Saturday, 29 August 2009

How do you know?

Talking with friends recently made me realise that I had never shared the detail of why we made the decision say goodbye to Ollie when we did. This is long and is probably mostly for my benefit.


Over the past few months Management and I had known full well that we faced the worst decision of our lives; Ollie wasn't going to get better but the age-related ailments which reduced the quality of his life were not, on their own, going to kill him.

As I talked about this to friends I was continually told "don't worry, when the time comes you will know" and that gave me about as much comfort as an ice cube in a blizzard. Nobody could or would actually tell me HOW I would know. I was tormented with the fear that I would call it wrong, make the decision at the wrong time. Suppose we called it too soon and deprived him of some weeks of quality time and enjoyment? Worse - what if we did not have the courage to make the decision soon enough and by our inaction he suffered? How would I know?

On Saturday 25th July, Cumbria was at it's best. A warm sunny day, just a little breeze, quite perfect to be outside. Himself and I spent the day clearing up Leylandii brush in the garden and Ollie came to help. Unusually he had got up around 10.30 that morning and spent the day outside, watching us, watching birds, and generally relaxing and looking quite comfortable and settled. He asked to go for short walks on at least three occasions and was eating well. It was a happy day and we all enjoyed ourselves.

As an aside, some time ago one of the 'barometers of change' that we agreed upon was that whilst Ollie was having "one good day followed by one sleeping day" the situation was acceptable, when this extended to 2 or 3 sleeping days between each good day we would worry, and when the interval got longer, we would worry a lot.

So, back to the story. After a great day on Saturday, Ollie slept nearly all of Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday . . . and you can see where this is going.

On Wednesday 29th we were in the garden and something happened to cause Ollie to bark - only he didn't. He gave a strangled half bark/half yap as if someone had their hands around his throat. This was immediately followed with him attempting to clear his throat - as if he was trying to dislodge a bone or stick but we knew that NOTHING could have got into his mouth that might be causing an obstruction. This problem continued - by Thursday his bark was little more than a yap. Everyone who has ever met Ollie knows what a splendid WOOF he could deliver - strong and deep and powerful - and loud; there was definitely something wrong.

We thought a growth - in the trachea or on his vocal chords? We will never know but coupled with the weight loss (below) our belief was that we were dealing with a fast growing tumour and both Ollie's vets agreed.

At the same time his breathing started to sound laboured when he was asleep and there was much loud snoring. He would also, for no apparent reason, suddenly start panting really, really hard, as if he was terribly hot, and he wanted to drink more than normal. However, my darling boy who spent his life as a picky eater was thoroughly enjoying a new food recommended by Rachel and he was eating with an enjoyment and vigour we'd rarely seen - whatever was obstructing his bark did not stop him eating and drinking.

Given he was now sleeping for 23 hours a day, the amount of food he was consuming should have started to show in his waistline - but he was losing weight. I could see the difference and feel it when I picked him up.

On Thursday I knew inside this wasn't going to have a happy ending.

So Management and I watched him like a hawk, and talked, and cried, and watched him some more, and talked and cried some more, and we knew it was time. Whatever was going on in his throat was happening very quickly and the thought of him having another of these seizure-type episodes and suffocating terrified us both. We made the decision for definite on Saturday morning, all three of us sitting in the sun on the balcony - Himself in the chair, Ollie on his balcony-bed of memory foam mattress and quilts, and me on the floor, holding hands, crying, knowing it was what we had to do even though it was the last thing we wanted to face. Our barometer of "good days and bad days" had been completely exceeded - the last "good day" had been the previous Saturday.

(taken some months ago, he loved this balcony - great vantage point to sit and watch the world go by)

That afternoon Ollie was restless, I asked him all the usual questions with trigger words - did he want FOOD? a WALK? to go on the BED? Nothing - until I asked "Do you want to go in the CAR?" and he sat up and grinned in the way that only a Beardie can as if to say "well hurry up then, get the keys". Management and I quickly threw some things together and we drove to Rannerdale.

You know the little stretch of road between the cattle grid at Lanthwaite Green and the parking at Cinderdale Common? I drove that stretch very slowly and Ollie was sitting up in the back, window open, head and shoulders sticking out as he looked at Crummock Water, Mellbreak, grazing sheep. His hair was blowing back gently and he was smiling, he knew where he was - it was a gorgeous sight, our boy always loved car travel.

