Our rescue dog Woofie was a tough cookie. He ran headfirst into everything from a shovel to a Volvo station wagon without a single yelp. He took endless hits across the muzzle when playing with Boss Cat.
Maybe Woofie was extra tough because he had a back hock that was slowly disintegrating, due to an injury as a puppy. We’d explored putting in a plate and screws to fix the joint in place and provide stability, but that would still be painful—even after surgery healed. Woofie loved to stretch out his legs behind him, too, which he’d never be able to do again.
We tried to give Woofie enough exercise and play to keep him happy without further injuring the joint. He was on pain meds daily, but the vet warned us to be careful about how many we gave him, since longterm use can cause organ damage. Sometimes Woofie would play too hard and the next day we’d be icing his ankle until he was willing to put weight on it. He loved walking Baby D and the neighborhood kids to school. Unfortunately, the walk was over a mile and uphill, so I only took him once a week. When I took our other dog Fey instead, I had to hide pillows and stuffed animals, lest Woofie eviscerate them in fits of pique.
Fortunately, Woofie loved to spend hours basking in the sun as well as playing. When it was cloudy outside, he’d whine at me, as if insisting I personally push back the clouds.
Despite his injury, Woofie was a super happy dog who loved every dog and person he ever met. He was ninety pounds of prancing love, and universally adored.
So of course he got cancer. When he was nine, a bump appeared on his muzzle, . A trip to the regular vet led to a trip to the cancer vet which led to X-rays and a biopsy.
“It’s a fibrosarcoma,” I told Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, who was an oncologist.
She let out a sigh and said, “Fibrosarcomas are the badasses of the cancer world. Even if you remove it, it’s gonna come back.”
“Yeah, that’s what the vet oncologist told us. Woofie would lose part of his nose if they remove it, and we could try and keep the tumor in check with radiation, buy us some more time with him, but… What do you think we should do?”
“There’s no wrong answer.”
“I bet there is.”
“Really, there isn’t,” insisted the most judgmental person in the whole world.
“I know you think there is one, so just tell me.”
“You are not giving me enough credit, Autumn. You have to pick the option that seems best to you,” is all that Dr. Sis would say.
Which either showed personal growth or was good oncologist-speak, but also total bullshit. I knew there was a wrong answer. I knew she knew it. I just had to have the courage to face it.
While humans generally depend on our eyes, dogs take in the most information through their nose. Even canine hearing, while superior to human hearing, is not as vital to a dog as a sense of smell. Blind and deaf dogs have easily compensate with their amazing olfactory receptors, which can smell everything from a grain of cocaine to plummeting blood sugar.
Woofie was all about his muzzle. He poked dogs, humans, and cats with it to demand attention. He stole cookies, bread, and potstickers from the counter. He sniffed down every errant cheerio Baby D ever dropped in the house or the car. And he chewed everything from cow femurs to wooden Thomas the Tank Engine train tracks. It was essential to his quality of life.
Radiation might give us more time with Woofie, but was it worth the pain he’d have to endure? Just because Woofie could take the pain didn’t mean it was fair to inflict it.
With a dog, you can’t explain the future or death (though maybe we can someday—some animals can communicate amazingly well with soundboards). You can’t ask dogs if they are willing to trade pain for more life. Dogs are creatures who live purely in the moment. How could I make any of Woofie’s moments more painful in order to postpone my own pain when he was gone?
I could not.
Andy, thankfully, agreed.
We opted for the quality of Woofie’s life over the length of it. Since we no longer had to worry about longterm damage, we loaded him up on pain meds and removed all activity restrictions.
Woofie pranced the kids to school every day. On the weekends, I let him chase the tennis ball on the school field as long as he wanted. We went to the dog park, mud and kennel cough be damned. We took him to the park to chase squirrels. At home, without any twinges in his hock to stop him, Woofie countersurfed relentlessly, stealing tortilla chips, a corncob, and a pizza. Of course we let him have everything (except the corncob, which he had tried before and thrown up).
The bump on his nose kept growing, but Woofie didn’t seem to notice.
He was flying high.
34 thoughts on “To Prance, Perchance to Soar (#345)”
I would have made the same decision.
What a difficult decision, but I think it was the right choice. We often fixate on quantity, when quality is more important.
The way you wrote is beautiful, of course (I’m not crying, you’re crying!)
Thank you. Yeah, I am crying. I cried through writing that post, proofing that post, and now reading comments on the post. A small mountain of tissues sits next to me!
Beautifully written story and tribute. I would have made the same decision.
Thank you! *sniffles*
Sydney is dealing with some health issues currently, and our vet said the same thing, almost word for word. I think they’re trained in compassion 101 for this sort of thing. I would have made the exact same decision as you.
I’m assuming from your post Woofie passed away, and if that’s the case, my sincerest condolences.
We actually lost him some time ago, but I’ve been putting off writing about it because it is SO HARD. I couldn’t bring myself to do it during the Pandemic, especially. Also, had to wait to stock up on tissues.
Oh, Sydney! I am am so sorry. She’s such a great cat. Torties rule.
I totally get that. It’s why I haven’t written about Sydney. She’s still fine at the moment, but sadly, the writing may be on the wall.
