Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How Will I Know?

When my mom died two years ago I adopted her dog, Bert. Really he had been a huge part of our family for 8.5 years and I adored him, so the decision to take him was easy.

He is a boxer. His mom and dad were both white masked fawn boxers, but approximately 25% of boxers are born white or mostly white. According to the AKC and CKC any boxer with more than 1/3 white disqualifies it from the breed standard.

Some say white boxers are not as healthy as other boxers, breeders sometimes will euthanize white puppies. From what I understand there is no science that shows white boxers to be any less healthy than their coloured breed members. There were three white pups in the litter Bert was born into and all of them outlived there fawn coloured litter mates.The white boxers that are not euthanized are sold only if the purchaser agrees to have the dog spayed or neutered so as not to "contaminate" the breed.

I say that last sentence with sarcasm. You could not ask for a better dog. Bert has the most incredible disposition, is the best dog I have ever owned, Despite his size, all 102 lbs of him, he is unbelieveably gentle around even the tiniest of kids and the frailest of grandparents. He has a big and funny personality and is an all around joy to be with.

Bert is the last one left in his family. When he was young he was completely white with one black eyebrow until a few years ago when gave him some light brown age spots and turned his black eyebrow white. He is huge for a boxer. He stood at least 5 inches above his brothers. An average boxer weighs 50-70 lbs. Bert weighed in at an average of 95lbs. He was not overweight, just huge.

Since I have had Bert he has become increasingly sick. Within a month of having him he had an attack of pancreatitis. I took him to the vet. They gave him antibiotics. I began giving vet quality, low fat, easy to digest (very expensive...argh!) food. He became well, but continues to have gastro problems if we stray at all from his regular food and Pepcid AC regime.

He is almost 11 now, which is old for a boxer. Boxers have a very high incidence of cancer and often die around 7 or 8. Last winter I took him for a walk around the farm. He was being his silly self, and was running and spinning and running some more, when suddenly he collapsed. He lay there awake, but unable to move for about 5 minutes. Then he just got up as if nothing happened. The next day it happened again and then suddenly he began collapsing that day anytime he walked more than a few feet.

I took him to a dog heart specialist and they diagnosed him with "Boxer cardiomyopathy". Basically if he exerts himself at all he is at risk of his heart's electrical system just shutting down his heart. He had other heart problems as well, so he was prescribed Sotolol for the cardiomyopathy and Lotensin for blood pressure (I think), and we were told to not allow him to run, or exert himself. (easier said than done when a dog is bred to run)...but we have been very careful and he made a pretty good recovery, still enjoyed life, albeit a bit slowed down.

In between all this he was diagnosed with 4 separate kinds of cancer. He has a small tumour removed from his eye. He has a mass on the top of his head that has stayed pretty much the same size for years. He has lung cancer and another type of cancer that is growing very large (orange sized) lumps on his front leg. I had a couple masses removed, but they have grown back. The other cancers are slow growing and the vet says not painful, but they have definitely slowed him down more. He does have arthritis pain, and for this he takes Metacam, and NSAID for pain.

In November Bert began having seizures. They were awful to watch, but lasted only 2-3 minutes and happened once every three weeks. Then he had three in one day and it began getting really serious. The vet said he was unconscious while they were happening. I wonder though, because it seemed like he was starring helplessly at me while they were happening, begging me to help him. We put him on Phenobarbitol, and he has only had one since then and that was a month and a half ago.

As you can see, I care so much for Bert, and I have done so much for him to make him comfortable, and to help him be a happy dog despite all his illnesses. And he has been a really happy dog most of the time, until recently. He has slowed down so much he is having a hard time walking. All he wants to do is sleep (and eat...he still LOVES to eat, which is a good sign).

He's happy to see you when you come home, but he has a really hard time getting up to greet me like he always wanted to, and wants to, so he now waits for me to come greet him. The last few days he has been having some incontinence problems while sleeping. I took him to the vet today for blood tests, but honestly, on the way there I was thinking it really might be better for him if I had him put to sleep. I don't want him to suffer, and I don't want to end up stranded in the middle of the night with no vet and a crisis situation on my hands.

All the way to the vets I cried and I tried to figure out if I want to let him go because I cannot handle all his ailments anymore, both emotionally and financially (I'm spending $500.00-600.00 plus/month on his medications and his special diet and probably another 200.00 for vet bills if I averaged them out over the past two years), or if it is the best thing for him. I only want to do what is best for him. I love him so much.

I also understand that the connection between Bert and I is so intense because for me he is my Mom's representitive. My mom is gone now, but in Bert she lives on. I see so much of her personality in him and he reminds me so much of her. They were inseperable when my Mom was alive. I know part of me is afraid to let Bert go because it means a finality of that connection to my Mom.

He is a representation of my Mom's physical presence on earth. He is a family member, no less so than my husband or I. I believe in euthanasia, both for people and for animals, but only if that decision is what is best for the being. I really want Bert to die with dignity. I don't want to be rushing him to the hospital because he has stopped breathing, or can't move. I want him to go with the ability to feel my love for him as he passes away, but I just could not make that decision today. How will I know when the decision is right for him?


Polar Bear said...

I don't know. It's hard to know. It's a tough decision. I hope that when the time comes, he will go with dignity. He's such a gorgeous boxer, and I can udnerstand how much you love him.

jcat said...

You'll know, sweetie. You love him so much, and respect him, and care for him....you'll know when it is time to help him take the next step.
Knowing that it is coming soon doesn't help to prepare for it, it still really hurts. Just that... one day you will hold him or greet him, and you'll realise that the time has come. And you'll be able to find the strength in you to do it - because he is so special to you.