Anniversaries are usually cause to celebrate…but today’s isn’t. Today marks the one-year anniversary of me having my two-year-old Doberman, Olly, put to sleep. No one knows this. My husband does not remember the significance of this date. Only I do. Just me. I remember everything…
Four years ago, my husband and I drove from our home in Wisconsin to Michigan to pick Olly up from a rescue. Olly was just a seven-week-old puppy at the time. We were concerned that Olly might be too young to come home with us, but the rescue assured us he was old enough.
It seemed a little strange, but, then again, the whole situation was a bit awkward. As I recall, a breeder donated a litter of Doberman puppies to the rescue so the group could make money from the sale of the pups. I sensed there was more to that story, but I’ll never know for sure.
The first thing I noticed when I saw Olly was his size. He was so tiny! He was much smaller than I had expected him to be, but I didn’t care. He was ours. I knew he was special from that moment I first laid my eyes on him.
Olly was quiet even as a puppy. He slept a lot. He behaved very well during his vet appointments. And, he was sitting on command by the time we celebrated his 10-week birthday! He was amazing!
As the weeks went by, my suspicions that Olly was not a typical high-energy Doberman puppy were confirmed. Instead of wreaking havoc in my home, Olly usually laid quietly by my side during the day. I had no idea what we were in for when Olly started limping when he was only 11-weeks-old.
I raced Olly to his vet, Dr. Hauser, when I saw him limp the first time. Olly’s vet said she thought my dog had Pano, a condition that affects fast-growing dogs as I understood it. The pain medicine she prescribed seemed to help Olly as it worked its way through his system. But, his limp would return when the medicine ran its course.
Olly submitted to having his blood drawn and posing for x-rays. Even though his x-rays revealed certain abnormalities, no definitive diagnosis could be drawn from them because of Olly’s youth. No one knew what was wrong with our dog.
Over the next several months, Olly chose to spend a lot of time in his kennel. In fact, it was a struggle for us to convince him to come out on a few occasions. Even though we were barely making enough to pay our mortgage every month, my husband and I decided to take Olly to a specialist. The specialist told us we had the option of consenting to more tests, very expensive tests, to determine what was wrong with Olly.
I was torn between keeping a roof over my family’s collective head and agreeing to these tests which, according to the specialist, might reveal nothing. I was mad, too. I was furious that my husband and I had to make such a difficult decision. Above all, though, I was just sorry, so very sorry for Olly.
As time went by, Olly went from being on one medication to being on another to being on another. We had meds to treat his nausea. We had meds to deal with his occasional diarrhea. And so on and so on. We made Dr. Hauser’s most frequent visitors list because Olly went to see her so often.
I spent too many nights to count lying awake trying to comfort Olly. I stayed awake just as often wondering what I could do to help my dog, wondering if I was being fair to Olly. The side effects of his medicine had significantly decreased his quality of life. Olly was even more miserable than I was…and I was in bad shape.
More than once I turned to Dr. Hauser for advice because she knew Olly and me. She was intimately familiar with Olly’s obvious pain and my personal torment…which was equally obvious. After I watched Olly continue to suffer for months, I stopped asking Dr. Hauser about what I could do. And, I began to ask myself some difficult questions.
I thought about why I was allowing Olly to suffer in this life. Was I doing it because I loved him and wanted him to be with me? Was it because I simply was not able to let him go? Were these the same questions? Even though I commanded myself to answer these questions, to be honest with myself, I couldn’t. I was confused. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my innermost thoughts, so my emotional turmoil just continued…until I had an epiphany.
I finally resolved that I was being selfish, that I was putting my desire to be with Olly ahead of his need to be free of pain. The hurt I felt when I realized this was indescribable. I began to talk, literally talk, to Olly about our current situation – him being in pain and me being an emotional mess. Every so often I asked him if he wanted his pain to end.
The only hint of a response I got from him was that sad look in his eye, the look that made him look much older than just two years. He barely walked anymore. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but I took Olly to his vet one last time and asked that he be put to sleep.
My husband and I held Olly as his vet gave him a shot to relax him. We were still clinging to him when she administered the last, lethal injection.
The whole process was horrifying, but the thoughts running through my mind were tortuous. What had I done? I killed my dog. I killed Olly. I remember thinking that I was a truly horrible person as I looked at Olly’s lifeless body. Why had I done this? How could I leave him lying on that cold floor?
I was inconsolable as Dr. Hauser told me over and over again that I had done everything possible for Olly…in life and, now, death. She told me repeatedly that most people would not have gone to the lengths I had.
I listened to Dr. Hauser’s words at the time and replay them every so often in my head. But, even now, I grapple with the decision I made one year ago today. And, I’m still angry. I don’t know if spending more money on more care would have helped Olly, but I’m angry it wasn’t an option for me and my husband.
I don’t tell Olly’s story often because it’s not easy for me to get through the tale. I think about my Doberman a lot, though. A picture of him hangs in the kitchen above the spot where his kennel used to be.
No, today’s anniversary is not one I’m going to celebrate. Instead, I will simply take comfort in knowing that Olly is in heaven…and that I will see him again when I get there.