Misty, the 10-year-old Golden Retriever who inspired the Senior Dogs Project

The Senior Dogs Project
..........."Looking Out for Older Dogs" ...........

"Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog."
Sydney Jeanne Seward


The Road Ahead......The Experience of Choosing Euthanasia

The following are contributions from visitors to the Senior Dogs site who felt moved to write a tribute to their beloved dogs for whom they had to choose euthanasia.


"Hemmingway came to us on his way to the humane society almost 15 years ago. He was too much for a single mom with three kids to handle, but perfect for our family of five. As a loyal companion to my dear husband, Hemmingway earned, along with my husband, a Bachelor of Science Degree and a Master's Degree, as well. They stayed up late together to acquire these degrees, with Hemmingway listening carefully as my husband read his books or study cards aloud. His favorite thing in the world had always been his walks with his "dad" that followed his "dad's" run. We have pictures of Hem running from window to window at 15 years old, waiting for his "dad" to return from his run and take him on his walk. The walks grew shorter in the last years, but all the more important. Last Sunday, Hemmingway collapsed on his bed and couldn't get up. We took him to the emergency vet, and they gave him some shots to alleviate pain. Wednesday we knew he was leaving us, and we spent the day and night on the floor in the living room petting him and talking to him. His legs would no longer lift him, and so, during the long night, he scooted his way to each of us and lay with each of us for a period of time....almost like he was saying good bye. We carried him to the car using his bed as a stretcher. When we took him to the vet, we knew it would be the last car ride he would take. The pain was too great and the vet felt that nothing else could be done for him. His body relaxed and he was finally at peace. We will always have dogs; we love them. But Hemmingway has left a void in this family that will not be filled very soon." Contributed by Jenni. May 2004.

On Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

Last week, I found myself in a situation where I was called upon to "play God." Very heady stuff. Such omnipotence I do not want to experience again. But I shall. You see, I love dogs. Therefore, I have dogs. Therefore, I end up saying goodbye to dogs. As dramatically as every aspect of my life changed the day I brought home my new charge, ten years and seven months ago, so I believe it will change once again, as I wrestle with learning to balance the weight of an angel-dog on my shoulders. I will continue, no matter how uncomfortable in this role, to wield the absolute power of life and death. When to let a dog live......when, at the nod of my head, to end life.

I don't enjoy this game plan, but my love of dogs seems to override the fact that they leave us before we leave them. And, more times than not, they do not leave us one night, tucked into their beds, never to lift their head again. I remember waking up many mornings, traipsing out to the front room, to stare down at my special friend and wish her a good morning, secretly hoping she would have gone to her great reward (and it will be great!), passing peacefully as she slept. I don't know what percentage of dogs go that way, but I assure you it isn't enough!

Dogs do not suffer from the many anxieties we carry around with us. Maybe it's because they know their time here is short. They are only interested in living in the present. They don't pontificate on the trials of yesterday or grumble about the "what ifs" of tomorrow. They have none of the fears or apprehensions of what is to come -- what is waiting for them on the "other side," over the "rainbow bridge," or whatever beliefs or words we have for this inevitable event. Dogs accept life, whatever that entails. They are at peace with it. For them, it is a natural progression -- death being part of the cycle.

Many times these heroes of ours stay around longer than they really want, preparing us for their departure. I was very graciously given all sorts of signs that my friend was ready to take her leave. Old-dog time had come pawing for her. The lingering looks, the talking to me, the gentle digging under her favorite bush out front where she used to lie for shade in the summer. Always these actions executed with purpose, for me to see and acknowledge. Allowing me to share in her preparations. In return, preparing me for our separation.

Yes, they do let us know -- and if we don't turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to their signals, we get the message. Once we have this information, our response is what they are counting on. The right response. We've had our time to make memories. If there are enough of these, they will help see us through. If there is guilt to look back on -- I should have taken her out more; I really did mean to give her more time; I know he spent far too much time in that crate -- the ride may get a little bumpy now. Rightfully so.

