Do I Have to Make a Decision?
Saru, my beloved 16-year-old Vizsla, was getting older and weaker. He didn’t eat much and his hind legs could no longer support his weight. I started thinking that his time was getting close.
Obviously I did not want to let him go and instead chose to focus on his increasingly fewer ‘normal’ moments. But my desire to not let go meant I had been, more often than not, blinding myself from seeing that Saru was ready to leave. He was showing me that every day but I did not want to acknowledge it.
Over the past month, I’d made and cancelled two appointments to have Saru euthanized. Both times I had trouble sleeping as the day approached. As each date arrived, my body felt very stiff and my breathing became strained, so I’d call the vet and cancel the appointments. As soon as I made the calls, I felt relieved and able to breathe again. It felt like I’d done the right thing.
From time to time, Saru would seem to get a little better, but this would only last a day or two before he’d degenerate into his unhealthy state. It was like riding a roller coaster. Some mornings were good, some not. Then evenings were worse, but then some were good. Through all this I kept asking myself, “How can I decide it’s time for Saru to be put down when he seems so happy to see me or so happy to eat his treats? How can I even consider terminating his life?”
Friends who’d gone through this same experience told me that I would know when it was time. Yet I couldn’t see it. Was I in denial? I was struggling, I was in pain, and I was fearful. One evening while I was walking Saru, my neighbor approached me and shared her story about putting her own dog to sleep. Under the circumstances, I really didn’t want to hear her story right then… but something told me to listen. Her observations of Saru made me wonder if everyone else, with the benefit of being removed, saw Saru’s situation with more clarity than I could. Finally, I could no longer deny that Saru was getting weaker. It was hard to deny that the time to go ahead with that dreaded decision was very near. I felt suffocated.
Then one Wednesday late in May, we got ready for our morning walk just as we had every morning for the last 16 years. This time, though, Saru sat on the front porch. He looked me straight in the eyes. He’d always used his eyes to communicate with me. I sensed that he was telling me he’d had enough. He dragged his legs for a few steps then stopped. Again, he looked me straight in the eyes as if trying to tell me something I needed to know.
The next day when I took Saru out for his morning walk, he sat in the street and looked into my eyes. This time, I knew he was telling me he was ready to go. He kept looking at me as if he was asking, “I’m ready. Are you ready?”
I’d “gotten the memo” from Saru so I called the vet that day.
In the end, it was an effortless process. Of course the decision was heartbreaking, but it was the right one for both of us. Previously when I tried to make the decision for us, I was in pain. I was fearful. But by this time I knew that we were making this decision together. Once I understood that, the proper answer was clear and right in front of me.
A few days after Saru was gone, my husband wrote me this note:
“I cannot remember a time when I felt I was around so much love. Between you and Sappy (my husband’s nickname for Saru). Between you and I.
I thought that I could support you at the time, and hopefully I did, but really it was YOU giving all the support. You supported me, letting me know it was OK and that you were OK. And you supported Sappy by reminding him what he has always known, that you love him and that he is a good dog.
I will never, ever forget that look you had when you turned to me during his final moments. You had tears on your face, but you were smiling, too because you knew that all was right at the time. Your expression was one of sadness, confidence, happiness and most importantly, contentedness all at the same time…”
What I learned from saying goodbye to Saru is that I didn’t have to decide by myself after all. All I had to do was to notice the signs I was being given. In a sense, the toughest part of reaching that decision was made for me. Once I opened myself up to this, the process was much kinder and easier. That was my experience.