Before anyone thinks we were completely deficient in the grooming department, this was taken on holiday in March 2007 and he'd been on the fells all day! THIS is what he looked like (October 2002) after two hours proper grooming (which happened every week and the tidy effect lasted about 10 minutes)

Back to Rannerdale - we only had a little walk - just to where the stream crosses the path but he paddled and was obviously happy to be there. Sadly, the usual noisy bark to say "Woof, Look at Me! Woof, I'm in the water!" was not much more than a yap followed by coughing as he tried to clear his throat. He didn't appear to be in pain, but it looked uncomfortable.

After a bit of sitting around watching the world go by and another short stroll we came home with a very tired Beardie but I'd like to think a happy one. I'd bought us some steak for supper - we needed cheering up but am pleased to report that it needed a lot of trimming (yeah, right ...) and guess where all those trimmings ended up. Mr Hairy thought that his new yummy food, topped with best beef, was very acceptable, thank you!

Whilst we have no doubt he enjoyed his little excursion, it completely wiped him out. He slept so deeply on Sunday that he appeared almost unconscious on occasions. Our decision was the hardest thing either of us have ever faced in our lives, but seeing his decline from Wednesday to Saturday showed us that "it was time" and I've got some comfort from that. Not much, granted, but a little, and right now I'll take all I can get.


So, to get back to where I started when I asked "how will I know when is the right time"? If someone asks me this in future I can say "we went from old, not terribly well but under control and with plenty of good days to rapidly deteriorating and the certain knowledge that if we did not step in then his condition might suddenly worsen and we'd have stress, fear, pain; a very unacceptable end. Something was growing fast in his throat/lungs/trachea and if we had not acted he could have suffocated". Only five days passed between the first strangled bark and a peaceful end. Anyone who knows their dog as well as we knew Ollie can tell when an animal is unhappy even if they are exhibiting no physical signs and we don't feel Ollie was distressed during this time, he just slept more. Much of the sparkle had gone from his eyes but it had not been replaced with despair.

We went to see Clare Welford, our wonderful vet from Millcroft, first thing Monday morning and she came to the house at lunchtime. Ollie had been given a mild sedative with breakfast and we spent the morning quietly sitting on the sofa, him sleeping comfortably, very relaxed. He glanced up when Clare entered the room and then decided to go back to his zzzzzzzzz's. Ollie did not have a second of pain, fear, stress or concern. It's our job to feel those things, not his.

I know we did right by The Boy, even though I haven't yet got through a day without shedding a small tear over something or another.


  1. You really do have some wonderful pictures of The Boy. And in the end you "knew", it's good to know this is sound advice.

  2. I did wonder why the decsion was made when it was.

    Nice to know that inbetween his sleeping his last waking moments with you were good ones, from Ollies point of view.

  3. What a well written and thought-provoking piece, Bilbo.

    Wouldn't it have been awful for the hairy one to go after a siezure as so nearly happened? I'm absolutely sure that you were spot on with your timing - you've had to make the most dreadful walk along the quality-of-life tightrope, I know. ((hugs))

    And lovely photos too :)

    ....but am I alone in thinking that he looked like a bit of a cissy all fluffy & brushed...? {grin}

  4. You see, you did "know" when it was right. You gave him a lovely, happy outing just before, plus his favourite food, so when he was awake, they were happy times for him. As for shedding a few tears every day, of course you will, that's normal, but gradually I think you'll start remembering the happy and the funny times too.

    Sending you and management lots of hugs.

  5. I would be very worried if you weren't shedding a tear each day - but gradually the gaps between the tears will lengthen. I can still shed a tear for beloved pets, many years later - and I am sure you will too. It just proves that they were loved. That's all. Hattie says woof woof!

  6. You made the right decision at the right time. It's always awful but you did right. But my tears join yours as I think back to my Nickers, my Sarah, my Serena....


  7. What a lovely, lovely boy - and I can tell from the way you write that he was well loved. Bless you for being so in tune with Ollie and giving him a wonderful life and a loving death.

    And thanks for stopping by my blog. Losing your furbaby is so hard.



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