Don't try to make up for lost time now. This will be a very difficult situation to face and unfortunately may plague the negligent for a long time. Your pet will forgive, though, because of his or her love and devotion toward you. Your pet may not comprehend why it is so important for you to ignore this beacon they are sending out, keeping them around as long as you can. You are not "losing your dog." How can you possibly ever lose something that is so deeply embedded in your heart? You are helping your friend.

How we plan to help is very important. We may not have any control over the inevitable, but we do have control over how the inevitable unfolds. Your friend's last moments will be forever seared in your memory. The more planned these moments are, the more prepared you will be. When it comes time to contact your veterinarian, make sure you find out exactly what to expect, from the moment he/she arrives until you have thanked him/her for the help. Discuss everything. Ask your questions now. Any special requests you have will be considered at this time.

As our day approached, I found myself playing out every detail in my mind. From our quiet walk together that morning to our vet's arriving to what I would be doing the rest of the day. By the time the day came around I was almost on autopilot. At least my emotions were. I did not want the last sounds my friend heard to be my wailing and sobbing. That would have been far too distressing for us both. I met the vet outside of the house and completed some paper work. I had requested no "black-bag" of instruments. My vet arrived with everything she needed tucked away in a pocket. She grabbed a handful of liver. as we had agreed upon, and greeted my girl. There would be no unexpected turmoil. Instead, my friend would hear our special, quiet song, because that is the way I had planned it. That is how I had rehearsed it in my mind.

In the age-old tradition of her wild ancestors, my girl would take up the role she had been working toward. As a team, we would get this job done with dignity and love. Later that evening, as I sat down with our memories, I came to the conclusion that, rather than mourning her passing, it was by far more fulfilling to celebrate her life.

---In memory of Sierra -- you taught me so much & I miss you.

Contributed by Deborah Beaven

Yogi Bear

From an E-mail message received September 2000:

"I am writing to you for three reasons:

"First and foremost, I want to thank you and all of the wonderful people who make your site possible. I know my husband, Ken, checked your site often on a variety of health and welfare issues related to our 12 1/2 year-old Pyr, Yogi Bear. He always came away saying how nice it was to visit a site that actually provided genuinely helpful info and resources, not just a lot of ad banners. I know that, sadly, he visited your site just the other night when he was struggling with the decision to put his little boy down. Reading what others had written didn't make the decision any less painful, but it did make it easier. He realized others who loved their dogs as completely and unconditionally as he loved Yogi, with the same broken heart, did the kind thing and what was in the best interest of their pet.

"My second reason for writing is to share with you the letter Ken wrote to inform our family and friends of Yogi's passing. More than just a tear-jerker, it conveys a very important message from which all of us can benefit. There isn't much I can say about or add to his eulogy, except that every word he wrote and the sentiments it describes are sincere and heartfelt. People often remarked to me that they were almost envious of the relationship Yogi and he shared and wondered if it bothered me. They seemed surprised when I told them it didn't and, then, even more envious when I explained that I received the same kind of love from both of them.

"My final reason for writing is to nominate for recognition on your page Dr. Mary Sherman of the Veterinary Medical Center in Woodland Hills. We first consulted Mary after Yogi (then a 7 week-old puppy) was diagnosed with Parvo. She fought valiantly to keep him alive, long after all the other vets simply told us to put him down. Watching her in the clinic, it is apparent that she treats every animal -- regardless of breed, size, etc. -- with the same loving, caring dedication. Beyond her preeminent qualifications, she continues her studies and research to advance her profession, not for personal recognition, but so that she feels comfortable that she is doing everything possible on behalf of her patients and clients. She has enjoyed her own 12-year love affair with Yogi, which was more than evident when she came into our home with tears streaming down her beautiful face. With her voice cracking, she said to us that she probably couldn't do what she knew she had to do, except for the fact that she knew we were doing the right thing. Mary Sherman is an exceptional vet, a cherished friend and, by any measure, a saint.

"Ken's letter follows:

"Dear Family and Friends:

"Shortly before 8 PM this evening, my little guy, the infamous Yogi Bear, shuffled off to ascend to where he appropriately and most deservedly belongs. Although I know that it will be some time before I can put this immense loss behind me, rather than feel sad by his passing, I ask instead that you stop for a moment after reading this and celebrate his life and how he may have touched yours by recalling something he did that made you laugh or brought a smile to your face. Hold that thought, seize that image, and lock it away in your memory for another time when you are struggling to find a reason -- any reason -- to chuckle.

