By Kim Campbell Thornton
March 4, 2010
When Bella turned 14 in January, I was hopeful yet cautious. She has clearly slowed down over the past year, spending the majority of her time sleeping under my desk but still eating enthusiastically, going out for short walks and going up the stairs on her own if I didn’t immediately whisk her up in my arms. I thought she was stable enough that I felt comfortable–mostly–going on vacation and leaving her with her breeder in a home she had known all her life.
But the change, I fear, was enough to tip her over the edge. We came back to a dog who was depressed with little appetite. That’s the one thing that really scares me when it happens with my girls, because they all love to eat, Bella especially. She hasn’t lost weight, but she will soon if we can’t get her appetite back. We’ve increased her dose of lasix, a diuretic, and added pimobendan, which often has a salutary effect on appetite, as well as various heart benefits. And, of course, she’s getting any delicious tidbits that I think might tempt her taste buds. They may help for a while, but I’m not kidding myself that we have months together still. Right now I’ll be grateful if we have weeks.
And in this twilight of Bella’s life, I’ll be asking myself that most difficult of questions: When? When is the right time to let her go? I’ve made the decision so many times and written about it so many times and I still don’t know the answer. I know all the quality-of-life questions to ask myself and I’m still not sure if we’re there yet. Or if she is but I’m not.
Susan Little, DVM, president of the Winn Feline Foundation, says quality of life is degraded when pets have more bad days than good, when they stop interacting with their owners, or when medical problems can’t be controlled or are too burdensome. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it’s hard to tell with Bella. She’s like me: she doesn’t say much and she’s mostly stoic about discomfort, with the exception of having her ears combed out.
I thought it might be easier with a 14-year-old dog. I don’t know why I thought that because it wasn’t easy with a 13-year-old dog or a 15-year-old cat or a 19-year-old cat. I have to go now. For the first time in her life, Bella is making me cry.
Portrait of Bella by Terry Albert.