On Thursday, I delivered Petey to the rescue where he is to be placed with another foster home and be more accessible to potential adopters if he is deemed adoptable, and to vet care if he is not. Today, I ran over to the mainland to visit my 93 year old mom in her care facility. Two hours each way on a ferry give one a lot of time for thinking about their similarities, and the issue of quality of life.
There are some who would say it is wrong to send a blind, deaf, ancient foster dog to yet another home instead of finding a way to continue to provide care here. There are some who would say that they would never put their ageing parent in a facility; that it is the responsibility of adult children to look after ageing parents. There are some who will keep critters and humans alive at all costs until they are immobile, incontinent of bowel and bladder, and devoid of all pleasures in life.
I am not that person.
The very elderly, be they human or canine, need 24-7 care. The caregivers at my mom's facility are far more competent and well trained than I am to provide her with the care she requires, even though I know she wishes she was not there.
Dogs, however, pose a different challenge. As a deaf, blind, ancient little dog who has obviously had a traumatic and neglectful past, Petey becomes very distressed when left alone. I live alone, in a small village with two very small convenience stores. Period. If I need to do some banking, go to a doctor’s appointment, do a major grocery shop, pick up something from a hardware or drugstore, I am going to be gone at least two hours. Taking Eddie for his much-needed walks means Petey is guaranteed to be left alone for at least an hour twice a day. I don't have an army of volunteers or any paid staff to tend to the dogs. And one can only call on friends so often – a situation I try to reserve for emergencies or at least very important family –related concerns.
Taking Petey with me is seldom an option – he can't be left alone in the car, even if the temperature isn't too hot, and virtually no stores here (with the exception of pet stores) allow dogs inside - not even the post office where I pick up my mail.
Petey is a very content dog when lying in my arms , and does usually nap peacefully in one of his many beds as long as I’m in the same room. He even putters around the yard with me quite happily for a half hour or so at a time. But his need for 24 hour care cannot be met here, and I will not see a dog in frequent distress with no chance of it being relieved in the current environment.
A challenge indeed.
And that leads to a bigger question: At what point does one decide that a dog's quality of life is so compromised that it may be time to euthanize? Only when a medical crisis hits? Or is there a point at which a dog whose little ticker beats just fine should be helped to cross the bridge? Petey's situation aside, I will eventually face that dilemma with my Sadie, who has insulinoma, an incurable cancer with a poor prognosis. I will not see a dog become totally immobilized in its own urine and feces, reliant on a human to even get them from basket to door. I honestly do not think a dog who has been ‘clean’ since puppyhood likes that feeling – even if it is contained in doggy diapers. As a short term or occasional issue – such as post surgery, or the occasional accident – that’s okay. But as a permanent situation – No. When Sadie reaches the point where she can no longer get up, or where her occasional accidents in the house become a routine from total loss of bladder and bowel control, I will opt to euthanize her. So far, I have been lucky that all my many dogs have decided for themselves before reaching that point.
When I took on Petey nearly six months ago, I anticipated he may be with me for two or three months – while he had and recovered from his dental surgery and his eye surgery – and then he would be promoted on the website and facebook and find a forever home. I was prepared to give up that much time, that much of my life – temporary responsibility is part of the reason I foster rather than adopt more dogs. For reasons that are complicated, and for which no one is as fault, this did not happened. The decision on his eye surgery is still pending as far as I know; and no one foresaw the incredible need he has to be with a human full time, nor the extent to which being some distance from the preferred vets used by the rescue would be problematic.
I have been blessed to have Petey in my life for these six months, and I hope I have been some comfort to him. But I also know that I do not want to, and cannot, provide 24/7 care for a dog over whom I do not have full decision making power.
The dogs I adopt will always be with me to the end. But I am the one who decides when the quality of life is no longer satisfactory. Sadie will never be given away or euthanized simply because she needs frequent care due to her insulinoma. But nor will I keep her alive once she no longer has what I consider to be a reasonable quality of life – once she can no longer walk, can no longer control her bladder and bowels, once her collapses can no longer be controlled by medications without significant negative side effects. I do not look forward to making that decision, but I also won’t rush it.
With Petey no longer here, I can once again leave the house for 4-5 hours at a time. There may come a time when Sadie’s needs mean those outings are shorter. But I am convinced that when it means she needs 24 hour care, seven days a week, her quality of life will be one that neither she nor I would consider acceptable.
Perhaps others have greater tolerance than I for being away from the house knowing full well that one of the critters is barking and crying hysterically. Perhaps others are home more, or have other family members or volunteers who can stay with a dog so needy. If so, then Petey is better being moved to such an environment than staying here. And if not, then it will be up to the rescue to make a decision regarding his quality of life.
I know what I would do.
And not everyone would agree.
(Postscript: as of this afternoon, Petey is now listed on the rescue's Facebook page as available for adoption. The rescue having made its decision, it is my sincere hope that he will find the type of home and 24/7 caregiver that he needs for his final months or years.)