There is an old dog in my house. When I met him, he was a small, young, upstart of a puppy. That was over fifteen years ago.
He is now old. Some say that he is past his life expectancy. He doesn’t seem to always know that. My Alyosha loves to play fetch, although instead of all day sessions of running back and forth in a field, he now can seem to only muster enough energy for two to three rounds of bringing a tennis ball from one end of the yard back to me. His hips bother him quite a bit, but he is stubborn.
Yosh has always been an anxious dog. But it has gotten to the point where his daily life is greatly impacted by this tension. He pants and paces, he claws at carpet and doors. He is often inconsolable.
When I was 13 my childhood dog, Hoka, died. He was a 14 year old Shepherd mutt and my best friend. He had gotten into a fight with an opossum and hadn’t fared so good. A bite from that opossum on his face became infected and in his old age, he became a sicky dog. My mom made the final decision, and it made sense with that old and sick dog.
I understand making that decision when your pet is physically ailing, obviously in physical pain and unable to care for him/her self. But how do you make that decision when it is their mind that is going? There is no measurable quantity. The critter can’t tell you how badly they are ailing either by voice or by veterinary test, only by their actions. And those actions could be misinterpreted. When do you decide that all reasonable options have been exhausted? A dog at 15 years old is an old dog. A very old dog can get up around 18 years old, but rarely with good quality of life at that point.
Our responsibility towards the creatures we keep in our lives as pets includes feeding, healthy care, giving and receiving love, and end of life comfort. It is a unique situation that we have agreed upon as a society that ending the life of these creatures is also our responsibility. Some people are more pragmatic than others. I have seen pet parents who have been unable to make that final decision, and instead, watch their pet wither away for years. That is not the quality of life I want for my critters, but how do you decide when is that date? Do you decide once you see the inevitable downhill slide of their physical and/or mental state? Do you wait for them to be unable to groom and eat for themselves? What metric do we apply to this process?