Friday, September 17, 2010


There's a downpour in progress, with clapping of thunder every few minutes. Normally, by this time, Sabrina my little dog would be curled up inside the house beside me as I worked on the computer (on the floor beside my bed if it happened to be bedtime already). The sound of thunder has always terrified her, giving her a forlorn expression as long as the heavy rains poured and the thunder kept at it.

Today, however, Sabrina is nowhere near me. She isn't scared of anything anymore. She died yesterday -- she was 14 years old.

She had been slowly deteriorating the past year -- cataract building up in one eye, the same happening in the other eye though at a much slower pace. Around 6, 7 months ago, only one eye seemed to be providing her vision, but the cheerfulness remained. Sense of hearing obviously waning, too, it would be easy to creep up on her and give her a playful tap, watching as she was jolted by my sudden presence. And the cheerfulness would then show up again. The only thing that could dampen her spirits was a thunderstorm. The first clap of thunder would send her walking toward the laundry area door and tapping her nose on it so we would let her inside.

But last week she started refusing food; she drank some water at first, but a couple of days later she would only take sips. Pretty soon the weight loss was apparent and the cheerfulness was gone. Even with hardly any water intake, she vomited the little fluid that I gave her. And despite the weight loss, her sides seemed to be bloated. On the first visit, the vet advised that if she should again expel the fluids given her, no water was to be given (she was completely not eating for days already).

But even before this first visit, it was tough seeing Sabrina always lying down, or seated but just staring into space, probably aware (with as much "awareness" as an animal could have) that something was very wrong. Well, she would stare a lot because her vision was considerablyl impaired. When she did manage to get up once in a while, it was done with a huge effort, and walking was a wobbly affair.

I came to terms with the fact that my pet would have to go soon; she was, after all, 14 years old -- pretty old for a dog. I was just thinking of the best way to handle the situation -- best, meaning thinking things through, weighing all the factors, not doing anything drastic.

Wednesday morning I brought her to the UP veterinary hospital to find out what was wrong with her, only to be told that the lab was closed on Wednesdays. What was I to do? Let Sabrina live through another 24 hours of no-food-no-water existence? Watch her struggle to get up when she wanted to sleep in some other spot? That's when the vet instructed me about the water thing. "She's still alert," she remarked. She did suggest confinement in another facility, but I declined. So okay, make it through another day and we'll have the necessary tests performed.

But by Wednesday night, after much deliberation and a little help from friends plus some insights from my brother and mother, I had decided that having Sabrina put to sleep would be the best option considering her age, the possibility of surgery and the chances of recovery, the "quality of life" if she did manage to recover from the possible surgery, the time and money that caring for a recovering animal would entail -- plus the fact that all my time away from work would be needed for the move (we are in the process of packing then moving to a new home). It was really her age that was most significant. That, and the prospect of prolonging the suffering she had been going through the past week. I figured, I wouldn't even have any tests performed on her -- I mean, what for? Those were simply for my curiosity. It would be kind of nice to know what was causing the bloating and why she couldn't eat and drink... but I decided that was inconsequential now. I wasn't sure, though, if a hospital would consent to putting an animal down without knowing what was wrong with it.

So Thursday morning, I again brought Sabrina to the hospital. Our house helper was with us and I sure am thankful for her presence. I had made up my mind -- Sabrina was better off being put to sleep permanently. If she were a human being, things would be totally different. If animals were capable of living or even just understanding redemptive suffering, things would be totally different.

We ended up drawing some blood for a blood test. More agony (for Sabrina and for me). Waiting more than half an hour for the results. Learning it was something in the liver that was causing the problem. Listening to the vet recommend confinement and say that in 2-3 days, my pet could either improve or further deteriorate, depending on her response to the IV fluids and medication.

At this point I wavered in my decision to have Sabrina's suffering swiftly ended. I did think about it, I did weigh everything, but when I told the vet about my preference to have Sabrina euthanized and how I came to the decision, I faltered. And started getting tearful Sad Emoticons

I excused myself and told her I would call someone to consult. I ended up calling two people whose opinions I valued. They had opposing views about the matter, and I felt even more torn...but just for a few moments. In the end, I listened to the one who believed the same thing I did. I think I just needed to hear it from someone else, because I already knew what had to be done.

I got back to the vet and gave her my decision. The thing is, even though I felt more confident about the choice I made, I dreaded it more than ever. I suppose because I said it with finality.

At least my tearfulness inspired some compassion. Between the time my eyes first welled up and the phone calls I made, a nice lady approached me and told me that she, too, had to have one of her dogs euthanized the previous year. "So I understand how you feel," she said with such empathy and kindness, teary-eyed to meet my by-then-slightly-puffy eyes, that I really did feel understood.

There was a form to fill up and sign. Payments to be made at the cashier's window. Did those in a daze. What comforted me was that other clients whose pets were to be euthanized shortly were often in the same shape as I was, according to the vet student who sympathetically answered all my queries through it all.

When I carried Sabrina to the table and gently stroked her for the last time, I experienced another sense of doubt. When the vet came in holding the syringe with the purple liquid and I glanced at Sabrina, I felt as if I were betraying my pet. But I knew these feelings were just...feelings. Feelings come and go, but choices are more reliable -- when made with careful deliberation, which is how I went about mine concerning my pet. I was simply saddened because I was about to lose the faithful four-legged friend I had had for 14 years. And I felt that I was speeding things up.

Thank God it was over in seconds, just like the vet assured me it would be. No pain for Sabrina; she just drifted off to a permanent sleep.

* * * * *

The rain is down to a drizzle, and the thunder is gone. There's nothing to do but get accustomed to the change of having no furry animal seeking refuge when the first clap of thunder makes itself heard. It is one of many changes one will continue to experience through life. Thing is, I doubt it if I'll ever hear thunder without instinctively getting up to go to the door to let someone in.

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