Chanced passed away peacefully surrounded by love at 2:20 in the afternoon on Sunday, January 3, 2016.
He laid comfortably on his side atop his large, rectangular doggy bed. I brought it to the vet’s office and placed it on the floor in the same exam room where he routinely received acupuncture over the last two years.
I sat in an L-shape on the floor with him. One leg outstretched straight so Chance could use my inner thigh as a pillow, the other bent inward so I could lean as close to him as possible to offer him comfort.
Parker looked on and rested his chin on Chance’s hip.
Chance knew why we were there.
Contemplating with a heavy heart whether it was okay to leave me, he buried his nose and his eyes underneath the back of my knee.
I soothed him with gentle caresses.
One of the veterinary assistants lightly knocked and slightly opened the door. “Dr. Woods will be a while longer. Are you okay to wait?”
Thankful for more time, I nodded, “Yes. Yes, of course.”
She nodded knowingly and softly closed the door.
I reminded Chance of the promises I had made to him just weeks earlier, and added a new one.
“I promise I will be okay. I will miss you so much, but I know you will be watching over me. I will be okay.”
He removed his handsome face from hiding and rested his head on my leg.
Parker licked tears from my face.
Dr. Woods entered the room and offered his condolences before giving him a sedative, “I wish there was more we could do.”
“Thank you for all you’ve done. You gave him a high quality life for two years when no other vets could.”
“You’re very welcome.”
He stepped out to give us more time alone as the sedative kicked in.
“I love you forever, Chance.”
I held his paw and prayed “The Our Father.” It was something Chance and I did every night before going to sleep.
Dr. Woods returned. He put Chance in a peaceful, forever slumber.
I continued to lightly pet Chance. As he breathed out his last breath, I breathed him in. His soul harmoniously became one with mine.
Dr. Woods quietly spoke, “He was ready. He didn’t fight that at all.”
I found great comfort in those words. For weeks, I had been agonizing over if and when putting Chance to sleep would be the right thing to do.
How I Knew Humanely Euthanizing My Dog Was the Right Decision
Chance’s health had been on an extra slow motion decline for nearly two years. During his last two months, it went into double-fast reverse.
For every two giant steps backward, he would make only one baby step forward.
When he started uncontrollably spinning in circles, I became deeply alarmed. It was yet another manifestation of the neurological problems that started emerging 11 years after he fought and survived the usually-deadly distemper virus.
I knew we were running out of time.
I obsessively Googled for answers as if the Internet would magically present a way for me to make him all better, or draw a definitive ruling that I should commit to the heartbreaking decision to euthanize him.
I found neither.
Helpful Tools to Evaluate Your Dog’s Quality of Life
I did find a few helpful tools in the article, “How to Say Goodbye” by Dr. Andy Roark DVM, MS.
1. I created a list of Chance’s five favorite things to do and crossed off the ones he was no longer capable of doing or lost interest in. With three items crossed off, the joy in his life was diminishing.
Shortly after I created the list, I should have also crossed off Walking. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
2. I kept a mental note of his good days versus bad days. Each week, the bad started gaining momentum on the good.
3. The last tool was the HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale by Dr. Alice Villalobos. She is a well-known veterinary oncologist. Her “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale is a daily 1 – 10 ranking of Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene, Mobility, More good days than bad days.
Although Chance’s hygiene never went below an 8, all the other categories started ranking 5 or under during his last week.
Listen to Your Pet and Your Gut
Mostly, I paid close attention to Chance and listened intently to what he told me through his body language and eyes.
I was in turmoil—and, possibly a bit of denial—over what Chance was telling me. I didn’t want to end his life.
Wouldn’t it be better if he just passed away peacefully in his sleep?
But, he would never do that. He would never willingly leave me. He would hang on forever. For me.
I made an appointment with his vet for Saturday, January 2 to discuss what should or could be done. I was seeking confirmation that putting Chance down was the right choice.
Listen to Those Around You
On Wednesday, December 30, I took Chance and Parker to the beach.
I carried Chance about a block from the parking spot and down a flight of stairs to the dog beach. Invigorated by the ocean, he was able to walk a little. Very slowly.
Out of nowhere a woman yelled out to me, “He looks miserable!”
The words stabbed me in the heart.
“He’s dying. This is his favorite place.”
“Oh, my dear. You just gave me chills. That is beautiful.” She showed me the goose bumps on her arm, then knelt down to pet Chance.
She turned to go on her way. I called out to her, “Would you mind taking a photo of us?”
“Of course!” She hurried back.
She was so moved by Chance that her hand was shaking. When I passed off my phone, it went SPLAT! into the soaking wet sand.
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. Great, now I break your phone!”
Fortunately, the wave was back instead of coming in. I grabbed it quickly. Still working!
“Well, that lightened the sad mood in the air!” I laughed with tears in my eyes. “No worries. It’s fine.”
Still shaking, the woman captured the last beach pose of Chance and I together.
A complete stranger gave me an incredible gift. Truth. Her words were sharp, but I needed to hear them to see the true reality of Chance’s state of health, and face it.
When we arrived home, I called the vet’s office. I worked hard to force out words that I could barely find. “I need to change Chance’s appointment… . It’s time… to put him… down. Can we make the appointment… for as late as possible… on Sunday?”
Chance’s Final Days
I cherished the final few days I had with Chance. On the evening before he passed away, Parker and I took Chance to the park. I pulled him in a wagon.
We sat on a blanket on the grass and watched the sun set.
Parker stuck close to Chance—licking his ears, as he ritually did.
On the morning of Chance’s passing, we went back to the same beach we had been to just days before. This time, we arrived early to admire the sunrise. Again, I carried Chance from the parking spot and down the stairs to the beach front.
Overnight, the ocean waves created a small hill in the sand with a 75 degree ledge. We sat on top of it—cozy on a blanket. The ocean breeze swept across Chance’s face. This was his heaven on earth.
I carried him down the sand ledge to the water. He always loved the feel of waves gently touching his paws. This time was no different. He was keenly aware of his surroundings.
I carried him back to our blanket and placed another one over him for warmth.
The morning was in full glory.
When it was time to go, I packed up our things. As we headed out, Chance was interested in walking. He wanted to feel the cool sand beneath his paws one last time.
Then, he did something extraordinary.
He stopped and turned to view the ocean. His intent was beautifully transparent.
With his head held high, he reveled in his grand surroundings. His face was painted with peace.
“Thank you for this life.”