Local Vocal: Hard choices

by Lauren McRae

Any animal lover knows the feelings we have for our dogs. The unconditional love they give us is deeper than words can express. As they age we look back and remember the long walks and the playful games in the backyard before arthritis and heart conditions entered their lives.

There comes a time in every pet owner’s life when a decision has to be made. I recently went through this process and it may be the toughest choice I ever had to make.

Aiko had the smarts of a border collie and the sneakiness of a beagle. As a puppy you could watch her and just know she was planning her next escapade. She was mine, all mine, totally loyal and committed to me. I was single then, 14 years ago, when she entered my life. We lived together, traveled together, slept together and walked together. She loved the “drive up biscuit bar” as we coined the bank drive-thru that gave dog biscuits to canine traveling companions. We were joined at the hip for seven years until I met my husband and she had to learn to share her space. It was hard on her and resulted in a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. For her, not for me. She eventually grew to not need the medication – and then the kids came along. She was almost 10 years old when we became parents. But, again, she adjusted and grew to tolerate the household excitement.

Shortly after, Aiko developed congestive heart failure that eventually became a $400 monthly expense. There was never a question of not caring for her, though. After she got her strength back and began enjoying life again, she traveled to the beach with us as often as possible and enjoyed three more trips there than we expected her to.

I always predicted her heart condition would end her days. But, unexpectedly, she developed a neurological problem and could no longer use her hind legs. With no option for treatment because of her heart condition, I was faced with the decision to end her life or allow her to live with no dignity. Having to be carried and held to use the restroom, eat and even walk to her bed pillow felt like a punishment for her. After all the loyal years she had given me, how could I possibly treat her that cruelly? How could I put my proud friend through the embarrassment and agony?

As I lay on the cold floor of the veterinarian’s office, I made the choice to let her go with pride.

The vet assured me it was the right decision and reminded me of all the joy Aiko had brought to my life. I held her head, kissed her, gazed deep into her eyes as the needle was injected into her atrophied legs. She looked at me knowingly and then fell into a deep sleep. As her heart squeezed its final beat and her breathing stopped, the tears came. I realized at that moment that I had nothing left of her except memories and her blue collar. It was so hard.

Some people question whether euthanasia is the right choice. For me, it was the only choice. And as I lay there on that floor, looking into the eyes of my best friend for the last time, I know she thanked me for all the love we shared and for giving her a great gift – the gift of peace.

Lauren McRae is an aspiring writer living in Greensboro