When is Being Alive No Longer Living?

This morning is being a difficult morning and I feel a need to vent. This is not a happy, cheer-you-up post, so it’s your choice to read or not.

You know my Bailey girl – my Border Collie/Black Lab mix girl. She’ll be 14 in November, which, according to the internet, is old for girl of her size and breeds. She has what the vet has called as the worst case of arthritis in her hips and elbows he’s ever seen as well as a bad hock. Getting around has become increasingly difficult for her these past couple of years. Lately, her rear feet keep turning under as if we were trying to walk on the back of our hands, in the beginning only occasionally, but the frequency is increasing. Just a couple of days ago she went out on the deck (I’ve had ramps put in from the house to the deck and from the deck to the ground), but couldn’t come back in because her feet simply would not cooperate. I managed to get her in that day, and spent the rest of the day worrying. Then she had a couple of better days.

This morning she went out, but when she didn’t come to the door as quickly as she usually does, I went out looking. She was sitting on the ground, unable to get up and get her feet to cooperate again. I managed to get her upright, and using a large towel to lift her rear parts, finally getting her to step forward with her front legs and we got in the house. It was both feet, then went to mostly the left foot so I wrapped it with sports wrap to try to keep it from turning under. That’s helping a little. I have hock wraps I’ve used for her, but they offer no support for the feet.

All of this leaves me feeling helpless and unsure. She still wags her tail, and her ears perk up. She’s eating well, drinking, seems to have necessary bodily functions. Until she tries to get up or down and walk, all of which is a difficult process. The vet says she’s really stoic, and doesn’t show emotions that much – and I don’t really know what emotions dogs have insofar as comfort and life are concerned. It’s a dilemma. Do I keep her around, trying to work around her disabilities? Or do I let her go?

I feel as if history is repeating itself. My husband, as many of you know, died from prostate cancer that had spread to his bones by the time it was detected. After about three years of treatment, he was no longer able to do the things he wanted and liked to do. He was tethered to an oxygen machine, could not maneuver steps anymore, progressed to the point of needing a walker. He smoked – he would not/could not quit smoking. We never smoked in this house (I had quit in 2006), so he had to go out on a deck to have a cigarette. And he was supposed to take his oxygen off first. He had to be watched, more and more closely as time went on for his last two years. He was a stubborn old codger, disliked the walker and would try to go off without it. Sometimes in the middle of the night as I slept. That usually resulted in a fall, which meant struggling to get him upright again because lifting him was not something I was able to do alone without something for him to grab onto. In the last two years of his life, we exhausted available treatments.

At the beginning of his final year, the prostate cancer spread to the brain and he had to have a huge tumor removed, which required two surgeries. That debilitated him even further. More treatments, including radiation. More pain, pain which continually got worse and worse. It got to the point that all that could be done was attempt to keep him comfortable, which became nearly impossible. Falls, problems, frequent stays in the hospital which ended with his coming home the last time only after he agreed to hospice care.

All of this leading to my point – for the last two years of his life, I often wondered if this was worth it. Was keeping him alive, a life? For me, it would not have been. He had this desperate hope that a cure could be found, that the cancer could be eradicated, that his bones had not already deteriorated to the point of no return. Denial. Not unusual, I’m sure, and likely needed to maintain hope. He died Christmas morning 2013. The diagnosis was made on December 8, 2008, giving him 3 to 5 years of life. His last words were “I fooled them”. He lived just over 5 years and two weeks.

Which brings me back to Bailey. Is her quality of life enough to keep her living? Is it time to let go? I don’t know. It’s a decision only I can make, and I don’t know. When is it enough?

About Carol

I'm me - nothing unusual, just me. Widowed, 2 grown children who are my best friends, 1 dog, retired, loving being retired. I am woman, I am strong.
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44 Responses to When is Being Alive No Longer Living?

  1. Embeecee says:

    Yes it is your decision. And no matter what you choose to do, some pain and regret will be involved. Fourteen is a long life for a dog of Bailey’s breed..she’s a medium to large girl, isn’t she? The tinies (chihuahuas, pomeranians, toy anythings..) get about six years or so longer than 14, but I lost one of my furkids at 14 all the same. You have to ask yourself the quality of life question, talk to your vet who may have some solutions for foot solutions (like a hock wrap or something) or who may tell you it’s only going to progress until she can’t walk. My heart goes out to you. Your description of your husband brought back a lot of memories of my own and his struggles at the end of his life. He didn’t have cancer, but the attitude and the denial are pretty much the same between the two. I’m so sorry about Bailey. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol says:

      I got hock wraps for her some time ago, which help stabilize the leg but not the foot. The Ace bandage type wrap I put on her foot this morning seems to be helping a little. It’s one of those watch and see I think. There will be those days when I vent and cry. I’ve talked to the vet before – he didn’t have anything else to offer. Thank you for your comments.