"While I also know that my love for Yogi was rather apparent (some might even suggest a tad obsessive-compulsive), it is his absence that has made me realize how much I took for granted, thinking that there was always tomorrow. The following simply explains why I loved him so. My hope is that it will cause you to pause and take the time to tell someone you love just how much you love and care about them, and not trust that they know it already or they've heard it all before. Even if you find me a little suspect, believe Yogi, then: those three words, 'I Love You,' cannot be repeated often enough.


"In the course of the 4,534 days that my little boy spent on earth -- all but the first 40 days of which were with me -- he demonstrated repeatedly and beyond question that he was the penultimate provider and recipient of unqualified love and adoration. His facial expressions and his actions spoke volumes about gentleness, friendship, loyalty, patience (or the lack thereof!), amazing sensitivity and compassion, and in its simplest, purest form, the joy of living. He showed all of this and more to me, my family, friends, even to complete strangers, and, especially, to children; and in ways that will be the substance of terrific Yogi stories which, no doubt, will endure long beyond my lifetime.

"Yogi's life in every regard -- at least that which he was in control of -- embodied what's meant by the term 'in service to another.' But while his life, also, perhaps best exemplified to the very end the saying I'm so fond of -- that Reality is the integration of compromise -- he expressed his very real sense of self-worth, indeed, his integrity, by doing it his way -- even when he appeared to be giving in, usually with a noticeable huff and look of disgust, or more subtly by just giving you his backside to stare at. He was not only a companion, a best friend, a broad, soft shoulder to cry on, and, I'm embarrassed to admit, the unfortunate surrogate upon whom I heaped my misguided and, certainly, misdirected rage, but true to his purpose for coming into this world in the first place, he was -- and will always be -- my guardian angel.

"Not only do you have my undying adoration and love, but my little Yogi Bear, my Wutz Gaputz, you have my admiration, respect and thanks for the way you've accomplished your mission. Beyond even the 'one in a million' your lifesaver, Dr. Mary, describes you as, Yogi ... in a very special way, your own very special way, that neither displaces nor diminishes anyone else ... you -- my little boy, my puppy forever -- you are my hero and the wind beneath my wings."

Contributed by Ken and Heather Schweibish.

Ginger Was Like That

"Still beautiful, even in old age, she had come into our lives fourteen years earlier, winning our hearts as a puppy, then our admiration as she matured. We had selected her from among five winsome pups from a wonderful breeder. She was named 'Shadywell Crystal Ginger II' --- 'Ginger' for short. Although it was not the breeders' custom to let pups go at the early age of six-and-a-half weeks, they had decided we looked like stable people ready for the responsibility of having a puppy enter our lives. And so began the beautiful relationship with Ginger that lasted fourteen years.

"As the years passed, Ginger began to show signs of aging; white hair on her face, walking and playing with less vigour, a little slower getting up. I worried about how much longer she would last. One day she refused to come down the stairs. I coaxed her until she tried. Her legs crumpled under her at the third step and she slid uncontrollably the rest of the way. My heart sank. I knew this was the beginning of the end for her. She couldn't handle the stairs going up or down, but if I stayed quite close she would try. First her front legs, then her back legs, hitching them up sideways one step at a time. Reaching the top, her breathing would be laboured. It was clear I would be carrying her up and down stairs from then on.

"The very snow she once reveled in now became a problem. We came across a drift on our return trip one day. It wasn't big as drifts go, about a foot deep and eight feet across. It was packed hard by the wind. Ginger got half way across and couldn't move. I looked back to see her smiling in her embarrassment, her eyes, full of trust, pleading for help. 'Can't make it old thing?' I asked. 'I'll come and get you.' A young man stood watching the whole scene. I swept Ginger up in my arms, grieving in my heart for her. The young man's eyes met mine. Not a word was said but a message was there: compassion, understanding. I carried her across the drift and put her down. She looked up at me and wagged her tail. The young man's eyes followed us as we walked away. Perhaps he was thinking, 'Two old things growing old together.'

