Friday, March 25, 2011

The Villain has her say.

It's Georgia's birthday tomorrow. But the week has really all been about Rufus. It wasn't meant to be. It's just the way things turned out.

There was a time when I used to do "How is Rufus B Thumper?" updates at the end of every post. I stopped when his condition stabilised. But perhaps, it's time for another one now. I'll give you the same warning that preceded my old updates. If you're not here to read sad yucky things about sickly old dogs or my nasty conflicted issues, please stop reading now.

*****

Some days, Rufus wants to chase cats. On other days, he won't walk, not even with The Other Half. Some days, he pushes Georgia aside to get to his pap. On other days, he has to be cajoled, tablespoonful by tablespoonful, to eat. Lately, his stomach has gone Very Bad again. He's been on meds, on and off for the last couple of months. 2 nights ago, he had 4 bad bouts of diarrhea that went from sludge to blood. As of yesterday, he's on another round of antibiotics, a gut protectant and an anti-inflammatory.

So this is Rufus B Thumper's life now.

He can only eat pap, which he tolerates in small quantities. Someone has to be home to feed him at least 3 times a day. If he eats anything else, or bigger meals, he gets sick. We'd love to take him and Georgia on a holiday, but we don't dare to be too far away from his vet. Things can go bad very quickly with him. No more big weekend excursions either. Mostly, he now goes no further than one big block around the house, because he sometimes collapses, and it would be impossible to get him home if he was too far away. His pancreatitis and other gut problems, arthritis and cauda equina syndrome, skin allergies and eye infections, bowel and bladder incontinence and dementia are all colliding in one big mess. The only thing we fully have under control is his hypothyrodism.

There's a woman in the neighbourhood who pushes her dog to the park in a stroller. I was there one day when I heard a man behind me say, "Some people just don't know when to let go." I've often thought about what that man said. Was he being careless and insensitive? Without a doubt. Was he wrong to think it? I don't know.

Some years back, on holiday in Byron Bay with Jordan and Rufus, we were on the beach when a group of people arrived. One of the men was carrying a frail-looking old German Shepherd in his arms. He put the dog on the sand, it had a wobbly sniff, then lay down. They stayed a while, watched the sun set. Then, the man picked up his dog and they left. I was sad for the man who so loved his dog. And I was sad for the dog who had to live like that.

There won't be any stroller for Rufus. We won't be carrying him on walks. Even if we wanted to, it wouldn't be physically possible. At his now reduced weight of 53kg, the last time he collapsed, it still took 3 people and a big blanket to lift and haul his deadweight from the car to the house after a trip to the vet. These are the things you don't think about when you want to get a bigdog.

In my year of writing a dogblog, I've been lucky to "meet" vets and foster carers, dog experts and people struggling to be good dogowners. Ms C has a blog that gives good advice for people with senior dogs. Ms J has a blog that keeps me informed about the many medical conditions that can afflict a dog. I learn from all of them. But I still can't find the answer to my most pressing question.

How do we know when a dog is ready for his final walk? Why do so many people say, "You will know." HOW will we know? Do we wait until the dog collapses and shows signs of pain? Or do we give it a big juicy bone and let it go on a good and happy day? I've heard doglovers on both sides of the argument.

Is there even one right answer?

*****

If you've stayed with me this far, I have another Mr Thumper story for you. It doesn't have any pictures because I was too flustered to take any. It happened just yesterday, on our evening amble.

Despite having not eaten for almost 2 days, Rufus was in a mood to walk. After about 20 slow minutes, we got to the park for old, fragile and teacup dogs. Maybe because the sun was finally out after days of grey skies and rain, there were many people there. There were mums and dads, barefeet children, babies in strollers, 1 baby in a papoose. There were also lots of dogs running around, maybe about 10. All of them were little, so I thought, let's walk around the park and avoid the crowd.

One of the littledogs noticed Rufus. It started to bark at him. It wouldn't stop. No one tried to stop him. Like a magnet, Rufus was drawn to his no doubt dulcet yaps, and started walking towards the group of people. He stopped when he got in front of them. And even from where I was standing, some metres away, I could see trouble coming.

Rufus started flicking his tail. I knew what that meant! I started yelling, "NO, Rufus! NO!" I ran as quickly as I could to get to him. Like a flock of sunblinded gulls and for reasons best known to themselves, none of the people moved, even when I shouted to them, "He's going to poop!"

And that he did, as only a dog with colitis can. He strained and pooped, walked a few steps, strained and pooped again, walked another few steps, repeat as before.

