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The Time Every Pet Owner Dreads: An Ode to Max

One of the most difficult choices pet owners must face, when the end is near, is whether or not to euthanize their beloved friend.

“Before you close your eyes, say a little prayer…every day, in every way, it’s getting better and better…beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy.” ~ John Lennon.

Pretty Boy Zoid is no more.  He lives across the veil now, and frolics in the bright green meadows and chases as many squirrels as he can.

Pretty Boy Zoid, or Maximus Otto Servidio, as his certificate of ownership officially stated, crossed the Rainbow Bridge on September 1 at 3:10 pm. He died peacefully, as we, his family, surrounded him and gave him the greatest gift that we ever could give him.

The day I adopted Max, and many times over his 13-year lifetime, I have saved him from death. Every single skill that I learned throughout my years of nursing had paid off; I nursed him back to health on so many occasions, I cannot count. And it was all worth it. But for the past week, regardless of what I did, what I purchased, how many things I tried, I could not save him. We all agonized over the decision, and I guarantee you, it is not an easy one to make. Our first dog spared us from making the decision; she passed on her own, after what appeared to be a rally from her, on a day when I was called into work emergently. But our wonderful, beautiful boy was suffering, and we couldn’t stand to watch it. He had stopped eating, and he was only drinking minimally. He had pneumonia (something that our former vet overlooked), a blown out knee (in humans, it is known as the ACL), and had such severe osteoarthritis of both hips that he was barely able to move. He was on a huge cocktail of medications, which he had stopped taking, the day before I called Journey’s End, and had this new vet evaluate Max on Saturday. Because of his size and the breeds he was mixed with, the new vet told me that even if we were to cure Max’s dehydration and pneumonia, he would never recover from the surgery. Most large dogs of advanced age do not do well with hip replacements. We asked about wheelchairs, slings, rear harnesses. We asked about every single thing that we could do, to save this poor dog’s life. We were at a point of desperation; he was our boy, he was loved by everyone, he was the friendliest dog in the world, and we could not face the fact that we were slowly losing him. Desperation at the end is something that most pet owners face, and had it not been for the wisdom of our teenaged daughter, who actually was Max’s true owner since she was 4, he would have been malingering.

And so, on Saturday, September 1st, at the very end of the summer, I saved Max from life.

Before Saturday, I actually never believed in euthanasia. Well, I’m not going to say “didn’t believe in”. I actually believed in it for humans, especially for those who were malingering in comas for months and even years, enduring decubitus ulcers and ventilators and all sorts of treatments, in order to allow the family to keep the dying with them just a little bit longer. I would actually pity the patient, and as horrible as this sounds, I would wish that they would peacefully pass, or that someone would come and put them out of their misery, because the soul was no longer there - it was just a body. It offered comfort to the family, but not much; when the end is in sight, as I said earlier, humans will resort to desperate measures at all costs to keep the beloved with them.

Any time a friend or family member had to euthanize a beloved pet, I felt badly for them. It was not just for the loss; that is painful enough. Pets are a part of our family, and as any pet owner knows, they are irreplaceable. Unconditional love, that adoration in their eyes, their unique personalities - these are things that non-pet owners cannot understand. No, the pain of the loss was not just what I felt for family and friends. It was the agonizing decision of having to put the animal down. And I prayed to God and every single religious figure, including St. Francis of Assisi, to help me to avoid having to put my beautiful boy down.

He had so much life in him; he was struggling on Monday of last week with the old vet, (who will no longer be used) who said, “Your dog is very healthy. He just has a bad back, and we should put him down now.” Max was on the table, completely alert, his eyes were fixed on mine, and he looked at me as if to say, “Get me the hell out of here - I want to go home and eat my kibble.” I refused, because the vet had said, “He will only get worse. You can get a little more life out of him if you use a rear harness or a towel under his belly.” The rear harness was like two leashes stuck together, and it did absolutely nothing for an 80 pound dog. The towel was putting too much pressure on Max’s abdomen, and so we resorted to having my husband carry him out to do his business. This continued through Thursday, when my daughter said to me, “I had a dream, two years ago, that this was the day that Max would die. Let him go in peace…does he look happy to you?”

I looked at my boy, and he was still smiling, wagging his tail, but he was not eating anymore. Nothing that I gave him actually stayed down; he vomited everything he ate. And on Friday, he completely stopped eating. I was able to get some natural healing solutions into him, but we all could see that Max had given up fighting. Every night, since he fell on the previous Saturday, when this all began, I whispered in his ear, “It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to go, if you have to go. I will miss you, but if you need to let go, then go.” He would turn his face on me, and I thought, “Wow, he has no intention of going anywhere. Maybe I’m wrong.”

