Farewell, Our Fearless Little Warrior

Quality of life. Quality of life. Quality of life. This is your new mantra.  

Quality of life is what you have to determine when your pet gets old or sick, or both. How do you define quality of life, and how do you measure it? And when it’s an animal—a pet who is considered a family member—how do you determine that its life is no longer worth living?  

“Can he walk? Can he eat? Can he breathe? Can he glean any enjoyment whatsoever out of his days?” the online questionnaires ask when searching for the answer to the dreaded question: How do you know when it’s time to euthanize your pet?

You begin contemplating the end. You wonder how many more days you can eke out. How many more meals you can try to hand feed your furry friend. How many more sleepless nights you will have from taking him out to pee. How many mornings you will hold your own breath until you make sure your pet is still breathing.

One questionnaire asks, “Are you weary?” Yes, you are weary. You are so very, very weary you want to be euthanized yourself. 

“Who made you God?” you admonish yourself for even considering the lethal injection.

Of course, we would always prefer that end-of-life decisions were left up to nature. We want our pets to die peacefully, painlessly in their sleep. But nature doesn’t operate on our schedule. Nature pays no mind to our heartache—and healthcare costs—and the wish for a natural death as we watch in agony over their steady decline. To be fair, nature often does offer to take our loved ones before they grow too old to stand on their own legs or too confused to find their water dish. Out in the wild, the weak and injured become prey for the food chain. But we intervene with trips to the vet, with IVs and antibiotics, stitches and insulin, teeth cleaning and painkillers. We do whatever it takes to prolong the inevitable.

We love our pets so much. We want them to be with us forever. We cannot imagine life without them. We don’t want to let go. We refuse to let go.

You go back online and take another quiz. “Rate from 1 to 10 your pet’s hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, and mobility.” Your score is off the chart. He aches too much to walk. He won’t eat—even though you’ve offered him baked salmon, grilled steak, roasted chicken. He drinks water like he can’t get enough. His coat is dull and gray. His teeth, once so strong and white, have turned dark brown. He’s blind. He’s got diabetes, congestive heart failure, arthritis. 

You could call a friend, who just put down his 18-and-a-half-year-old dachshund, to ask what you should do. But you know that asking for opinions will just create more drama. It’s your decision. You want to keep it private. So you spend the day doing simple tasks that allow your mind to work it out. You sew—and break the needle. You bake—and burn the bread. 

Finally, you take your dog—your 15-and-a-half-year-old Jack Russell-Yorkshire terrier mix—for a ride on the side-by-side. You speed down the gravel roads as fast as the little off-road vehicle will go. Your dog puts his face into the wind, his hair blows back, his nose twitches with curiosity, he perks up like he’s his old self—the one you haven’t seen for months. Feeling the wind in his face is one of his favorite things, the only thing from which he can still derive pleasure. You’ve given him his last taste of what little quality of life he has left. 

The websites say pet owners often wait too long. Their animals suffer needlessly. But on this windy ride he’s so alert. Maybe he could live longer. Maybe today is not the day for the vet to come to the house. But you’ve already made the appointment. It was so painful to come to this decision that to reverse it now will only cause more confusion, more crying. You’ve cried enough. You’ve been crying for the past two years over his multiplying illnesses and his numerous brushes with death. You have your own quality of life to consider, and that quality has been diminishing along with your dog’s health. 

Like humans, animals have their good days and bad days. For a dog that has had an exceptionally good life, you acknowledge that it’s fitting for him to depart on one of his good days. Even though your heart is shattering into a million pieces and your chest feels like it’s going to implode. You repeat the mantra over and over: Quality of life. Quality of life. Quality of life. You remind yourself that quality of life also applies to quality of death. The word “euthanasia,” as you’ve learned through your exhaustive internet searches, is Greek for “good death.” 

You don’t believe it yet, but in the future you will realize that this “good death” is the greatest love you can show your pet. And love is the greatest, most enduring quality of all.

For Jack Howard-Iken
May 17, 2004 — September 10, 2019
“The Jack Russell Terrier is as stubborn as they come, which may be why this breed lives so long. Given proper care, the life expectancy of this fearless, energetic, vocal dog breed averages about 15 years, possibly even longer.”

Dear Jack, 

We never thought you’d live to see old age, but like with everything you did, you exceeded our expectations. Here’s to feeling the wind in your face on the other side. 

Love,Beth, Doug, and Mali

*You might also like to read Jack’s post from 2017 on life at Camp Doug*

15 thoughts on “Farewell, Our Fearless Little Warrior

  1. You did the right thing Bethacitas. Never doubt that. Your blog entry is so well written. We all loved that sweet little guy so much. He had a good long life and will be dearly missed by all those whose lives he touched over the years. I have so many fond memories of him. Bless him, and bless you and Doug for the excellent care you gave him. Jack was the best dog I've ever met. His spirit will live on forever in our hearts and minds.

