By May, he began having occasional falls. When the episodes were severe, we would take him to the Emergency Department, always fearing that he would not recover. But he kept bouncing back.
Just as many of us delayed and postponed routine medical care during the height of the pandemic in 2020, Oreo missed a routine checkup and was overdue for a couple of immunizations. When many of the COVID restrictions lifted in the spring of 2021, I decided it was time to have him evaluated. I reflected on what that evaluation would entail and what made the most sense for our “elderly dog” (a designation to which I had to attest every time he was professionally groomed). I had a list of questions in my head- Did he still need routine immunizations? What about blood work? Was a stool sample really necessary? If a serious condition was revealed, what would we do about it?
Because I work with aging individuals and their caregivers and have also had to face end-of-life conversations with my own family members (most notably my late mother), my approach to Oreo’s visit with the veterinarian was to center his comfort, based on my innate knowledge (and fear) that he likely didn’t have much time left.
But there was a huge elephant in the proverbial room, something we don’t routinely face in the care of humans: the idea of euthanasia. Of course, we all wanted him to stay alive for as long as possible, but none of us wanted Oreo to suffer. I had no prior experience having to make this type of decision and found it to be nearly impossible. I needed the help of a professional- his veterinarian.
I took Oreo to see his primary veterinarian on 5/10/21 for a full check-up and to discuss goals of care. I immediately noticed the difference in his behavior while we sat in the waiting room. Instead of curiously exploring every corner and sniffing the scent of the pets who visited before us, he sat calmly and patiently at my feet. The scale confirmed what we had noticed over the previous couple of months – he had lost a fairly significant
amount of weight.
Our vet had been caring for Oreo for over 13 years and knew him and our family very well. She was extremely compassionate during the visit, as she confirmed our deepest fear -Oreo was nearing the end of his life. She did not provide a timeframe in which she expected him to transition, but she acknowledged my list of concerns and stated that they were consistent with aging and end-of-life. We decided not to administer vaccines since he was up to date on rabies and would not be boarding or spending time away from our home.