The Heartbreak of Elderly Pets

This is Gracie. This photo was taken on February 23, 2018, the day before my 36th birthday. She was so sick in this picture, and we were on the way to the vet for what I was convinced would be her last visit; I thought sure they’d tell me it was time to put her down. So I stopped and got her a vanilla ice cream cone, one of her very favorite things. Before I had kids, she and I used to get in my car and go for drives and stop for ice cream together. It seemed a fitting send-off.

Imagine my shame and embarrassment when the vet told me she has diabetes and I had just loaded her up on very non-dog-appropriate sugary treats. Thankfully, I have a very understanding vet. From that day in February, we began a routine of twice-a-day insulin shots, a strict diet, and emotional ups and downs. If I’m honest, it’s exhausting sometimes, but you trudge along–that’s just what you do for  a dear old friend (even if they are of the 4-legged variety).

I adopted Gracie in early 2007 when I was living in Nashville. She came from a rescue where she had been fostered after having been seized by animal control from her prior owners. I didn’t get all the details, but from the little they told me, it sounded like she came from a pretty awful situation. We weren’t exactly sure of her age, but they guessed around two when I brought her home.

I lived in Tennessee till 2010, and Gracie was my constant companion there. I was so homesick, and she was always there to snuggle and comfort me. 

Gracie has moved with me 7 times in the last 11 years. She’s traveled with me over thousands of miles, always riding shotgun by my side. She has put up with living with other dogs and cats and she even adapted to having babies and bigger kids in the house. She’s the most gentle, tolerant dog ever. She is a special, special dog. 

At her most recent checkup with our vet, our vet found a mass adjacent to her liver. With her continued weight loss, it’s very likely cancerous. We talked about options; we could do an ultrasound and possibly a biopsy. If it’s cancer, that would mean chemotherapy. If it was non-cancerous, it would likely mean surgical removal of the mass. At her advanced age and with all her other health issues, Gracie isn’t a good candidate for chemo or surgery.

We talked over the options and decided to continue her insulin, treat her with antibiotics for a UTI she’s dealing with right now, and follow up again in two weeks. She’s not in pain. She has a good quality of life. She may be insulin-dependant and mostly blind due to cataracts, but it doesn’t seem to slow her down much. 

It breaks my heart to think I may only have a few more weeks or months with my girl. She’s been a constant in my chaotic life over the last decade. I know on one of these follow-up appointments, it will likely be time to let her go. But for today, we live in the moment and we’ll love on her and snuggle her every chance we can. 

Amanda lives with her family on a little red farmstead in northwestern Pennsylvania. By day she's a web developer specializing in WordPress and in her off time she enjoys working with goats and other livestock on the farm, canning, knitting, and crocheting.