Knowing it was right, makes it no less painful
When we received the news 6 weeks ago that Susie-Belle had a tumour, it was a terrible shock. No-one ever wants this diagnosis to be part of their journey through life with their canine friends, who are so dependent on us to make the right decisions for them. But, it happened and we had to get on, think clearly and ensure we did the right thing at every stage for Susie-Belle. We’ve been guided well for the past few weeks by the professionals in whose safe hands Susie-Belle has been. Our veterinary practice has always been excellent, and although our regular vet is on maternity leave, we could not have wished for better care from her locum, Andy Bradnock. I’ve had confidence in all our meetings with him, and, this has been an important part of the past few weeks, he’s understood Susie-Belle (and me) and gone beyond her clinical needs: he’s shown empathy. Professionals don’t always manage this, but when they do, it makes a sad, horrible experience a whole lot more bearable. I’m thankful that through a time of great upset, I could rest easy that whatever I was told, I could implicitly trust, was the thing I needed to hear.
When Susie-Belle first came into our home, I made a promise that she’d never suffer again. She’d had years of that in the puppy farming industry and I would do anything I had to, in order to save her from any more. My biggest dread in the past few weeks has been that she’d suffer in silence, for Susie-Belle was a stoical soul, she’d had to be for so many years, as there’s no-one to help a dog in pain in a puppy farm. But, once she’d started the steroid treatment, and her appetite had returned to normal, the only noticeable symptom from her tumour was increased thirst and urination. All this was liveable with, she seemed unperturbed and despite restless nights in and out to the garden, her life continued in the usual way. She was happy, engaged and remained keen to be out with her sisters walking. Although our pace was sedate, and the terrain steady, her last walk on Friday was as pleasant as any other we’ve shared.
Then, out of the blue, Friday evening, she had a fit. The first we ever knew that she experienced in her life. Upsetting as it was, the emergency vet talked us through what was best and she stayed quietly at home, and Saturday morning our routines were the same. She ate a good breakfast and was happy. I called our vet practice and he advised that so long as she was fine, which she was, to have a quiet day and he’d see us on Monday for her checkup and he’d look at possibly introducing a new medication. He explained the fit may have been due to electrolyte issues as her water intake was abnormally high, or, and this was the real worry, the tumour was affecting her brain. I tried hard to hope this wasn’t the case and the electrolyte drinks would help and we’d see Andy on Monday and all would be well for a while longer.
We spent the day cuddling quietly, she ate lunch as normal and she seemed peaceful. Then the fidgets started late afternoon; she wouldn’t stay in one place, my arms, her bed, with her sisters, nowhere seemed right for her and she paced about and drank. And drank. It was as if a switch had gone off and we couldn’t reach it to put her right, to pacify her beautiful mind and body. I knew it was ominous, but still hoped she would calm down and we’d get through Sunday, we’d see Andy, and he’d work more magic for her. I’d trusted him fully and only wanted him to help me to make decisions.
It wasn’t to be, as around 8pm she started fitting again and this time it was much worse. We rushed to the emergency vet, and Susie-Belle was sedated. She fought the sedation. It could of course have been another fit, or maybe this is how it always is in these circumstances. I can see there are good reasons that it’s not usual, or advisable for owners to be there during this stage, but I insisted and the kind vet on duty acquiesced. But, as I stood trying to be strong for Susie-Belle, I watched her struggle and resist, and I’m haunted by the thought that she was aware, and fought hard to be alive, to stay here in this world that she’d learned after so many unhappy years, could be beautiful.
So much of her life had been a terrible struggle, she survived so much awfulness before she knew that life can be gentle, and kind, and loving. It was as if, she didn’t want to give up on what she was finally graced with: a life worth living. It was harrowing to witness Susie-Belle so distraught, and then the sedation took hold and she was peaceful again.
I sat with her, while the emergency vet, who was as kind and compassionate as we could have hoped for, ran a few tests. The bad news came fast and, although we may have been able to try some interventions to keep her going through the night, under the vet’s guidance, Michel and I took the final and hardest decision for Susie-Belle, to let her go peacefully.
People say that we know when the time is right for our dogs to go, that they let us know. Jasmine did five years ago, our cats always have, this is not the first time we’ve been through this. Would that this was the case with Susie-Belle; my heart would feel less torn to bits than it does right now. For she was still enjoying her life up to a few hours before we decided that the kindest thing for her was to take it away. Rationally, intellectually I know this was the right decision. But, that makes it no less tormenting to my heart and mind.
While the wonders of medicine may have stabilised her on Saturday night, and we may have had her with us for a little while longer, we cannot know at what cost to her this would have been. At some stage she would have dwindled away, lost her characteristic joie de vivre, perhaps experienced pain in silence, and eventually, I’m sure she would have made it clear to me that her time had come. Deep, very deep somewhere now within me, I know it was right that we didn’t let this happen to her. I’ve spoken to Andy, one of the kindest vets I’ve met, and he’s assured me that the decision on Saturday night was right. I’m not doubting it, I’m not regretting what we did.
I know she died at a time of happiness in her life. And this I must hang onto as my mind plays tricks, and memories of her final moments haunt me. But I know they will fade. I will be normal again. And I do know, she had the best of everything in her time with us. And that we did the right thing for Susie-Belle, at the right time. But, the pain is still pinching hard and not going anywhere just yet.