See Ya on the Other Side Smudgie!

By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

Monday we said goodbye to Smudge.  Smudge was a 14 year old blue merle Sheltie and had a very active and healthy life, then a very quick decline the last month after a severe bout of pancreatitis.  We knew he was old and had increasing health issues, but you always think you’ll get another reprieve.  Somehow, we always think we’ll have more time.  Until we don’t.

Making the decision about when it’s time is a horrible one and we’ve had way too much experience with it lately.  No matter what the circumstances it’s the choice you never want to make.  You don’t want to be a minute too soon or a second too late.  How do we make quality of life decisions for a being who can’t talk to us?  We debated endlessly about whether Smudge was having more good moments than bad ones.  We watched him with hawk-like intensity for every little change in his behavior.  Is he eating slower than usual?  Did it take him longer to stand up this time?  Do his eyes look a bit more blank than they should?  Was he drinking too much; not enough?  

We fed him tiny meals 4 times a day, supplemented with lots of medications and eventually, baby food to make it more appealing.  Getting him up and down the stairs to go outside became a huge struggle.  Between his failing eyesight and his arthritis, the steps became insurmountable without lots of coaxing and help.  And of course he needed to go out lots because old dogs can’t hold it very long.  

He slept that deep deep old dog sleep, then startled when you tried to gently wake him up.  He paced and panted.  Was he in pain?  Should we increase his medication?  Was the pancreatitis coming back?  Was he just hot?  He couldn’t hear and his vision seemed quite impaired.  

When Smudge was resting we didn’t move around much so we wouldn’t disturb him.  We constantly watched the other dogs to be sure they didn’t accidentally jostle or annoy him.  He was so wobbly on his feet he could have easily been tipped over.  He was so very skinny and had to be on a low fat diet.  There was no way he could take in enough calories to ever make up the loss.  He lost all his muscle and fat.  

I realized tonight that I don’t need to turn on all the lights in the house to help him see as much as possible.  And we can put away the baby gates we had up to keep him from wandering off and getting lost.

But he still wagged his tail when we touched him and he still gave us kisses.  He wanted to be on the sofa next to me, but couldn’t jump up on his own any more.  We kept a balance sheet in our heads of what he could still do and what he couldn’t.  It was very lopsided.

Decisions about when to euthanize a dog are very personal ones.  But for us, realizing that there was never going to a ‘better’ for Smudge was the deciding factor.  He wasn’t going to bounce back.  There might be a few good moments now and then, but the majority of his existence was not good quality and would never improve. Someday I’d appreciate it if someone could make that same loving decision for me.  

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Our vet is beyond wonderful in these situations.  We talked for a bit and gave Smudge time to walk around the room and be comfortable. We had brought him french fries from McDonalds.  The day we brought him home from the breeder I fed him fries on the drive and I always said that’s how we bonded.  So it seemed appropriate to begin and end with fries.  He ate a few and seemed to enjoy them.  Judy held him in her lap and I held a jar of chicken baby food for him to lick.  The vet gave him one injection and he was out mid-lick.  Then she gave him the second shot and it was over.  I can’t think of a better way for him to go than in the middle of enjoying his baby food.  

I didn’t realize how much we had started to organize our days around his needs.  We put away all his medications and his food bowl.  The house echoes with the empty and quiet.  For most of his years here on earth Smudge was pure energy and love.  He truly was full of life; always ready for the next adventure.  We were lucky to be the humans to  share that life with him and we will certainly miss his presence.

Anyone who knew Smudge in person could see the joy in him.  And did he ever love agility!  He never held back anything out there.  Of course, we struggled to keep up with that speed and intensity, and usually failed to do him justice, but he didn’t care.  Being out there running was enough.  

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This past summer he was still running and playing in the yard, but the slowdown was evident.  He spent more time wandering aimlessly sniffing around and less time chasing the ball.  One thing he really loved was being out on the balcony watching the world go by.  He’d lie on the bed out there for hours.  Luckily the day before his last it was nice enough to let him go out for a bit and have one last good look at his world.  

It doesn’t matter how old they get, saying goodbye always comes too soon.  You made our world better Smudgie, and we will surely miss you.  

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