By Monica Turenne
I arrived at their home, and like most initial pet hospice consultations, I was not sure what I was going to see. For the family, I always prepare for sadness and tears, and my heart leaps for joy when I get smiles. I prepare for laughter and reminiscing, and my hands and my heart extend out in sympathy when I get tears.
But there is no preparation for the pet. And this day was no different. I got my bag with all the doctor stuff in it (including treats) and made my way to the door. I immediately saw a yellow face looking at me through the storm door. Her eyes were shining so bright. I could not see the rest of her because of the glare of the sun reflecting on the door. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, this must be her sister. As I got closer and the glare diminished, I saw more clearly her form . . . and then even more clearly. There was so little of it. Where was she? Oh, this is her, I finally realized. The contradiction between her eyes and her body was astounding. She was so thin and so frail.
I was greeted by her pet parents as they welcomed me into their home. I could tell they were unsure of what I thought about their very thin dog. As we talked and I got to know them, she sat by me, allowing me to pet her. She loved every moment of that. I learned that she was still a very active member of the family and loved to be with them. Only once did she ever disappear from their sight. They wanted a life for her that was happy and full of joy, and they felt that despite not eating, she had that. She loved their son, wanted to go on her walks, enjoyed the garden, and wholly and most importantly, still enjoyed being alive.
I gave her a treat. She ate it. You should have heard the smiles in that room. I understood later that her pet parent purchased the same exact treats and she would not eat them!
We talked for a long time about options for sweet Ruby. Since she would not eat, many oral medications were not possible. So we talked about liquid oral medications and injectable medications to help her with nausea, appetite, and pain.
Over the course of the next six weeks, I saw Ruby several times for various reasons. Her pet parents did such a wonderful job giving her the care she needed to ensure no pain or discomfort. And each time her eyes looked the same — bright and shining. Her body, however, continued to deteriorate, as she was drinking only water and eating a treat or two each day. Yet, there she was — tail wagging, a very happy dog. She even still went on a walk or two, being driven to the park for the walk instead of walking there.
Then one day, I received a call. Ruby finally gave her parents the sign they had hoped she would give. She had gone into the garden and was under the bushes and would not come out. When I arrived, I again was not sure what I was going to see. I prepared for sadness and for joy because really it is a grieving and a celebration of life. I was unprepared for Ruby.
There she was. Beautiful as she had always been these past six weeks. But her eyes were no longer shining. They were dim. For the first time since I knew this special girl, her eyes matched her body. Her family gathered under the bushes as they said farewell to their amazing friend and thanked her for helping them to know so clearly when it was time.
There are Rubys everywhere in life, and it is so easy to judge. But if you see an aged, maybe even way too thin dog or cat sometime, stop and ask the pet parent their story. Undoubtedly, you will be busy for the next few hours as that pet parent tells you story upon story. And more than likely, even if you have to look a little closely, that dog or cat’s eyes are still shining brightly.
Monica Turenne, D.V.M., C.V.A., owns Four Paws Veterinary Wellness, an integrative veterinary house-call practice in Ann Arbor. She has been a veterinarian for 15 years and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. She is also a member of the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care. For more information, visit fourpawsvetwellness.com, call (734) 385-7161, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.