Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Saying Goodbye to a Furry Family Member

My parents' dog, Ewok, was over 15 years old. She was a small, black poodle mix who resembled this puppy shown here (from the movie "Lady & The Tramp"). Although my mom had given her a very elegant name, I had given her the nickname "Ewok" when she was a fluffy puffball of a puppy. If she had been posed with a little spear in one paw, she would've looked exactly like an Ewok from the Star Wars series.

Ewok was a sweet, gentle, cuddly girl. She loved laps and snuggling with people. Her great favorite was my father, who seems to be able to gentle any animal; wild or tame.

When they found out that Ewok had bone cancer, my parents were devastated. Of course, ever practical, we all knew it was coming. However, my parents made the decision to keep her on pain medicine but not treat the cancer. "After all," the vet said, "once a dog has been diagnosed with bone cancer, they never live for more than 6 months... even IF you treat the cancer with chemotherapy."

They had hoped that Ewok would last a little longer. My younger brother, who is soon due to arrive from Japan, had been especially close to her and he wanted to see her one last time before she was put to sleep. And, of course, Mom and Dad were very reluctant to part from her.

But yesterday as I was on the road, I got a tearful call from my mom. Ewok had taken a turn for the worse. She was now obviously in a lot of pain and her breathing had grown labored. It was time. They had to put her to sleep, and they needed me to come dig the grave.

I hate seeing my parents upset. I had dreaded this day for that very reason, although I was also very sorry to see Ewok go. I told Mom I was on the way, and headed directly for their house.

When I got there, Mom was in tears. (As she later pointed out, ironically we have shed less tears at the death of certain family members than at the death of a pet). I hugged her, then went to greet Ewok, who was struggling to make her way to me. She still wagged her tail at me, happy to see me even though she was in pain. I've always marvelled at the sweetness of such animals, who would put your happiness above their own, even at death's door.

I petted her and spoke softly to her, and shed a few tears with my mom. Dad watched stoicly, but I knew he was in as much pain as my mom was. I was concerned that such stress might slow down his healing, since he'd been in surgery less than a week before.

Mom and Dad showed me where the shovel was, and I attended to the distasteful task of digging the grave (almost 4 feet down). When I had finished, it was time to go to the vet's.

The drive was a grim one, but we tried talking of other things in an attempt to lighten the mood. Mom had been crying all day long, and tried to distract herself by staying in conversation with me, but it wasn't easy for her.

Dad held on to Ewok tightly.

The moment we walked into the vet's, Ewok started shaking violently (she's always been scared of the vet). We had been advised to request a sedative before the euthanasia, so that she would remain calm: It would ease the process for her. A nurse came out and gave her the shot, and within minutes, Ewok was considerably calmed down, relaxed in my parents' arms.

We were soon ushered into a private room, where they weighed Ewok a final time. Mom watched everything, tears rolling quietly down her cheeks. I also cried silently, in pain for my parents. Even Dad's eyes were red-rimmed.

Finally it was time.

My parents laid her gently on a soft blanket on the table, keeping their hands on her, stroking her as the vet administered the final shot. Ewok's breathing slowed, and finally faded. A moment later, he checked for a heart beat and pronounced her dead.

I stayed behind to settle up the bill, while Mom and Dad waited in the car to make the long journey home.

Dad held her all the way home.

When we got home, we headed to the grave. Ewok was in a little box, but we bury our pets "as is", letting the earth and the worms do as nature intended. (Some day, I hope that my wishes will be respected and I'll be given the same sort of burial). So, my dad gently removed her from the box, arranging a towel around her carefully before he lowered her into the ground. I then filled in the hole, as they looked on.

With almost a sense of relief, we headed to the house. The worst was now over and there was no going back. And yet, this morning their house is quieter and only one dog remains. Mom worries that he will miss Ewok, but Dad dismisses that. He thinks the separation will have little impact on the remaining dog. As he indicates, they're only dogs.

However, Dad's eyes show something different.


Ed Abbey said...

I've had to make that journey several times in my life and it is never easy. I have also been with a pet when the journey couldn't happen because time was so short. Watching them suffer even if for minutes is much harder to bear.

Every time it happens, I always marvel at how easy it is to do and how much better it is that the pet didn't have to suffer it out. Makes me wonder why we humans are so into suffering that we can't legalize euthanasia.

Matt said...

Since the ground was frozen, we had to creamate a dog carcass once to prevent anything... untoward from happening with scavengers.

