Our dog Louie died the other day. He was ushered into the next life (whether that is dark silence or heaven’s meadows) with the help of a veterinarian’s needle. His death was tough on my husband and me because we cared for him for nearly 15 years. And he was sweet, not a mean bone in his body, unlike the bones in his terrier sister Spunk. He was a hound, and my husband called him the Caruso of dogs; though he had to revise that to Pavarotti as his audience got younger.
Louie was old. He reached a stage where he needed our help to get up the stairs. He was becoming incontinent; he was mostly blind and deaf. One recent morning when rousing the dogs from sleep, I could not get Louie up. So I sent my husband down to fetch him. Finally outside, Louie was dazed and disoriented. He wouldn’t drink; he wouldn’t eat the treats he loved so much.
As I left for work, I feared I would never see him again. And I didn’t. My brave husband took him to the vet that morning where we learned he had a high fever and infection, probably from cancer that invaded his old body. The vet said perhaps she could give him a few more days, but why? It’s best to err on the side of too early, she said, than too late. My husband concurred, and stroked Louie as the doctor administered the shot that would end his pain and his life. That end, my husband said, was easy for Louie: a relaxing of his body and a final flop of his tail.
I was too much of a coward to be there for Louie’s last minutes, but oh how I hope when my end is near, someone will be strong enough to put me out of my misery. Many of our loved ones go through horribly slow deaths. They float in an in-between time where they are not fully alive, but not yet dead. I don’t want to be that person; I doubt many of us do.
Could I administer the “shot” that sends someone I love into the next life? No. Could I sanction it? If that time ever comes for me or someone I love, I hope I could at least have the option. How do those of you who have watched a loved one suffer a slow death feel about humanely ending another life?
Terri Lackey is managing editor of Gather magazine.