Some readers might not know much about Thorp, so let me briefly explain. In 2008, I was a reporter at an Amish dog auction interviewing the protestors. They advised me that if I wanted to understand why they were protesting, I should walk in the barn and see everything for myself.
Completely unaware of what I would see, I walked in and immediately my heart sank and tears welled up in my eyes. In front of me were hundreds of dogs, completely neglected, so afraid, so broken. Each of them up for auction to the highest bidder – most of whom were puppy millers.
I made my way to every single cage and grew more upset as I looked into the eyes of almost every dog. When I came to #171, something in my heart and soul spoke to me. He was the oldest dog at the auction and was in horrifying shape. Without any explanation, I knew I would be taking him home.
I sat through the entire auction lasting over 3 hours. When #171 came up for bid near the end, no one really was interested and I bought him for $65.
I had absolutely no clue what I had done, but I knew I would tell his story as the protestors had also advised, “If you go in and end up buying a dog – make sure you tell his story.”
In those agonizing auction hours – I had decided without reservation – that I would buy this dog and I would tell his story.
Well, four years ago, Bark Until Heard was published and Thorp’s story was available for everyone to read.
His story tells of his rehabilitation. See the day I brought him home, I quickly realized he was unlike any dog I had ever had or fostered or cared for at the county shelter. He was afraid of everything. He didn’t understand stairs, door ways, grass, toys, and certainly didn’t trust the human hand. He was the most broken dog I had met (at that point in my life)
It took months and lots of training and patience and love to get Thorp to become a “normal” dog and eventually he became a certified therapy dog who worked with emotionally and behaviorally challenged kids.
In short, Thorp was the dog who changed my entire life. He gave me purpose. He ignited my passion to make a difference. March 12, 2008 will be a day that I never forget. The day I took home the sickest, dirtiest, most scared dog I ever met. It is a day that altered my life goals.
So, flash forward 11 plus years and today Thorp is 16. The last year has really aged him. He shakes a lot. He is completely deaf. He has grown uncertain of the world around him. He pees a lot of the time – anywhere he wants. He often seems confused about his surroundings.
However, he also has moments where he sprints across the yard like a puppy. He rolls around the sofa and pushes all the pillows off like he is playing. He still walks well on a leash and appears excited for walks.
But, as I look into his eyes, I see an emptiness. I see a distance. Sometimes, I think see pain.
Physically, as far as the vet is concerned, there is nothing specifically wrong with Thorp. He has cataracts. He has weird moles. But, no real illnesses or injuries.
However, how do I fairly assess his mental state? When he looks at me and seems confused. When he stands up on the sofa and pees. When he appears lost in a corner and just shakes. When I go to help him on the bed and sofa and he just grimaces in pain.
He eats and drinks normally. He barks and then he also barks at what seems like just wind.
How on Earth do I know when the time is right, if he can’t tell me?
I have had other dogs (and cats) I have had to decide to humanely euthanize because of age and illness. While I loved them all so much, Thorp feels much differently. I feel like I owe him something. His presence has made my heart whole, made my soul find purpose. I cannot get this decision wrong.
And so I ask my dearest animal loving friends – what do I look for? And what are things I might not be seeing, but are already right in front of me?
There are days I worry that his dementia will take him back to the neglectful, awful days of the puppy mill. That when he wakes up scared and unsure, it is because he wakes up thinking he is back there.
I don’t want his last days to be any reminder of the hell he endured for nearly five years. I want him to remember being loved by me, by our family and friends and by all the children he worked with.
I want him to die in peace not live in any kind of agony. I worry I am being selfish keeping him alive and then I worry I am selfish for putting him down.
Part of me wishes he had cancer or some awful illness, so the decision would be simpler. Doggy dementia is tough. It is also tough to live with. When your dog doesn’t always recognize where he is, when he shakes laying next to you, when he pees on the floor as he looks right at you.
I admit a part of me has just avoided confronting the decision. We have three other dogs and two cats and it is easy to focus my attention elsewhere. To be honest, as I proofread blog this aloud to myself, tears are streaming down my face. My heart is breaking just considering the thought of any of it.
I know we don’t get to keep dogs forever. But, just when and how do we decide that the time we have with them has come to an end? How do I decide if this is the last chapter?