We should have burried him at sea.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Ed, re: human euthanasia... It's funny that you should mention that. Both the vet and my father mentioned that it was a shame that people weren't able to go so peacefully and conveniently. But, as my dad pointed out, part of the blessing is that the animal doesn't know what's coming. Strange, isn't it, how so many of us cling to life even when it's not pleasant? I've seen people in abject pain who still aren't ready to go. Is it hope? Fear of the unknown? Fear of the afterlife? Animals don't have those complications.

Matt, How did you cremate your dog... through a service? And how did you bury him eventually, or is he on a mantelpiece somewhere?

Hans said...


I've had to make that journey myself and I know how bad it sucks. I had a Chocolate Lab that I had adopted a few years ago. One of the gals at work's neighbor moved and instead of making plans for the dog just released him in the neighborhood. An act that is surprisingly more common than I had ever fathomed. But I digress, knowing that I had a big dog, a Humane Society special whom is now 12 yo, she convinced me to come meet him and consider taking him in. Mistake, a beautiful and lovable dog, and after a trip to the vet's for check up, shots and, ahh, augmentation he came home with me. I had him for a couple of years before he developed bone cancer in his leg. The specialist informed me that my choices were amputation and probably 6 months, amputation and chemo and a prognosis of 1 year or just to treat the pain until it was time to put him down. The option I chose and the only regret I have is that I may have waited too long and allowed him to suffer needlessly because I didn't have the courage to make the trip earlier. It breaks my heart to even think about it today but, I guess, it was a lesson learned.

On the issue of euthanasia in humans, it is a slippery slope. I remember reading a news report about euthanasia in the Netherlands where it is legal. The old and the infirmed can be subjected to tremendous pressure by themselves and their families to end there live and no longer be a burden even when they are not ready to die. My gut tells me that we should be allowed to make the ultimate decision of ending our lives but my head tells me that there can be some real problems if that is the law of the land.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Hans, I agree 100% with your assessment concerning human euthanasia. And, although I'm not Catholic, killing yourself is supposed to land you directly in hell according to them. I'd sure hate to find out that they were right about that. Besides, have you ever heard the saying "where there's life, there's hope"? Most of us, even when dying, hang on, expecting a miracle or at least a temporary reprieve. Hope springs eternal, I guess. After all, even Walt Disney paid to have his head frozen so that he could come back to life later on...

P.S. My ancestors are from the Netherlands. I always view their liberal socialistic policies with both horror and awe.

audible said...

Crementaion is the norm in Japan, for people and pets. A little white van will come to your house, pick up your pet and produce a tidy container of ashes for your display or disposal.

Senor Caiman said...


Sorry to hear about Ewok.

Ewok is in a better place.

Hans said...

My ancestors are from Scandinavia so I guess that means while your playing lawyer trying to determine if you get into heaven, have to spend time in purgatory or you’re on a straight trip to hell. I’ll be joining my kin in the Halls of Valhalla. Where I’ll get to fight along side Odin in his battle against the Giants every day and feast on boar and mead every night. Good times, Good times.

The Lazy Iguana said...

Disney is not frozen. It is an urban legend.

I had a chocolate lab that lived here for at least 16 years. It is a long time for a lab to live. The dog is buried in the backyard, along with a bunch of cats and a "west highland terrier".

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy Iguana, thanks for the correction! ;o) Yeah, I never got the movie "Pet Cemetary" when I was a kid. I was always wondering why anyone would be so lame to bury an animal anywhere other than the back yard. I understand there are laws against it in certain areas due to health considerations...?

Hans, Valhalla would, indeed, be a great deal of fun. Ever read the trilogy "The Complete Enchanter" by Pratt and DeCamp? You'd love it.

Senor Caiman, thank you, my friend. *hug*

Audible, really? Interesting!

green said...

I hate it when the time comes that a beloved family pet needs to be put down. Yes, it's sad but probably for the best as it sounds like Ewok was suffering a great deal.

I know you all will miss the dog terribly, but at least you have 15 years of memories to hold on to.

mckay said...

thanks for such a touching post. it brought back memories of my taking care of that task for my dad's dog. he couldn't bear to do it, so i told him i would. it was the hardest thing i'd ever done.

i wish someone had told me about giving the poor dog a sedative. i just assumed they would. the jerk of a vet didn't bother to warn me about anything. i saw my poor family dog have a violent reaction while full of fear.

i was shocked and felt horrible. of course, i didn't tell my dad any of that.