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      Liked by 1 person

  2. jay53 says:

    Oh Carol … I am so sorry. What you went through with your husband was terrible – a terrible ordeal – because it is so hard to watch a loved one suffer so much. Of course, only you know what it was really like, and how much of a trial it was for him, and for you. I want to send you a cyberhug.

    As for Bailey, I can only tell you what I personally feel. As you know, I’ve been through this many times, and it is extraordinarily difficult. So … dogs hide their pain, we know this, so by the time you see that a dog is in pain, it is usually quite severe pain. We can all bring out stories of times when a dog trod on a twig and screamed, but the fact is that they seem to react strongly to quite trivial injuries, but an ongoing degenerative disease is often well hidden from us, and this is why I hurt so much for my own dogs when they start to show these symptoms.

    When is it time to let go? Only YOU, with the help of your vet, can make that decision. My philosophy is to ask myself what lights up my dog’s eyes? What do they enjoy?

    In Sid’s last weeks, those ‘good things’ shrank down to food, and being petted. He could no longer enjoy a walk, or play, he rarely got up to greet visitors, and when he found it impossible to get himself in and out to go to the toilet without a severe struggle, I knew he was in trouble. I wanted to pull out the stops, buy him some wheels, do anything to keep him going, but he was on the maximum pain medication (checked at a specialist centre), we could no longer get him to hydrotherapy since the good one closed and the others weren’t suitable for a big tripod, and he no longer enjoyed his massages. And I could not continue to lift him four or five times a day. So, it was time. Bottom line? The good days were fewer than the bad days.

    No doubt other people will have stories of their own to tell you about dogs – or cats, or other animals – that they have had to ‘let go’. In the end though, you will need to listen to your vet’s advice, get a second opinion if it will help, then look into Bailey’s eyes, and let her tell you herself.

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    • Carol says:

      Thank you, Jay, for the hug. And the comments. I remember your posts about Sid – they become our children, don’t they? Part of the problem with this is the fact that she’s a heavy girl – 74 lbs. last time she was weighed – and lifting her is hard on my back. I’ve been saying when the bad days outnumber the good and I think we’re getting closer to that time. She can’t play like she did, nor does she walk further than she must. She usually lays down even to eat now. The tail wags when I pet her, or sit on the floor with her, or talk to her. Or when friends that she likes come by. That’s about it these days.

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  3. Cee Neuner says:

    I’m with everyone else. It’s your decision and you will know when to let Bailey go. Two years ago we put Shadow down. She was obviously not happy anymore. I would put her outside to go potty and she’d just look at me and cry. Her hind legs were gone too. She was totally incontinent and our house and rugs had so much pea on it. We decided we wouldn’t let MacKenzie go as long as we did Shadow. The end of last year, MacKenzie had a bunch of falls and one of them she fell directly on the top of her head (out of the car). She never really came back from that. We thought we’d give her through the summer, since she loved her car rides and being out in the sun. We noticed she didn’t even like those anymore. So we put her down a couple of months ago now. It is a hard decision. And with what you have been through already with your husband, I’m sure this is having a profound effect on you as well.

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    • Carol says:

      Cee, I remember your mentioning that Shadow was gone, but I did not realize – or perhaps remember – that MacKenzie was also gone. It’s hard, because they are our children.

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  4. Sandra Sparks says:

    So sorry you are facing this😍😢 Hugs from me and Zoey Sent from my iPhone

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    Liked by 1 person

  5. loisajay says:

    Carol–I feel for you. This is such a hard one. My little Teemu is 14. He has seizures, heart murmur and is considered ‘neurologically inappropriate.’ When we had his last little episode, the doctor had me write down (had to be written down), what I considered quality of life for him. I did. The little guy sits and stares off at various times. I don’t know if he can even see. But he knows when and where it is time to eat, he uses the litter box (close enough, sometimes), and his back legs don’t give out too much. Who am I to say he has no quality of life. One of the hardest decisions you will ever make. And I am no help, cause I would stand there and cry.

