After 11 years of living with dogs, we are now just two people in a house. The utter joy and true challenge of our five dogs (and two cats) filled our lives and homes.
We knew this season would come; Hannah turned 12 on January 1, 2020 and with a heart murmur and history of tumors, we expected she wouldn't be with us for another Christmas.
(Therefore we especially treasure her one Christmas integrated with my side of the family, thanks to my parents for changing the pet rules!)
While we were traveling in February, Hannah was suddenly lethargic, without appetite, with pockets of fluid on her side and then legs. The vet said only hospitalization could keep her alive and diagnose the underlying problem(s), which might be manageable if it was an auto-immune situation. More likely it would be cancer which we wouldn't choose to treat. And hospitalization would cost "a few thousand dollars."
We made the difficult and conflicted decision to euthanize Hannah.
We're grateful that she had a full and comfortable life until her last days. She hiked all over Florida and Atlanta in her last weeks, enjoying her strong, quiet pal Rufus, as well as our dear human friends, too!
We think we waited too long to euthanize Max, hoping he would regain strength to enjoy his last months, but instead he was weak and probably miserable for his final two weeks. We chose euthanasia more quickly for Hannah with Max's lesson.
Maybe too quickly. I've consistently felt ill-at-ease about euthanizing Hannah rather than bringing her back to our friends' home in Atlanta to die at her body's pace. We discussed that option with the vet and asked if she could send us with pain relieving medication. She was honest: no. She could prescribe various medications but acknowledged that they would sedate Hannah and we wouldn't know if she was actually comfortable.
Whether we're accompanying a human or other animal in the dying process, we want to believe they are comfortable. That's what hospice promised (at least when I worked in hospice): we can make your loved one comfortable.
And they're probably lying.
But they can make you more comfortable by making your loved one appear comfortable. I'm glad our one-time Atlanta vet was honest.
But I wish Hannah could have died with Phillip by her side. He was on a video phone call from Mexico, with us by screen, as Hannah died. He was with other dogs we love.
Remember how anxious Hannah was anytime Phillip was away? Now we realize - somehow she knew that she would die when Phillip was away! Sorry we didn't understand sooner, Hannah!
Of course, Hannah wasn't like when Oliver was lighting up her life.
What a looker! He always had his tux on, even when cooling down in a mud puddle.
Phillip and I met (spring of 2015 in Lafayette, IN) because we both love bicycling. We fell in love, moved to Pennsylvania, and a couple weeks before our wedding Oliver died.
We've all missed him ever since. And Hannah never recovered, and was suddenly and extremely anxious when left alone. We tried myriad approaches (thunder shirt, medication, crating, etc) and finally decided to get her canine companions. After all, if she could be left with Oliver for hours at a time all those years, she must just need a dog around.
We met at the right time. As tricky as Sula (my first dog companion) was, she was independent. Phillip and I barely biked together again after Oliver died - maybe we'd never have met if it hadn't been for Oliver's calming presence in Hannah's life.
We adopted elderly, ailing Booker and Max. They'd spent months in a foster home; though this is a popular breed, the medical needs and quirks turned many people off. But as Italian Greyhounds we thought Hannah would like them. Hannah was afraid of dogs unless they are 1) a whippet-related breed or 2) strong, silent pit types. We should've tried the 2nd kind! But we didn't know, and instead hadincredible joy and struggle with the "gray boys."
While Booker acted like Hannah's blanket, he didn't seem to be her comforter, and her separation anxiety didn't change.
We figure we may have gained an hour of away time before Hannah would break her face trying to break out of home (trailer, van, house, etc) but we couldn't enjoy bike rides together, knowing she was in distress.
We kept trying to convince the dogs to ride in the bike trailer.
They were never convinced. Unless a human got in with them, which was not sustainable for fun or the trailer's integrity.
We knew this time would come, when all our dogs are dead and we are left with the choice: adopt again? Between saying goodbye to 5 dogs in 4.25 years and all the people and churches and towns we've said goodbye to in those years, we are grief-drenched. Like sponges, full of water and cannot take on any more. We don't want to stop enjoying people, and know we need time to shed the grief.
In the meantime, we get to love dogs and cats through friends and family. Even in the neighborhood.
Love tends to complicate our values. We wouldn't spend $4,000 on one dog (old or young) rather than spay/neuter 500 dogs with that money. Just like I don't want hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to keep me on life sustaining equipment if I'm paralyzed or have brain damage. Not when 3,000 children die every day because they don't have clean water. But what if Phillip was in the hospital bed and there just might be a chance he could recover?
I hope the solution isn't to stop loving, to have fewer intimate relationships.
But some measure of that choice is right for us. Not to have biological children when so many young people need love, attention, home. Not to buy any dogs or cats when so many need love, attention, home. Including the semi-stray kitties in our neighborhood that we hope to befriend.
Of course, the most gregarious one only loved us for Hannah!
We're trying to stack up as many positive experiences as we can in the "only because we don't have dogs anymore" category. Someday, after enough bike rides, that stack could be half as tall as the "joy from having dogs" stack.