Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Story of Hope

There's an important part of every animal's life that most pet owners won't, or can't, think about - the end. When we adopt our new furry friends as cute kittens or puppies, we never think about what’s going to happen down the line. And if we do, it’s usually that image of our best friend with the salt and pepper muzzle finding a quiet place in the house and falling asleep for the last time. And while I hate to call the death of a best friend romantic, compared to the reality that we usually face, the ending I just described is a rare fairy tale.

One day, your best friend is going to change. Even though he was perfectly house trained his whole life, an accident is going to happen. And then another. And another. And then the accidents become more frequent than when he waits at the door for you let him out. While they do make doggie diapers, and I know people use them, those diapers don’t help when your pup can’t fetch the ball anymore because they’re falling down with every step they take. Or maybe it's asthma. Cancer. A brain tumor that causes them to switch between their usual self to a creature you've never met before. 

And yet, they live on. We watch, tears in our eyes, feeling helpless as our best friend of so many years starts to become nothing more than a shell of their former self. And this is where many people face a tough decision to make: what next?

Most people choose to endure. They continue on, cleaning up the messes, helping the dog up the stairs, hoping those tumors popping up all over his body aren’t hurting him. But there comes a point when it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself “Is my dog still alive because it’s the best for him? Or because I’m afraid to lose my best friend?” And it’s hard. I've lost a lot of pets over the years, and the worst are when you need to decide to put them down because although they might still be alive, they're not really living. There is no shame in giving your friend a dignified and humane last moment. Sit with them, stroke their ears. It’s over before they know it.

But then there are the owners that will decide “that’s it” and drop their friend off at the pound. After a decade of mutual love, many games of fetch, lots of treats, and lots of love – they aren’t cute anymore, they’re going on the carpet, and they can barely walk. Someone else’s problem now, right? Except that dog that you have just dropped off at the pound is probably not going to die with someone they love. They’re going to sit on a broken, moldy mattress, watching families come in looking for a friend and leave with a cute new puppy. Your dog is going to be alone. Your dog is going to cry at night because that warm comfy bed is just a memory, and he has no idea what he did to deserve this. And then after so long, if he has made it this far, he’s going to disappear into a back room. Maybe he’ll be put down by someone who cares. But he won’t be with his family. His final moments are going to be spent wondering what he did wrong.

Meet Hope. Hope was dropped off at a kill shelter at 12 years old with tumors the size of softballs on her legs, smaller tumors all over her body, and fleas. She had one owner her whole life. I cannot fathom what kind of person - and I use that term loosely - would do that to an animal they raised for over a decade. On seeing the picture above on a rescue site, my mother took action to help out this poor dog. And I couldn't be more proud of her, even though sometimes I think I need to remind her that she can't save everyone.

This is Hope just days later. In a home again. On a warm carpet. Being loved. Getting ear scratches and fresh water. Taking walks in a yard.

I wish I could say that Hope went on to live many more years, but Hope was put down last night on September 16th. Her sores were healing, her tumors didn't seem to be bothering her, and her fleas were gone. She seemed very happy. But something wasn't right - one moment she'd be happy and sweet, the next she'd be aggressive and attack.

The vet thinks a tumor was affecting her brain.

My mom did a good thing for Hope. She didn't die in a shelter's back room at the hands of someone who didn't want to be there. She didn't die thinking she was alone. She went to Rainbow Bridge knowing that she was loved.

And even though I'm glad she was able to go the way she did; she should not have needed to. Her previous owners should have stepped up, recognized the problems, and taken care of her themselves. Not abandon her.

If you can't afford - financially or emotionally - to take your pet to the end of its lifespan, you should never own an animal. Period.

1 comment: