Trying to define the “Quality of Life”

This photo is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Last week, Jer and I traveled to Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Book Festival, then down to New Orleans for Halloween. Our recent college grad daughter Eliza is back home, and she babysat Pogo, our sixteen-year-old chihuahua mix rescue.

Pogo has been on a bit of a downward slide over the last year. In September of 2021, he jumped off the bed and tore something in his rear hind leg. Since he was 15, surgery was a scary proposition, made worse by a two-and-a-half-month recuperation where he would have to be crated the entire time, only taken out to relieve himself. This is a dog who sleeps under the covers with us! Rather than risk trauma and a dangerous operation, we cradled him for a couple of months, either carrying him or pushing him in a doggy stroller. That plus medication helped him through the injury and he was back to his old, entertaining self.

But then he began losing his sight. And his hearing. Suddenly, our confident little fella became insecure. He paces the house and due to his poor eyesight, often winds up in odd places he can’t extricate himself from – like the narrow space between the fridge and the wall in this photo, a space we’ve now blocked off. Even worse for those caring for him, he’s taken to howling like a banshee for hours on end if I’m not around.

We’ve tried anti-depressants, sedatives, and heavy doses of extra love to counter his severe separation anxiety. Nothing seems to work except extra sedation. He’s also teetering on the edge of total incontinence. I can take him out ten times and the eleventh will be the time he has an accident in the house. He won’t wear doggy diapers, so we play nursemaids to him, cleaning up after each accident.

I love this dog like I birthed him myself – which is how I felt about our previous pooches, Wiley and Lucy, who was immortalized on all my Cajun Country Mystery covers.

Veterinarians offer something called a Quality-of-Life appointment. It’s where they help you determine whether it’s time for your beloved furbaby to cross the rainbow bridge. There was a false alarm with Lucy where I thought it might be her time. Agonizing over the decision, I called the vet, who told me with brutal honesty, “At some point you have to decide, are you keeping her alive for her or you?” Luckily, Lucy rallied and graced us with her basset presence for another year. In Wiley’s case, it was the exact opposite. He had some kind of a stroke and began frantically running around in circles. There was no question of quality of life. We wept buckets as we held our Wiley for his final moments.

With Pogo, I’m not at the point where I can give the vet’s question a definitive answer. He is definitely in decline. The dreaded bridge looms. Still, I can’t help but feel it’s still at least a bit of a ways down the road, even as I extricate him from the curtain where he’s gotten tangled up. All it takes is a nuzzle from him to confirm I’ll be playing nursemaid to the little guy until the very last possible moment.

I don’t want to think about the quality of my life without him.

Readers, any advice on how we can mitigate Pogo’s separation anxiety?

52 thoughts on “Trying to define the “Quality of Life”

  1. don’t know much about dogs. I have a 17 year old cat that I notice is not her active self but she sure knows when it’s time to eat. I too dread the time we have to make the decision. She is my little princess and I’m the one she comes to when she wants to be petted or wants her treats.

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  2. So very sorry for all the ups and downs, El, but you always come up with the perfect solutions. I know you and Pogo will continue to adapt and hang in together!

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  3. I am so sorry you and Pogo are going through this. We had 2 Siamese cats from 11 weeks of age until they were almost 20. They were littermates and extremely bonded to us and to each other. The bigger one was HUGE 27 inches long and 25 pounds. At 18 his back legs started giving out and I had to carry him to his litter box, and it got to where I had to call the vet to help him over the bridge. His brother walked the halls crying, looking for his brother. I thought it would stop after a couple of weeks, but all I could do was hold and cuddle him. Thankfully, we were retired and it was during the pandemic so we were not going much of anywhere. At 19 1/2 he got very feeble and was breathing heavy. We made the decision again to call the vet. It is the hardest thing to do, but also the most loving. I will be thinking of you and Pogo.

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    1. Carol! We went through that with our childhood dogs. They were brother and sister. When the girl died, the boy’s personality completely changed. I don’t think he ever got over it.


  4. Oh, Ellen, I’m so sorry. It’s the hardest decision. We’re in a similar stage with our almost-20-year-old cat. We got kittens two years ago thinking our dear old guy was on the way out then and we couldn’t bear the quiet house without him. It’ll still be devastating. Hugs to you all and especially darling Pogo.

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  5. Oh Ellen, I’m so sorry. I’m not far behind you with my sweet Arthur. He is losing his sight and hearing and barking at nothing but we are doing our best to make his life as wonderful as we can. It sounds like Pogo is as lucky to have you as you are to have him.

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  6. Well, we connect again with our love of dogs. So, add that to the NOLA and books list. Texie goes with us to NOLA every time we go as did the previous pup Needa. We always stay at the Best Western plus St Charles Inn as they take pets and have free parking. I too cannot give you a solution to the separation anxiety problem and it may be that there is none at this point in his life. Maybe a thunder shirt.

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    1. Madeleine…. we just stayed there!! The St. Charles Inn! It’s not a Best Western Plus anymore. It’s now a “Superior Inn.” The group behind Superior Grill and Seafood bought it. It’s our favorite place to stay too! For all the reasons you mentioned.

      We have a thunder shirt. I’ll have to try using it again. Thanks for the reminder. I wish we could take Pogo with us. But he doesn’t travel well, I’m afraid. I can’t imagine getting him on a plane!


