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The Last Dying Dog

Each night before bed, I nudge the dog as she sleeps on the floor near the door, inhaling deeply and you can see her rib bones rising and falling with each breath. Jaz is almost sixteen years old. It's time for her to go outside to continue her slumber in the doghouse. She likes to lay on the floor rather than in her bedded dog house, snuggled up next to her barrel of food. The food barrel is tucked in a corner next to her dog house along the wall of the sun porch. The hot tub is centered in this area of the room and I suppose the water pump is a soothing vibration as she sleeps. She doesn't mind the noise because she can't hear. She's completely deaf since she underwent anesthesia for an ear cleaning in 2014. Almost 16 years old and she is probably in her last year of life. This will be our last dog, because we need some freedom from pet care as we near retirement. Don't get me wrong, we don't want to have to put the dog to sleep, but realistically we know we'll probably have to.

I guess we were lucky with our first dog, Sierra was a rambunctious golden retriever who had just fell over and died as she ate breakfast one morning. She was nine years old and probably had a heart attack or something. It was quick and we hope painless. There was no end of life decision to make and it was a deep sorrow we felt upon her death in 2001. Our other dog, a lab beagle mix was probably about six years old at the time. He just lay down next to Sierra and waited for her to wake up. It didn't seem like he realized she was dead, but the days that followed were very lonely for him. He howled and cried every night. He missed his friend and being that the dogs lived outside and didn't have the comforts of being able to sleep around us in the house, he felt abandoned. I think we maybe we went on like this for a while before we decided he needed another dog as a companion. So off we went to the dog pound to find another dog.
Finding a dog for Hunter would be fairly easy, since he was such a nice easy going dog. He was not the alpha dog, Sierra was. She was in the yard first and when he joined our family, he knew who was boss. Sierra was a great teacher and Hunter was potty trained immediately, and learned all the training commands easily. Sierra wasn't really sure she wanted a puppy jumping around her and bothering her, but she was gentle and tolerated the little guy. He looked up to her like a mother. They were inseperable. So, when decided Hunter needed a companion, we didn't have a lot of criteria for a new dog, other than we wanted it probably to be a female and we didn't want it to be bigger than Hunter so he could finally be the boss. But we wanted to get a dog that would play with Hunter because Sierra didn't really play much with him.
We picked Jaz (her given name was Libby) out at the dog pound because she was so lively. She was almost a year when we got her and we saved her life. She ran the perimeter of the play area and jumped up to greet people. In hindsight, that was probably a clue she would be a jumper. She was soon in training classes to learn not to jump up on people. She is smart and learned behaviors quickly, but she was the alpha dog who always did what she wanted. It was hard to make her come or stay. She did learn not to jump up, but it took a lot of work on our part. She never was an easy one to take for a walk til she was about twelve. She was a high maintenance dog compared to Hunter, with her ear infections and allergies bothering her continually. But she is a lover girl, always happy to see you and be around you. She loved to play with stuffed animals and carry them around with her, chewing on squeakers and always sleeping with them in her dog house. Unfortunately in her old age, the toys have fallen to the wayside and she doesn't find joy in them anymore. In the last couple years she's gone deaf and has vertigo (dizziness) from all those years of ear infections. The vet said she probably doesn't even mind being deaf, it probably bothers us more than her. It's a good thing she knows hand signals to come and sit and stay.
So Jaz hasn't had an accident in the house for about a week now. I guess it started happening around the beginning of the year. She'd be walking around and poo would just drop out of her butt. I've started feeding her earlier in the evening, like at a normal dinner time. She always can eat her dry kibble, its in the dog bowl all day at her disposal. But for dinner we give her the vertigo pill and a small container of wet dog food to encourage her to eat more. She's been losing weight the last year and is thin and boney. You can see all the bumps on her backbone and feel and see all her ribs. Anyway, usually she would have an accident during or after eating. Last week she pooed as she was eating, it just fell out of her butt as she was chewing. Then the next night she was eating her dentastix chew treat after her pill while she was laying down. Her old teeth may give her some pain and when she chewed it, she pooed. laying down. She didn't even know she did it. I smelled it before I saw it. I coaxed her up and away and outside and she had left behind a log. We have become those people, the ones whose dog poos in the house.
I let her inside. She’s wobbly. So, this morning she was making her rounds of the house, walking from room to room, sniffing the waste baskets for a stray Kleenex or napkin that would be fun and tasty to shred and tear, and eat. The kitchen and bathroom waste baskets are covered in an attempt to prevent her from finding goodies. But it doesn't always work to keep her away. She has figured out how to step on the bathroom bucket foot pedal to open the lid. So we have to turn the basket around so you cant open it that way. But she can still nuzzle the lid up and it catches and then she can dig in. But it makes a lot of noise since its stainless steel. Today, I swatted her butt as she was digging in. She backed off and I got the dental floss out of her mouth and closed the bathroom door tightly to keep her away. She gave me that "why did you do that?" look and she tried to nuzzle her way back into the bathroom. Then she gave up and I resumed my morning routine of getting ready. A few minutes later I walked down the hall and spotted 3 logs of poo in the dining room, and she was laying down calmly in the office area. She has never pooed in the house in the morning. But today I wonder if she did it on purpose. Jaz has once again taken a crap on the carpet, not on the tile floor or better yet waited to go outside. She is saying, “Make me stay out of the garbage cans, and I will crap on the floor and not outside.”To get back at me for shooing her out of the bathroom. I'm not sure she could be vengeful like that, it seems like that would be giving her too much credit for thinking. If we're not vigilant, we may step in this crap, sometimes in my crocs, sometimes in my bare feet, sometimes in my keens as I’m getting on my bike to go to work.

