes every other day. Should you pet the dog? Well, it’s a German Shepherd, so if it wants to be petted, you better do it now because it may not want to be petted the rest of the day.
Deciding to euthanize is nothing so simple.
Years ago when we went through end-of-life with Mojo, a veterinarian recommended as a litmus test to pick the three things the dog enjoys most in life. When the dog can no longer do one or especially two of those things, it’s time to euthanize.
But that litmus test doesn’t apply to all dogs, and certainly not to Ryder. She’s always been a peculiar dog. She likes her backyard and playing with Koda, and she likes to eat*. She still does those things. For me, it is a pain factor based on arthritis and lack of mobility. People will talk about the dignity of life for a dog, and I think there is some truth to that. I remember laying in bed one day and Mojo walking in and telling me he was ready. A few months later, he again looked at me, and his eyes were full of truth. He wasn’t happy, he didn’t like this anymore. He was ready. Sometimes Ryder gives me that look, but I’m not sure. She’s always had a pained, scared-of-the-world emotion in her eyes.
But there is “pained” and there is “pain.” Ryder can’t put in words her suffering, so it’s up to me to observe her closely. Over the past few months, and certainly over the past year, my family and I have noticed changes to her behavior, physicality, and mental state:
-She had urination problems. She was diagnosed as a UTI and corrected. Alone, this is not a sign that she is close to dying, but I believe it may be a sign of the severity of her back arthritis. She’s not cleaning herself. This is especially troubling considering…
-She has problems holding in poop. Sometimes she’s sitting there, laying in it, and she doesn’t realize she’s pooped herself. Often, she can’t make it through the night without releasing her bowels in the house. If she isn’t able to clean herself, and she isn’t aware that she is going to the bathroom, this can lead to discomfort and additional UTIs.
-She stopped climbing the stairs. This was a subtle one because our dogs aren’t allowed upstairs. But last week we had a major thunderstorm, and as anyone who owns German Shepherds can attest, GSDs only want to be right next to you when the thunder booms and the lightning crashes. Koda busted down the dog gate and ran upstairs for solace. Ryder, who is usually the first one to bump against the bedroom door until we wake up, stayed downstairs and didn’t attempt coming to us. At least, I didn’t see her attempt it. She may have tried, failed, and gone back downstairs. That’s a first in her lifetime, and she wouldn’t have stayed down there if she didn’t absolutely have to remain on the first floor.
-She is stumbling. She often stumbles in the house, especially walking inside and out. She has fallen doing little playful jumps at my daughter. I’ve seen her fall to the floor and not be able to stand for thirty seconds or more.
-This will sound weird, but she sits a lot, and not on purpose. One of the things she does is get in the way of her people (helloooo, herding dog). She backs out when she realizes I want to get through. Now, she backs out, and her butt falls down, and she stares at me like “That wasn’t supposed to happen. What do I do now? Sorry!” until she can get back up.
-She is whining and yelping. This is the big one. My dogs don’t whine or yelp for no reason. They aren’t talkative dogs. For the past year, though Ryder will yelp when roughhousing with Koda. She wants to jump on him, but she’s incapable. Lately, she’s really reduced her roughhousing. Additionally, Koda is being a son of a bitch about this. A few days ago I noticed they were playing their favorite game of “I’ve got a thing and you don’t.” I posted about this when during one of these games, Ryder knocked the poop out of Koda. That old chestnut. But this last time when Koda wanted the random stick, he bumped her rear with his chest so that she went down. I scolded him, he didn’t understand, and eventually Ryder dropped the stick and guarded it with strong play-snaps. Koda wasn’t going to take any further action to take the prized random stick, but the fact that he knows to exploit this indicates to me that one day we could find out he’s hurt her, perhaps broken her back from bumping her, and now you have to put down Ryder immediately in your backyard. Nobody wants that.
So we have elected to euthanize Ryder.
Damn, there’s a lot of finality in that statement. She is a family member, and we lover her very much. I picked her up from the tiny town of Buda, Texas and drove her three or four hours back to Houston. She never liked car rides after that. We have a lot of memories with that dog, some I’m sure I will share in the coming weeks, but for now, I want to focus on the decision.
We are reaching out to companies that can euthanize at home. With all of Ryder’s fears, it seems like the best option. Of course, home euthanasias are the popular choice in the pandemic. Earlier in 2020, some of the vets we looked to wouldn’t allow owners to be present for euthanasias. So we will see if we can make the home euthanasia happen.
In the meantime, I give her half an aspirin to help with the pain, and my daughter purchased some CBD-infused peanut butter, too. We’ve had her on joint vitamins, but that only goes so far. We do as much as we can to keep Ryder comfortable, but it’s clear that she’s in near-constant pain and that her hips/back have greatly reduced function. She is an eleven and a half year old GSD, old for one. So as difficult as it is to decide to euthanize, I know that it is a necessary part of ownership. If I’m willing to own a dog, I must be willing to take care of it throughout it’s life, not just the happy puppy parts, but all of it, including her last days.
*Ryder only eats infrequently over the past few weeks. It is one of her three joys: play, eating, and protection/perimeter walking, and I would argue that food is her highest joy, so not eating is a big clue that her time is soon.