Family matters · Religion & Spirituality

A Dignified Death For Man And Man’s Best Friend

Our dog Barnabus was dying.

Miss you, Barnabus. You’re a good boy.

My wife and I both knew it, though we didn’t want to say it aloud. We’d been involved with animal rescue for many years, and we knew what the final stages of a pet’s life looked like: the loss of appetite, the incontinence, the restless wandering. No matter how Barney stood, lay, or sat, he couldn’t seem to get comfortable.

Barney was the fifth dog we needed to put to sleep. My wife and I aren’t serial killers…we often adopt elderly dogs and they sometimes don’t remain in our family as long as we’d like them to. Euthanizing a pet doesn’t get easier the more you do it, but it gets easier to recognize when the end is near. We waited too long three of the four times we needed to do this before. We knew our pets were sick and suffering, but we didn’t want to say goodbye.

From Homeless To Our House

Barney was with us for nine years. We adopted him from the Jersey City animal shelter when our son was only three months old. We saw a beagle on the Jersey City shelter’s web site that we wanted to adopt. But when we got to the shelter, we found the beagle had already been euthanized. We asked who was next to go, and were directed to a skin-and-bones shepherd mix crammed in a tiny cage.

“He’s been here ten days. His time is up.”

A few minutes later Barney was riding in the backseat of our Geo Prism, on his way to a new home. For the next nine years, he was one of the most faithful, most loyal, most loving dogs we ever lived with. He was gentle with our kids, protective of our home, and tolerant of the other dogs that came to visit (and stay!) It didn’t take Barney long to learn that this was his home, too, his kids, his family.

We never knew Barney’s exact age. He was at least three or four years old when we adopted him. The last few years he was on arthritis medicine. He struggled so much getting up and down the steps to the back yard the last two winters, I wasn’t sure he’d make it to spring. But he did.

Except this spring Barney started having intense seizures. He had several over the course of a week, but then they stopped for more than a month. We hoped we were in the clear, but then they started again, worse than ever. We seemed to lose a little bit of Barney with each seizure – it took him longer to regain his composure after an attack, and he remained disoriented and confused after his last serious seizure.

Goodbye, Barney … Goodbye, Jack … 

We decided to put Barney to sleep on June 3, the same day that Dr. Jack Kevorkian died. The irony was not lost on my wife and I.

Kevorkian, aka “Dr Death”, pioneered the right to die for terminally ill humans. He is reported to have helped more than 130 patients take their own lives, and is the inventor of the Thanatron (Death Machine) device, which can kill a patient by injecting a mix of chemicals in to the bloodstream, and the Merictron (Mery Machine) which causes death through inhalation of carbon monoxide.

Dying to read this!

A strong advocate of “right-to-die” legislation, Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 for helping a late-stage ALS patient take his own life. Kevorkian was paroled in 2007, and continued to be an advocate for patient’s rights until his death.

Barney brought joy and love into our family for nearly a decade. The last loving gift I could grant him was to end his suffering, and let him go gently into that good night. How sad that I could give this gift of peace to my dog, but not my father when he was suffering from the final stages of cancer 15 years ago.

Kevorkian was famously quoted as saying “dying is not a crime.” Maybe forcing a dying person to live in pain and suffering should be. If so, our government would be guilty a million times over.

This Is The End, Beautiful Friend

Barney had another seizure in the waiting room of the vet’s office. The doctor helped me carry him into the examining room, and gave Barney a shot of valium to stop the seizure. We discussed it for a few minutes, but the vet didn’t disagree with my decision. Clusters of seizures, coupled with Barney’s other behavioral changes, pointed to a probable brain tumor. The doctor put another needle into Barney’s arm, and before he had even finished injecting all of the pink fluid, Barney was gone, resting in peace.

I walked out to the waiting room a few minutes later carrying Barney’s collar and leash. A girl waiting with her cat took one look at me and started crying. I felt strangely apologetic. I’m sorry my dying dog bummed everybody out. He didn’t mean it. He was a good dog – a great dog — and this was really the best option, an option that should be available for man and beast alike.

Good night, Dr. Kevorkian. Thanks for teaching us all about dying with dignity.

Good night, Barnabus. Thank you for teaching me how to live with grace and appreciation.


Originally published in Wayne TODAY, July 2011

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