Not too long ago, my book club read a highly acclaimed book titled “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” I couldn’t finish it. In fact, I couldn’t get past the first chapter.
Everyone who read the book loved it, but it hit too close to home for me. It is written from the perspective of an old dog, Enzo, on the eve of his death. He’s trying to find a way to tell his owner that it’s time to put him down. He explains he’s arthritic, has cataracts, and has lost bladder control, but his owner is not willing to let go:
“He would do it out of love, of course. I’m sure he would keep me alive as long as he possibly could, my body deteriorating, disintegrating around me, dissolving until there’s nothing left but my brain floating in a glass jar with clear liquid…But I don’t want to be kept alive.”
When I started to read the book, I thought of my dog, Elway, who is pictured above. Elway joined our family as a puppy. I still remember seeing him bound out of a barn on the farm where we adopted him. He has been a part of our lives for fourteen and a half years. Letting him go was not something I was ready to consider.
But I sit here today with that decision weighing heavily on my heart. He’s not been well. Like Enzo, arthritis is causing his back legs to fail him, his cataracts have clouded his vision, and he’s lost bladder control. Blood work last week revealed high liver enzymes, signaling a serious illness. The veterinarian has suggested euthanasia as a compassionate course of action.
Still, I’m struggling. How do I know I’m making the right decision? Would he want to fight, or like Enzo, is he ready to die? What gives me the right to decide when that should happen? Elway is a dog, not a human being, but having struggled with this decision, I can’t even begin to imagine the stress and grief associated with deciding to terminate life support for a person who’s incapacitated and has not made his or her wishes known.
I’ve written before about how sharing your healthcare wishes and explaining your reasoning can relieve your loved ones of a lot of stress they may feel in making these decisions without your guidance. The veterinarian assures me that euthanizing him is a loving choice, but I wish Elway could tell me what he wants me to do. It would relieve some of the guilt I feel about making the decision to end his life.
When I look into Elway’s eyes, they look tired. His breathing is labored. His quality of life has deteriorated. I will be by his side today as he goes to sleep for the last time. I hope he feels loved. I hope I’m doing what he would have wanted.
In Memory of Elway – April 15, 1997 to November 29, 2011