Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dog Decisions

'how to decide when to put down an old dog'

This showed up as a search term that found my blog last month. It was eerily prescient, because though I don't remember writing about the issue at all before, during the last two weeks we have had to make the decision ourselves for our ancient and doddery border collie, in previous posts mentioned as Senile Dog.

She had got wobblier and wobblier, struggling to heave herself up off the floor, occasionally falling over, and has even lost interest in her blood feud with her daughter. She would bark loudly, for form's sake, whenever Poppy ventured near our house, but the light and enjoyment of battle had gone out of her eye. Her meek granddaughter also sensed that the time was approaching, when she would become alpha female of our house and has on several occasions bowled her over snarling and snapping.

Being the procrastinators and moral cowards that we are, we put off the decision for as long as possible, hoping that nature would take its course and she would just go in her sleep one night. It is the first time that either of us have had to take this final responsibility for an animal of ours and it feels a little like playing god, do we really have the right? How do we explain it all to the children?

The final straw came last night. She had been fairly incontinent for several months now, and clearing up poo had been a regular chore. A stomach upset turned the chore into a health issue, so we took the decision and I drove her to the vet this morning.

We'd talked to the children about it already. Told them that when an animal is very old and in pain and not enjoying life any more, it's kinder to put them down. That the vet gives an injection that sends her to sleep and she dies in her sleep. Youngest wanted to know if that happens to humans as well. I told her not. A discussion on the rights and wrongs of euthanasia would have been way too much. They were fairly phlegmatic about it all. After all they're veteran watchers of Animal Planet, plenty of vets have crossed the screen and made hard decisions in front of the camera.

We lined the back of the car with an old blanket, reversed it as close as we could get to the door. As I led her tottering along the path to it, I felt like I was leading her to the gas chambers. Common sense banished the emotional overreaction and we heaved her in. The older two children were at school but youngest came with me, everybody else was out at work or meetings and she wanted to be part of it.

The vet had said that Vygie (the name of a spring flower, roughly pronounced fakie) could stay in the back of the car to do the deed, as we wanted to take her back home to bury her. She used to belong to a dear friend of the family, who died of cancer five years ago. We'd looked after her two dogs while she was sick and then they became ours. Vygie was always Ursie's dog though and we felt sure that her spirit was just waiting to take off and find hers, so we planned to bury her near the white stinkwood tree that we had planted in memory of our friend.

The vet was lovely, very kind and explaining exactly how it all worked. We stood outside, sheltered from the drizzle by a canopy, with youngest holding my hand. We were both amazed by how quick it was. Five seconds and she just relaxed completely and peacefully.

Back home we'd chosen the spot for her grave and asked Leon to dig the hole for us in the afternoon. We were waiting for everyone to be back from work to hold a little ceremony for Vygie. The children had picked a bouquet of fragrant flowers and herbs to go in with her, rose scented geraniums with their enveloping aroma of massage oil, wilde daggas spiky orange flowers, rosemary and lavender.

At the end of the day, during a lull in the rain we went out to the chosen spot. Leon's hole was cavernous and big enough for a small pony, the soft, golden sand of our farm heaped high around it. Some vygie plants stood by to plant over her once the enormous mound of sand had been replaced. We lowered her in as gently as we could, threw down the flowers and then took turns wielding the ceremonial spade. Youngest had decreed that we should sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, so a cheerful tune rang out as we worked. Ding Dong Merrily on High followed and we felt Ursie's spirit laughing uproariously with us.

Later on my sister-in-law rang our friend's daughter to let her know that Vygie had gone and described our ceremony. She amazed her by bursting out with 'But Hark the Herald Angels Sing was Mum's favourite song!'

So Vygie is at rest, her spirit cavorting and frolicking in the joy of reunion with her mistress and we feel our connection with Ursie is still strong too.


  1. Oh, that made me cry. How touching.

  2. I'm in tears too Kit, as I remember crawling under a thorn bush in our garden to hold my german shephard's head in my lap as our vet gave him the injection. For us it was mercy too, as he had chosen this spot to die and was terribly dehydrated. We buried him under the same thorn tree and it became a favourite spot for one of our many cats, who had all loved him. We will light a candle for Vygie (and you), with our blessing

  3. Beautiful death. that is what we all dream of, to be surrounded by those we love and to leave in peace.
    The angels did sing.

  4. How mournfully beautiful...I have tears slipping down my cheeks...x Tanya

  5. What a lovely farewell to a lovely old friend. A beautiful post, Kit.

  6. What a beautiful post. It had me in tears and brought back memories of our cats, both of whom had to be put down when I was in high school. My mom described feeling exactly like you when she took them on that final trip to the vet - a traitor. But both of them had been in renal failure and could no longer walk so it was the right decision.

    What a wonderful ceremony you had afterwards - hark the herald angels indeed!!


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