Unfortunately for everyone there, Rufus still had the runs. Pretty funky ones too. I pulled out a poop bag and started to wipe up the goo, as best as I could from the previously pristine, freshly rainwashed grass. It was impossible.

Finally, people started to shift, eye me and my dog with disgust concern, and quietly freak out.

I was already freaked out. Because meantime, 3 littledogs had come running up to Rufus to see what the fuss was about. They sniffed his bum, they stuck their heads under his tail, what were they thinking? And where were their owners? Was I the only one concerned that these dogs were about to get a nice splash of diarrhea on their heads? "Go away littledogs!" I said, as pleasantly as I could while secretly wanting to kick them away [strictly for their own good, of course]. One of the littledogs was even braver. It stuck its nose up where-the-sun-don't-shine AS RUFUS WAS STRAINING AWAY.

I screamed again. How could I not? I so hope no innocent child kissed her sweet doggie goodnight.

Rufus, bless his heart, kept on moving and pooping, oblivious to the gallery of 2- and 4-legged spectators. I followed behind, miserably, loudly apologizing to all and sundry for my dog's bad manners. For his funky poo. For his lack of hygiene. For my inability to clean up properly.

But Rufus wasn't done with me yet.

One of our neighbors is away for the week and I've been collecting their mail for them. I thought I'd stop by on the way home and check if there was more. I opened the gate and let Rufus into the yard. I collected the mail and went up to the porch to put them by the front door. I didn't realise that, somehow, my old and lame dog had snuck up the stairs behind me. He was only on the second step so I yelled at him to stop, which he did. I tried to get him to turn around, but he was too big to maneuvre the delicate 3-point turn. So I thought - the only way out would be to let him climb all the way to the top, then turn him round and bring him back down again. It seemed like a good plan.

Except that Rufus didn't like it.

He climbed to the top. But despite me immediately turning him round, he plonked his butt down and refused to budge. I screamed yet again because he only narrowly missed sitting on the pile of mail by the door. Did I mention that his butt, tail and legs were a bit gummy from his exertions at the park? No?

I spent the next few minutes trying to get him to come back down the stairs. But Mr Thumper had decided that he liked the neighbor's front porch and wasn't going anywhere. So he lay down instead and ignored me. I had no choice but to go get The Other Half. If Rufus will move for anyone, it's him. But no, not today. At that point, I shook my head, washed my hands of the whole situation, left the premises and went home to wash my hands in fact.

The Other Half and Rufus came back about 10 minutes later. He immediately had another butt wash [the dog, not the man], his 4th in as many days.

There's Mr Thumper for you. He may not have decided when he's going yet, but he's intent on leaving us a few good stories.

28 comments:

Karen Friesecke said...

That "final walk" is a good question. I've been so lucky that I've never have to take a pet to the vet to be euthanized. All my pets, except one have died in their sleep. The cat that had to be put down was done while I was away on holidays, so I didn't have to witness that.

I am of the opinion that if the animal is not suffering, then leave it be. Aside from being a little cranky, Rufus seems to be doing okay. He can walk on his own. I think that he will let you know when it is time.

CindyLu's Muse said...

Agree with Karen - and I have had to have my dog euthanized. She was ill, got better, then terribly ill again. When it got to where she couldn't do normal doggy things, seemed miserable, I made the choice. When I opened the car door at the vet's, she tumbled out onto the pavement, unable to stand up. It confirmed for me I was doing the right thing, at the right time - even though it was beyond hard on my heart. You know Rufus best, you'll know if he needs your help crossing over.

And I have to laugh - sounds like he just wanted to "sun on the porch" for awhile!

georgia little pea said...

Akthough I've had quite a few dogs, this is the first time I've had to face this situation. My father had the previously unappreciated task of tending to the euthanesia of my childhood dogs. Sudden illnesses have taken away a couple of more recent ones. There was no option but to euthanise.

I'm just not sure what "suffering" means. Is that as in "physical howling pain" or "no more quality of life and unable to live as a dog should"? or as CLM puts it..."normal doggy things".

chandra said...

I for one don't think it was an accident that Rufus saved up his runs for a public display amongst - and nearly on top of - the little dogs. I mean, he walked for 20 slow minutes (that's like two hours in young-dog walking time) before he let loose.