Every time the dog poos in the house, I think to myself "What could we have been done different to avoid this problem?" It just started pretty much this year in the winter. It seemed to happen after she had been sleeping all day and we came home from work and let her in the house. A little while later after roaming around she would poo. So, we stopped bringing her in until she walked around outside a little after work so she could do her business outside if needed. But this means one of us must be outside with her to get her to wander around the perimeter and "protect" us from the birds, and squirrels. The problem seemed to be solved. But then she pooed at night after she ate. So we started feeding her right at bed time when we were using the hottub outside. But she was so hungry by then, it felt mean to keep her starving that late. Around dusk she would start following me around and nudging me. I thought she wanted to get petted, but then I figured out she was hungry and wanted her wet food. Every pile is different depending on what she eats. The easy to clean up loggers are not as frequent with the less kibble she eats. It used to be easy to pick up a chunk and drop it in the toilet and flush. Now its messy and needs special carpet cleaner, some scrubbing and wiping. And it stinks.
She has been declining rapidly over the weekend. She is so weak now and unable to stand for more than a minute. It is easier for her to walk around to keep her weight off her back legs, but she tires after every 20 feet or so. She is still determined to come outside when we do and walk the perimeter of the yard to keep us safe. She stumbles a lot and stops to assess whether she can make a step up or down off the pool deck. She still wags her tail when she sees you, and she doesn't appear or sound like she is in pain, so we just don't know when we need to make the call. She can not stand for more than a minute to eat, and then her back legs fail and she trys to eat while sitting. She can't reach the bowl from sitting, so I move it in the right position. But she's embarrassed and sniffs it but then backs off. I've been softening up ice cubes in warm water and feeding her ice a few times a day so she gets more water. And I gave her twice as many dog treats this weekend, since she isn't really eating - except for the wet food we put on top the kibble.
I called the long time neighbor who has watched our dogs when we vacation and told her the time is approaching and she may want to come over one last time to visit Jaz. She came over this weekend to say goodbye to Jaz. Its hard to think about how her time has come when she looks happy to see you by wagging her tail and comfortably enjoying some petting. But when she gets up to walk around she is terribly wobbly, her back right leg is stiff and she just drags it along, using it like a crutch. Our neighbor loves Jaz just like we do and has lots of memories of trying to corral her up when she was young and crazy. For me, knowing the time to put her to sleep is coming, hopefully will make it easier when it actually happens. The dog won't know, and it will be a peaceful end for her.
We had a pool party with some friends and their nephews, so it was a lot of excitement for our old dog. We told the kids that Jaz was like over 100 years old so be careful around her. They have cats so of course the dog wanted to sniff around and the kids just stood there. They didn't want to walk away because the dog would try to follow them around. It was a tough night for the dog - all the people going in and out, food on the table outside and all the opportunities for spilled crumbs meant she was constantly underfoot rummaging around the table. She got tired pretty early and that means she has trouble walking. She would walk ten feet and her back legs would fail and stumble and she would end up sitting. After a rest of a minute she tried to walk some more, but the same thing happened quickly. She was exhausted and finally just retired to the porch where she laid down and just watched us. Our friend said she would have already put Jaz to sleep in her condition, she encouraged us to do it soon. We realize the time is soon.
After a good nights rest, the dog is better at walking around. She still stumbles and wobbles, and it seems like her pill for vertigo just isn't as effective anymore. But we know she is on the countdown, her day of reckoning will come within a week or two. We've started deciding what to do with our dog stuff since we won't have any more dogs of our own. We want to foster, or dog sit or raise a seeing eye dog someday after we're retired and have done all our traveling, but for the next 10 years we'll be pet free. We've had a dog for the last twenty two years and its a big obligation which we will be free of in the near future. We of course, have a stockpile of dog food, treats, and medication. We'll try to sell most of it in a garage sale this coming Fall. We'll keep her canine cottage and dog bowls, and a leash, but I think everything else will get sold or donated. We'll free up a lot of room and be able to reclaim the back sun porch which has always been the dog house since we moved here over twenty years ago. We can make a nice entertaining area for those rainy summer nights. We'll also be able to get rid of fences around our garden and remove the debris around the fence perimeter that kept the dogs secure.
I got an email from the vet to get prepared for the summer hurricane season and it prompted me to finally make the appt. We had been discussing dates that might work, and how long we thought Jaz could last and decided on a Saturday ten days from now. She just pooed inside this morning while lying on the rug inside the door. Dear had woken her up from a deep slumber and she stumbled in to plop right in front of the door. We know from previous incidents, that if she hasn't been up and about prior to being let in the house, there is a chance she'll drop some mud in the house. Sure enough. You could tell she felt bad about it but we act like its no big deal. Anyway, D day is 10 days from now. It was very sad to call and talk to the vet tech about how we want to just back up the truck to the back door and get her a shot and take the body with us. We want to bury her with the ashes of our other dogs in the backyard. The tech was very sympathetic and that just makes it more sad. I'm crying as I write this now. Its just sad to think about. But she will be at peace, and she is ready. She lived a good life but can no longer enjoy jumping in the pool, chasing squirrels and lizards, playing fetch, rolling over and getting her tummy rubbed, chewing dog bones, going for walks and playing with other dogs. Now she just sleeps. Pretty soon she will sleep forever. Jaz is the last Andrews dog. That's it. Done. No more.
When I think about putting Jaz to sleep forever because she can't walk or control her bowels, I can’t help but wonder, how will things go for me someday when I’m in diapers and lose my mind? The day will inevitably come (as it has for my mother), and I'm not sure I would find life that fulfilling. I don't want to lose my dignity and be a burden to others to take care of my every need.

