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Knowing when to put your dog down

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By John Ross
Sunday, Aug. 14, 2005
 

Dear Dog Talk: I have a 14-year-old dog who is suffering from what I believe is cancer. A veterinarian has examined him and thinks this is so. However, the veterinarian did not run extensive tests or conduct further investigation, because I could not afford such care for my dog.

Up until recently my dog was eating, walking around and acting fine, except for the baseball-size growth on the side of his chest. But now he has grown so weak that he cannot stand on his own and I must bring him his food and water. To make matters worse I am away at college, but I have my family looking after him.

Would I be looked down upon and judged wrongly by the veterinarian for putting down my dog• I have never had to do something like this before. He has been the only dog I ever had. He is a good, caring friend and companion. I don't want to see him go, but I also don't want him to suffer like he is. Can you give me some advice• What do I tell the veterinarian?

Dear Brave Dog Owner: Sadly, you have to face the toughest part of dog owning. It is never easy to lose a dog who has become a well-loved member of the family. Even harder is having to be the one to make the decision to put the dog down.

I have gone through this awful experience several times over the last 30 years, and it never gets easier. Nevertheless, I have developed some criteria that I use as guidelines to help me know when the time is right to put my dog down.

When the dog become so old and/or ill that he or she cannot walk, I will opt for euthanasia. Many years ago I spent a week carrying my 15-year-old German shorthaired pointer from my bedroom to the backyard to go to the bathroom. When she toppled over while trying to defecate it was like a slap in the face that woke me up. I realized that I was avoiding make the tough, but right decision for myself, not for my dog. I had her put down that day and resolved never to put another dog through that indignity.

I will also make the decision to put my dog down when the dog cannot control his or her bladder or bowel. Many people deal with having a dog urinate and defecate in their homes. They will sometimes find their dogs lying in a mess. It is something that I personally cannot deal with.

Also, I will make the decision to put my dog down if the dog completely stops eating and drinking. When at age 15 and also suffering with cancer, my late, great Australian shepherd, Drifter, refused food for two days. I knew that his time had come. Next to barking, eating was Drifter's favorite activity. A happy, healthy Drifter never missed a meal.

If I were in your situation I would tell the veterinarian that I feel that the time has come to have my dog humanely put down. I'm sure that your veterinarian will respect your decision and be empathetic toward you. If the veterinarian does not, he or she is a jerk, and you should not concern yourself with them.

Running up an expensive medical bill on a 14-year-old dog who has cancer is not necessary. No good veterinarian will shame you into thinking it is. No tests or treatments that the veterinarian does is going to take the years off your dog or give him the strength that a young dog would have in fighting a life-threatening illness.

You sound like a caring owner who loves your dog a great deal. That's something that endures, even after your dog is gone. I've been there, too. Let me know how everything goes.

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