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    D - I have always said that when YOU earn another rank of adulthood when YOU have to make the choice to put a pet down. In younger days, it...

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Uncharted Territory

23 Jan 2011

If you have listened to my shows in Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas or Phoenix then you’ve heard my many stories about Lucky our black lab who has been on this earth for about 17 years and a member of our family for 14 of those. We found this tattered, torn, muddy and smelly animal at a friend’s farm just outside of Nashville; he was going to be “put down” the following day.  The family we were visiting were breeders of world class American Kennel Club registered labradors and this castaway had been co-mingling with the other dogs.  In other words, some family got the dog, decided he was too big, loud or something else and took him on a one way trip out of town.

This under-nourished animal took a liking to my kids, Ben in particular, and followed him everywhere.  You know where this is heading–an eight year old kid begging his pop “Can we keep him?  Can we keep him?” (There’s much more to this part of the story but I don’t have pages to fill here.) Anyway, at the end of the day, Lucky became a part of the Ankarlo Household and our family has never been the same.  In a way, he completed us (Thanks Jerry Maguire.).  That canine has been our watchdog, buddy to play games with, swimming partner in quite a few lakes, and the list goes on.

But Lucky, if you’ve done the math, is getting old; some say real old for such a big dog. His eyesight and hearing are all but gone and these days the only way he knows I’m having breakfast is by his still keen sense of smell. He’ll be asleep on the floor–shallow breathing–and I can rattle the silverware all over the place and rip open the cereal bag with noises that’ll wake the house across the street.  Yet my buddy just lays there.  Then, when the milk goes into the bowl a darkened eye pops open and then shut again.  But, as I end my breakfast ritual, in another room of the house mind you, I know I can look down and Lucky will be sitting there waiting for any possible left-over cereal pieces or drops of milk. His tail wags and he sits still as I rub his head and scratch under his mouth.  Used to be he would spring out of the room but these days its a slow little fellow who either lies at my feet or carefully saunters out of the room.

Besides hearing and eyesight issues and the cysts older dogs develop, Lucky–always an indoor dog for us–has become incontinent.  If he doesn’t go out of the house several times per night we have huge messes to clean up the next morning.  And, if we leave him out past the time he’s allotted, our big black lab will let everyone know he wants back in.  At first it’s a yelp; a loud yelp I have heard from as many as eight blocks away.  It’s just one, but it’s deafening.  If we haven’t pulled our bodies out of bed to let him back in, the single yelp turns into a flurry of booming barks that can be heard the next county over.  Yikes! Obviously, neighbors hate a barking dog during the day but let one loose in the middle of the night and they are neighbors no more!

I’ve had plenty of pets die over the years–my dad usually buried them in the back yard somewhere.  (I’ve often wondered what the current owners of my boyhood home would think if they dug up the back yard for a pool or something.  Double yikes.) But I’ve never had a dog become such a part of the family and for soooo many years.  What’s an animal lover and pet owner to do?  Is it inhumane to let him live with lost senses and incontinence as well as hind legs he can no longer hike all because I want to keep him with us?  Or, is it wrong to even think of doing the unthinkable because he has a lot of “old man” issues–issues that are painful to him in some instances and unbearable in others?

If he were a dog living the wild he would die in a number of natural and/or dreadful ways but one of them would not be some man or woman chasing after them with a hypodermic needle full of sodium pentobarbital.  As you see, I’m stuck.  I would keep our friend Lucky with us forever (No, we’re not going to have him stuffed thank you.) but that’s not going to happen.  Among earthly living, nothing lives forever.  Do I put a muzzle on my pal so he can stay outside while causing no morning cleanups–inside the house or with the neighbors next door?  Or, is that inhumane just because I want to keep my friend around for another six months or a year no matter the issues he’s facing?

This is uncharted territory for my family and I’m not sure where to go or how to get there so would you share your thoughts?  Sometimes it’s easier to know what to do when others have told you their stories first.  Please keep your posts as brief as possible so I may read many.  Thanks for your help.

No matter what–we love you Lucky.  You’ve been a good pal.