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    • Carol says:

      Sometimes all we can do is stand there and cry. I had to let my last cat, my Twiggy girl, go when the Leukemia got her to the point where her weight loss was evident, she wasn’t eating, she was always lethargic. At least that was very peaceful for her, and she wasn’t showing any interest in life – which made that decision easier. Not easy, but easier.

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  6. Ruth says:

    Sending big hugs whatever you decide to do, Carol ❤

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  7. I am crying while I write this – so please know that I am so moved by your situation. And Bailey’s.

    Is it your decision? Of course. And I’ll support you whatever you decide, as I’d hope anyone would support mine.

    But here are my thoughts, based on my experience with a 19 year old cat who lived the last several months of his life incontinent, in pain, and without dignity:

    It’s time.

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  8. Carol — I’m so very sorry for the decisions you’re facing. I have every confidence you’ll choose what’s right for your dear Bailey girl.

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  9. This is always a terrible decision to make but as others have said I think you will know when you look into Bailey’s eyes. With humans we seem to go to incredible lengths to keep them alive even when what they have doesn’t seem much like life to us. I think it is a good thing that with out pets we have the choice to let them go rather than have them suffer but to be the one who has to make that decision is never easy. Perhaps there are still some options for Bailey. I hope you will have her for a little longer. My thoughts are with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol says:

      The vet and I have discussed her problems in the past, and we have done/are doing what he could suggest. I think it’s reached the point of seeing what tomorrow brings, and working toward that goodbye day. Thank you for your thoughts.

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  10. I think it has to do with a quality of life. Your husband seemed to make it more of a competition, perhaps and may not be a good barometer of this, no offense intended, of course.

    When my father was dying of kidney cancer he went through treatments to extend his life but eventually the treatments were taking over and he was just sick all of the time. the decision was made that he should be made comfortable. He was put on hospice. No more drugs to fight the cancer. They gave him steroids and that increased his appetite which increased his strength. Of course he was still sick. He also took morphine. He lived like this for 18 months. We went to a ball game, had visits from family; had a few parties. Father’s Day, Christmas.

    The last six weeks were when his quality of life took a sharp downturn.The cancer was winning.
    We increased the morphine…..

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ally Bean says:

    Yes, I’ve been down this road with a pet [and with a parent]. I don’t know that I have any healing words. All I can say, it sounds so lame, is you’ll know. You have to trust yourself to trust the process that will lead to the right thing. Blessings.

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  12. Lisa Vos says:

    We just put our black lab Abby down last week, as you know. I wrestled with the same thoughts and struggles. Dogs do not show pain like we do. They sigh. They pant. They resist getting up to do things like go to bed, or get to the food dish. And they can keep eating. And trying to play to please their humans. One dog sitter I consulted told me that while we are holding on to all hope and pressing on, that too often we are doing it not for the dog, but for ourselves, and we tend to hang on sometimes longer than we should. Our vet advises when there are more bad days than there are good ones, it might be time to make that hard decision. I knew we had passed the point of no return when Abby cried out suddenly in pain on night getting up to go to bed and could not bear weight on her rear leg. So I carried her rear end up and down the steps because she no longer could do them on her own. But there was one day, our eyes met and it seemed like she was saying “Please, let me go.” That was the day I made the decision.
    I could not go to the vet. I said goodbye at home, and my daughter and husband took her away. That day, I had more self doubt wondering, am I doing the right thing? Is there still time? I held my ground.
    Eventually I got to a place where, rightly or wrongly, I found peace with my decision. It would be better for her if I let go a little too early than if I let go when her final day was in sickness and pain.
    My eyes are still welling with tears as I write this. It still hurts. Our vet sent a nice sympathy card with poetry about the rainbow bridge that touched my heart.
    We were blessed to have her, but now, I’ve come to the place where I know the time was just right, because I listened to my gut feeling. The vet confirmed my feelings afterwards when he recounted the number of ways she was suffering. Quietly and stoicly.
    I don’t know if this does any good to say. It really is more my expression of pain than any valuable help to you. But maybe it will help at least to know that someone “gets it” and feels it with you.
    I wish you well and a good decision.

    Like

    • Carol says:

      I knew Abby was gone, but I did not realize it was an instance where you had to make the decision. I have wished, more than once, that she would go peacefully in her sleep. A copout perhaps, making it easier for me. Bailey lays and pants and pants, and stares at me. I think you are right, I think she might very well be asking me to help her. Thank you for sharing your story – I must listen to my gut feeling too. But not happily.

