Monday, October 27, 2008

Goodbye Beloved Friend


By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com

On Friday, with great sadness, we had to euthanize our beloved collie Benjamin. As an unapologetic dog lover I was devastated by the sudden blow but it placed in perspective how we often treat the sick - and how in many ways we get the opportunity to treat our pets more humanely than we can ever hope to be treated as humans.

After a series of strange, stroke like episodes, we sought a neurologist's opinion about Benjamin. Not only could he be seen the following day but they then scheduled an immediate MRI scan, spinal tap and chest x-ray. That night the neurologist phoned me to discuss the results and altered his schedule so he could go through the images in person with me the following day. Everyone at the animal care center treated me with compassion and concern and having seen how distressed I was when I saw Benjamin after the tests (he could barely walk) the neurologist phoned me twice that evening to see how both collie and owner were faring. I was told that if we did consider surgery that the neurologists would put aside their surgery schedules and do Benjamin. Having seen many family members face a cancer diagnosis and treatment I can tell you that Benjamin received far better attention and care than they ever did (and they had both health insurance and decent physicians!)

When we finally made the decision not to put Benjamin through surgery (a proposition that had little guarantee of success and we knew the tumor on his spinal cord would all too quickly return) and sought euthanasia, our own vet and the neurologist were both quick to console and reassure us. When it comes to the animal world we at least can alleviate pain and humanely deal with what is a terminal illness. Would that the same could always be said for our human companions.

Today's blog post is unashamedly sentimental. I remember all my collies - Sam, Charles, Edward and now Benjamin. I grew up with a true Lassie as a companion. Sam was the kind of collie who would leap over furniture and through an open window to come to his owner's defence. I still cannot watch any Lassie movie or TV episode without weeping. Call me a wimp but all I need is those deep brown eyes, the cocked head and the classic Lassie intense gaze and I am a goner. Benjamin was the most mellow, soft-hearted dog in the world. He was a true Californian - laid-back, zen like and yet a true gentleman. He will be missed.

My writing experience will no longer be the same without him asleep nearby. I will miss hearing his sighs and seeing him lift his head as if to say "isn't it time we were on the couch watching TV - not at the desk revising?" Half the time I used Benjamin as an excuse not to work. After we had the twins, the evening was the only 'me' time Benjamin and I used to get. He would place his snout on the cushions on the couch, look up at me with his deep brown eyes, as if to ask permission. He would then clamber up, all fur and uncoordination. I would then stretch out and put my feet under his paws for warmth. Those are the times I will cherish.

Call me foolish but I have lost a beloved friend and when I begin my next manuscript I know I will look up from the page and feel his absence acutely. I will miss the comfort I got from being with an animal who could live each moment without worrying about the next, reveling in the joy that came from the simple things, like lying on the couch, letting the world pass him by, living simply, without pain - knowing that the people around you would never let you suffer. I think we humans have a lot to learn from our beloved canine friends.

12 comments:

  1. Ms. Langley-Hawthorne,
    I'm so sorry for your loss. MY wife and I have two rescues, a pointer and a plott hound, and they are our babies. I always get tired of people saying, "yeah, but when you have kids, then they'll just be dogs." Of course I have no way of knowing, but I doubt it.

    It's also hard to see our pets in pain, because they put that aside to comfort us like most selfish people would never dream of doing. I cry just thinking about that day off in the distance that each of my girls will have to go to sleep for good. I truly feel for you. While I know nothing will ever take the place of each dog, who is his or her own personality, maybe one day you'll be tooling around the internet and find the perfect little elongated face staring back at you from the local SPCA page. Maybe not.

    Either way, I hope your whole family gets past the sadness and can recall the good times the way you have here in this post.

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  2. Clare, my heart goes out to you. A friend is facing a similar issue with her cat. The cat had a tumor that was removed once and now returned. They have decided to just let JD live out her life in comfort, however much time she has left.

