As I was checking out I noticed a young boy coming out of the grooming department. He was probably around ten to twelve years old and was coaxing along his beautiful senior golden retriever through the doorway behind him. The dog appeared happy to have just gotten a good bathe and brush. As I saw the dog come out of the door, he suddenly collapsed his back legs on to the ground and struggled to follow his owner. I stopped checking out, stopped pressing all of the “yes, no, more cash back” buttons, and watched the dog, my heart in my throat, trying to quickly make sense of what I was seeing.
As the dog continued to try to follow his master, his back legs could not hold him up for longer than a split second and he continually scrambled to get up. Eventually, he gave up on his back legs and just drug them behind. The young boy turned and sweetly encouraged his dog to make it to the door. I quickly finished my checkout and hurried over, scraping my brain over how I could help. The pair had stopped at the door, waiting for their adult, I assumed.
Unsure of what to say but knowing I couldn't look past this situation; I stopped to pet the dog. He looked up at me, panting and out of breath from dragging his legs and seemingly smiling (or was that just the panting face?). He seemed content. The boy jumped right in, "His name is Phineas, he is ten years old. A purebred, so, y’know, he's got bad hips..." Still stunned, I struggled for words. Best I can recall, I replied something to the effect of "Well, he is a sweet dog!” and I made my way out as a swarm of people seemed to push me into the flow of traffic out the door. Everyone else seemed to look past the pair.
As I got in my car I sat for a minute to process my thoughts, and figure out why I felt so sad. Why did no one else seem to care? Will this happen to my dog, who is inevitably going to have hip problems? I had always figured he would be miserable when his hips gave out and it would be his time, but this dog didn't look miserable. Had they considered euthanasia? Phineas and his boy probably grew up together. Maybe the parents didn't have the heart to put him down?
I was once told that there are three days of pet ownership you will remember best; the day you bring home your new fuzz ball, the day you realize that he is graying in the face, slowing down and getting old, and the day he dies.
As pet owners, we have the ability to determine when our pet is having more bad days than good and make a tough decision, but will we be able to make that choice? If I opt to euthanize my dog when his hips go completely out, will I always miss those few more days I could have had to show him he is loved and will I regret my choice? If I choose not to euthanize him, will I, in the end, wonder if he suffered too much and if it was selfish of me to keep him here even though he was miserable? I don't think I am the only pet owner out here who has these thoughts. More accurately, I don't think I am the only one out here trying desperately to avoid these thoughts.
When is it time?