A few weeks ago I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. Having my Border Collie Harry put to sleep was essentially the same thing as having to say goodbye to my best friend forever. I’ve written about Harry before. He was a shelter dog who had been through two different homes before his first birthday because none of the other people who adopted him could handle his high energy.
My wife and I adopted Harry when he was just over a year old and he was definitely a handful at first. But we found that agility training helped give him something to focus on and provided an outlet for him to work off some of that extra energy he always seemed to have. Harry and I started doing agility training together right around the time that I started running, so he basically became my first workout partner. He did so well that after a while we started entering competitions. We won a bunch of ribbons, which is cool, but the main thing about doing agility with Harry is that it was fun for us to be able to run and train together.
Harry became a great dog in other areas of my life too. When my daughter Sara was learning to walk, he would watch her make sure she didn’t go anywhere she wasn’t supposed to go. We went on road trips together (Harry got to travel to 12 different states). He watched the bonfires we had in our back yard and let us know if he thought they were getting too big. He played with Sara’s friends when they came over and was always happy to have visitors. People from all over our neighborhood knew who he was and would stop and say hi to him while he was out on his walks.
Harry lived to be 15 1/2 years old. Right up until his last few weeks, people would still tell me that they couldn’t believe how old he was. Even though his legs were a little stiff, he still liked to run and play in the back yard and he never missed a chance to bark at the mailman or another dog that was walking down the street past our house. I’ve always said that the reason he was in such good shape when he was older was because he was an athlete when he was younger.
Harry’s age did start to catch up with him a little bit during his last few months. He was diagnosed with diabetes right after Christmas last year and we had to give him insulin shots twice a day. I spent a lot of time with Harry making sure he didn’t have any problems getting up and down the stairs when he needed to go outside after his legs started to get stiff. I also cooked chicken and eggs for him to make sure he had a full stomach when he got his insulin. I started to really enjoy those last few months because I spent so much time with Harry that it reminded me of the days when we used to do agility training and were always running together.
Everyone in our family knew Harry was starting to show his age but we didn’t expect the end to come so quickly. One day in the middle of the day, Harry started bleeding from what I thought was his mouth. I took him to the vet thinking that he maybe had a gum infection or a broken tooth. It turned out that the bleeding was actually coming from the back of his nose and the blood was dripping down into his mouth and throat. It was caused by a tumor that was not only inoperable but was spreading aggressively.
Our vet said that it was only going to be a matter of time before the tumor spread to Harry’s brain, if it hadn’t started to already. When it spread far enough, he would start to have seizures and a number of other complications. I brought Harry home and told my family the news. We decided that after all of the good times that Harry gave us and all of the happy, healthy years he had, we didn’t want him to suffer.
We made sure that Harry really enjoyed his last few days. He got lots of hugs and back scratches and he got to eat all of the things he wasn’t supposed to be eating because of his diabetes (all the bacon and peanut butter in the world!) He seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself and that made me happy.
I checked with the vet one last time and she assured me that there was no other possible diagnosis and nothing they could do. I stayed with Harry until the end and scratched behind his ears and thanked him for being so brave and always being such a good boy for so many years during his last few moments.
I picked up Harry’s ashes a few days ago. My house still feels really empty without him and I’d give anything to be able to pet him one more time. I like to picture Harry running around in a big green field full of agility equipment with his legs feeling good as new. I also like to think that one day we’ll be able to run together again.
Before I end this post, I want to add a couple more notes:
If you ever have a dog that bleeds from the nose or mouth, make sure to see your vet right away. In Harry’s case, there was nothing we could have done because of his age. He would have had to undergo radiation therapy and chemo,and with him being over 15 years old, the treatment itself would have been harder on his body and more painful than the actual tumor (not to mention the fact that there was no guarantee that it would work… and even if it did, it most likely would have only extended his life by a couple months). Younger dogs can get through a treatment like that a lot more easily though.
Bloody noses in dogs can also be caused by different types of autoimmune diseases that can usually be treated with medication as long as they’re caught early enough. The key is that the sooner you find the cause, the more treatment options you’ll have. Even if it turns out to be something that isn’t treatable, at least you’ll know and you’ll be able to make a decision that will keep your pet from suffering. As hard as it was with Harry, I’m glad that he got to go out on a high note and that everyone who knew him will get to remember him as the happy, strong, active dog that he always was.