My Name is DesChene Brochtrup, DVM (aka DC).
And yes I am a veterinarian, small animal and emergency medicine. I have counseled hundreds of clients throughout their decision when and if to euthanize and the grief of an ill or past pet. But now I find all my knowledge fails me. I need someone else's opinion. I have talked to all my colleges and friends, and they all comfort me and say we did the right, blah blah, blah. But I don't know if they are right, or just saying what they think I need to hear. I need someone who will tell me his or her honest opinion. I feel that even if I made the wrong decision, just knowing that, I will be able to move on, at least better then I am now.
Here is the story:
Pollux was the older of our two boys (both mostly labs from the humane society) we got him first, when he was about 5 months old, and then his brother Castor (about 12 weeks old) about a month later. Pollux was a very type A personality; we think he had some heeler in him. Castor is much more type B, lab like.
We adopted them about 8.5y years ago (after my first year of vet school). We purposely wanted to get two so that they would bond and support each other, since we knew we would be working long hours. (We planned for a year before we adopt them, what breeds would fit our life style, ages, we move houses so we could get two dogs cause our first house would only let us have one, black coat colors cause they are least adopted, etc) They were great together; Pollux was the alpha of the two, always in the scout or point position on hikes (castor was always between my husband and I), and defending his more submissive brother from scary sounds in the dark and rambunctious puppies at the park. They would stay in the same kennel when in a strange or scary place (this was their choice, we always brought two just in case) And although both are well behaved, Pollux was an all star since the day we brought him home- he came off the streets, but he was potty trained and quiet, he chewed on one chair the first month he was home and that was it. He was born an old man we used to say.
He was very healthy most of his life, he had elbow dysplasia, but we got him surgery early enough that it rarely bothered him. But when he was 7.5y old he ruptured a disk in his back (august 6th 2008). We rushed him to surgery, and he did well, but he was never 100% (maybe 90% or 85%). He spent 6 months in physical therapy - he hated it, but he worked hard because we asked him too, and he got better. He was able to walk and run 6 months later, but he still had trouble with stairs and he got weak in the hind legs faster. He could not make the long hikes that he had loved all his life. He could not get on the back of the couch to look out the window and "survey his territory". We made adjustment to limit the effect it had on his life - we moved the bed to the main floor (and stopped using our upstairs where he could not spend time with us). Although we put the mattresses on the floor, they were still to high for him to get up, so my husband built wide steps for him, so he could sleep on the bed with us as he always had. We added rugs on he slick floors, etc. Things were going well, he was not the same dog, but he still seamed to enjoy life and tried to do what he used to, and he was able to do most things and that seamed enough.
This summer was crazy. My sister got married in Spain, so we were gone half of June. I was home 3 days when I got an offer for a residency program, which required that I pack my house, move my stuff, find a new house in the new town, find a job for my husband etc, in 3 weeks. We did it, but that meant I wasn't paying much attention to the boys. (Our life revolved around them, we have no two-legged children. Although we both have jobs and hobbies, my husband is an avid hiker and fisherman, and I danced semi professionally 3-4 days a week with a dance troop, our kids came first. We made sure that they got to go to the dog park or wildlife preserve at least twice a week, and usually 3-4 times.) I was in the new town without my kids or husband for 4 weeks. My husband came out that fourth weekend with a load of stuff on the trailer. The car died and we spent the whole weekend dealing with how to get the trailer load of stuff 3 more hours to the new house, instead of hiking and playing with the kids, as we would have. What little free time I did have, although the kids were snuggled with us, I spent most of my attention on my husband, cause the kids were going to stay with me since he had to take the train back and they don't allow dogs. He left that Sunday night, and when I woke up Monday morning, Pollux had slipped another disk and was paralyzed again. I rushed him to my new school and got him surgery, and everything seamed to be going great. He was recovering so well I brought him home Tues, and was caring for him at home. Thursday my husband came back out for a visit, Pollux seamed to get weaker through the day, but I thought he was just tired. I may have been distracted from watching him, because I had my husband there, and he was partially caring for Pollux so I could rest. The next morning, he was paralyzed again. I rushed him to school, he had a 3rd CT scan, and the same disk had ruptured more material at the same spot. He had no deep pain (I don't know how much you know about disk disease so here is the short course: When the spinal cord is compressed, you loose nerve function in a very predictable manner -1) Ability to tell where your feet are (Conscious Proprioception) 2) Motor - ability to move 3) Superficial feeling (skin pinching pain) 4) deep feeling or deep pain (Bone crushing pain). As you get further down the list, the more damage is being done to the spine, and the worse the prognosis.) Pollux had only ever had loss of motor