Dogs do not live as long as people, or parrots, or horses…we know from the moment that we allow a dog into our life that we are likely to outlive our canine companion. Most of us have difficulty with saying goodbye to a beloved friend. Some people will choose to do everything that is medically and financially possible to extend the life of a canine.
My personal belief system includes the idea that life is temporary for all of us and that the quality of our existence is meaningful; for dogs quality of life means more than quantity, because dogs do not have a sense of time that allows them to contemplate the future or lack of future. They live in the moment and if the current moment is not comfortable, combined with too many uncomfortable moments clouding their time, then they are not having a good quality of life. They are surviving and hoping for relief from pain.
When living with an elderly and/or ill dog, it is important to monitor them for signs that life is still giving them a reasonable amount of pleasure and not a burdensome level of pain. Does the dog wince, or react when touched, held, picked up – or do they still enjoy a brief game or shuffling walk around the block? Do they enjoy eating or are they reluctant to eat even what is usually a high value treat, i.e. the really good stuff? Are they easily confused? Do they seem anxious and uncertain where they are, or do they still just need a sniff to know who is in the room?
Some dogs age with grace and some find the loss of vision, hearing, and mobility very distressing. As care-givers we must learn to read our canine friend’s body language and behavior. We are responsible for providing pain management while it is possible to manage their pain. When it is no longer possible to provide the quality of life that outweighs the discomfort and confusion, we need to marshal our strength and allow them a dignified exit from their suffering.
Sooner or later I think we all look at a beloved canine companion and wonder, “will I know when it is time?” and “How will I manage in their absence?” As the wonder-collie Jenny ages, I note her face becoming greyer and some days her joints, despite the supplements, seem a little stiffer. She and I both have days when we have to get up and move a little before look reasonably mobile. Additionally, we have another senior canine in our mix, His Majesty Chi Chi, Lord Sovereign of all he Surveys and Chief Administrator of Verbal Reprimands.
His Majesty and I have entered a new phase of life – we’re both having to come to terms with connective tissue disorders – turns out he has his and I have mine. We’re more simpatico then we even realized on first sight. We both are going to have good days and shaky days, and days when it is with reluctance that we leave our bed. We are in agreement, however, that we want our good days to be very good, and our so-so days to be manageable.
I know if I want this standard of more bearable moments than unbearable – and I can look forward to future lower-pain events – then it is even more important for the canines in my life to only be asked to carry on while they are comfortable. They can only live in the present. Once one is no longer able to keep a canine comfortable in more moments than not, then it is time to seriously reconsider what we are demanding of them.
Let us all learn to be more like our doggy friends; let us enjoy the pleasure of each day, whatever that means for us as individuals. Let us revel in all the good moments we are allowed to share with those who matter most to us.
Do not borrow tomorrow’s trouble today; trust yourself to do what is best for your companions when the time comes for those decisions, until then, be as present in the current moment as possible.