A Dog Named Bailey
What to do with the aging? This is a heavy topic often discussed about our grandparents, and even, as the baby-boomer generations nears retirement, our own parents. Throughout most of history, families lived together in mutligenerational homes and one grew old, and died, within the confines of one's family setting. These days, there is an ever-growing industry in retirement communities, tailored to the needs and recreation of the senior-but-still-active crowd, as well as facilities and in-home care for the immobile. Our parents have many options in how they want their last days to be lived.
But what about our pets? They are as much a part of our families as any human. What do we do with a beloved dog or cat grows old and their health begins to fail?
My brother and I are both facing the dilemma of how to manage our dogs as they grow old and ill.
Linc was a rescue dog, an orange mutt with short legs and a curled over tail, who has been my younger brother's best friend for about 15 years now. As Linc's organs begin to fail, my brother is having a hard time saying goodbye to the companion he's had for half his life. Though senile and incontinent, Linc is on all sorts of medication to prolong his inevitable fate.
I can sympathise with my brother, but i doubt if i should do the same for my Bailey. The dogs have different health concerns, but should i indulge in drastic heroic measures only to make the suffering last longer?
- The Lhasa Apso originated hundreds of years ago in the isolated reaches of the Himalayan Mountains. It functioned primarily as a household sentinel, guarding homes of Tibetan nobility and Buddhist monasteries, particularly in or near the sacred city of Lhasa. In 1933, C. Suydam Cutting introduced the first Lhasas to the U.S. gifts from the 13th Dalai Lama.
- Lhasas can be suspicious of strangers, so early socialization is critical. They thrive living with adults or families with older children.
- Ranging in size from 10 to 11 inches tall at the shoulder and 12 to 18 pounds.
- Lhasas come in many colors from light blonde to black. Black tippings on ears and face are also common.
breed information courtesy of American Kennel Club at http://www.akc.org/breeds/lhasa_apso/index.cfm
About a Dog
Bailey was about three years old when his owner passed away, leaving him to her widower and busy teenage daughter who had no time to care for this little dog. Bailey was being passed around from friend to friend, with no permanent home, ending up with an elderly women before being sent to a shelter.
Fortunately, that elderly woman was grandmother to one of my friends, and he offered me the dog, knowing it was his last chance to find Bailey a home. Those first few days were a bit trying as the dog and I got used to each other, but he soon found his place, comfortable at the foot of my bed. Bailey is a black Lhasa apso, with a white stripe on his chest, resembling a tuxedo shirt, with bowed legs and big sad dark eyes. He was the runt of the litter, weighing less than 10 pounds and only 6 inches or so at his shoulder. He had a fetish for licking things--everything!--and hated to be combed.
This little dog was the most expressive and communicative animal I had ever met. I was constantly amazed at how well we understood each other. We found each other when I was living alone in my first apartment and a he became my best friend, my constant companion, my familiar. In the darkest of times, having to take care of Bailey became literally my reason for getting out of bed each day. He has been with me through deaths, the birth of my son, a traumatic divorce, always there to lend an ear and snuggle. My son uttered his first word, "dog!", pointing and laughing at our little furball. We became a family: my son, my dog, and me.
Health Issues and Dealing with the End
As a runt, Bailey was prone to health problems. He has arthritis, floating knee caps, a tendency towards slipped spinal discs, as well as cysts on his skin. He is unable to walk up or down stairs, and fortunately, his less-than-10-pounds of fuzziness make carrying him barely a burden. After Bailey had surgery to remove a tumor on his leg, I examined each of his cysts, "lumps," as my son says, in fear of any growth or changes. But what I couldn't see, was what grew on this inside.
Each winter, as I watch my little boy grow bigger, and another birthday passes for Bailey, I know that we are nearing the end for my dog. He's almost 15 years old now, and though Lhasas can reach into their early 20's, how could I expect that of Bailey? I could see his personality change from a once frisky and lively puppy to an anxious and neurotic dog. And then the seizures and bleeding started. It seemed he couldn't get enough of rubbing his rear on the floor and every time he got excited and licked himself, he would bleed. Seeing my dog convulse and let out that soul-wrenching cry of agony was more than I could bear. The vet took X-rays and it seems that Bailey's body and brain is riddled with tumors. The vet kept saying, "we're not giving up on your baby!" But I honestly knew there wasn't much he could do for Bailey. He prescribed Phenobarbital for the seizures, but without surgery, nothing else can be done. Bailey's too old and fragile for surgery at this point.
So what can I do? I'm a single mom, working part-time. I can't afford to run to the vet once a week, drop half my paycheck for useless tests and temporary fixes to put band aids-on a dying dog. But how can i watch this little furry ball of love suffer so much? Is it ethical to pump him full of morphine or some other drug to render him catatonic until the end? How can I allow his pain to continue and not look for a miracle to ease his anguish? And I can't put him to sleep with he can still walk, and eat, and defecate on his own. I've done all the research, there is no medical treatment that will save him.
Right now, all I can do is give him love and try to keep him calm and cozy. Isn't that all anyone would want at the end anyway?
Due to increased frequency in his seizures, a failing heart and decreased strength in his legs, Bailey was put to sleep on Saturday, January 4, 2014. The decision to do so was heartbreaking, and words cannot describe how much he is missed. But I know that my little fuzzball is now at peace.