and superficial feeling before. The Surgeons there said they had never had a dog re-rupture a disk at the same spot (ever), and never had recurrence of signs within 4 days. He had lost deep pain sometime in the night. Because I wasn't paying attention I don’t know when it was. But the longer (> 12 hours) without deep pain, the worse the prognosis for recovery. Normally its 50% or so, but with his previous nerve damage, which occurred at a lower spot, so any damage he incurred this time would be additive, the recent surgery and then failure, and the loss of deep pain for more then 12 hours, his chances for recovery (ability to walk and urinate on his own - these were the limits we had previously set, based on our ability to physically carry him, and his personality - he was the type A had to be chasing squirrels, running on the hikes, looking out the window, first to the door to guard for strangers type personality.) His chances for recovery were less then 50%, the docs would not say more specific then that, but If I had been my own client I would have said 25% or less from my experience. I was ready to go through another surgery and see what happened, but my Husband said it was time to euthanize. He said Pollux had not been him self that summer, he was in pain more, and less active, Not wanting to go for walks as much (which had been his life), but just laying around more. (I was not home so I had not seen this) He reminded me of our limits, and what we had thought Pollux would want. And although he says this did not factor in, we were becoming limited on our funds. We had moved, fixed the transmission on the car that had broke the weekend before, and then the first surgery. We were down to our last 1500 bucks, and the last surgery was 3000. (Although the school said they would have made it work) With my husband not having a job here, and me on my residency salary, I was afraid of what would happen if Castor needed help, and we had no money for him. Would that be fair, and would it be wasted if we could not fix Pollux. So I let him go. We brought his brother to see his body and say good-bye. We spent the rest of the day together and then my husband left to go back to our old house and his job (he still did not have a job here yet). So I spent the weekend alone with Castor.
I know that was long, but I wanted you to understand where my questions are coming from.
I want to know if I made the right decision to euthanize or not? Did I give up to early and fail standing up for him? Or because we decided these limits in a time of cool rational thought before our emotions came into play, as to what we thought Pollux would want based on his desires and personality, it was the better decision. My husband feels confident that he made the right decision.
The other issues involve his brother. I felt right about our decision when we made it and have felt less and less sure as time has progressed, and I wonder if its because I feel guilty of the hole it has left in our pack, and the changes in his brothers life that I can't fix.
Castor would always wait for his brother to start eating before he would eat, Now we have trouble getting him to eat on a regular basis (although with our guilt he is not starving, he gets plenty of snacks and table scraps to make up the difference) But even when we are strict for several days, he doesn't eat like he used to. Castor is more whinny and attention demanding. When his brother was here, a walk every 3 days was enough to keep them happy. Now even if we take him daily, the min we are home and not paying attention to him he stairs at us and quietly whines with every breath. Its not an in your face kind of demanding "pay attention to me" - but its a constant pressure.
I go back in forth about a new dog - Am I still in the stage where I would be trying to replace Pollux, or would I bond with this new pup? Is Castor Lonely, does he want a new pack member? But he is so submissive; I don't want the new dog to run his life, when he should be enjoying his golden years. I think a puppy would be too much energy for him at this age - he tires out after 1 hour with the neighbor dog, and then sleeps for 2 days. And although he loves it - the other dog doesn't come home with us. A puppy is in that magical stage where most dogs will accept them and tolerate them, I am afraid an older dog would be more dominant. I am not sure I can find a dog lower on the totem pole then Castor.
We are only allowed two dogs here in this apartment for the next 2.5y of my residency. Plus what happens when Castor passes and we have the other pup - now we are back in this same predicament. We want to get 2 pups again, so they can grow up together like castor and Pollux. And these guys are so well behaved, even as pups. We know they are unusual, and I fear my heart will think no other pup measures up.
I am sorry for the length of this e-mail - but it has been six months, and I feel worse about my choice every day, for giving up on him and for what it has done to our family with him not being here. I swore I would never let money decide the medical care of my boys, and I ma not sure it it did not not. If I could go back in time I would have gone with the surgery. It may not have turned out any different I know. But I am not sure this is what Pollux would have wanted. Do I think I made the wrong choice because its what Pollux would have wanted, or what I want because I miss him?
I tell my clients - you have to make the decision that you can sleep with at night, and at this point I can't. I thought I could when we decided it, but since its 4 am, I can't.
Please help me. I know I will never get over him, and I don't want to, but I need to come to one term or the other with this decision, or I will go mad with guilt over a decision I can't change.