Difficult decisions

May 10, 2013 on 11:55 pm | In cats, daily life, death, dogs, health, pets | 2 Comments

Some decisions are more difficult than others.

This is one of those times.

A relative of mine mentioned today that one of their pets is apparently experiencing kidney failure. They’re not sure, except that the pet’s increased water drinking, increased urination, and decreased weight points to this. They don’t know for sure because they won’t take this pet to the vet. It was stray they found and raised, and in the words of their spouse, “We’re not spending money to take an animal we found to the vet.”

I understand the pragmatism and emotional detachment that lies behind that sentiment, and I love my relative dearly so I did not condemn them for it, but I don’t share that attitude.

I can’t place value upon my pets based on how they came to exist nor how they came to live with me. Trixie, my three-legged rescued mixed breed Terrier is every bit as valuable and worthy of care in my eyes as my purebred AKC pedigreed Dalmatians were.

As I’ve mentioned before, I currently have three dogs. They’re all animal shelter adopted mixed breeds, none of them has any extrinsic value (not like the purebred Dalmatians I previously owned) and none of them is extraordinary in any way.

To me though, they’re family. They’re part of my pack.

I do not think of them as people however, even less do I consider them to be my children. I have four children and they all have two legs and no fur (unless you count the 16 year old when he refuses to shave). As much as I love my dogs, I love them as dogs, because they are dogs. I’m equally fond of my cat, but he’s a cat. I love him on his terms which are very catlike; he accepts displays of affection and plays with me when it suits him, comes and goes as he pleases, and in all ways is the epitome of a confident feline.

He’s not a dog though, nor do I expect him to be one.

He doesn’t greet me at the door when I come home, demonstrably excited to see me. He doesn’t sit at my feet when I’m typing on the computer, or curl up on my lap when I’m reading a book. He doesn’t chase and retrieve a ball, or lope alongside my bike at the end of a leash, or jump in the passenger’s seat of my car, eager to accompany me on a drive. He doesn’t notice nor care if I’m sad or happy; my emotional state is of no concern to him nor will he attempt to affect it by placing his chin on my knee.

Those are the things my dogs do. And it’s why I enjoy their companionship.

My oldest dog is now few months past seven years. That’s middle aged for a dog. Reasonably, all things being equal, he could easily have another six years or more ahead of him.

All things are not equal for Toby though. Toby has a soft tissue sarcoma, and he’s already had one surgery, in October of last year, to remove it. I’d hoped that was the end of it, but no, it’s recurred, and today we visited a canine oncologist to find out just what might be done next.

Vet visits aren’t free, and cancer treatment in pets isn’t cheap. Comparatively though, well, I spent $13,000 on a used car last October too. The proposed cancer treatment for Toby will be less than third of that. I’ll doubt I’ll have the car for fourteen years, and it certainly won’t bring me the companionship nor pleasure in its very existence that Toby does. So I don’t see the sense in saying the dog isn’t worth the money it might cost to give him another six or seven years of a good life, and me another six or seven years of his companionship.

Of course, this is assuming he’s in perfect health apart from the tumor, which will be determined by an ultrasound, again not inexpensive.

Trixie (L) and Toby

Mr. Random Thoughts was not pleased by the news that I’d be willing to pay for this treatment. Logically, he pointed out that there are countless dogs still waiting to be rescued; Toby was dealt the cancer card, let him go and get another dog that doesn’t have cancer.

As if dogs were interchangeable.

As if one could predict that the next dog won’t have cancer, or kidney failure, or diabetes, or any other illness or disease.

Mr. Random Thoughts also suggested that I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would agree with spending thousands on cancer treatment for a dog.

I’m not concerned with the pet owner ethics of others though; this is about me and my dog. My dog. Because in the end, that’s what Toby is, he’s mine. I found him, I adopted him from the shelter, I paid for extensive training to help him overcome the issues that his early life gave him (mainly an immobilizing fear of just about everything outside of our house) and I’ve spent the last seven years with him. Each of the other two dogs we adopted after him came into our home only when it was clear Toby had accepted them, because he was here first.

As I told Mr. Random Thoughts, it’s not as thought Toby is 13, at the end of a good life the way our beloved late Dexter was. Dexter too had cancer, but by the time we caught it, it was far too late for treatment. And at his age (he’d become arthritic and had a heart murmur), even if we’d caught it sooner, I doubt treatment would have been considered as it would not have given him any more years of quality life. That is not the case with Toby, which makes the decision to treat him both easier and yet more difficult.

On one hand, the funds it will take to treat Toby’s disease might well be spent paying down the useless student loans I took out in my futile attempt to pursue law, and then gain a credential for a teaching career that never came to pass. Or to pay down the aforementioned car loan. Or just to pay for things like new house paint, or home repairs.

Those are all things that have to be dealt with.

Those are all things though.

And Toby is not a thing. I might own him, but I didn’t create him. I have taken on the responsibility of his life, and that means that it’s up to me to make sure it’s a healthy, content life. The concept of watching him inevitably die within a year or so of something that could be treated, and in all likelihood controlled, of knowing that I could have prevented that death…I just can’t do that.

I can make–and have made–the tough call to bring a merciful end to a terminally ill pet. But I can’t not act, and know that my inaction is going to bring about a far sooner death.

Mr Random Thoughts commented that, if it were up to him, we would not even have dogs because of this kind of situation. Because of the expense and the emotional angst owning them can bring.

I think though that unless we insulate ourselves from all affection, be it human or canine, we are going to face tough, painful and sometimes costly situations in life. People–and animals–we love are going to be hurt, get sick, need our help and eventually die. There’s no way to avoid the emotional and financial costs that living in a fallen, decaying world brings us.

There are only decisions to be made, not all of them easy. And this is one of those times.



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  1. (((hugs))) for you, friend. I hope you have many years yet with Toby.


    Comment by crosscribe — May 13, 2013 #

  2. Dude, if it’s treatable and virtually inexpensive, then by all means get it treated. He’s part of the family (even if not all of us are dog people). Better to give him those extra 6 years if possible than to just have him die from something treatable.


    Comment by RTsFirst — May 13, 2013 #

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