When The Tail Stops Wagging…Tough Decisions Must Be Made

“I hope your day improves.”   Those were the words meant to comfort me as I left my veterinarian’s office yesterday morning.   When I had arrived a half hour earlier my heart was still filled with hope that my nearly 10–year old black lab, “Duchess” would snap out of her recent medical funk.   Didn’t happen that way.   Nope!   Instead, the prognosis was so grave I decided to end her misery by signing the paperwork for euthanasia (which is a word almost as scary as the process itself).

Of course my mind knew this day was coming, but my heart just didn’t want to let go quite yet.   You know, canine hunting partners teach us so much during their life.   They’re with us during some of our most glorious outdoor moments.   They’re never critical of our sometimes lacking abilities…they just want to be part of the action and please their master in the best way they know how.

Yet, even in death a canine companion teaches us so much.   As most sportsmen, I’ve been through this before…and most certainly I will go through it again someday with another dog.   Saying goodbye is just never easy.   I look at it this way.   Each of the dogs I’ve known in my life are like chapters of my life.   The storyline might be slightly different with every dog, yet their main purpose adding fulfillment to your life always seems to be a constant.

Duchess was certainly no exception.   Admittedly she wasn’t my best hunting dog ever.   In fact, our days afield during most of her life have been somewhat limited because of her early health issues tearing an ACL.   She just never had the stamina for long days afield because of these previous joint injuries.   Still, she fulfilled my need for a canine partner in every other way possible.

Yes, there’s a strong bond that develops between a hunter and his dog.   It’s sort of hard to explain, in fact.   The dog doesn’t have to possess the best nose in the world or even be sharp as a tack with its retrieving and recovery skills.   Nope, when you enter the field with your canine hunting partner all you really hope for is to act in concert with one another to have a little hunting fun.   Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?   Man and dog working as a team while sharing quality time together in the outdoors.

Like it or not, eventually we must all face reality.   Compared to our lives, the life-cycle of a pet is fairly short, yet it sends a strong reminder to each of us to think about our own mortality.   Let’s face it…we only get the pleasure of hunting with a certain number of dogs in our lifetime and for me, at least, the final words have just been written on yet another chapter of my life.

When your canine partner approaches the twilight of their life it can really tear at your heart-strings to see them lose their quality of living.   At first thought you want to prolong the inevitable decline by offering them medication to ward off the medical signs and symptoms.   Eventually, however, you just look into their eyes and you know it’s about to come to an end.

Friday and Saturday morning I looked into Duchess’ eyes and I realized we were about to part ways in our physical presence, but certainly not in our shared spirit.   The tail had stopped wagging and the sad eyes indicated she was losing her will to battle on with life.

Now comes the hard part.   As sportsmen we make decisions dealing with the life and death of animals all the time.   Some folks even accuse us of being cruel and heartless as we kill animals for our pleasure.   To hell with those folks.   They have no clue as to the agony I have faced over the past several days making tough decisions about a life other than my own.

Indeed, sometimes the hard part really isn’t knowing what action must be taken when you choose to end the life of your dog.   Nope, the tough part is carrying out the process of that decision.   You strive to do it in a dignified and respectful manner…but the reality and utter difficulty of the process can truly rip the most stoic man into emotional pieces.

I’m happy to report that my vet was right.   He hoped my day would improve, and it most certainly did.   I spent some “happy time” thinking about all the great moments Duchess and I got to share together.   In the process, I realized that although our time together seemed way too short…we shared a great life creating many fond memories together.   After all, isn’t that the real reason a sportsman even owns a dog?

2008 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.