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  13. Relax... says:

    I’m sorry, Carol. Two little things. A couple who had an ancient collie hired my young teen daughter to *walk* Sadie after school on their late work nights. Eventually, we had to carry her down the porch steps, and back up them. I think we bought her a half a year. The couple called one day and said no need to come anymore, but Sadie had really enjoyed that outdoor thing for a while. Also, same daughter worked at a horse barn and one day when a horse-reader (sort of like a whisperer) was at the barn, daughter asked her to “read” our very overweight Springer spaniel. She spent a few minutes with him, then laughed. “There’s nothing bothering him, and he’s happy being that fat!” So, a) is there a high schooler who can lift and carry your Bailey, and/or b) can you ask around for a nearby horse/dog whisperer to come hear her out? I apologize for this comment’s length.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol says:

      I don’t know of a horse whisperer around here. She has been able to get down the ramp to the deck, and down the ramp to the ground to do her jobs, and we used to walk a bit until it became too much for her. Then we started just sitting out on the deck for awhile each afternoon. This morning she had breakfast and morning pills in bed, then finally came into the morning room with me, but the suggestion that we go outside brought a mournful look. It’s time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Relax... says:

        They don’t, I think, ever know that cessation of life is coming — they just want to stop hurting. Fortunately, they look at us as their God, and we can indeed help them to stop hurting. We then carry their hurting, only in a different way. Love cries a lot, but it always wins. And who knows.. who knows.. we may one day again encounter every creature we ever loved.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Lisa says:

    Oh my Carol, my heart goes out to you on this decision. We’ve had to make this decision more than a few times over the years and it’s never easy. Our first Golden, Sundance, developed lymphoma in 2005 at 12 years old and it got to the point where he couldn’t breathe very well and his hind legs were not as stable as before. Midget, a kitty, struggled for months with respiratory issues and dehydration. We tried saline infusions, antibiotics and pain pills. In the end, the vet and I had a hard conversation that she really wasn’t going to get better. I made the decision to let her go. The pain of both these decisions still stabs at my heart. Sundance was a fighter to the bitter end…..only wanting to please us. That’s the beautiful and awful thing about pets. They want to stay with us….and we want them to stay with us….but we need to put aside our desires and make hard decisions on their behalf. They trust us. Yes, it would be so much easier if they would pass peacefully in their sleep. Life is rarely made up of those easy situations. You’ve been a wonderful caregiver and she rewarded you with being a wonderful companion. When the time comes, she will know she was blessed to have you as “her people.” I completely understand how this ties in with the memories of your husband’s illness and struggle. A loved one’s passing is never easy….2-legged or 4-legged. Whatever your decision, please know I understand how difficult this decision is, and my prayers are with you for comfort and peace. xoxo

    Like

  15. dawnkinster says:

    Oh Carl. Of Bailey-girl. I can’t push the ‘like’ button. I can’t even write because I can’t see through the tears. If she’s panting and staring at you then she’s telling you it’s OK. I’m so so so sorry. Huge hugs.

    Like

  16. leendadll says:

    this made my cry with sympathy and remembrance of being in the same situation.
    is there no reasonable option for a “doggie wheelchair” for her back legs? I see them on the internet but have no idea where people get them.
    if it’s any help, Lap Of Love offers a couple of pet Quality of Life Assessments here:https://www.lapoflove.com/Quality-of-Life/Quality-of-Life-Scoring-Tools
    they also have some good grief support pages
    i wish you the best.

    Like

  17. Helen says:

    It’s a hard decision I know. I had to let my little girl Ceilidh go when the mast cell cancer returned in her lymph system. She was just 7years 4 months, not old for a Shetland Sheepdog. I wondered how I would know; it was her eyes that told me. I had put her in ICU one weekend, when the vet hospital called to say she was stable and for me to come and get her, I expected to see a somewhat more lively dog but no, she was still listless and her eyes were haunted and dull. I made the decision then to let her go, making the call was still hard. I took a few days off work to spend with her before that dreaded appointment. The canine cancer group always said better one day too soon than one day too late. The other thing they always said is there is no wrong decision whatever decision you make is in Bailey’s best interest and made with love.

    Like

    • Carol says:

      We’re going in tomorrow. I made the decision last night and today she was even more listless and reluctant to move, confirming my decision. It will be hard, and I intend to spend the rest of my day cuddling with my other furry girl and letting us both mourn.

      Like

  18. Mama Cormier says:

    Good luck tomorrow. I know from personal experience that it will not be easy but you’re making the right decision. Everyone always told me that you will know when the time is right.

    Liked by 1 person

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