This is my first post on the Just Labs forum--so I apologize if I don't get this quite correct....I have been an avid reader of Just Labs Magazine for years now and always found the stories to mimic my labbies.
But I am not writing about that tonight...in fact, I am writing this post as a way to release the pain of having to put my old yellow boy Luke to sleep on Wed, 7/16/08. See, Luke came to me through a local rescue. He had been found wandering in a local park, and when he was picked up by animal control, he bit the officer. From there he was sent to a crappy boarding facility to sit in a kennel for weeks on end. First off, no one wanted an 8 year old lab and second, he was a biter. Growing up with labs, something drew me to his picture on Petfinder, and I found myself wanting to take him home, "aggressive and all".
The first couple of weeks were tough, as he was used to living on his own. Surfing the countertops was a daily occurance, along with snapping and snarling when he was fed. I really thought I had bit off more than I could chew, sort of speak, and he was just "too old" to change. Then one night, I stumbled across the Dog Whisperer. That very show focused in on a dog with food territory issues. Within minutes, Cesar had done some sort of magic, essentially curing the dog of her problem. So at 10pm, when the show was over, I stumbled out of bed, and decided to try his "trick" with Luke. Wouldn't you know it worked?? I could not believe it! Some how, somewhere, I had gotten through that thick skull of his, and showed him who was the alpha (at least momentarily). That of course did not stop him from stretching across my queen size bed every night, but we did come to meeting of the minds that night.
I proceeded to foster labs and Luke's "aggressiveness" turned to "I could care less"...He never snarled or bit again. He actually learned how to fetch, wait, and all sorts of other tricks, despite being a "senior". Who knew you could teach an old dog new tricks???
In April of this year, I adopted an English lab simply for sanity sake. I could not go through having another ADD hyperactive bouncing Tigger lab! So in walked Reese, a chocolate soon to be 4 year old female lab. She absolutely adored Luke. Whatever he did, she did. As his cataracts got the best of him, and his hearing waned, Reese would make sure he went out the door first, up the stairs first, had laid down first, and so on. And then I started to notice Luke changing as well....He no longer slept on the bed, he slowly got up, he no longer could stand short walks, or even hear me coming in the door. I wonder if dogs think, "Oh good, my replacement is here. My owner will be in good hands, so I can let go?"
Who knows...but by last Monday he was chattering his teeth(seizing) at times. Although he still was eating and drinking, for the first time in 2 years I could see his ribs. As a nurse, I knew in my gut something was wrong, but I was not ready to accept it until then. So I made an appt with the vet for Wednesday to find out the answer to that ever-looming question...."How do you know when it is time to let go?"
He was always a heavy breather, but would calm down after a period of time. In the vet's office, the panting never stopped. After abdominal and chest x-rays, my worst fears were confirmed. Cancer had started in the spleen, spread to the liver, and then to the lungs. My boy was dying. Had I missed his suffering? Had I ignored his pain? I was supposed to take care of him, I had let him down. The doctor offered up three options: send him out for a second opinion, take him home on Valium and bronchodilators for a week, or put him down.
The ultimate burden of life or death now lay on my shoulders. As a nurse I knew what we were facing....death in a few months, in a week, or now. As I kissed my dear boy around the cigarette burns a previous owner had inflicted on him, I prayed to God to tell me what to do. Within minutes, Luke's breathing turned into respiratory distress, and he was whisked off to the back room for oxygen therapy and valium. When he returned, loopy and wobbling, I got down on the floor and tried to hold him. Of course being a true lab, he was still trying to eat my tear soaked tissues, while ripping the IV out of his arm. Then the vomiting started, along with the gasping for air. I cried out to my mother to get some help, while I cradled him in my arms screaming, "God help me!! Please God, help me!" The team arrived within minutes and gave him Ketamine, a drug that puts you to sleep. He took one last panted breath, looked at me straight in the eye, and then one last gasp. I swear at that moment I saw God's reflection in Luke's eyes. As I lay clutching his body, I felt his spirit move past me...up and away toward peace.
The pain of losing him has be overwhelming....and for Reese, terribly confusing. She searches the house for him and then cries when she cannot find him. Luke's passing is so raw....I expect to see him behind me, or hear his big body bounding down the stairs barking for food. People tell you "He's in a better place", "He's not suffering", "You gave him a wonderful life", blah, blah, blah....but they don't have to come home to the uneasy quietness or relive those last moments when I had to be pulled off his body and leave him alone in that room...I have never felt so lonely as I did that night.
Labs are the most amazing animals God ever created....they make you laugh, they make you mad, they make you crazy, and all the while you never loving them. For even when they are caught red-handed doing something bad, they look at you with that face, and you cannot help but smile. For every moment that they drive you crazy, they return it with unconditional love. They are always happy to see you, they never hold a grudge, and they are simply content with the real you, flaws and all. How grateful we should be for being given a moment in time where God let us share with his most prized possession, the Lab.
I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm facing that with my old buddy in the not to distant future. It's the hardest, heaviest thing in the world. I think I understand. It's not Luke you're worried about, there's peace it that. The question is how/what/who will you be without him? We are so in tune to our bonds with them that when the physical bond is cut it feels like you're bleeding uncontrollably.
I'm trying to prepare by planning the biggest celebration of his magnificent life and our incredible love. I'm hoping it helps but I'm not convinced at this point.
Wishing you peace and comfort.
I truly appreciate your words...To make the distinction between my needs versus what is best for my dog (Luke). It is the most selfless decision I have ever had to make. Holding his future in my hands....looking in his eyes knowing that I am standing in between life and death is overwhelming. As a nurse, I bring infants into this world eveyday. I fight to keep patients alive, yet now I am deciding to end one. Your heart is so conflicted, but at the end of the day it has to be what is best for my Luke. I'm sure when the time comes, you will see the answer in your dog's eyes and know....
Peace comes knowing that all of our labbies are chasing tennis balls and fetching sticks together