It is the end of the road for our canine companion. We have tried every medically possible avenue to prolong his sweet doggy life, but next Saturday, barring a miracle, we will say goodbye. It is hard not to feel like an executioner standing by the guillotine, readying the blade. It feels callous to “set a date,” as if we mere mortals have any right to determine when a creature — much less one as loved as our Shiner — lives or dies.
Yet the Lord placed the animals under our dominion.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
It is our charge to care for them as He cares for them.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
Notice how his eyes are squinting? See the droopy tail? The crouched back legs and the bowed front ones? All are hallmarks of pain. The struggle to remain standing requires immense effort. I see it in the drawn expression on his lovely doggy face.
Yesterday we planted two Italian Cyprus trees. Well, my husband did, anyway, while I planted pansies and cabbages in the flower beds. I needed to do something colorful, something cheery, as it became more and more apparent that the prednisone is not improving Shiner’s condition as we’d hoped. In fact, we’ve “banished” him to the outdoors during the daytime. (The weather is unseasonably warm, and he enjoys curling up on the outdoor couch in the sunshine.) Whether it’s the passage of time or a side-effect of the medication, he has been having accidents at least five times a day for the past four days. He’s had to endure very chilly water in the early morning as my husband cleans his bottom like a baby…the breaking point for my husband, though, was having to clean off the dog’s nose which was streaked with poop. While we were planting, I put him in the front yard so he could be near us. He cried like a baby the whole time unless he was right beside me. I couldn’t figure out if he was crying because he wanted to go play with the children in the cul-de-sac or if he was in pain or if he was just too confused. The whole time he just stood there, legs shaking, unable or unwilling to lie down and rest. But then when I moved to a different area of the yard I was able to tie him to a nearby bush. He immediately came to me and plopped in my lap. Several seconds later he figured out that the ornamental cabbage plant was, in fact, a food, and he began EATING it just as soon as I had it planted. Some things, at least, haven’t changed!
I’ve had such a difficult time with the euthanasia question because, quite frankly, it feels like plotting a murder. I remember a time when I was a little girl. We had a cat who lived outdoors. I can’t remember its name, but I do remember that it got very sick with distemper. So my father took it out in a field and shot it to death (of course I was not present — he told me about it later). The anger and revulsion I felt back then were borne out of a little girl who didn’t understand that taking care of animals sometimes means putting them out of their misery. I cried buckets when I read Old Yeller. I still cry whenever I read a book where farmers have to kill a horse that has broken its leg. But I am a big girl now (sort of). I am trying to give my cares to God, because he cares for me. He knows the anguish in my soul. He knows I didn’t go to church yesterday because I just didn’t have the strength. He knows that my eyes well up with tears every time I look out my window and see my sweet friend looking back at me. He knows. And today, he’s given me some comfort– and wisdom –in Proverbs.
The godly care for their animals,
but the wicked are always cruel.
The Hebrew word for “care” as it is translated here is yada, and it means “to know.” The connotation is of perceiving and seeing and knowing everything there is to know about something or someone. It also can mean to distinguish, to discriminate, to recognize and to admit. It is safe to say that I yada my sweet doggy. If you put 100 Dalmatians in my back yard, I would be able to find my Shiner boy. I know him! I know he has a large fatty lump on his neck. I know he has a wart on his throat and another on his side. I know his ears are soft and I know that he loves it when I pet him on his head but not on his belly. I know every spot on his beautiful face. But I also recognize and admit that he is ill. He is losing weight at an alarming rate — down four pounds in just over a month — despite the fact that we are feeding him more than we ever have before. I admit that if I stopped giving him medication, he would not be able to stand up and walk on his own. Without our intervention, he would already be chasing tennis balls in heaven.
So who am I saving him for?
The Hebrew word for “cruel” is akzar. It means, well, cruel. Or fierce. Or virulent, as in a poison. I know what cruel is…it’s just plain mean. But really, it’s more than that. Miriam-Webster defines it as
disposed to inflict pain or suffering : devoid of humane feelings
causing or conducive to injury, grief, or pain
unrelieved by leniency
By keeping my sweet doggy here, I am causing him to endure pain and suffering. I am not giving him release or relief. In my selfishness, in my desire to hold on to him, I have been cruel and keeping company with those who are wicked.
When I look at his life from that Biblical perspective, I am somewhat comforted and at peace with our decision to end his suffering and give him back to God, the One who created him in the first place:
For all the animals of the forest are mine,
My sweet boy was never “Mine” to begin with! He was given to me to love and care for, for me to yada. I have done that to the best of my ability…and now I must leave it in the Lord’s hands. Perhaps he will take him this week before we take him for his last visit to the vet. Of course, that would be the “easy” route and one which I have been praying for. Have you ever prayed for something or someone to die, for their suffering to end? That is where we are today. I think King Soloman, who had it all — wisdom and riches — has much comfort for those of us faced with the prospect of euthanasia for our pets. You’ve probably heard it in a song or read these words before, but look at them today in the perspective of a long-time pet owner:
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.
For our family, it is time to say goodbye to the most beautiful doggy in the world. His time was precious to us and is written in our hearts forever. Tears are streaming down my face as I write these words; I am walking around like a tear factory these days. But I’m coming to realize that’s okay. It’s okay to retreat for awhile, to be quiet and let God heal the broken places in my heart that Shiner’s loss will bring. I ask for your prayers for wisdom, for courage, for inspiration as we try to give him the best week he’s ever had and enjoy every last moment we have with him at our side.