That kind of timing is reserved for those who appreciate the little things in life. Whether it's dogs or people, I think as we move into our very elderly years, our world gets much smaller. That, in and of itself, isn't a bad thing. If RBT is still able to embarrass you in public, I'm betting that he's still enjoying his little corner of the world.

-c at ddy.

hero said...

Far from being insensitive to the caregiver, these are the stories we all would look back in fond memory of our beloved dog when they are no longer with us... you are doing your very best for Rufus, and that's what matters at the end.

Licks, hero

Kenzo said...

Such a difficult question. Gladly we are more humane with our dogs and can prevent unnecessary suffering of a dog that is already on his final walk, unlike we do with our own species. But on the other side of that equation we tend to euthanize too early because we project our own humand standards defining quality of life. Looking through those eyes a lot of people would already have euthanized my Viva, god forbid. But we should ask what is quality of life through the eyes of a dog. Dogs get over hurdles, and they go on living as if nothing happened. Like dogs that loose a leg. They don't sit down depressed, they keep on enjoying life and don't look back.

Still ... I couldn't answer your question and come up with a definition. I am sure you will do the right thing when the time comes.

georgia little pea said...

@C - You just made me bring out the kleenex. I'm going to remember what you wrote here. It's as good a guideline as any.

Thanks Hero and Kenzo xox

Kristine said...

*hugs* I am positive there is no one right time. Whatever time you decide or whatever happens, whenever it happens, I have to believe is the best. When I think of my childhood dog, I can't help but worry we made her suffer for far too long because we weren't ready to let her go. I feel nothing but guilt when I think of her. But it isn't fair to her memory. When we were ready was when she was ready. Plain and simple.

I am so sorry you are going through all of this right now. But it sounds like Rufus is still quite the entertainer!

I will be thinking of you all, much love to the furry ones.

Pamela said...

One of the reasons you are such a great writer is because you recognize that tremendous pain is often at the bottom of a funny story. Your description of Mr. Thumper makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

And all of us who love animals have been in the same place. Maybe that's what ultimately makes us a community here in blog world. We face illness and death over and over with the animals we love.

I personally think "you'll just know" is hooey that people say when they want to encourage you but don't know what else to say. So just translate it in you head to "I love you and hope you find some peace in this process" and learn to life with the uncertainty. The only certain thing is you're doing the best you can. And so is Rufus.

Year later, I still don't "just know" if I waited too long or gave up too early for my dogs. But that's the price we pay for having the ability to end the suffering of those we love.

My thoughts are with all of you. And I hope Georgia has a terrific birthday.

georgia little pea said...

@Kristine - I think he's the consummate entertainer though I doubt he realizes it. He takes himself very seriously :p

About your childhood dog, everything is always clearer in hindsight, isn't it? I'm personally very afraid to drag things out too. But there can be a big gap between when WE are ready and when THEY are. I just hope Rufus doesn't collapse one day in pain like Jordan did - that would be such a terrible way to go when we could make the decision to let it end more peacefully. But again,
how will we know except in hindsight?

georgia little pea said...

@Pamela - you know, I love writing Mr Thumper stories. They help me deal with the real and daily frustrations of caring for a sick old dog. However much you love them, there are going to be bad days. Although Rufus was handed his "final prognosis" around May of last year, his ill health has been ongoing since he was 3. That's about 8 years - a long time to be on edge.

Thanks for all your understanding xox I hope to do something for poor Ms Pea this weekend. Luckily, she doesn't REALLY understand it's her birthday! :p

Peggy Frezon said...

We've had to make this decision before and it's always the worst. Here's some advice I received: When she no longer lifts her head and wags her tail when you walk into the room, it may be one way of knowing it's the right time.

sagechronicles said...

Firstly, before I get all slobbery, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Little Pea! I hope this will be a good weekend for Rufus and he can enjoy a little of the celebration.

It IS hard to know when to take that final trip. We had to do it with our Maggie 14 months ago after she lived with lymphoma for over 8 months. She enjoyed good quality time up to the last week. Finally, her tumors were large and she wasn't able to do much. It was time.

I think it's one of the hardest decisions to make. And a very conflicting one. Thank goodness we have the ability to make it, though. Whenever and whatever decision you make, it will be the right one. Enjoy the time you have left with Rufus, even if it means a few more butt washes!!

Jean said...

