Being prepared when ‘Momma’ is ready to go

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By Melissa Blankenship

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my dogs as if they were my children.

Troy and I have owned dogs all our lives and have rarely been without at least one dog at home to greet us after a long day’s work. Being a pet owner is one of the joys in my life, but it can also bring heartbreak.

More than likely, if you’ve owned a dog you’ve experienced its passing. Our four-legged friends can sometimes live very long and full lives, but realistically you will outlive most of your pets. Over the years, we’ve been faced with making the decision for our older dogs as to when it’s time for them to leave this world. It’s an inevitable part of being a responsible pet owner, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

This past Friday, I had to make the call to the vet to euthanize our dog, Momma. Momma earned her name when as a stray she decided that our front porch would be the perfect place to have a litter of puppies. I was determined not to get attached to any of the pups or their mother as we already had two house dogs, one coonhound and several beagles at the time. So when the pups were weaned I put an ad in the paper to give them away and simply referred to their mother as the “momma dog.”

The puppies all found good homes, but nobody wanted Momma. So we had her spayed (no more pups under the porch for us) and she became ours. Momma is one of those little-bit-of-everything mixed breed dogs. She has ears like a Corgi, markings like a Rottweiler and Australian cattledog tendencies. There must be some kind of terrier in her lineage, as well, as she has that terrier smile and twinkle in her eyes that says she’s up for anything.

Momma loved to lay in the sunshine and get her belly rubbed. She earned the nickname “fast dog” in her youth by chasing the cars up our little country road for a short distance at breakneck speed when we left the house. She relished in dragging some piece of carcass into the yard to roll in and chew on – deer season was a happy time for her. She hated to wear a collar and refused to be washed. She loved to go on walks with us.

Over the years, Momma slowed down. Our best guess is that she is between 17 and 19 years old. Over the past six months, her health began to deteriorate as her age began to catch up with her. However, she did not appear to be in any pain, continued to have a healthy appetite and was still tooling around the house and the woods out back. She’d walk down the driveway with us to feed the cattle and climbed the front porch stairs each night to sleep in her recliner.

But last week, something changed.

Momma appeared to be weaker than ever. She ate a little, but not all of her food. Thursday morning she appeared to be disoriented and looked past me as I talked to her and checked on her. As we have been doing on these cold days and nights, Troy brought her into the basement and tucked her into corner with pillows and a blanket. I went down before bed to check on her. That’s when I knew it was time.

I sat down next to Momma on the basement floor and stroked her head, talking to her in a soft voice. I’m fairly sure she can’t really hear much anymore, but she seemed to respond. She looked up directly into my face and the cloudy veil on her eyes lifted somewhat, and I saw that her terrier twinkle had been replaced with what I can only describe as a plea. In a very loving way, Momma was letting me know that it was her time.

Dog owners who have been through this will understand it. I’m sure it’s a similar experience for us all. We worry so much about knowing when that time is when our dogs, in their unconditional love for us, usually let us know when they are ready so we can be assured we are making the right choice for them. No pet owner wants their beloved animals to suffer, but in our own selfishness we want to keep our pets with us as long as possible. We have a hard time letting go of what we love.

For all my pet loving friends, I pray you never have to make this decision – one of the hardest in your life — but thankfully sometimes our furry loved ones make it for us, as Momma did for me.

Momma was with us for many, many years. During that time she enjoyed lots of belly rubs, some yummy treats and hundreds of walks in the woods. She truly had a good life and we were blessed to have her in our lives for as long as we did.

Rest easy, Momma dog. I hope you find a sunny spot.