The more I think about it, the more I think that “How much are you willing to put up with?” is not the right question. Because no matter how sad and weary I am, the answer is always: I could put up with more. Yes, I need two cups of coffee just to get going each day. But I am not at my limit. To say so would be ridiculous. To even suggest it is to fail to recognize how many people are, actually, at their limit, or beyond it, and not because of their aging pet drama.

The question for Jaz is the same question for anyone. What is her quality of life? She sometimes wags her tail when petted. She sleeps a lot. She wanders outside and lounges in the dog house watching wildlife outside. She sniffs the tomato plants and yanks one off and eats it for a little snack. One year we had some really good tomatoes out back, but they kept disappearing off the plant. We thought the squirrels were getting them. But one morning we looked out the window and saw Jaz jumping up on the Earth Box and grabbing a nice red tomato off my plant. We had discovered who our tomato thief was. The dog. The garden is her joy with eating grass and tomatoes. Not a bad life. But still, her time has come.

When the family pet nears the end, of course there is sadness, but other emotions surface as well. There will be a sense of freedom and relief. Yes, relief and peace to not have to watch this aging animal hobble around and stumble. You always wonder if they're in pain and just don't express it. One year when Jaz was a younger dog she ran too close to the boat trailer and sliced her thigh open about 2 " long and an 1" deep on the sharp metal edges of the fender. She didn't even seem to notice it, there was no blood - just white flesh that looked like chicken meat. And it was the night before we were going out of town for a week. In those days, we had both dogs and they just lived in the backyard when we were out of town, and the neighbor came over twice a day to give meds and feed them. It was pretty stressful leaving them alone and hoping the leg wound didn't develop into something. We packed it with antibiotic gel and hoped it would be okay. And it was.
Only a handful of sleeps left until the final day. Everyday is a struggle now for us and the dog. Jaz had tears in her eyes this morning after slowly falling over while trying to eat breakfast. She didn't even try to get up and continue her meal. She just laid there and tears welled up. Life is suffering.
Today is the day. As the sun shined brightly Saturday morning, Dear and I held our sweet, gentle Jaz as she slipped away to our creator. We loved on her like she loved on us. We wanted her to pass knowing just how loved she was and we thanked her for the joy she gave us and so many others. It was sad, but it was peaceful. She is at rest is our backyard with our other two previous dogs. I find it strangely comforting to know she is still in the backyard. Every time I look out the window in the backyard, I look at her grave site and miss her. But she isn't really gone; just not in any pain or misery that comes with old age.
It didn't take long for the wildlife to come back to the yard. There are squirrels drinking out of the pool, the cardinals in the garden, and the mice scrounging around the shed. The weeds will grow up in areas that were worn down by Jaz wandering her lap around the yard. We cleaned up the doghouse and boxed up the stockpile of food and treats and meds that will get sold on craigslist. We mopped and vacuumed and washed to clean our house of those tell tale signs you have a pet. We thought about how to rearrange the doghouse (sun porch) into a nice area for us to read, watch TV, entertain, or eat a meal. For the first time in over twenty two years we don't have a pet. It's like we have the empty nest feeling that parents get when their children move out of the house for the final time.

Time will heal our pain.
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