Most families of disabled and elderly dogs will at some point be faced with the question of their “quality of life,” “Is it time?” and “How do I know it’s time?” It’s a very difficult choice to make, and the hardest choice of all is final. I posted a letter below “from Zuko” to his family. Seen through the eyes of a dog, I want to create awareness about alternative choices and encourage patience.
When you bring a new puppy or dog into your life, I think it’s natural for some people to think about its life span. I know I did. Although our dog Zuko had suffered a few near misses in his life that gave me a good scare, the thought of saying goodbye to my adopted dear family member and friend seemed so far away that I really didn’t give it much thought after that. He had so much energy, sometimes it felt like he would live forever. I know he will live forever in my heart when he leaves us one day.
Each and every one of us that has a dog will have to go through losing our beloved friend and family member one day from illness, accident, old age, or suffering a disability because of a predisposed genetic weakness.
Our boy Zuko will be 18 years old next month. He is struggling with a disability that veterinarians he’s seen believe is most likely canine DM (degenerative myelopathy) that is comparable to ALS in humans. We first saw signs of a neurological problem in May of 2012. We took him to a neurologist that told us nothing was wrong. Although a “normal” evaluation should make someone feel better, I knew something was wrong. Unfortunately, I was right.
When caring for a disabled animal, I know everyone’s situation is different. Sometimes lifestyle, jobs and the size of the dog can determine its fate. The information that’s provided here on this topic is not meant to judge anyone for their choice or make them feel bad. I want people to be aware that there is a choice, and that far too often when an animal can’t walk a person thinks that the only choice for them is euthanasia, because that is what others have done or they are unaware there are other options.
Below is a letter that I think if our dog Zuko could write, this is what he’d say. It is in honor of all the moms & dads of special furry “children” that can’t say “thank you” in the traditional sense, especially the disabled and elderly ones–
Dear Mommy & Daddy (my family),
Thank you for being patient with me. My tail doesn’t wag anymore, but I’m still happy to see you.
My legs don’t work anymore either, so sometimes I cry because I’m frustrated and want to follow you wherever you go. I am so happy when you pick me up and carry me around with you. I still want to greet you at the door, but it especially makes me feel good when you come over and greet me, even if I was napping and didn’t realize you were there.
At times I get frightened and cry when I can’t see you because my eyes are fuzzy now. Your voices and presence comfort me, although sometimes I don’t hear you or I can’t understand what you’re saying as well as I used to. I appreciate when you don’t raise your voice and scold me.
I still love to eat. I can’t make my presence known by the table anymore, but I appreciate that you put all those tasty goodies in my bowl and then cradle me in your arms and hand feed me.
Those car rides mean so much to me. The breeze blowing through my fur makes me feel so alive, even though I can’t sit up and look out the window anymore.
I love to cuddle with you, and your praise means everything to me. I still like being told I am a good boy, and a pretty boy too at my age.
I remember all the walks we used to take together, and then how you bought me a special cart to support me so I could walk with my only two good legs. Now my two front legs aren’t working quite right either and I appreciate you pushing me in a stroller and doing all the work that I can’t, because getting outside and smelling the fresh air makes me feel so good. When I see other dogs and people I bark to try to protect you, but nothing comes out anymore. Still, I think they know I mean business.
Thank you for letting me live, and for believing in me and the lifelong friendship we’ve shared, even though sometimes it can be frustrating to you when I wake you up in the middle of the night or if I whine because I want your attention. The only life I know is the life you’ve given me. Someday you will be old too, and you’ll remember what I must’ve felt like if you can’t do what you used to be able to do anymore.
I love you both so much and I love you even more for trying extra hard to help me. Someday that will give you peace. If I grow sick, please don’t let me suffer. You will know when you look in my eyes, and you must be strong and say goodbye to me. When I’m gone I will always be with you.
Thank you for letting me enjoy some of the simple things that still make me happy. I may be a little broken now, but I am still the same me.
© 2016 Donna Novak-Naughton/Zuko the Dog