      1. Well, I hadn’t looked in a long time at the St. Charles Inn. They said they were thinking about not being a Best Western. I wonder if the same staff are still there. They really took care of us. I wouldn’t fly my dog either and we can drive to NOLA in 7 hours. It is interesting that you all stay there also.


  7. It’s definitely the hardest part of being a pet mom or dad. You ask yourself, “Am I doing what’s best for my beloved pooch? How can I know for sure?”

    Well, you can’t. With our last dog, Rosie, we waited until she couldn’t stand up by herself and kept falling down onto her own pee and poop. We probably waited too long. But everyone kept saying, “As long as she’s still eating, she’s probably okay.” Problem was, she LOVED food, and gobbled it down greedily till her very last day. On which I made her a special meal of simmered fish and vegetables. So at least she died full and happy.

    But remember that what makes death so hard and scary for us humans is that we know about it and fear it. Dogs, however, don’t know or fear death. So for them, it truly is like simply falling asleep. It’s not hard for them; it’s hard for us.

    I feel for you, El. Sending hugs to you and Pogo and the rest of the family.

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  8. There is no pain like it. We areresponsible for their care, but we can’t explain what we’re doing.

    My rule of thumb is when they are no longer happy or comfortable being a dog, it is time.

    They will suffer anything to be with us, such is their devotion. We can show ours by not letting them endure that suffering.

    My cousins the horse trainer and the vet tech have a mantra “sometimes the pink juice is the kindest thing. But it’s never easy.”

    And the grief is real. they leave such huge holes behind when they go. The best we can do is to fill the hole as they did, with unconditional love.

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  9. It’s such a hard decision. The cat I had to put down two years ago told me it was time when he stopped eating. My girl cats are getting older now too. One is on daily medication, and the other had been losing weight (it has stabilized for now) and taken to crying for seemingly no reason at times. Her bloodwork didn’t show anything wrong, but I’m always wondering how she’s feeling.

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  10. Oh, El, I feel for you. Hugs to you, your family, and precious Pogo.

    (Don’t know if I have any good advice on separation anxiety, but maybe items with your scent or recordings of you or something? That sometimes helped with my kids when they were younger.)

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  11. Oh, Ellen, it’s so hard! For me, it’s always been if something happened that they couldn’t recover from (stroke, etc.) or when they stop eating.

    Let me share something with you though. They are not really gone. They are waiting for you. I died in 1992 – crash cart, the whole nine yards – heard the surgeon and operating room staff…when I got to the other side, my much loved critters were all there. How do I know this isn’t some electrical storm? My aunt was also there. I’d spoken to her before I went into the hospital. She’d died suddenly the morning of my surgery.

    Hugs, and be at peace.

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  12. Gosh, that’s a hard call, Ellen. With my last dog, I took her in for the “good-bye” appointment (cognitive decline, arthritis, unhappy look), she rallied, received more meds, and I took her home. Two weeks later she couldn’t get up. With help (big dog), I took her in and said good-bye.
    What do you want his last experiences to be like? Best with this decision.

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  13. Ellen, this is always a difficult decision. My heart goes out to you. My toy poodle Lucy was only 11 but she had heart issues and I knew she could go at any time, although she looked and acted just fine. The day she was having trouble breathing my sister rushed us to the emergency veterinary hospital. Although it was a short ride she was so gray I wasn’t sure she would even make it there. We talked about the cost and how far they should go to save her. Well, she rallied, and was seeming to do every well, but then took a turn for the worse the next day. The vet said there wasn’t anything more they could do for her. So I went from low to high to low in 2 days time. I knew I had done absolutely everything I could for her. I decided it was best to let her cross the Rainbow Bridge. I held her as she slipped from this life into the next. Thank God my sister was there with me.

    I think you have tried everything you possibly can to help Pogo. If the Thundershirt doesn’t help I don’t know what else to try. When you decide it’s time I would recommend using some essential oils to help you remain calm if you find such a thing soothing or helpful at all.

    I am so sorry you are going through this. Furbabies are family and their deaths leave a hole in our lives every bit as much as any other family member.

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  14. Because of allergies I haven’t had pets since childhood, but I remember how tough it was to make a decision when the time came. Hugs for the family and Pogo. I think you will know when the time is right.

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  15. Ellen, have you tried a thundershirt? Also, the only thing that calmed Buster’s anxieties when fireworks went off was something called ProQuiet. He went from drooling mess in the bathtub to occasionally woofing. You can get it on Amazon, but you’ll need to check with your vet for his size and if he’s on other meds. It contains tryptophane, if I remember correctly.

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  16. Oh, El, I’m so sorry this is such a tough time for you and Pogo. You love him and I believe your heart will know when it’s time to let him go, for his sake. Big hugs, sweetie.❤️

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  17. My heart goes out to you and Pogo. 16 years ago, we adopted (or rather a mama cat had a litter on our property and my hubby was too soft hearted to take them to a shelter) six kittens and one mama. In the past three years, we’ve lost all but one. It’s been heartbreaking, but I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it. Even with the health problems and finding surprises in inappropriate places, they were a joy, and we are treasuring every minute we have with Romo.

    I know Pogo is very much loved. My niece works with dogs and suggested he might feel more secure in a crate when you have to leave. It would be a familiar space with no scary halls or corners.

    Sending lots of love to you and Pogo.

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