As a foster (and adopter) for senior and palliative dogs, I have faced this dilemma many times. It never gets easier. I do, however, find there is some truth to the platitude that "you'll just know". When I have a vet come to help an old or sick dog pass (I always have it done at my home), I am always 100% sure. The dog just seems to let me know that 'it is time'. That said, the second-guessing comes in after the dog is gone - was I reading him correctly, did I fantisize signs/communications that weren't there, was I doing it for my own convenience rather than the dog's well being? I think it is second nature when a loved one dies to wonder "could I have done more?" - and that is doubly so when we make the active decision to euthanize a loved pet.
As long as an animal still seems to be enjoying life and pain management is still effective, I do not feel a need to act. When they no longer show an interest in their world - their humans, the occasional sniff in the grass, the very tempting treat - it is time to release them.

That said, I would rather help a dog to pass a week too soon than a day too late.

(As for the embarrasing park episode, thanks for the laugh. Been there many times! My old Charley's favourite place to have a long, drawn out, walk-as-you-go running poop is on the sidwalk right in front of the town restaurant where diners are enjoying their meal!)

dogsmom said...

How is it that on such a sensitive topic, by the end of post you still had me smiling?
You have to find the humour and love in those precious days you have left together.

I am one of those who feel you will know when the time is right, as long as you do not keep a dog hanging on for your own reasons. You are very in tune with Rufus and I believe you will be able to make a good decision.

As for the other dog owners at the park, if you are not aware of your pet's actions or in control of its behavior, you have to act now or suffer the consequences.

Lavi said...

I was a bit used to happier stories, but as I sad and read through this post, I realised that Rufus really has a lot of health problems and doesn't seem to jolly happy either. I'm really sorry... A big hug to all of you for taking such good care of him.

I can't help on the "last walk" problem. I have seen my dad fade away and, although we (including him) were thankful for every minute we still had together, he was very miserable.

Even if they say "you'll know", the real problem is can you do it?

Sorry about the sad comment. I hope Rufus will get more better days than bad ones.

georgia little pea said...

@Peggy - Rufus hasn't really been able to wag his tail for a year now as his cauda equina syndrome has collapsed his back and ability to do so. Sad eh?

@ Sage - I'm sorry about Maggie. On conflicting emotions - we had the same with Jordan, even though the situation was so hopeless and he was in pain. We even thought of bringing him home for just one more night, and to say goodbye to Rufus. I know we made the right decision but it's still tinged with regret.

@Jean - I was hoping for your insight since I know you're a foster carer and would probably have done this a few times. As you can see from the last post, Mr Thumper is still very interested in treats, so perhaps the end is not nigh!

" I would rather help a dog to pass a week too soon than a day too late."
THAT day too late scenario is my big fear. I think I would have to agree with you on this. VERY MUCH. As for Charley's story...OMG! Rufus's soul sibling :)

@dogsmom - I am terribly aware of the possibility that we sometimes hang on to the dog for US. In a way, that's how I felt about those 2 scenarios I wrote about. It's also what makes me worry that I might be too anxious and then let him go too early. Does that make sense?

As you said...you have to find the humour... :)

@Lavi - I'm sorry to hear about your dad. Mine suffered for many years too, before passing. He would have liked to have ended it, but since it was illegal to do so.....I think Kenzo (at the top) mentioned something about how we at least can be humane with our dogs, if not our own species. Thank you for wishing Rufus more better days!

THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR YOUR THOUGHTS AND INSIGHT.

And oh, for wishing poor forgotten Georgia a happy birthday! :) xox

hero said...

Today is your barkday, Georgia Little Pea! Happy Barkday and many happy returns of the day... hope you'll have a pawsome pawty with Rufus and the hoomans to celebrate your special occasionm :)

Licks, hero

georgia little pea said...

Thank you Hero! My Typist has been cooking all morning and is too busy to type up a post. She's awful. I don't know why she didn't prepare one earlier so people can say nice things about me instead of sad things about Mr Thumper. That's what a good dogmom like yours would've done. Gah. Maybe she'll do one next week, when it really counts. Big hugs to you, cheche, koko and meimei xox

Team Beaglebratz said...