  2. Oh sweet Jack, you, darling boy, will be so missed. I bet he's already found his big stick in the great beyond. Many of my favorite memories involve Jack (and Yoda and Daisy). I love you.

  3. Beautiful words, Beth. Our family was so fortunate to meet you, Doug and Jack all at the same time. Jack was surrounded by so much love and caretaking that it is understandable why he wanted to hang on and be present in your lives. In that little body, he had so much interest in the world and he was going to suck every last breath out of the ride and enjoyment of just plain being by your side! Wish I was closer, but will look forward to hearing more stories about Jack when I see you next! xxoo

  4. My gosh, such a heat wrenching process. You often wonder why .. why him, why now, why this way, and oddly enough the universe at that one pinpoint in time is blatantly silent. Not a peep. And left with feelings, thoughts so consuming , you body is one big.. scream, "stop this, take this from me". But it's yours only. And you do. You follow up you humbly process the moment. And the silence remains long after that pivotal time. You can hear life all around.. but you're not listening. The world seems to implode with the absence of the one. Every action you used to take now seems like a robot is doing them because the one, who permeated it all.. is no longer of this world.. this time.. holding onto every good memory is the only release. And for me , after a long.. long while, I was able to breathe again.. without my one, there.

  5. Ahh, Beth, so sorry. We left our dog one morning this winter and came nome to find him in a sleeping position on his bed. He also loved the wind on his face. There will always be a giant hole in our hearts for our sweet dog. Crying right now but happy that we both have such fond dog memories. Thinking about you!

  6. Aww…so sorry.

    We have dealt with this sad decision a few times.

    Once I couldn't do it, and my cat suffered for my inability to make that decision.

    The next time I had to face the same situation with our Shepherd I did make it and quickly.
    Then I thought I did it too soon.

    Now some time has passed, and when I look back on it I ask myself how badly do they have to suffer to ease my feelings?

    I feel badly for your loss, but all these years following your story Jack had a great time!
    He lived a great life and was just as lucky to have you, as you him.

  7. Your words were wonderful and very comforting. I'm saving them. I know all too well the pain and indecision of putting a beloved pet to sleep..many of them over the years. You did the right thing to free him from discomfort and the ravages of old age. It was your final gift. That doesn't make the goodbye any easier, I know. Collect all those wonderful photos, allow as many days and nights as it takes to get through the grief. Peace will come, even though the missing never ends.

  8. Beth, So sorry for your loss. I'll be facing the same decision with Daisy in the coming months, your post will help me with that process. So glad I was able to know Jack, he was a good boy, and you were great mom to him! <3

  9. Beth, so sorry to hear about Jack crossing over. He and Nika were best buddies back when you Marcus and Jack lived on Alder Circle. God, two two dogs were so funny, and full of life. I would take them to Mary Young Park. Take them down to the rivers edge, and let them loose. They could run like the wind. They scared me so because I was afraid one of them would slip and fall on the huge boulders.but did they care? Hell no! They had to chase. Had to win. Had to love each other. Nike sends her love. She is 14 1/2 now, and also slowing down, but so far still able to take long walks with her Dad. When she’s up to it. Take care, Frank

  10. Your words were wonderful and very comforting. I'm saving them. I know all too well the pain and indecision of putting a beloved pet to sleep..many of them over the years. You did the right thing to free him from discomfort and the ravages of old age. It was your final gift. That doesn't make the goodbye any easier, I know. Collect all those wonderful photos, allow as many days and nights as it takes to get through the grief. Peace will come, even though the missing never ends.

  11. Hi Beth,

    I just now read your blog. Yep, it's hard to let go but we do the best we can based on what we know. Our last furkid passed in March 2019 at 19. I miss him like a limb. But it gets better as time goes by. After all, at my age, we get used to the fact that passing becomes all to more frequent.

    I only met you once but I feel like I've known you for a long time. It's kind of fun to slip in and out of a person's life via their blog only to discover new and interesting things that have taken place.

    So many pups out there needing a good home. I just rescued on that was run over here in San Miguel de Allende. She survived, has found a good home, and the new guardians are a happy couple because of it. I couldn't imagine our lives without all that fur no matter what shape or form it comes it.

    Have a happy new year! Big hugs.

  12. That is one of the most beautifully written pieces I have ever encountered. A brilliant, heartfelt, openly honest, all encompassing coverage of all thoughts and emotions pertaining to these sad and joyful moments. Lovely! Please keep the “pies” of life coming!

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