Palliative Care or Palling Around? Everyday Magic, Day 1028

Shay the dog is an elderly gentleman with a lot of problems that could be careening him to the brink of the rainbow bridge soon. He has kidney issues and serious-bad arthritis. We recently discovered he has a mass at the base of his heart, likely cancerous, but to find out for sure (via an invasive biopsy) might curtail his life. Plus, he most likely wouldn’t survive surgery or cancer treatment at his age.

What is his age? We don’t know, but based on how old he was estimated to be when he showed up, emaciated and sick, nine year ago at our front door, he’s likely about 15 years old. He’s also a probable chocolate lab and Weimaraner mix, breeds that generally don’t live this long. Plus, his long Weimaraner legs and his problematic lab hips make him prone to fall over easily, especially when Moxie brushes by him too quickly.

So he’s living and we’re loving him on borrowed time. Yet we’re still happily palling around with him, giving him extra treats, petting him as he reclines on his couch, and walking with him as far as he can, which sometimes isn’t so far at all. We’re also leaping up to let him out when he starts pacing, having learned what the kidney issues translate into and not wanting to rush out the mop and disinfectant speedily.

There’s a common belief that dogs will tell you when it’s time to put them out of their misery, but our experience with labs especially is that dogs will hang out loving and being loved by us even if they’re in horrible pain. All we have to do is talk about whether it seems to be getting close to that awful decision, and Shay — who obviously knows what we’re saying — perks up for a day or two. That said, we know there are undeniable signs, especially if he can’t go out on his own. Shay is 90 pounds, and we can’t easily haul him around; just loading him into the car for a vet visit is a major exercise in loading half a dog at a time with great and careful effort.

Age is so much swifter in dogs and cats than in our lives, which are often three or four or more times as long as theirs. It’s hard to believe that this initial maniac of a walkabout wanderer who once raced circles in the field, barking away would-be predators, now hobbles to his feet, and later, slides his long front paws forward to get back down. However much time we’ve had with him — as any of you with pets know — is never enough.

As we watch him sleeping on his couch each evening, I think of how our vet talked with us about we should just be with him (in addition to giving him his meds and supplements) in what might be palliative care, our usual palling around, or both. Grief is pre-emptive, but love lasts way beyond death. We don’t know whether we have weeks or months, but have now, listening to his snoring at night and opening the door again in the morning for him to go out and, soon after, back in again.