Learning to live: Lessons from the dying

September 26, 2009 at 10:43 pm Leave a comment

vetHeather2I have never let a terminally ill pet  live as Heather is living, choosing palliative care to support her as long as we can control her pain.

When I first heard of providing a hospice environment for a pet, I wasn’t sure I liked it. I had seen too many pets who had been put through too much suffering because their owners couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye. And that’s what pet hospice sounded like to me — pet-lovers thinking of themselves, not their pets.

Yet here I am now, giving my old girl pain-control cocktails and offering all kinds of foods to keep her eating. Right now: She’s picking at a mix of mashed yams, butter, yogurt and bits of rotisserie chicken. For breakfast she ate a little HK Embark, a little Primal ground buffalo and a handful of dog cookies. She doesn’t wolf her food anymore, but she’s hasn’t lost any weight yet, either.

Of course, I have to ask myself every day: Is this for her? Is this for me? Is this for us?

I am well aware that my dog-loving friends are not all in agreement with what I’m doing. Now that I’m very determined to try to keep her with me as long as she’s happy,  though, I am no longer getting lectured about it. Perhaps those friends now understand that when I can see Heather wants to go, I’ll send her.

Heather limps on the front leg where the malignant tumor is, and the pain cocktails can’t stop that. But she still gets around well with her tail wagging.  I was fussing to Christie about the limping last week when she said something that really stuck with me: “A lot of people limp,” she said. “We don’t run around euthanizing them.”

Too true, that.

This morning we went in to the vet’s to get Heather’s  Fentanyl patch changed, an every-five-day event now. Because Heather still wants to get into the kiddie pool here, we moved the patch from her leg to her shoulder blades so it would stay dry.

And as always, I watched her attitude when I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride. She still does, and still is happy to see the people at the vet’s.

Heather wakes up stiff, old and dying, but she still greets the day with enthusiasm, and she still thumps her tail when I tell her she’s a beautiful dog and I love her.  She still follows me from room to room, and she still resents being helped onto the bed or couch, preferring to try to jump up on her own and pretending I’m not lifting her at all. (Which I am.)

My dying father taught me about facing death with courage and peace. My dying dog is teaching me about facing  life with all the joy we can find because our time is always short, no matter how much of it we have.

More than anything, I am realizing that when you stop learning, you stop living. Fortunately, we are all surrounded by the finest of teachers, two- and four-legged both.

Image: Heather this morning, getting her pain patch changed.

Update: You can see below why we moved the patch from her leg to her shoulders.  Yes, girlfriend still likes being in the water. (And she doesn’t want to share her pool with McKenzie.)






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Learning to live: Lessons from the dying Learning to live: Lessons from the dying

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