"Each day became a bonus day to be relished and considered precious. I dreaded the inevitable. She was now close to fourteen. She never complained. Every day she offered her unconditional loyalty and her smiling countenance. How would I handle it when she had to go? Would I be an emotional wreck? Would I be stoic and self contained? I tried to steel myself. Little did I realize that day was rapidly approaching.

"It happened one day, finally. As I let myself in , she was lying in the hall unable to get up. She had been terribly sick through the day. Her eyes gyrated wildly. I don't think she could even see me at that moment. My heart sank as I surveyed the scene. I could have wept when, despite her terrible condition, she managed a smile as she recognized my voice. It was to be the second last time I would see that smile. I helped her to her feet but she couldn't walk. I tried to get her to lie down and she couldn't manage that either. 'This is it!' I remembered saying to myself.

"The vet said I was to bring her in immediately. They would be waiting. She stood on the examination table, afraid, her tail between her legs, frightened by the tricks her mind was playing on her. The vet said she had had a serious stroke, but that there was a 50-50 chance for a recovery.

"I phoned each day to see if there was any progress. There was none. She was surviving, but her condition would not improve. There was too much damage. I struggled to utter the words I had dreaded so long. My voice quaked with emotion. 'Would you put her down . . . . please?'

"The vet, I'm convinced, had grown to love her, too. He felt badly. 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' I heard him say as I hung up the phone. I wanted to thank him for all the gentle and loving care he had given her, but I could speak no more. I buried my face in my hands. The tears were warm on my cheeks. I was thankful I was alone in the office right then.

"Some three or four weeks later, I saw Ginger again. It was like a dream or a visitation. It was so real, I felt I could have reached out and stroked her head. It was over in a moment. She simply appeared before me, sitting there looking deeply into my eyes. She was perky and healthy. It was as if she had come back to tell me she knew, she understood, she was in canine heaven and everything was all right. She smiled. She was beautiful. But then, Ginger was like that."

Contributed by F. E. Richman, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.


"I loved this wonderful dog more than I could ever explain. He was so very beautiful and had the shiniest, slickest coat of any dog that I had ever seen. I bought him as a puppy and named him 'Tristan' after the veterinarian in the James Herriot books.

"Tristan was my best friend. He would greet me at the door when I came home and cover me with kisses. He swam in our pool with us, slept with us, and was one of our family. He wasn't a brave dog, though. He always needed me to protect him from anything strange. He wouldn't dare get near a box or shopping bag that I brought home until I showed him that he was safe. Oh, how I loved him!

"When he was three years old, he developed symptoms of torsion. I rushed him to the veterinarian, who discoverd a mass of some kind in his abdomen. Tristan had chewed on a shoe a few days earlier, and we thought that the x-ray was most likely showing a piece of leather. The doctor scheduled surgery for the next morning.

"Just before the surgery, I brought Tristan his favorite toy, his feather bed that he liked to nap on, and a coat that had my scent on it -- to make him feel a little less scared. I crawled into the big cage with him and held him until time for his surgery.

"It wasn't more than a few minutes after the surgery had begun that the doctor came out to talk to me. He told me that Tristan was full of cancer and probably wouldn't live longer than a couple of weeks. He asked me what I wanted to do.

"OH, GOD! WHY, GOD?! How could this be happening? I didn't want Tristan to live out his last few days in pain. I could not bear to see him suffer.

"I told the doctor to euthanize him. Even as I spoke them, I couldn't believe that I was saying those words. The doctor asked me if I wanted to wake him so I could spend some time with him before he was 'put to sleep.' NO, NO!! I did NOT want him to go through euthanasia while he was alert enough to be frightened all over again. I could not bear to see the life go out of him. I told the doctor to euthanize him while he was still under anesthesia. He let me go into the operating room to see him first. I laid across the table and held him, kissed him and cried for my friend. I cried for myself, too -- for the intense loss that I already felt.

"My husband had to drag me away from him. We went to the parking lot and waited until they brought his lifeless body to us. We took him home, and, while my husband dug his grave, I brushed him, wrapped him in a sleeping bag, and laid him on his feather bed. We buried him with his favorite toys, leash, and bowl.

