In Memoriam – Summer 2019

The Worst Day in a Dog Owner’s Life by Greg Battersby

It is said that the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day that they buy the boat and the day that they sell it. For a dog owner, that’s probably only half right—the happiest day is when you bring home that crazy little puppy but the worst day is that day when you conclude that her body is failing her and it’s necessary to put her down to stop her suffering. That’s tragic and it was one we faced recently when our soon-to-be 13-year-old yellow lab’s body simply wore out.

My wife, Susan, and I have owned dogs for the better part of our lives. They’ve included mutts, a huge Newfoundland who used to walk my wife, a German Shepard who proved to be a one woman (not man) dog, and finally, a yellow lab named Ruby who we adopted 13 years ago who loved everyone and shared that love with anyone who came in contact with her. She had already been named Ruby when she came into our lives even though that name wasn’t our first (or even 20th) choice.

We immediately fell in love with the puppy who looked as if she just walked out of an LL Bean catalog. Puppy life with Ruby was typical…. She was always carrying something in her mouth; she developed a taste for the grout between the tiles in our kitchen floor; and she chewed the wall adjacent her crate (while in it), seemingly digging for China. She even managed to jump out of the passenger seat of a convertible while waiting for a traffic light. Normal puppy stuff.

As Ruby matured, she turned into the ideal family pet. She became my “Pizza Dog,” accompanying me on errands, pizza runs, etc. riding shotgun the whole way. She “guided” my wife on her frequent walks around town. Ruby played with us as well as the other dogs in our family and she loved and was loved by our children and grandchildren. She viewed every visitor to our house as someone who was coming to visit her, and she greeted each one with a wagging tail…. always with the hope that they might honor her with a pet or, better yet, a treat. Never once in her almost 13 years with us did she ever growl and the only time she barked was when “calling for” her buddies next door or trying to scare off visiting deer. This last year became tough for all of us, however, as her health began to fail. About a year ago, her breathing became heavy, which our veterinarian son attributed to an issue with her trachea. She stopped going upstairs, breaking a daily tradition of greeting me each morning and celebrating the fact that we had both made it through another night.

X-rays and an ultrasound test revealed that she had a growth on her liver which was clearly impacting her health and appetite. We tried various diet changes which would work on a short time basis, but she soon tired of the new food and we were back to where we started. It became difficult to even administer pills to help treat her condition because she wouldn’t eat them. Thank goodness for the “Paw Patrol” cheese sticks (which we had bought for our grandson) since she always found them delicious. When the grandchildren were there, she somehow managed to rally and show some interest in whatever they dropped, which was normally quite a bit.

Apparently, the growth also impacted her overall strength as we noticed that her hind legs were weakening to a point where she could not get up from a prone position. For a small dog, that might not be life-threatening problem, but for an 85-pound lab living with two senior citizens, it had the potential to be a serious issue.

The beginning of the end came last week when she totally stopped eating and couldn’t get up from the floor. Our veterinarian son had always said that she would “give us a sign” when it was time. We kept looking for it but we weren’t sure what form it would take. I had been trying for years to teach her to talk but she simply wagged her tail and ignored me. This was no different. What she was doing, however, was staring at me with no interest in either being fed or wanting to go out. It was as if she was saying, “I’m really hurting coach, but I’m trying as best I can.”

The growth inside her seemed to be taking over her body. You could feel her spine. The muscle tone had atrophied so much that she couldn’t control her hind legs to get up. Susan and I looked at each other and then at Ruby and finally concluded that she had suffered enough. It was time.

Honestly, I had been reluctant to make that decision for weeks. Putting a dog down simply because she couldn’t stand up from a prone position shouldn’t be the reason for terminating the life of someone who had become a member of our family. As a senior citizen, I knew that there were times I had trouble getting out of a low chair or struggled to walk. Did that make me a candidate for euthanasia? When we looked at the whole picture, however, we knew that she was ready. The happiest dog in the world had not wagged her tail for weeks and had lost her joy of eating. We had never seen a lab that didn’t love to eat. Every day had become a struggle for her. There was a sadness in her eyes as opposed to the normal joy of life that we had seen since the day she first graced our home. Was she giving us a sign? We thought so. The end was tragic, yet peaceful and loving. We took her to the veterinary office where she was surrounded by her family and the people who loved and adored her. It was over in a matter of a few minutes. The vet was professional, caring and compassionate. We each said our goodbyes while feeding her a few last dog biscuits and then returned home in tears…. Ruby was an extraordinary dog. While I was obviously unsuccessful in teaching her to talk, she was far more successful in teaching me such qualities as loyalty, companionship, a joy of life and happiness need only come from a full feeding dish (on time, of course), a belly rub and a walk outside. We’re going to really miss her.

She was easily the best dog that we ever had but probably the last dog we’ll ever have. We question whether we can go through this again at this stage of our lives.

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