Loving Bruno means doing it myself: One vet's personal experience with euthanasia
It is with the understanding that this might read like a smarmy Chicken Soup For the Pet Lover’s Soul entry that I’ll proceed with my story. It’s about Bruno, my adored, adopted Boxer, and his euthanasia at the untimely age of seven.
Bruno and Agatha, two Boxer dogs that saw me through my six years of grad school in Philadelphia, were the perfect companions. They were well behaved, loved everyone (although Agatha had a thing about women in Sunday hats), and made my time in Philly`s rough neighborhoods safe and enjoyable.
When they made tunnels for me through the snow after blizzards and barked to ward off the Halloween tricksters and neighborhood sleazies, I always felt loved and cared for by them, not the other way around.
Bruno had come to me, midway through vet school, hairless and shivering, one rainly September day. Covered with mange and riddled with open sores, he looked for all the world like a fierce, elderly mongrel. After the vet school`s derm department was done with him he became the most gorgeous boxer dog you`ve ever seen (IMHO).
By the time I moved back to Miami, Bruno and Agatha were approaching their later years—at least for Boxers, who notoriously suffer short lifespans. I loved them thoroughly, equally, and unconditionally. Despite their love for me, I often thought they loved each other more. So I had good reason to be alarmed when they suddenly began to fight with one another.
I hired a trainer after their fierce second go-round. No evidence was found to support any particular reason for a change of heart between them. I assumed that the move and a new baby were to blame, with a change in status emerging between them as a result. But the baby was never around during their worst rows and both baby and move were a year old by this time.
Then Bruno started starting at walls, followed by disturbing bouts of seizures. Now everything fell into place. Agatha had sensed the subtle changes in Bruno like only dogs can. She likely felt threatened by his miniscule mood alterations or underlying organic change and lashed out in a very doglike way. Who says dogs can`t intuitively sense disease?
I was heartbroken, especially after CT scans revealed an inoperable brain tumor. I tried anti-inflammatory drugs and anti-seizure medications to no avail. The neurologist had no good news for me, as I knew he wouldn’t. Bruno was slipping away, measurably, with each seizure.
One night, only a week after the diagnosis, Bruno failed to recognize me after one of his seizures. He was restless and anxious. After thirty minutes he was still disoriented and inconsolable. It was two-thirty in the morning but I knew this was it.
I loaded up the car with Bruno and the baby and drove straight to the deserted hospital. Although still confused, he still had those soft, imploring eyes of his, reminding me of how he looked when I’d leave for work or school in the morning.
I drew up a syringe-ful of tranquilizer and managed to relax him enough to administer it, unaided. He gave up a big breath and slipped onto the floor, asleep and peaceful at last. I knew I’d done the right thing. The euthanasia solution came next, and I watched his heart flutter and finally stop.
Moving his lifeless body to the freezer, I experienced that feeling of repugnance I see in others when their loved one’s lifeless body is mechanically handled. I knew he was dead, that this was just another body like so many others I`d lifted, but I still couldn’t watch. I closed my eyes and heard his body slump onto the freezer bottom, knowing I’d never see his soft, brown body again, the tail that wagged like a windshield wiper, and those big, brown eyes…
I sat on the floor crying, rocking my year-old baby, and hoping I’d never have to do this again but knowing I would, in a second, if I had to.
Seven years later, I still sometimes cry when I think of him. Even as I write this, I can’t stop myself. Amazing how it can still hurt so much.
I promise tomorrow’s post will be a happier one.