Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reflections on Life Choices

He no longer stands erect. His rear legs give way, and he collapses into a prone position, which is how he spends most of his day. Gone are the days of running through our yard, barking at every nearby noise. He is now quiet and immobile.

Cheddar, the yellow lab who has lived with us for thirteen and a half years, has reached the age where he no longer looks forward to each coming day. His eyes and ears have diminished, and he can no longer control his bodily functions, causing us to move him at night from an interior bathroom to our partially covered patio, where he can move at will when nature requires.

Many have suggested to me that it is time. Cheddar’s life is clearly not what it once was, and it becomes increasingly difficult to care for him. Perhaps they are right - perhaps the humane act would be to hold him and comfort him while his vet eases him into a deep sleep. But it is difficult to make that decision for someone whom I have loved and who has loved me unconditionally for over a decade.

His vet tells me that the act is painless and humane. He is administered a sedative that quickly puts him under. Then he is given a drug that, within seconds, will cause his heart and brain to cease functioning. I can be with him through the end or not; the choice is mine. I can have his ashes or simply have the vet discard them; again I get to choose.

My principal concern has always been ensuring that I am making the correct decision for the right reason. I do not wish to end Cheddar’s life as a matter of personal convenience. If I am to make that choice, it will be because his “quality of life” is gone. He suffers only pain and prolonged inertia.

Perhaps we are there now. I look into his eyes occasionally for signs of the joy and curiosity that once were there. But they are gone. His eyes are sad and listless, the life within them superficial.

Someone recently suggested that dogs are lucky. When the life of a dog reaches the stage where pain and apathy pervade, we can bring an end to his discomfort by administering a couple of painless injections. Euthanasia is acceptable for animals, but not humans. A person in Cheddar’s condition would likely be hospitalized for months, suffering the indignity of total helplessness, with doctors striving to prolong what can barely be considered “life.”

I can bring Cheddar’s pain to an end, and perhaps I should. But whether out of love or selfishness, I am having trouble facing what is likely inevitable. How does one decide between life and death for a living being? Who gave me the right to play God?


  1. I’ve been wondering when you would write about Cheddar. He’s now outlived Goodman by nearly a year, and a year ago, he was living on borrowed time.

    It’s not about rights, Elio – unless you’re talking about Cheddar’s right to expect care from you. It’s about your obligation to provide for him, and that means more than just a dog’s basic needs of food, exercise, discipline, shelter and love (or whatever Cesar Millan’s prescribing this week). Your obligation to him extends to helping him make that transition from this plane to another, delivering him from this life to a good death. In this case, euthanasia would be an act of love.

  2. Dear Elio:

    You brought me back to tears when I read your post. I relived what I felt 6 months ago when I was forced by life to make a decision for PIPO after 13 long years of mutual unconditional love, company, and affection. His rear legs give way first just as Cheddar, but I was determined to be there for him just as he had been there for me every day for 13 years.

    The doctor said “the time is approaching” and I said “Doctor: take everything I have, my house, my car, anything I may have of value, but please help me give him one more chance because my biggest treasure is now in your hands.” I think God heard me because I got 2 more months. I spent many endless nights researching online about ways to help him get back on his feet and my doggie and I became a team…..he will walk the front legs and I will walk the 2 back legs to level him up and preventing him from falling, it was funny, but he adjusted to my invention and he was happy to be out and about again!! People in the neighborhood will look at us like with curiosity about the unusual way of walking my doggie, but he needed me. The rays of light and happiness came back to his eyes, he was playful and happy again and he even got back on his 4 on his own!!! I was static! It worked!!!

    Happiness was short lived 2 months later when this time 3 legs gave out and he never got back from there. The doctor just looked at me with watery eyes, took a deep breath, and stood silent next to me. It was time to make decisions again and I knew what needed to be done, but I needed to ask my baby doggie what he wanted. At the end of the day we were a team and the decision was not only mine, but it was his too. PIPO made me understand that he had had a great life with me and that I did everything I could to make him happy and comfortable, but he couldn’t wag his tail anymore, going to the bathroom had become a mission and a half, and having to use pampers was not fun. He licked my face with happiness and gave me the look!! The look that said: “Mami, its ok” So I asked the doctor to let us have one last night together in the comfort of our home and so we did. I had 24 hours to say thank you for 13 years of happiness, friendship and devotion. Certainly, not enough time to wrap up a life together, but it was my last chance, it was our last night.

    I will say talk to Cheddar and ask him what he wants; he will lead you towards the right decision and give the answer you are looking for. You are a team, and as a team, decisions are made together. He needs your help to cross the skies to a place called “Rainbow Bridge, the doggie heaven”

    After that….everything will become “fotos y recuerdos” 



  3. Elio, my heart goes out to you, Patricia, Tommy, Katie, Abuela and Abuelo. However, never second guess your decsion in this situation... (maybe for other things but definitely not this one). This was an act of unselfish love and courage to act on that love. Cheddar, himself, was not "himself". There were only rare glimpses of who he was; even though he still possessed the sweetest soul up until the end. You would never had forgiven yourself if he had hurt himself by taking a mis-step and been in agony. I know we talked about it, so, I won't ellaborate. The whole situation of aging, whether a human or a four-legged family member, is so saddening. As I told Katie, the world is a little sadder place now without Cheddar... but, we have wonderful memories of who he was... and he will live on in the stories. All the best my friend, Eric