We had to take our 13.5-year-old dog Stella to the vet yesterday. A white spot appeared in her left eye a couple of weeks ago. We assumed it was related to her encroaching blindness, which we learned about at her last vet visit a few months ago. Or maybe she’d scratched her cornea on a blade of dry grass since she’s unstable on her feet these days and often falls face-forward if we’re not holding onto her. When the eye started weeping and the white spot appeared to have a tiny hole (!) in the center, medical intervention became necessary.
At the end of our visit, the vet asked the question I’ve been dreading for months. “How’s Stella’s quality of life?”
How do you answer that question, knowing what the vet is really asking? Her quality of life is kind of shitty. She can barely walk because she has musculoskeletal issues that make it hard for her brain to tell her front legs what to do. She spends the majority of her time in her doggie bed or on a blanket on the couch, only getting up with assistance. We feed and water her by hand because she can’t reach her doggie bowls on her own.
When she’s outside and she sees the neighbor’s cat, she still barks at him and tries to chase him in her ungainly gait. She still happily greets us when we get home from work or a quick trip to the grocery store–she’s just on her side instead of her feet. Her radar ears still stand at attention when she hears us talking about her–or chicken. She’s still fully in the room. It’s just the machine that’s breaking down.
I tried to say all of this to the vet, sounding sad, scared and defensive, I’m sure. But I also said I didn’t want to prolong her life out of my own emotional greediness. The vet, who was non-judgmental, kind and understanding, suggested hospice care. That we make Stella’s end of life as comfortable as possible, acknowledging what’s coming for her (and us all), but not suggesting we hasten the end with a definitive action.
So now, Stella is taking pain meds once a day (plus we have to apply ointment to her eyeball twice a day to heal that up–the spot and subsequent hole were caused by fat or calcium deposits in her eye, and she has the same thing brewing in the other eye). Physically she’s more invalid than dog, but mentally and spiritually she’s still Stella. And as long as that’s the case–and she’s not in pain–we’ll continue the journey we began together September 1, 2004.