July 9th, 2006

Sunday. A beautiful day of swimming and resting. It took me all day today to get over yesterday. Yesterday was a crappy Saturday.  Like most, there was at least one euthanasia to perform. And this one was extra-special.

The circumstances were grave: Oscar would have done his Sesame Street namesake proud. This dog was poorly cared for. His skin was suffering from a severe lack of therapeutic cleansing, he was covered with fleas and ticks, he was breathing hard, and he could hardly walk due to the obviously extreme orthopedic pain he was in.

But he came to see me not for the euthanasia his body was calling for. He came in because he’d stopped eating two weeks ago. `Two weeks, was it?,` I asked as I filled out the record, trying hard not to reveal my disgust at Oscar’s condition.

“Yes, he keeps turning his nose up at his food and doesn’t even beg for ours anymore.”

Anything else you see wrong with him?

“Well, there’s that pesky diarrhea thing he’s got, Doctor.”

How long has that been going on for?

“About a week, I’d say.”

At this point (there are two owners present, a middle-aged couple) the man looks at the woman and says, “Well, Momma,” (I kid you not, he called her Momma in my presence), “you know we’ve been seeing it loose since before grandma’s surgery, so I think it’s been more like three months goin’ on now.”

Well, now. Lovely. So how long has it been since he’s been breathing like this?

This time they agree: one week. So I press them to have some chest X-rays taken (not an easy thing since we have to discuss the pricing for like, ten minutes).

We take X-rays. OK, there are some serious changes. Not just in Oscar’s lungs but in his vertebrae as well. This dog’s got some scary cancer in his bones and lungs. I tell them.

And now comes the part I don’t expect: a serious emotional breakdown ensues. Momma is clearly not prepared to deal with this news. Lacrimation, with severe mucoid nasal discharge and facial erythema results…hers.

As a vet, you feel terrible when these things happen. You know you can’t say:  Oh my God! How could you have allowed him to deteriorate like this? How could you not do something? What is wrong with you?

All you can really do is put your arm around her and tell her that, whatever decision she makes, you’ll respect it.

Another Saturday.