Doing the Right Thing

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The hardest part about owning a dog is the end of life decisions that have to be made.  (Note, I realize that this are also hard for you cat owners but all I’ve ever had is dogs so that’s my frame of reference)  While it is never easy, there are times when there is no choice.  The first two dogs we lost were that way.  Other than hoping for that miracle that they’ll recover and you’ll get more time, there is nothing much you can do when they’ve become non responsive.  Dolly is a harder call though.

I should tell you a little about Dolly since I haven’t talked about my dogs in a bit.  We adopted her at the same time we adopted Chrissy (who we lost last year).  We adopted her from a local organization that doesn’t have a shelter but relies on foster parents.  They bring adoptable dogs to local pet stores and they also have a web page which is where I first saw Dolly and Chrissy.  When I asked them at the pet store about Dolly, I found out that they couldn’t bring her because she was so scared that she just hid under the table and nobody is going to adopt a dog like that.  They were actually a little shocked that I was interested in her but I got a good feeling from the picture – I may be a sucker for hard cases.

It was funny when they brought both of them for a site visit.  They came from different foster moms so they were meeting for the first time.  Chrissy basically ignored Dolly and just started exploring the house.  Dolly was afraid at first but then decided that if Chrissy was exploring then it must be OK so she started doing the same.  Since they seemed to get along, we decided to adopt both.

To be honest, Dolly didn’t get much in the genetic lottery.  At first, she stayed away from us because of fear.  When she got over that and would come up to get attention, we noticed that her coat is oily and it would get all over your hands.  And, being part beagle, she tends to stink which also gets on your hands.  As she’s gotten older, her face has turned completely white but she also has this large wart on the top of her head which just adds to her overall look.  And, when we first got her, she was so afraid of people that she’d pee when we would get near her to put the leash on.  Or if someone she didn’t know came into the house.  She did get over that and has learned to come up to people although it is only a few and all they really ever get is her nose touching their finger.  That’s not to say that she doesn’t have any positive qualities because she does and, on the whole, I’m glad we adopted her.

You can see the impact the years have had.  She has trouble getting up and down stairs and no longer jumps on the couch like she used to.  She also can’t jump in the car anymore so I have to pick her up and put her in.  She still likes her walks but she can’t go as far or as fast especially in hot, humid weather so, about half the time, I need to leave her behind when I take Rocco out.  There are weekends when she wants to go and there are those where she doesn’t because she just goes back to sleep after breakfast leaving me free to take Rocco by himself.

The issue with her is that she has these periods when she has accidents in the house.  We keep her in a crate at night and it is usually at night when these happen.  So I’m awakened by barking.  On good nights, I get there before she’s had an accident and I get her outside. On bad nights, I have to do major clean up including washing the bed while still letting her out.  We got to the point where we now have two beds for the crate so we can rotate if one is in the washer.  We did that because she doesn’t like the crate without a bed and will often bark again just at sunrise to be set free.  Her digestive system is not what it used to be and we can’t watch her all the time when she is outside (or she won’t do anything) and that means she finds tasty treats in the yard.  I’ll spare you the details of what that does or the fun of cleaning that up at 2:30 in the morning.

We’ve been to the vet a couple of times but there are no obvious reasons other than age and no good solutions.  All we can do is try to keep her feeding time consistent so that she goes before bed and hope that she can make it through the night.

Right now, these are sporadic so she’ll go a week or two with no problems and then something will happen.  She can’t tell use whether she’s happy.  I’m assuming she doesn’t want to go inside because of all the training and I try not to be mad at her because there’s really no point.  It can be difficult not to be mad at 3:45 when you’ve been woken up twice and know it is going to be a long day at work due to lack of sleep so I can’t say I’m always successful.

She’s old and needs to sleep a lot but, when she wants to go to the park, she is still happy.  I really don’t believe it is right to put a dog down just because they’ve become an inconvenience which is the case right now.  So I get up and clean the messes and let her out and try to get back to sleep.  But I’m having to think ahead.  What if this gets worse.  If it were to happen every night or multiple times in a night?  What if we can’t go out to dinner or to do errands on a Saturday without worrying about what we’ll find when we get back.  Would that justify the decision even if she still has her good moments?  Again, it would still be because she’s an inconvenience but is that really a good quality of life.  I don’t like thinking that way but it becomes necessary.  At the end, you have to do the right thing for you and for the dog but, sometimes, it is hard to know what the right thing really is.


  1. Ah, Wall. What a good man you are. Here’s my perspective: I think Dolly’s dignity counts for something, if only in terms of your memories of her. I know from personal experience it’s possible for a creature to live too long. Deteriating physically and mentally is an ignoble, painful experience – wrenching to watch, as you know. For me, there is a point at which the plug needs to be pulled. When that point has been reached in Dolly’s case, only you can know.

  2. I have 2 3-year old dogs and even I sometimes think about those hard decisions I know will come down the road. My mom had to make that decision for the dog I grew up with. My ex’s parents had to make the decision with his dog. At some point, the quality of life deteriorates too much. But it’s really between you and Dolly to figure out when it’s her time. 😦

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