In September 2019, I wrote about my dog’s current state of health and how it was declining. During the first week of October, after a couple of weeks of moderate decline, he crashed. It was heartbreaking and horrifying. There are so few things that hurt as much as watching a beloved pet suffer and being helpless to do much if anything.
Czar was wetting himself uncontrollably, in pain with open and infected pressure ulcers, unable to get to his feet independently, possibly showing signs of heart failure, and had a declining appetite. At his age, fifteen-and-three-quarter years, a 75-pound Malamute mix…I knew there were no miracles left to be had, for all the years I’d lucked out with his health and recovery through numerous illnesses and injuries. The best I could do was find a way to keep him comfortable, love on him, and cherish each moment until the time came to let him go.
A week later, almost all of Czar’s worst symptoms have disappeared. He still cannot climb to his feet, his wounds are still open, and he is still in some pain. However: the wounds are beginning to heal, most of the infection has cleared, he has not had a single house accident in a whole week, and has the most energy I’ve seen of him since this general decline started in July. He’s eating better and responding well to medication.
As for myself, I can complete at least a full REM cycle at one time, can relax enough on the train to work to read a little, and food only tastes like cardboard about half the time. My record time for not crying is about 22 hours.
It can all disappear at any moment, but Czar’s turnaround is equally as jarring, even if pleasantly so. The past week has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, and as we await a visit from a house-call vet for an exam to determine his actual expectancy and condition, I’ve been furiously typing and compiling thousands of words as a way to cope.
Originally, I planned just a two- or three-part series, discussing unique things about anticipatory grief for impending pet loss, but as our remaining time together has become both more enriched and complicated, I came to understand there are few accounts that are as truly honest and blatant about what to expect when a pet’s life begins to end, the unique aspects of anticipating a pet’s death, and how important self-care and awareness is in the whole process.
Without any specific frequency, and intermixed with my other planned content, I’ll be discussing things one or maybe two topics at a time. Much support exists for those who take care of human loved ones in the end stages of life, and also for pet owners after the pet has died, but there isn’t much discussion about the truth, the struggle, and the reality of caretaking for an actively dying pet. I hope that what I offer will resonate with you and offer you the community, solace, and support you need if and when you ever find yourself with a terminally-ill and/or geriatric pet.
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