Faced With a Difficult Decision to Let Go
“You see what you want to see and I saw her doing well,” Barrett. Possum had a difficult life . . . that lead to a difficult decision to make.
When man’s best friend gets sick, we do what we can to make them better. But, what do you do when that difficult decision is inevitable? This is the story of how Possum came into my life and the struggle that came when she got sick.
Possum was a little misfit from the word go. She was picked up at a local animal shelter, being confiscated by the local authorities from a hoarder with 60 or so large dogs. Possum was a Chihuahua/ Rat Terrier mix with the emphasis on Rat Terrier. She was not what you would call a good looking or cute dog. She was 9 years with an eye that looked wacky, due to lack of treatment for some eye disorder. She had a long face and a short muscular body. She was scarred with other dog bites and scratches and her ears were dirty and smelled. She was not the ideal dog, but I always think – who is? When I first met Possum, she hissed at me.
Possum also had a huge 6-pound tumor on her belly, on her 10-pound frame of a body. Because she lived in a world of much larger dogs with very little human contact she was afraid. She was afraid of other dogs that picked on her, bit her, scratched her and hurt her. She was afraid of humans who neglected her and ignored her obvious physical discomfort. Possum walked by rocking herself back and forth on the tumor. Possum had so much against her.
The tumor was removed before she was taken into foster care. The animal shelter staff, once they were told that she would be going to rescue, were very willing to eliminate the discomfort. Possum was too. When I went to pick her up, they told me that she did not want to sit or lay down, she wanted to move and run and be active. They also told me that the tumor tested benign and she was ready to find a forever home.
Possum did well on the long ride home, but meeting her new housemates was not easy. She hid behind the couch for days and hissed at the other animals, especially Molly, who became her nemesis. Possum was starving for attention though. She eventually found that the lap was a good place and a belly rub was even better.
She became a very bossy dog and a dog that was difficult to love. The rescue she had entered (the rescue I formally volunteered for until doing my own rescue) was not pleased that I took her. She looked too “ratty”, in other words, not adoptable. Her attitude was a whole other story. She would often attack the others with growls and hisses. She sent her teeth into Charlie and caught Molly off guard several times. She chased the cats and stood looking at the rats hissing against the cage. Well, not that the rats minded, they took their tails and wagged them back and forth through the bars of the cage. Possum loved to jump up and try to catch them but they knew what they were doing. Possum was able to show her funny terrier side.
Possum loved to ‘talk’ as terriers do. Sometimes it was humorous. She would tip her head to one side and just do little howls and “woo woo woo’s”. She liked to make noises when she ate or played. Often, Possum was caught talking to the dogs across the street, little terriers who also liked to talk. I often wonder what they were conversing about. It all sounded very important.
Sometimes she would talk at the wrong times When she wanted something she would run around the house barking and all of the other dogs would begin to bark and get antsy. This was particularly awful while preparing food, working on a report or in the middle of the night. These were my most frustrating moments with her. If she wanted something she knew how to get it. That was also part of the Possum trick bag.
Possum was dearly devoted though and followed me everywhere. She sat outside the bathroom door or would be right there while I was making meals. Possum loved to sit right at my side, squeezing in between my body and the arm of the couch. If she hissed, down she had to go. It would not take long for her to get back up and act better. Possum had the wonderful ability of learning quickly.
Possum was great with people. Possum was great with children. She would sit patiently while with a child. She appeared to like events, and she appeared to like meeting people. Folks would overlook her lack of physical beauty when petting her. Possum was featured in the Gulfport Patch as a rescue of the week and was charming with our editor and onlookers. She allowed herself to be photographed, something she hated me to do. Certainly, after the Patch article, Petfinder and Facebook exposure, Possum would get her forever home.
Possum was sitting on my lap and getting her belly rubbed as usual. A small lump was felt in the same spot where she had the tumor removed in June. It was late December, just after the holiday. I thought I would call the vet and make an appointment in the New Year. This was 6 months since the last tumor was removed. By mid January the tumor had gotten bigger and a little more noticeable. Possum seemed totally comfortable with no worries. I was worried. The appointment was made and Possum went in to have it checked out. Possum went into surgery within a week. At the same time, Possum finally received three inquiries to be adopted. I had to tell them that adoption at this time would not be possible but I would keep them posted.
