Knowing when “it’s time” is agonizing. You know that more than likely, you’ll be the one deciding when to end your baby’s life. You wonder if you’ll really know, and how it will be. Will it be a middle of the night emergency? Will it be a peaceful farewell at home, or will you luck out and they will go on their own.
I’ve let a lot of animals go, and it’s never easy. However, when the timing is right, there is a peaceful validation to your decision. The worst is a traumatic emergency euthanasia. It’s a situation that you can’t have it happen fast enough, and then the feeling of how you ‘rushed to kill your baby’ will sit on your shoulders and smother you with self doubt. No matter what the situation, I have found that hindsight always has the clearest picture and time will bring you to terms with the decisions you’ve made.
On July 10th, 2009, Niko started to swell under his jaw line. (I put together some before and after pics here: lymphoma swelling document.) He had been out of remission since the 1st, and I knew it was only a matter of weeks before I lost him. I also knew that it would be rapid deterioration, once we were on the final path. He still went on a mile long walk that night. The next day we went to see the vet. Dr. Davis sat on the floor with us for over an hour and told me that I had only days left with him. She had been through it with her pup only the year before and I know it hurt her heart to tell me the truth about what we were facing. I was grateful for her honesty.
I had made the decision to bury Niko (instead of cremation) many months before. I had selected a the type of tree I would plant on his grave. I had a good idea of where to bury him. With the news of only days left for my boy, I had to finalize the plans so we were ready. These are the things you don’t want to think about in the midst of grief and despair. With the help of my parents, we picked a spot in their yard. We checked the local nursery for weeping cherry trees. I spoke to a vet that does home euthanasia as a back up plan to having our regular vet come to the house. The day before we let him go, I even had my parents water the grounds where the hole would be dug, so the dirt would be soft enough. I also had them clear a space in their large freezer to keep his body overnight. I hated all these preparations for Niko’s death. However, I’m glad I had them all done.
After I knew how close we were, I arranged to be home all week with him. I told him repeatedly how much I loved him and how I would be OK. I cried almost non stop and I never left his side, other than to use the bathroom. I did hot and cold compresses to help drain the fluid under his jaw. I made him extra special home cooked meals, and brushed and massaged him to keep him feeling good and his circulation going. I spoke to our vet (Dr. Ball) that was going to come to the house, to let her know how close we were, so she was ready. She also called in some Valium for me to give him, just in case he got to a point where breathing became difficult and he couldn’t relax. I couldn’t have been more ‘ready’… but I also was no where near ready to make the decision to let him go. I begged Niko to go on his own. I wanted to wake up and find he had quietly slipped away in his sleep. I knew he wouldn’t leave me though… I knew I would be the one to have to sever the tie and I dreaded it.
On Tuesday the 14th, we did a short walk around the neighborhood. He was pretty peppy, and we took some cute pictures – see below. He smiled, puffy as he was, and ate and drank. When we took him up to bed in the evening he got up and he followed me around the room as I got ready for bed. He had not done this in years. I would turn to look at him and he was looking up at me smiling. His eyes were so clear, he seemed so THERE. He had been more and more distant or disconnected from things in recent months, but this was the Niko I remembered from younger, healthier days. He seemed so intent on communicating with me. I laid down with him on our bed and held him. He didn’t try to get up or get away. He peacefully laid with me and I knew it was him saying goodbye. These moments of clarity that he had, were a gift and I’ll never forget them.
By Wednesday evening, he was not himself. He ate, but then got restless and agitated. We walked him and I tried to settle him, but I could not. He started exhibiting some strange behavior, like obsessive circling, to the point he’d fall down out of dizziness. He had started circling in recent weeks, but it was more of a confusion, rather than a ‘need’. I could not calm him down. I finally gave him a Valium. Fifteen minutes later, he conked out for about 30 minutes. Then he was up again. He could not stay down, or comfortable. He was still restless, but was now groggy on top of it. I stayed downstairs with him and neither of us slept much. The next morning, he could not stand on his own. I took him out, but he wouldn’t do anything…. he needed my help stand and to walk. I knew we were at the end of the line.
I spoke to Dr. Ball, my parents, my husband, my friends, and my sister. Was this the time? I wanted so much for someone to tell me, but no one could. This was my decision to make with Niko. My sister said something that struck a chord though. If I put it off until the next day, what type of quality would these extra hours hold? Could we handle another night like the last one? Would we end up in the ER? I realized there was never going to be a ‘right time’ for me and I needed to do what was right by my boy. I remembered the line from the last battle… “If pain should keep me from my sleep”. I scheduled Dr. Ball to come that evening. My parents came over for the release as well.
Niko had slept all day. I know he was exhausted. He woke up a bit that evening. He was still very disoriented, but he drank and he ate some crackers. I had so many second thoughts. What was I doing….. should I wait another day? But I am reminded of how hard that last 24 hours had been and how wonderful a life he’d led. I could not let him get critical, that wasn’t fair. We sedated him and made him comfortable. We surrounded him and I held his upper body in my lap and I hugged him. I talked to him the whole time. I told him how much I loved him and how he was such a good boy. He let go very easily. I couldn’t believe I had just lost my Niko…. it was so surreal, but still peaceful.
We wrapped him up in the blue sheets we had him laying on. We made it so his nose was still peaking out, and took him to my parent’s. The next morning, Jonathan and Phil dug the hole, while I said my last good byes. Our friend Laura also joined us for the burial. I laid him to rest with 3 bouquets of flowers – for love, friendship, and mourning – a box of meaty bones and a pig ear. We picked out a weeping cherry tree later that morning and planted it right next to him. A few weeks later, his granite headstone came in. I do not often visit his grave. I know he is not there, he remains with me. But the site is a memorial for him and I can’t wait to see how beautiful his tree is every spring.