As anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows, we have an old dog, Shade. Shade is 16 years old and, recently, he has lost bladder control, such that he wakes up with his bedding soaked in his kennel every morning, he has daily accidents on the floor (several times a day, with no warning), and he can no longer sleep in our room with us, because, in the morning, he can't make it down the stairs and out the door without having an accident.
Besides being a little creaky, slow to get up and lay down and having a multitude of benign lipomas (small, fatty tumors), plus failing in vision in hearing, he seems ok. He's always been an annoying dog - he whines and makes noises constantly, much to the chagrin of anyone trying to watch a TV show or have a conversation. People always ask us "what's wrong with your dog?" and the short answer is "nothing." No vet has ever diagnosed him with anything other than "normal" old age stuff, and no answer has ever been given for his incessant whining. Strangers think he is in pain, but the vet says he's not. Who really knows?
Because of his accidents, he has to spend nearly all of his time in the kennel in the garage. We do let him out when the adults are home (because we watch him better!) but despite our vigilance he almost always has an accident, throws up on the floor (for no diagnosed reason - again, he just throws up ALL the time), or eats something off the counter.
He's a tricky dog, too. He knows when food has been left out and he will wait until everyone is gone and then sneak quietly across the floor and snatch it off the counter or table. He has eaten more "dangerous" things that you could ever imagine and has never suffered ill effects (included, but not limited to, 2 lbs of chocolate, wires, wood siding, staples, rubber bands, and a whole tube of toothpaste). The dog is indestructible!
He can still manage a two mile walk, but is exhausted afterwards. He likes being outside, but almost always gets into mischief when he's out there. He barks at strangers, and, lately, has been more aggressive and "snappy", even at the kids (and us, if we make him move or do something he does not want).
He spends most of his time sleeping, and we often come home and poke him because it appears he's dead, but he's just sleeping so deeply and has lost some of his hearing so that he doesn't startle and jump up like he used to.
The point is - he does not appear to be suffering (save for laying in his own urine-soaked bedding all night, which is definitely gross - he gets wiped off with wipes in the morning and bathed regularly). The cleaning up part of his problem is extremely time-consuming for us (we have gone through more paper towels and mopping supplies than EVER before) and we spend every day cleaning his bedding so he will have clean blankets for the day/night.
Everyone is fed up with him, and when he has an accident, there's a lot of anger and resentment and a lot of "let's get rid of him" and "he needs to be put down." But once it's all over, we question it - is is REALLY time to put him down?
Last Christmas we put down a dog. He was sick and definitely suffering. Charlie had grown so thin and could barely stand. He had diabetes and several other health problems. He went downhill fast. And when the time came - we just knew. It was NOT easy to do, but the decision was not hard to make. He was suffering and it was time.
With Shade, he still has some spunk. He wanders around, but it's not like a happy-go-lucky dog - he's more of an anxious pacer, always looking for something to get into, and rarely settles down. He sometimes climbs up on the couch (which he can still manage - not so much beds anymore - or the car - but he can still get on the couch that sits pretty low) and he will quiet down and sleep. And everyone will say "Aw, look how cute he is!" But that can change in an instant when he pees all over the floor, or someone's foot, or a backpack sitting on the floor, or blankets or pillows that have been left lying around. Then, it's a big job. It's just a lot of work and no one wants to do it.
Shade came with the marriage. So, those of us who were not part of choosing the dog, or having any say in whether to keep the dog are more inclined to take the "he's not my dog" stance. He's been so much trouble from day one, it's hard for me to imagine keeping a dog like him in a busy family with kids because he takes up SO much time, mostly with destroying things or having accidents.
Personally I don't love the dog. I know my life will be SO MUCH more peaceful when he's gone. He's never been one of those dogs who brings joy into my life, he's really just all work and very little enjoyment. I won't miss the smell of dog pee, the accidents, the barf, the excessive dog hair OR his horrendous smell. BUT. I have a hard time knowing if all of the above is justification enough to put him down. And I won't make the decision. I will support whatever my husband wants to do, because ultimately it is HIS dog. Any joy or happiness the dog has brought into the world has been for Jeff alone (hunting with him), but Jeff could tell "bad dog, Shade" stories about this dog for days. It's really unbelievable how many horrible stories we have on this dog. He's just a naughty, naughty dog. And yes, I believe he could have been a different dog with obedience training, but that's neither here nor there at this point. And I didn't have any say when he was a puppy because I wasn't there. I just know that I've always felt the dog was just work. His rapport with people improved so much after he came into our house - before that he growled like Cujo at everyone and everything and I was honestly terrified of the dog. He also used to snap at the kids when they were younger, and I thought he might bite them. But with a lot of time and work, he started to be more "socially acceptable" and was more tolerable to live with.
Still. He is so exasperating. He's costing so much time and money. He's a lot of work and no one is really invested in him enough to do the work. A lot of the burden falls to Jeff (cleaning the bedding, for example, because we clean it in the utility sink in the garage because we don't want to put all that grossness in our family washing machine!). When Jeff is not home, he is even worse - he gets into more trouble and is more difficult. When Jeff has to travel out of town, we've actually kenneled him at the vet because we simply do not have time to deal with him (i.e. having to clean up accidents in the morning and being late to work). But that is so expensive! When we don't kennel him, he requires constant vigilance and his whining, difficulty and accidents cause a lot of distress among the family. Many fights have started over Shade!
So, what would you do? We keep thinking since he's so old and obviously going downhill (although not rapidly) that his "time will come" soon enough. But we've been thinking that for YEARS and this dog seems to hang on, no matter what. He's been checked out medically. There's really nothing we can do about the accidents at this point - it's just old age. And he's a big dog so it's no small feat to clean up after him.
It's a tough one...........
(P.S. I am aware that this post might unleash a firestorm of controversy, as I have many, many friends who are avid pet lovers. We, too, love our pets, but draw the line at treating them equal to our children. They are dogs, not people. However, we are kind and loving animal owners who would never mistreat our pets. Still, we've often had some pretty angry backlash when we post on Facebook about "bad dog Shade." We have taken good care of this dog. Obviously we would prefer nature take it's course. But it's getting pretty bad...)