Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When? or, Tuesdays With Mona

If most of my duties as The Lady of the House are unglamorous and menial, there's one that's undeniably important, if difficult: the task of keeping the living things in our home alive and well. And as the prime caregiver to family members of the canine kind, I'm also sometimes burdened with the say-so over the dying part.

Our nine-year-old Lab/husky mutt, Mona, is the victim of something that has taken away the use of the right side of her head. It's moving fast, whatever it is; this morning her right eye is rolling around, her lip is dangling from her jaw, and her head is perpetually tilted. She can still walk, but the right side of her body is visibly atrophied. Plainly, it's all in her head. It's probably a tumor.

Knowing that there are people who put their dogs on life support, I know that veterinary care for one's animals is one of life's deeply personal decisions. We've decided against an MRI, because we've decided that we're not going to opt for brain surgery or chemotherapy. She's sedated, medicated, and for now, comfortable. We call her Sister Morphine. I'm sad to the point of paralysis. I didn't think I'd be this sad. I never do; I'm a procrastinator that way.

I knew something was up when Mona began acting funny a few months ago, slobbering and eating funny. I thought her teeth were bothering her. At least we can say that, when she gets to Dog Heaven, she will have nice, clean teeth.

I'm doing the best I can with this, the strangest of all familial duties, and I know the drill. After what's done is done, I will say something stupid like, "No more dogs. It's too hard when they leave." My friend Dawn, who has had dogs and horses and all kinds of animals for a million years, will tell me what a shame that kind of thinking is, reminding me that the price of being a Dog Person is outliving most of your friends. "But at least we can give them a good life," she would say.

I may have to decide when to say when, which is one of my job's cruelest or merciful decisions. It's a hard one, even if Mona could tell me whether or not she is suffering under pain's harsh rule. I may have to make some distinctions about quality of life, both mine and Mona's. She will forgive me.

Whatever happens, I can enjoy her company now, and remind myself of our time together later. I'm grateful to our Mona: for being our friend, our companion, the gentle and infinitely tolerant introduction she gave our daughter to big, loud dogs. She is proof that I like a big, dopey, old dog more than anything in the world. She has something to do with the feeling of safety I enjoy in our home. I like that she has replaced me as the resident nutjob for the past five years. And I like that she still perks up at the invitation of a walk, and barks with what's left of all her might at whomever dares cross her lop-sided path. She's still eating with the gusto of a pup; I'm happy to feed her steak while she can still eat it. We're sympatico that way.

And when she's unable to act crazy, or look interested in knocking over the trash; when she can't walk, or eat, I'll know that we're there yet.


amy said...

I am incredibly sad about Mona, too, Jody. And I've never even petted her.

I was just thinking today, as a matter of fact, that my cat is now about 13. And by the time our child is 5, she will be 18. Which is about it for cats, though I hear some indoor ones can live to see 20-25. But probably not ours--she likes her food too much, becomes highly agitated when the bowl is empty, displays her displeasure in annoying ways, and yet is the size of a small, black mountain and still doesn't care. As long as there's food in the bowl, she's good.

She's the first animal I will have probably have to make that decision for. The last time, it was for a dog and my mom made it. And I was was deeply grief stricken for months, so I'll most likely have to check myself into a quiet hospital setting for a few weeks when I have to make the life/death call on my own. People who have never loved an animal don't understand.

It's what animals do to people with deep animal-lover hearts, and I suspect they know what they're doing, too. It's diabolical, and yet you STILL want to hug them. Even after they've thrown up hairballs on your new rug, or chewed holes in all your paper bags.

It's simply not the same with people.

Megan (FriedOkra) said...

Ow, my heart. I'm so sorry -- Mona sounds like a sweet heart and I know watching the decline of a beloved family member, even one on four furry legs, is one of life's most difficult experiences. Sounds like you are handling it with grace and have her best interest at heart. I hope you still have lots of time left - lots of happy, peaceful time, and that the end comes as simply and painlessly as possible.

Joe said...

Oh Jody that just stinks. You know all the rationalizations and whatnots but the bottom line is that it's plain heartbreaking saying good-bye.

I like my dog better than I like most people. I'd say ALL people but I have one of them looking over my shoulder right now.

Laura said...

Oh, Jody. This is so sad, so hard. You're really doing the best thing for your dear Mona--giving her all the love you can.

We kept our beloved white Shepherd, TJ, alive as long as we could. He raised my daughter and was around long enough to be a reliable old friend for our young son. He lived almost 14 years--the last year was spent on Rimadyl, to soothe his creaky hips. But it ruined his kidneys. 14 years is a long time for a big dog, and it still makes me cry to think of that last afternoon at the vet's office, where we finally let him go.

One of our family sayings is, "A big dog will break your heart." It's true, of course, which is why we didn't get another dog for almost three years. He's big. And our new puppy is growing fast.


You're a wonderful mom! xo

TMFHitman said...

An eloquent and heartbreaking paean to dogs everywhere. And one more drink for all the dogs with no breed.

Jody Reale said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind thoughts. We put Mona down a few days ago. She was suffering horribly; she was ready. I still can't talk about her without reaching for the Kleenex traveler pack I keep with me at all times. Thanks, Mona, for being our dog.

Lacy Kemp said...

I have tears in my eyes reading this. I fear for this moment so often (I have 3 cats and 12 chickens and I love them all insanely). I always tell my friends who go through this that the animal is obviously in a better place, but being somewhat selfish, this wouldn't help me much. From the looks of it you've got great friends and family to help support you. I hope you give a dog that needs a good home a chance one day. You can fall in love all over again.

DonnaOnTheBeach said...

Awwww...HUGE HUG! I was devastated when my mom had to put our Kay to sleep. After 6 dogless, sad months they got another - this one is a bigger nutjob than the rest put together. (a feat I NEVER would have believed if I'd not seen!) Again, I'm late catching up with you...but I hope the heartbreak is easing and the love for that great dog stays. Lots of love to you. xxx