Denial is a horrible friend. It teases you into believing that the impossible can happen. And so you hang on, one more day, in the hope that your buddy will last one more minute, rally, and get better.  But this doesn’t always happen.

Making the decision to do it was the most heart-wrenching, difficult decision I had to make. I made it on my own, a day before my husband could come to terms with it. All the thoughts were running through our minds: guilt, betrayal, fear…we kept thinking, “We are murdering our dog.” But the thought of watching him slowly starve to death was more than we could bear.

The phone call to Journey’s End was the most difficult call I have ever made. I felt physically ill, emotionally tormented, and really, really guilty. Questions ran through my head; was I doing the right thing? What if he rallied back? Can I back out, once the vet is here? What if Max hates me for doing this to him?

I spent the entire morning, bathing Max. He had become incontinent of both bowel and bladder, and could not move at all to get out of his own way when he vomited. I gave him his final bed bath and brushed him, and sang, “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon to him, just as I did, every single day of his wonderful life. The hymn of St. Francis of Assisi came into my head, and I began to sing that to him as well, alternating the songs, and kept his head in my lap.

When the new vet from Journey’s End came to the house, he told us frankly what he had found. He told us, compassionately, that if this were his pet, he would do the humane thing, but it was our decision. He left us to discuss it as a family. My daughter said, “You know my feelings - I wanted to have him euthanized two days ago.” My husband slowly nodded his head, and I hugged Max, took a deep sniff of his fur, and felt the words slip out of my mouth: “Let’s do it; he doesn’t deserve to suffer anymore.”

The explanations were lost to me; I didn’t care what was going to happen. All I knew was that in a few short moments, Max would be gone forever, and I knew I could not prepare myself enough for it. Dr. Adam administered a sedative, but Max fought it, the entire time. It wasn’t because we were all there; I had his head in my lap, and my husband and daughter were close by, and petted him and said “Goodbye, Maxie”, which tore out my heart to hear the words spoken. I watched Max fight the sedative, and the vet said he might have to give him more, but then I realized what Max was doing - he was looking for his buddy. Max wouldn’t leave until our golden retriever, Candy, who was with him since she was 6 weeks old, was by his side. We got Candy to pull Max out of the depression of losing our first dog; she was much older than he was, and she could care less about him. But he was still despondent, so we got Candy, a few months later, to ease his suffering and depression. With that, I asked the vet tech to release Candy, and if I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it possible. He put his paw on hers, she put her paw on his, and she lay at his side. It was then, and only then, that he closed his eyes, and Dr. Adam gave him the overdose of anesthesia. (He did not use potassium chloride) And in three seconds, my beautiful boy was gone.

It has been several days of heartache for all of us. My daughter, ever stoic, has said that she knew, and wanted him to go peacefully, and that she is glad that he is out of his misery. My husband, Candy and I are having a more difficult time with it. But I can tell you this; as agonizing as the task may seem, as unbearable as it may be, euthanizing your pet, when they are at the very end, is so much more humane than watching them suffer, watching them starve and suffocate. These were the things that we were warned about, what we had researched. And so, I am now on the side of euthanasia for animals for end of life reasons only. I still do not believe in gassing animals who are not adopted; I still do not believe in kill shelters. But I have crossed a bridge now; Max helped me to cross it. I had to learn to let him go, in a way that would be best for him. My heart may be broken, but I can heal.

Euthanasia, as I see it now, is not such a horrible thing. It is actually, to me, the greatest gift that one can give to their pet, especially when that pet is suffering miserably, and there is no hope for return. The animal is sedated, and it takes approximately ten minutes for the sedation to take effect. During this time, the family gives love and kisses, hugs, and cuddles to the pet, as he or she drifts off to sleep. During the sleep, the vet injects a fatal overdose of propofol, an anesthetic. In some cases, the animal is injected with an overdose of potassium chloride. In any event, the procedure lasts no more than three seconds, and the pet has passed. The ones left behind are saddened, yes, but you can rest assured, knowing that you gave your pet the greatest gift that you ever gave; you freed him/her from misery.

And as Life would have it, as I returned all of the special food I bought for him at Petco on Sunday, there were more “Shelter Mommy” items by the register than I had ever seen. Had I seen them previously, I would have proudly displayed them on my truck. But there was something that caught my eye; a necklace with a paw print on it. It said, “Who rescued who?” I bought it in a heartbeat.

Maxie, you rescued me. When I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t sure of anything, you came along and stole my heart, with a wag of that curly tail of yours, and your goofy smile. You helped me to love unconditionally, and when the final curtain fell on your life, you helped me to learn the lesson of letting go. It isn’t an easy lesson to learn, but you know, there isn’t anything that I wouldn’t do for you, you wonderful dog. Catch a squirrel across the veil for me, will you?