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Comments

January 23, 2011 8:53 am Reply

Wow. That’s a tough one. I was a certified veterinary technician for 13 years and euthanasia was always the hardest part of the job. We have cursed ourselves to love creatures who’s lfe spans are much shorter than our own. And, while it may seem unfair to put him to sleep because of old man issues, in my opinion it would be more unfair to muzzle him and put him out. Old animals suffer from many of the same health trouble that people do, including slowed thought, dementia like symptoms, and atrophy in their brains. It would be a fearful situation for him. And I know from experience that a muzzle is no guarantee against noise. It is a difficult place you and your family find yourself in and I hope that you find a resolution you can be at peace with. There are some medications that help with incontinence but they are sketchy in older animals.

January 23, 2011 9:24 am Reply

1. I would not muzzle him for fear of him hurting himself trying to get it off. Beyond that, you’ll break his heart.
2. Talk to your vet. Perhaps there is some sort of doggy detrol. I’m sure that he/she has some advice that is better than the general public’s.
3. Unless Lucky lives up to his name and dies in his sleep, you will eventually have contemplate the unthinkable. If this is the last option, please don’t leave him to die in a cold room with strangers. Be a man and stay with him. It will be the hardest, most selfless thing you will have ever done in your life.
4. I will be praying that answers come to you. We miss you, and still love you in Nashville, Tennessee.

xoxoxjb

January 23, 2011 10:51 am Reply

First, have you consulted with your Vet regarding Lucky’s recent issues? He/she can help guide you through this uncharted territory that you and your family now find yourself in. Incontinence is not uncommon with older dogs. But there are ways to deal with it. Check out your local pet supply store for puppy training pads. They are treated with a scientifically formulated scent to attract pets. Put one close to where Lucky sleeps and he should be able to find the right spot. If you are concerned about him walking throughout the house and making a mess, you might want to get an X-pen and confine him to one area. Just make sure that it is either close to you or near where he would normally sleep so that it doesn’t upset his routine too much. But you should definitely have him checked out by your Vet.

Second, your job is not to pro-long Lucky’s life, but rather keep him as comfortable and pain-free as possible. When that is in doubt, and you will know, Lucky will “tell” you, then it will be time. It’s best to have those discussions with your Vet and your family now, so that when that time comes, and it will, you will be as prepared as humanly possible.

Lucky is a lucky dog and for being a 17 year old lab, he was named appropriately. Continue to love him and be near him at this time when he needs you most! and absolutely NO muzzle!

Best wishes to both you and Lucky!

January 24, 2011 7:14 pm Reply

I don’t have dogs but I have several cats and I know how hard it can be to make that decision. I once had this very special kitty who slept beside me every night for 17 years. Finally, for about 4 months we notice different behavior and she no longer would go upstairs and sleep with me. It was like she knew it was her time to go and she didn’t want to put me through it. She broke her tail and became incontinent and my poor husband had to take her to the vet to put her down. I still cry 4 years later but I have her ashes by the fireplace. And somehow I know she is still around. I always make a donation to the Arizona Humane Society whenever I lose a pet and somehow that always makes me feel a little better. Other cats have come into my life in recent years and somehow I feel that she personally picked them out for me because that is what she would have done.

January 29, 2011 7:04 pm Reply

Darrell,
To subject him to the indignity of a muzzle, then to put him out when he’s not used to it would seem like punishment to him. He doesn’t deserve that. Like the poster above said, he would be confused, not knowing why this was happening to him.

We love our pets, many become family members and, as nature takes its course due to age or illness, we save them with modern medicine. That’s wonderful, but, there comes a time when quality of the pets life has to be taken into account. Your sweet Lucky had many years helping you live and giving you joy. Now it’s time for you to help Lucky die with dignity. It’s the right thing to do, the very hardest thing, but the right thing.

February 23, 2011 12:33 pm Reply

D – I have always said that when YOU earn another rank of adulthood when YOU have to make the choice to put a pet down. In younger days, it was your folks or another adult who made that decision. When it is on you and there are children involved, you grow up.

Never easy, but when I have done it, I always ask myself whether my dog was having fun. If the answer was no, then I knew it was time.

Still in Nashville,

Zach

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