Editor’s note: Just before this article was published we received word from Michael that his beloved dog Emma had passed away. We are grateful for his honest sharing about a difficult decision, and we hold Michael and his family in our prayers. -Barb
Our senior dog, Emma, was diagnosed with liver disease. She has hundreds of small cysts on her liver that have enlarged it. Her health has rapidly declined since we first learned of her condition in February 2018. She is showing all the symptoms of being near liver failure. Sadly, the end is coming.
We have discussed euthanasia. We have talked about what condition she would have to be in where we would intervene. But for the time being, we are letting nature take its course. Though Emma is obviously declining, she does not appear to be in any pain or distress. She just carries on.
There have been days when we have said, “This is it. She’s going.” Yet she hangs on. It’s almost funny how many times Vicki has called to me, saying Emma was at death’s door. I have observed her and thought the same. One day Emma was sick to her stomach. In her weakened condition, she fell backwards and laid on her side and twitched. I thought she was convulsing and “knew” this was “it.” What did she do? With all her strength she sat up and looked around semi-stunned but very much alive.
She had stopped eating for many days. She lost a lot of body tone and muscle mass and has never recovered them. She can walk a little, but not very far. We carry her up and down the stairs. It is getting more difficult for her to even walk on grass, but she can amble on a carpet. Her gait is getting wobblier by the day. She lost her footing on the grass one day and started to crawl before I could pick her up. It made me think about how dogs will crawl to the ends of the earth for their masters.
No, Emma is not ready to go. Her body is giving up, but she still has spirit and determination. She is nosy. She still cranes her neck to watch my every move. She still watches baseball on TV. She thinks she is “working,” guarding the house when we leave.
All her needs require special care and more patience. Her decline has led me to think about us human beings as we decline when we age. Our Catholic teaching tells us that we must respect life from conception to natural death. This is mainly for humans, but it also applies to nature, including our pets. Indeed, we have dominion over nature (Genesis 1:26). We also have a special responsibility to our pets per the Catechism (CCC 2415-2418). Vicki and I are trying to be as responsible as possible towards Emma. Our prayer is that God will take her on His terms. But, we also are mindful that our God-given responsibility may force us to euthanize her. It’s not a decision we are taking lightly.
I’m sure there are some, who after reading this, will think we are needlessly prolonging her life. Honestly, I sometimes feel the same way too. But seeing Emma’s determination, grit, and being seemingly painless and not suffering, makes me feel we are, for the moment, making the right choice.
When she goes, we will be sad. We have had her for ten of her sixteen years. She is a rescue dog. She was very well-trained when we adopted her. She has been very easy to care for and always had a smile on her face. We couldn’t have asked for a better dog. We got lucky finding her.
The Bible says that all of God’s creation and creatures are “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We feel that they deserve a place in His Kingdom. So, it goes without saying that we hope we will one day, after she passes, we will see Emma again.
Copyright 2018 Michael T Carrillo