    I have two cats and love them to distraction. Animals are a constant reminder to keep life simple, slow down, and always remember to make time to play and take naps.

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  3. Thanks for all your sympathy. We're hanging on in there but it's been very hard trying to explain it all to two four year olds. Luckily they are sensitive boys who could see that Benjamin was in pain so they have accepted that it was the best for him.

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  4. So sorry to hear about your loss, Clare. I also had a tough decision to make a while ago regarding my kitty Charlene. She had a bony tumor that was slowly interfering with her breathing, and then it invaded her eye area, making the eye bleed. She was quite old, but she did not seem to be suffering, so I sought the advice of the ASPCA psychologist (they have a psychologist who actually answered the phone on a weekend). She told me that animals appear to be stoic even when they're in pain, and that it is by far more humane to spare them prolonged suffering. I received a sympathy card from local veterinarians. I was touched and like you, wondered whether many human get such caring treatment during the end of life process.

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  5. Clare,
    Losing a valued pet is in fact every bit as devastating as losing a family member, which our animals are. Dogs are like people but they rarely let you down. As one who has been through this, (I wouldn't trust anyone who hasn't), my heart is with you. I had a cocker named Rudy who at twelve began acting oddly, snarling and snapping at my neighbor, then my wife, and then me. He bit my grandson's foot and Max had to be hospitalized for an infection and I took Rudy to the the vet. The vet told me, after a weekend of observation, that he was suffering from dementia, and he was getting worse. I decided to put him down, and it broke my heart because he had been my companion (a rescue) for several years and we all loved him. I told Max that Rudy had gone to live with a nice man on a farm (too young for heaven explanation) and he accepted it. After I bought our country place Max said, "Dotz,this is wonderful. Now you can go get Rudy and he can live with you on your farm!" (My grandchildren call me Dotz--long story). You know, it takes a lot to make me cry.
    Heart and prayers with you.
    John

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  6. I'm so sorry, Clare. I know what it's like. Take comfort in the fact that you did all you could for him. Sometimes to end their suffering we have to accept our own.

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  7. Oh Clare,

    I am so so so sorry. There's nothing like losing a beloved family friend. We lost one of ours to a tragic accident earlier this year, and we're still torn up about it. Your family is in our prayers.

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  8. My sympathy goes out to you, Clare. I've had to face the same decision with my cat a few years ago and it was devastating. Enjoy all the fond memories you have of Benjamin.

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  9. Oh, Clare, I'm so sorry about Benjamin. Losing a pet is really hard to go through. I remember the sadness I've felt with the death of each pet.

    Right now my dog Mikey is my best friend. He sits beside me while I write, gets me outside for walks, and generally makes me happy. I know I'll miss him terribly when he's gone.

    (And Jake, if your family is like mine, the dogs will still be your babies. You may be able to leave them at home by themselves and not spend oodles of money to clothe or educate them, but they'll still be your babies.)

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  10. Thanks for all your compassion and concern. We are lucky to learn from our pets and I'm thankful I had a chance to know such a wonderful dog like Benjamin.

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  11. Clare,

    I'm a fairly tough guy. Granted, not as tough as I used to be, but pretty hard, nonetheless. When your primary vehicle is a fire truck or an ambulance, you have to be. Without that crusty veneer, you couldn't think straight enough to offer the kind of help that the 9-1-1 dialers are looking for.

    But no veneer was thick enough to prepare me for the day I had to take my beloved black lab, Joe, to the vet to be put to sleep. She was terribly sick, but she'd have tried to stick around for as long as I begged her to. In the end, I cowboyed up and did the right thing. If it's true that big boys don't cry, then I was a preschooler that day. It's been nearly five years and I still mourn her loss.

    In fact, as I type this, I can't see the damn screen anymore.

    My heart goes out to you and your family.

    John

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  12. Clare...I'm so sad with you. It's the deal we make, right, to take care of them? And they rely on us to do that, even when it's unimaginably difficult.

    He loved you, too.

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