Hey Georgia Pea - Shiloh here tu wish u a Happy Barkday tu am'tu thank u fer stoppin'by my (or I shood say OUR) blog If you has a chance then maybe you can stop by later - I know your mom iz bizy butt u gotta haf a little fun tu (an'your mom tu)

And to your mom from my mom - I had the same problem you are now; my dad was always the one to take any of my childhood dogs for that last journey - until my little Furangel Oreo. He was going on 17, almost blind and deaf, incontinent and had a bit of arthritis plus SEVERAL missing teeth BUT he still managed my deck to go in and outside and somehow was able to eat pretty well - I grappled with the same question for a few months - how do you know? Finally, a friend of my sister's who had also gone through this told me how she finally dealt with that question - when you hold your dog's face in your hands and look into his/her eyes and there is nothing there - an empty stare back - no spark in the eyes, no sign of recognition - not because the dog is blind because they can still smell your presence and react to it. Finally, when my Oreo had that look - I knew and yes, it is still a very difficult decision but I knew that he was ready. As we sat in the vet's office, Oreo laying on my lap, he never responded to anything the vet did - he was so brave and he made my job so very easy.

It sounds like Rufus may not be quite there yet since he has a few good times still - someone said he wanted to sunbathe at the top of those stairs - sounds like a good plan to me.

georgia little pea said...

Hey Shiloh - I saw your post. It had sparkles and a cake with candles and giveaways! How hard did YOUR mom work to make you so happy and your day special!

Today, while I was grilling the dogs' meat, I tried to sneak Georgia a couple of extra pieces for her birthday. I looked up and saw Rufus glaring at me from behind the basil bush. Haha! Caught out! I thought he was fast asleep. Definite spark still in the eyes.

Thanks for sharing Oreo's story. I love that he wasn't going to let a few missing teeth get between him and FOOD! :)

Greyhounds CAN Sit said...

Happy Birthday Georgia Little Pea. I hope Rufus is still sparking tonight:)

I've had about 15 dogs and only 1 has died in her sleep. All the rest I've had to make the decision when to let them go. It's never easy as you generally wonder if you did it too soon. Sometimes it's obvious they're ready, other times you just have to make a gut decision as they're not spelling it out for you, but you know in your heart that they're still here for you, not them. We selfishly want them with us for as long as possible. When perhaps they just really want to be pain free, suffer no longer, meet up with their mates and run again.

When the time comes you probably will know. But it's not yet is it:)

Edie said...

This online community continues to awe and amaze me with its collective wisdom. I have little to add. My best (human) friend is going through this with her arthritic, incontinent dog; she's getting flak for keeping him alive too long. I sent her this post I saw in Dog Star Daily: http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/15-year-old-puppy

The Rufus story had me literally laughing out loud.

Happy birthday, Georgia. Don't you hate it when they're not fully focused on you?
xxx

Elizabeth said...

Happy (belated?) birthday, miss Georgia!

As others have already posted, I feel like crying and laughing all at the same time. You know, I sit here and think about my Molly who was nearly 17 when I lost her last April. As hard as it was, it was time. I know that because her funny stories were over. There were no more funny stories, only sad ones - and that was her cue. Now, I can only think back on her and smile.
We wish you all the best with your sweet Rufus.
Elizabeth, Jon Farleigh and Dewi

Lavi said...

Dropping by to wish Georgia a happy birthday. Best wishes and a big doggie hug!

georgia little pea said...

@greyhoundsCANsit, Edie, Elizabeth and Lavi - thank you so much for remembering poor neglected Georgia's birthday! I'm sure she's working on a complaint right now and will soon be calling the SPCA :p

THANK YOU also for sharing your experiences and, as Edie put it, wisdom. I've learnt a lot from all the comments on this post. They've put me at ease that it may not be time yet for Rufus. They've also given me many little signs to look out for so that, hopefully, I won't be a day late. Edie, I'll be reading that link, thanks :) I wish your friend well.

Have a great Sunday! :) xox

Team Beaglebratz said...

Just a note from Shiloh's mom about his sparkly picture and the birthday cake picture. There a some who could do all this stuff themselves - make it from the beginning - I am NOT one of them. The sparkly picture is from Blingee.com - they offer a neat service for those of us who are less than artistic. All you do is upload one of your own pictures and then follow their instructions. They have all kinds of neat little stamps you can add - you can do it for free or there is a cost for more advanced options. As for the picture of the dog with the birthday cake with the dog - I just did a google search for gifs or for birthday gifs for this time. There are a few websites that are free - find the picture you like, save it to your own computer then when doing a blog post, there it is to upload.
Like I said, I am NOT one of those artsy types altho I wish I was. I just use what tools are at hand - those offered by sites who make me look good.

georgia little pea said...

Dear Shiloh's mom,

You win The Honest Dogblogger Award! That's so kind of you to tell me your secrets of making a happy birthday post. Sometimes, it seems that dogbloggers are an incredibly artistic, tech-savvy lot. I am now reassured! :p Have a great day! xox