I set a nice playpen up for Possum where she could relax. Possum slept for three days; after all, it was a hard surgery. The vet stated that they took out several tumors and that the cancer was aggressive. They gave her 3-6 months to live but would do one final test to determine treatment and a timeline. Questions then became difficult. She is a foster dog in a rescue with limited funds. How far do you go? When do you question the quality of her life? How do you determine when it is too hard for her? When was it to painful? The quality of her life should be most important.
I was determined to do what was best for Possum no matter how much it hurt. Possum came home from her last vet appointment on a Friday. She was in a bad mood. The staff reported that she hissed and snapped at them often. I decided that I would spoil her with treats and she would be able to go to special places and events like Gulfport’s Get Rescued and be an ambassador for a while. She was happy to see me and happy to be home. In a couple of days, I knew she felt better as she began to growl and hiss at the other dogs when they came by her “playpen home’ or me.
For about a week, Possum seemed to be doing well. She continued hissing and growling at the younger dogs while playing. She always had that daily special look and growl for Molly – the largest dog in the house. She even did an eye to eye with Joe, the alpha dog. She had a good appetite and wanted to go for short walks. She allowed herself to enjoy some “people touch”.
I did not want to see or admit there were signs that things were coming to an end, that the other dogs were already ignoring and avoiding her, even though she was doing her best “Possum” behavior to them. I knew why, I just did not want to admit it. You see what you want to see and I saw her doing well.
Two weeks after her last vet visit and three weeks from her surgery and her diagnosis, Possum began to stumble with her back legs. She did not appear to be feeling well enough to go to the local Gulfport Rescue event or walking. She wanted to hide more behind the couch, under the bed and in dark corners. I made the comfortable playpen area partially closed to light for her comfort. Another week and she began to lose the use of her legs altogether. She stayed now in the playpen. She still ate well and still talked and sat on my lap to enjoy belly rub. One night it changed, she did not want a belly rub; She did not want to lay next to me and sleep. She cried all night. So did I.
The next few days, she could not stand to be touched and she cried if I pet her. Her body felt hard. She refused to eat. The last time I held Possum; I wrapped her in a blanket and carried her to the car. As I parked and sat in the lot holding her, she did something she had never done. As devoted to me as she was, she never gave kisses. Possum licked and nuzzled my face. When at last in the vet office, Possum passed quietly, still gazing up, her nose very close to my face. The needle had barely been in her week body.
For the next few days I would fill an extra bowl. I would walk from the kitchen to the living room and suddenly feel like I might step on a little dog. I would wake up and hear that familiar ‘terrier talking’. I could not concentrate on work or house matters. I was depressed. It hurt. It always hurts when one leaves no matter how many times it happens.
Possum’s story is not a typical happy rescue story where the lead foster gets the best forever home. She did not get the forever home. Possum did get my home. I was her forever home and I loved her.
I did not write this story to give advice or recommendations to other pet owners on death and dying. I think I wrote about her to give voice to the feeling that so many pet parents have when they lose their loved ones. Often you hear people laugh at the thought of losing a pet – oh it is sad or too bad. They under appreciate the immense loss of a pet and the guilt that accompanies making that decision to end a life.
In the end, we all deal with parting in our own ways. I, very often, find a replacement, another candle to fill the void of darkness.
"All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." (Saint Francis of Assisi)
A week to the time Possum passed, another Rat Terrier/chi mix was left abandoned, to die, and needed a foster. Ralphie came. He ‘hissed’ at Molly, Possum’s nemesis, when he walked in the home. The world somehow felt ok again. Kizma, coincidence, or is Possum’s light still shining.
There are a number of resources to assist in the loss of a pet. Your veterinarian or organizations like the SPCA, the Humane Society or any other rescue group and pet crematories such as Pet Angel, inc. can give you information on pet loss groups or materials to help the grieving process.