If you need extra tissues, I’ll send you some. Along with a hug.
You keep those tissues. Andy went to Costco recently and you are going to need them. Hugs back.
I made the same decision for Hazel except we took her in when it was too late. She already had trouble breathing with a humongous tumor pressing her lungs (btw she had passed her exam a month earlier with her vet). My regrets are that I didn’t let her eat everything she wanted in that last month and I didn’t give her treats (always watching her weight). I love that you were able to give him all that he loves even if not for long. Hugs.
Oh, I feel you on Hazel. Sometimes those lung tumors metastasize so fast your pet loses their lung capacity practically overnight. It leaves you reeling and second guessing, which is so painful. Then we try and take comfort in the fact that they were so loved and cared for 99.9999% of the time. But yes, it was a blessing to be able to give Woofie his very best last hurrah. Though I still sniffled my way through many days.
Sniffle? I downright bawled for 6 weeks. A year later I lost my beloved Mollie. They were buddies. I hope Fey is good and healthy and lasts a long time! I loved your stories about Woofie. He was like my Jake only much bigger! Fearless (with a touch of stupid) and lovable!
I tried not to cry constantly over every lost pet–not fair to the child to be constantly lost in grief. Also, it gives me such a sinus headache. But maybe I would sniffle less now if I’d bawled more then.
A good cry is exhilarating. I would sit in my closet and bawl so no one had to witness the spectacle. I’m not a pretty crier.
I’m glad you find it exhilarating, rather than headache inducing!
Oh sweetie I feel this so much. I dread the day when our almost-13 shepherd mix leaves us; I hope we have the courage to make the right call, as you did. For now, she still gets the zoomies sometimes and will happily walk around the block. I keep thinking that she’ll somehow let us know when she’s had enough but that’s probably not how it will work out. Woolfie was lucky to have had you.
The dread is so relatable and so frustrating–I wish I could be more like a dog, in the moment, with no thoughts of dark futures.
Thirteen is AMAZING for a shepherd mix. And she’s still having fun. 🙂 Some animals are able to let you know when they are done, I think. Like if Boss Cat ever stops eating? Then I will know.
Ohhh this post had me crying autumn! Losing pets is like losing family… it’s so hard… and honestly, if I were you I would have done the same.
Goodness, it’s really dark to say this, but when my dad was really sick and dying I really wished I could have made his pain shorter and let him go easy like we did with our family cat. In that way, animals are a little more lucky than us (at least in america where euthanasia is illegal).
Woofie had an excellent doggie life and was lucky to have the best dog mom 🙂
I think everyone who has had a loved one linger while in pain has felt like you did with your dad. It’s why so many support death with dignity and yes, it is just so wrong that we can ease our pets suffering and not our parents’.
It is heartbreaking to read about animals with terminal illnesses, even worse so than people as there is no understanding or awareness of the animal. But Woofie sounds like he had one helluva good time after the diagnosis. Hugs.
Thank you for the kind words. It is tough, and we agonize over making the right decision. Even after making the decision. But, yes, Woofie’s last month was pretty darn epic.
Ahhhhhhh, I’m sorry my Woofie. But I’m glad you were allowed to live it up while you could.
Thanks, Heather. He had a blast. And he almost made it to 10 years old, which is not bad for a dog who was part Great Dane.
Oh did right by Woofie, even though it was difficult for you to see him decline like he did. What wonderful memories you have of him– and your last two lines, perfect.
He must have been a very special dog. Your post is a beautiful tribute. Lots of pain meds and chasing tennis balls and squirrels and prancing the kids to school. That definitely sounds like a better choice than a painful longer life. A sad story. Well written.
Thanks, Nicki. He was the best worst dog ever. Not great at listening, but such a zest for life and love for all.
I may have something in my eye after reading that. What a beautiful piece of writing Autumn, expressing so beautifully the love between you, your family and Woofie. And of course you did absolutely the right thing for him – it’s a shame that more don’t have the wisdom and courage to do likewise. I have to say, wouldn’t we all love to go that way too – if only it were possible. Thank you for stealing yourself with the mountains of tissues to write this beautiful tribute.
Thank you. Woofie was a love. Especially with kids. And such a goof, making us laugh with his antics.
Yes, it can be painful to watch folks continue treatment for a pet instead of letting them go. Sometimes, though, an animal does rebound in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible, although I’ve never seen it with cancer. Which makes it even harder to make that final decision for them.
Such a sweet post. Having had a variety of rescue cats over the course of my adult life, I’ve had to make this decision far too many times. It never gets easier. It sounds like Woofie had a wonderful life.
We like to think Woofie had the best life. He certainly stolen the best foods, escaped to find the best friends, and snuck up to sleep on the best furniture.
My friend JM and I have a wish for each other: “may your next pet die peacefully in their sleep at home of old age, sparing you the heartache of ending their life for them.” It hasn’t happened yet, but we keep hoping.
I once asked my husband, through tears, “Why can’t any of our animals just die peacefully in their sleep? Why do I always have to make this decision?” So far, it has only happened twice.
I’ve sobbed that line many, many times.