The most difficult test of loving someone is knowing when it must be ended. A little less than two years ago, I had to bring myself to make that decision. About not just knowing when to end the relationship but also to be the one to decide.
Toby was fourteen in human years. He would have been overlooked for days in the pound in Darwin where we got him from, the Territorians usually go for large ugly mastiff crosses with sharp biting ends. If my daughter hadn’t seen the black and white carpet sample of a dog being bathed, we would have missed having him in our lives. But she spotted him and he came home with us. He had been a stray and was skinny to the point that he could slip through the gaps in the concrete blocks that made up the laundry walls. That soon changed as he got fed regularly. But Toby never lost his thirst for the great outdoors. He slipped out innumerable times, taking to the free life again and again in Darwin and from four houses in Adelaide. The children brought him back every time; mostly by foot, their impatience and relief writ large on their faces as they lugged eleven kilos of ungrateful fur back in their arms, tongue lolling rakishly. His last escape was from this house, at two in the night. Children and friends scattered into the darkness while I stood at the front door muttering curses on every dog that ever was. He returned like a war hero, minus the wounds but looking like he had earned a medal or two.
But in 2013 he began looking slower. First the steps, which he no longer took if he could help it, barking at things from the top instead. Then came a couple of days when he just stood around till he exhausted himself and sat down. This was followed by panting and crying for a couple of days, even if people got within a few feet of him. At this stage my daughter, yes she again, got in touch with an online vet and found out that he was in pain and it was most likely in his back legs. It was time to take him to the local vet. Tramadol tablets were prescribed. The dog who had not eaten properly, or slept or allowed me to touch him in days fed on a plateful of raw mince meant for our dinner and fell asleep in a new padded bed my son had bought for him within half an hour. We had a week with the Toby of old. We even took him on holiday with us. He needed help getting in and out of the car but with his meds he was able to have a last hurrah. He barked at people, chased things in the bushes and slept in front of a fire at night with blankets piled around him. When we came back, the pain gradually returned. This time it would not respond to the meds. My children and especially my daughter asked me to think about why I wanted him to be kept alive. Was it for him or for myself? I knew the answer. I was shocked and ashamed by the answer.
(Toby with my sons at Milang, SA.)
The reason I remembered all this on yesterday morning was because of something I read earlier on Facebook. A friend is watching the love of her life going through these same changes. Another friend has already made THE decision. Her son helped her make it, just as my daughter helped me with mine. It is the hardest thing to do. But despite the tears, and those still come freely, even right now; the decision is really about the dog and whether their quality of life is what you would want for yourself. I believe we freed Toby from a life that was not what I would want for myself; in fact I even told my children that I wanted to go the same way when my time came. Not in a vet’s office of course, but I think they understood.