"I planted 'forget-me-not's' on his grave in the spring, and then I called the breeder from whom I had bought Tristan. That was how I found 'Toby,' who has a bit of Tristan in him. He is a wonderful dog. He looks a little like Tristan, but he is beautiful in his own way. I don't compare the two. It is nice, though, to have Tristan's 'brother.' Toby has lived with us since December 1992. We love him very much. He is also afraid of everything, just as Tristan was. There will never be another Tristan, though. He took a BIG piece of my heart with him when he died.

"This tribute is for you,Tris. I love you and miss you. You will live on in my heart forever."

Contributed by Norma Clark, Alkol, WV


"I had the very sad experience on November 29, 1997, of having to put down my first dog. My Casey was a beautiful German Shepherd -- a big, handsome male with a wonderful, sweet temperament who loved everyone. He was plagued with health problems, however, being diagnosed with hip dysplasia and spondylosis at the age of 2. Even so, he did very well, and loved to run and play ball and go cross-country-skiing with me, until he was six, when he had a major stroke and almost died. Eventually, he made a full recovery (you should not give up on your dogs who have had strokes!), and was able to make it almost to the age of 12. His birthday would have been New Year's Eve.

"In the past few years, he had some difficulty walking, but with the help of medication, and I expect his own stoic nature, he soldiered on, right up until the end. His right hind leg was the worse one, and for some time he had used his good leg to help support his hind end. On Friday, November 28, the good leg finally gave out. If his hind end had not given out completely, so that he could not move about at all without help, then I would have probably tried to prolong things. He did not seemto be in pain, only embarrassed and confused. I was very fortunate in that, even though he was totally deaf, he was still 'there,' and I spent his last few hours holding him and giving him his favourite treats, which he ate with gusto. I really do think that it was good to help him leave while he was still 'having a good time' ......the mind was willing, but the body just couldn't do it anymore.

"Since he was always terrified of vet clinics, we arranged to put him to sleep at home. I had always sworn that I would do that for him. I'm glad I could be with him to the end....although it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life.

"Our house is very empty without him. I have a second senior, Casey's younger half-sister, Tia, who was 11 on December 12. She seems so small and lost without her big brother. Unfortunately, in October she was diagnosed with bladder cancer....and so I am turning all my energy to nursing her and hoping that some of the alternative medicine we are trying might make some difference. Contributed by Carol Marsh, in memory of Casey.

Shortly after Casey died, Tia followed him. Dealing with the death of a second dog so soon after Casey, Carol Marsh wrote:


"My grief over Casey has been compounded by the loss of my 11-year-old female, Tia. She had bladder cancer. I found a wonderful doctor here in Ottawa who is an allopathic vet, but also practices alternative medicine. As he told me, he does whatever works. We started treatment and were rewarded with evidence of the tumour shrinking.

"However, recently Tia started to go downhill, and, in the end, I had to do the kindest thing for her and let her go. It's ironic, though, that an examination showed that the cancer was practically neglible, but it was her kidneys that were failing. She was 'still on her feet' though, and, on her last day, which was gorgeous and sunny, I took her for a last walk on one of our favourite trails. She was able to chase her ball, which she loved so much to do. I am very glad that I could do that for her.

"My vet is a very compassionate and kind man and he helped me immensely to deal with her passing. I wish that all people could have someone like him to be with them and their pets at the end. It made a tremendous difference to me. They certainly don't live long enough, these wonderful creatures of ours...but then I guess there isn't any 'long enough' anyway.

"Tia was very depressed after Casey died, and a very kind breeder offered me a lovely 2-year-old female, Carly. I took her on condition that she would go back if it became a problem for Tia. But it didn't, and I am so glad that Carly was there to keep Tia company in her last month or so. Tia couldn't play much with her, but Carly was very respectful of my ailing old girl. I am thankful that I have Carly now; she has been a great comfort to me, and because she is an especially cuddly and affectionate dog, I am getting lots of 'hugs' from her. It all helps."

Contributed by Carol Marsh.