Monday, February 4, 2008

Painful Decisions


To Reggie, With Love
by Jonathan Yardley
Washington Post, Outlook Section
Sunday, February 3, 2008

This op-ed piece humanized Jonathan Yardley for me. Previously, I had only known him for his tough reviews in the Washington Post Book World. Often I enjoy his work, but sometimes feel he is unneccesarily harsh, and a bit of a snob about the line between popular fiction and literary fiction. I guess that's his job. I'll never see him the same way again, though, because now I know that he is a dog lover who weeps over the loss of his pets. Such a person cannot be made of ice.

Yardley's piece is about the excruciating decision to put down his beloved 8-year-old dachsund, Reggie, who was suffering from congestive heart failure. He writes that in his life he has parted with a pet in this way seven times, and always with tears. He seems to have a particular affinity for dachsunds and their quirks. In addition to being a tribute to his own special pet, Yardley raises important ethical dilemmas that are emerging in the world of pet medicine. Just like human medicine, technology and specialization are allowing us to prolong life much more than ever before. But that raises the questions: "What is life?" "When is quality of life so poor that it is the kindest thing to end the animal's life?" "What is an appropriate amount of money to spend to keep an animal alive?" Jonathan Yardley seems comfortable with the timing and the decision to put Reggie down, but admits that a part of him will always wonder if he did the right thing. He touches on the issue of economics, and (once again) wealthy people having options that poor people do not.

I know from experience how hard it is to lose a pet. Some of you were very present with me when my beautiful, sweet dalmatian Howard died in the cold January of 1995. He was in kidney failure, and I was struggling with the same decision Yardley describes so movingly. Howard spared me the decision by slipping away quietly in the night. The puppy that my grandparents got for me in the wake of that sorrow was healing balm. But he ("Zeke," age 13, samoyed) is now arthritic, half deaf, and showing signs of kidney problems. I would not say he is suffering yet, but the day is sooner rather than later when our family will be faced with the decision that Yardley writes about so poignantly. I dread it. This is the dog that has been with me through most of my adult life. He was even in my life before my husband E., and I can hardly remember those days. Zeke saw me through more than one ugly breakup before E. showed me what love really is all about. Zeke has patiently endured my two little boys' intrusion onto his turf and their playing like yard apes all around him. He is part of the fabric of our household.

I can only hope that when the time comes I can face the decision with the same mercy and grace that Jonathan Yardley was able to show Reggie. I thank Yardley for sharing his journey with Reggie with us, and hope that his memories of his little pet comfort him through the grief.

Reverent Reader

8 Comments:

At 2/5/08, 11:18 AM , OpenID jblessig said...

We had Peaches for 18 years, and, at the urging of the vet for more than two years, finally had her put down. I still feel guilty about it. My horse vet says that animals do not really feel pain, that it is our pain for them that leads us to have animals done away with. So perhaps we are more selfish than we should be, and should be a little more perservering with our pets, who give us so much.

 
At 2/5/08, 11:27 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Good point, Jim. As I say, I am not yet convinced that Zeke's quality of life is so poor that we should end it all for him. I do know, though, that our time with him is running out. It may be a few years still, but his best days are certainly behind him. When the time comes, it will be an awful loss. People who are not animal lovers don't really get how hard it is.

 
At 2/5/08, 2:10 PM , Anonymous nancita said...

Having watched our dog shake with pain, I don't know that I agree with the horse vet. After much struggling we made this excruciating decision with Max last Sept. It was and continues to be much harder than I imagined.

 
At 2/5/08, 5:07 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Oh, N., I had not heard about Max. I am so sorry. He was such a funny, sweet little guy.

 
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