I had my dog Jackson put down yesterday.
Given that Jackson was very seldom ill and moved as well as he did when he was young, it was unexpected, and it all happened surprisingly fast. I went to Miami for a week on vacation and dropped him off to be boarded. I noted to the people keeping him that he had been panting a bit over the last couple of days. Of course, that can be the result of a lot of things with a dog. Anxiety (perhaps because he figured out I was going on a trip). Excitement. Mild or significant pain. Stress. Allergies.
Last Friday when I returned to pick him up, he seemed dead tired, which wasn't necessarily unusual after spending a week playing with other dogs, but he also had a small limp. I was extremely annoyed with the people that boarded him because no one there seemed to have any idea why he was limping.
However, by Saturday night, he seemed to have recovered fully. No panting, no limping. Jackson was right as rain.
Sunday afternoon, I took him out for one of our standard mile and half walks. He had a great time and seemed perfectly normal. But he spent a lot of time laying around that night.
By Monday morning, his limp had become intensely painful for him. I dropped him off at the vet to get his leg checked out, but she focused on his swollen lymph nodes. I had already noticed one under his neck, but I’m not a veterinarian and wasn't quite sure what to think about that. Had it always been there, and I just hadn’t noticed? On rare occasions, I have since learned, swollen lymph nodes can be the result of a tick bite or infection, but the vet told me that it was probably lymphoma.
After researching it online, I realized that there were no really good treatment options for him if he did have lymphoma. If I chose to do nothing, he probably had 30-60 miserable days left to live. Prednisone could almost immediately make him feel better, but it would be a short reprieve. In two to four months, he’d be back in the same place, and it wouldn’t work anymore for him. The “best” option would be doggie chemo. That would mean a weekly two-and-a-half-hour drive to an oncologist for several months to get him a medical treatment that he wouldn’t like and that might make him sick, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour drive home. The only reward he’d get for that miserable process would be a decent likelihood of living another 6 relatively healthy months once all the treatments were done before he became sick again. Monday night, Jackson seemed to be going downhill fast. He was in a lot of pain and wasn’t moving much. His breathing was labored. He was still eating and drinking but refused to use the bathroom. His loud breathing woke me multiple times through the night.
Tuesday morning, I thought Jackson might be close to death. Even after I got out of bed, he didn't move an inch. His breathing was shallow and ragged. His only movement was to wag his tail when I kissed his head and told him he was a "good boy." After calling the vet, they told me I should bring him in and leave him there because he sounded like he might not make it without medical attention. However, I decided that there was no way I was going to leave my dog, who probably didn’t have much longer to live, with a vet all day.
Then, somehow, someway, Jackson just popped up. He was still limping, but he looked livelier. He had a good appetite. He seemed to get tired fast when I took him out, but when another couple of dogs he knew came outside, he immediately perked up, limped over to greet them, and finally peed for the first time in almost 24 hours. We had a visitor who came to see him. He walked over to see her and seemed happy she was there. I wouldn’t quite call it a “good day,” but from death’s door to being happy, sniffing other dogs, and wagging his tail was almost enough to give me a little hope.
Then the vet called, and all those pleasant feelings were ripped away. The test results had come in and it was lymphoma. It was an advanced case, not that it really mattered because whether you caught it early or not, your treatment possibilities were essentially the same. I asked her to give me my options and unfortunately, they seemed to match up to the grim choices I’d heard about online. I knew what that meant – and if even today was the measure of the life he had left, I felt like this was a better sooner than later decision. I had to put down my last dog, Patton, after he had cancer and it was a difficult decision to make then, too.
It was a hard call because Patton’s life was in my hands, and I couldn’t ask how he felt or what he wanted. Someone told me that if Patton could talk, he’d tell me that he didn’t want to live anymore like that. I’m not so sure about that. From what I’ve seen of dogs in general and Patton in particular, there’s no quit in them. No matter how sick or in agony a dog is, my belief is that it isn’t in their nature to give in….There is no absolute standard as to when to end a dog’s life. Some people say, “You’ll just know,” other people go with “when the dog stops eating,” and still others believe in euthanasia “before he experiences an unnecessary day of pain.” My personal belief is that most people wait too long and let the dog suffer too much because they’re hoping for a last-minute miracle. Patton was already getting weaker. I didn’t want him to get to the point where life was nothing but suffering for him before I decided to make a move.
Dogs literally trust us with their lives. They trust that we’ll feed them, shelter them, help them, and take care of them. It’s a great honor, but it’s also a terrible responsibility. How do you look into the eyes of a loyal friend who trusts you completely and take him somewhere you know they plan to end his life? Is that an act of betrayal or the most difficult responsibility we take on when we choose to own a dog? In my heart, I know it’s the latter and I hope one day, when my time in this world is done I’ll get to see my good and true friend again.
I got Jackson from the pound in 2012, and he was an amazing dog.
He was curious about everything, feared nothing, and loved every person and dog he ran across. To him, everyone was his friend. For a while, I worried he’d get killed by a vehicle because he would walk directly towards slowly moving cars, presumably because he believed the people in them would want to stop and pet him.
In my lifetime, I have had hundreds of people ask me what breed he is (Terrier/Welsh Corgi mix) and over a dozen people (everyone from neighbors to girlfriends to cleaning ladies) tell me they would happily take care of him if something happened to me because he charmed everyone he met.
He slept at my feet, he was my loyal friend for almost a decade, and I was always proud of what a good boy he was. I already miss him terribly.