I'm not in much of a state right now to really say anything eloquent on the topic, but last night my mom and dad cried our old friend, Jack, to sleep.
My dad sent me this letter, today, that he wrote to our local newspaper. Its a small town, and everybody there knew our golden friend.
Dear Editor: Today, I put to sleep my golden retriever "Jack". I am writing this to hopefully help people understand the agonizing decisions we must deal with when ending an animals life. I have been a veterinarian for 25 years and have euthanized countless numbers of animals. I have consoled many people over this and have at times been frustrated with the inability to effect a cure or treatment for someone's pet. But this was the first time I have ever personally put to sleep an animal that I was this close to. I obtained Jack 15 years ago from his breeder who wanted to put him to sleep as a 10 week old puppy. It was Christmas Eve 1994 and Jack and a litter mate were brought to me because they had parvovirus. I refused to euthanize these dogs because, after all it was Christmas, and I couldn't do that to a puppy on Christmas. I told the breeder that if he didn't want to pay, then I would treat the dogs and he owed me pick of the litter for it. That is how our family got Jack. Jack went everywhere with us. We took him to work, school, and on vacations. Jack went camping in the snow up to Butte Meadows, summer camping at Letts lake, and weekend trips to Ft. Bragg and Mendocino. Once, we bought him an ice cream cone in Mendocino. We sat in the warm sun and held the cone while Jack licked it clean. He wouldn't just bite it and swallow it whole, he savored every bit of that ice cream. That is how Jack approached life. He loved everyone and every animal he ever came across.
Jack had no enemies. When my son raised chickens in the backyard for the FFA, Jack slept with them, keeping them warm and let them pick through his fur. Jack didn't like water. When we put in a pool in the backyard, he barked at us when we went into the pool, not understanding why we would do that when life to him was perfectly good on dry land.
He was not a complainer nor was he ever grumpy. About two years ago we noticed Jack had suddenly become deaf. I did a complete exam on him and consulted with a neurologist. Though there was no explanation, it did not seem to stop him, he compensated well and as was typical, went on acting happy as always. Last year, I noticed a lump on his right hind quarter. Since throughout his life he had many lipomas, I didn't worry too much about it, but decided to biopsy it anyway. This time, it was not good news. The tumor was a soft tissue sarcoma and was highly metastatic. I x-rayed him and found the tumor had already spread to his lungs. We kept him comfortable for a whole year after that and though I knew the tumor was slowly growing inside of him, he never complained, never showed us that he was in pain. The tumor was taking its toll however, because as the days passed, he became a little slower, a little less eager to bark and run. In January of this year, Jack had a seizure and developed a problem called vestibular syndrome. I thought that this was the end, but he didn't quit. He slowly improved his gait and got to the point where he could walk on his own and take care of himself. Eventually, the combination of the cancer and age took Jack. In the last few weeks, he couldn't get up on his own, was losing weight rapidly and got to the point where he wouldn't eat. My wife Terri and I agonized over this and came to the conclusion that he was miserable. It became clear to me that I had to take the responsibility of ending his life. I knew the task would be extremely hard, but I wanted to do this for him, because he was so close to us, I did not want him to know that I passed his life off to someone else’s hands. Terri held him and talked to him. We told him how much we loved him and reminded him of our trips and memories. I inserted the needle with the euthanasia solution into his vein and he slowly and quietly slipped into his endless sleep.
In the end, he met death with the same dignity that he lived his life. I am a richer person for knowing Jack, through example he taught me so much. He never complained, he always accepted life as it came to him. I knew that he loved us and we loved him and I pray to God that some day, I will see him again.
Christopher R. Impinna, DVM