“By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,

Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.

Where the friends of man and woman do run,

When their time on earth is over and done.

 

For here, between this world and the next,

Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.

On this golden land, they wait and they play,

Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.

 

No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,

For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.

Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,

Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.

 

They romp through the grass, without even a care,

Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.

All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,

Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.


For just at that instant, their eyes have met;

Together again, both person and pet.

So they run to each other, these friends from long past,

The time of their parting is over at last.


The sadness they felt while they were apart,

Has turned into joy once more in each heart.

They embrace with a love that will last forever,

And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.” ~ The Rainbow Bridge Poem



RIP, my Maxie-boy. I will never forget you. <3

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carol giuliani September 07, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Absolutely beautiful article. The guilt of being the one to make the decision is so heartwrenching but my vet told me You will know when its the right time. And you do. But the sadness is so overwhelming for the unconditional love lost of the wonderful companion.
Lisa Yeager September 07, 2012 at 07:04 PM
I understand. After taking in 7 rescued dogs... Even 2 pit bulls... It is unconditional love. Our 4-legged friends may not be able to speak, but they will communicate in so many other ways. And they will always remain in your heart.
leapinglaughter September 07, 2012 at 09:52 PM
This is the ultimate responsibility of every pet owner and the last great gift we must give our animals. Would that it were legal to give it to each other when we are old and sick and suffering.
Helen September 08, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Patty, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I'm sitting here in tears reading your story. I've had the decision placed before a few times, and it is always agonizing. We love our pets unconditionally and they love us more. What you had to go through is a powerful experience, but the memories of your beloved Maxie, will always warm your heart and put a smile on your face.
Laura September 08, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Growing up I had pets all my life. Cats,dogs, mice and frogs. I bought 5 small frogs. It turned out to be 4 females and 1 male. We named him Bob. I woke up 1 morning to eggs. I wondered if I could raise frogs. I watch the eggs hatch, they looked like aliens. When they turned into tiny frogs. They grew quite large. I had 4 tanks and gave them to the pet stores. I probably gave 300 to 400 to the pet stores. My kids loved it. Ten years later my last frog died. It was a great experience.
Laura September 08, 2012 at 03:25 AM
My husband and I adopt unusual. The vet had a litter of kitten. 2 of them died. The 3 needed Was 3 weeks old. Stevie had an eye infection in both eyes. If he lived, he would be blind for life. We agreed to adopt him and at 6 weeks the vet operated on him. They had take remove his eyes. This story has a great ending. He is now 6 years old. Climbs up and down trees, a old laundry basket ( wrapped around a tree...called a stevie stop) and down he goes. We take him out with our 4 other cats and 2 dogs. They all get along great. If you saw him, you would not know he is blind. The vet says " he knows where the food is ". He is 15 pounds. We are lucky to have him and a great vets at the Commack Vet. Stevie are inside animals. We ytake them out in fenced yard and back in the house. I wish you could me him
Mary Rose Paster September 08, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Dr. Tomas Infernuso, a voluntary vet surgeon at Glen Cove Animal Lovers League, is a surgeon who provides excellent, reasonable surgical care for pets in other animal hospitals in Suffolk county and Queens. My dog had a kidney removed a few months ago and the cost was almost 1/2 of that of livs in Plainview. You can read about his surgeries and humane voluntary work on his Facebook page. Passing along this info so others have a resource in time of need. He saved my dog's life. Could not stand another pet loss. Lost 2 dogs, a cat and a horse within 6 months. Now have 2 wonderful rescue dogs, a rescue cat and 2 noisy little parrots. The pain will pass.
Elise Pearlman September 08, 2012 at 04:21 AM
You are right; dogs give us unconditional love and they teach us to enjoy the simple things in life, like just being close to the ones you love. Those pawprints on your heart, those lessons that your dog taught you will never fade. G-d bless.
Elise Pearlman September 08, 2012 at 04:26 AM
Patty, I think that I reviewed some of the Minstrel Player productions that you were in.
Seadog24 September 08, 2012 at 03:59 PM
As the owner of a 101/2 year ofl hound dog I was drawn to your article because we realize our guy will not be with us forever. You have made a tough choice, but you made the right choice, when all quality of life is over for a pet its time. Hopefully you will find another dog , not to take the place of the one you just lost but to love you the way they all do. We should all be as loving as dogs are...RIP Maxie
Coco September 08, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I'm sorry for your loss. I am crying reading your story. It is so hard to say good bye. Bless you and your family through this time.
Lisa Patterson Lay September 09, 2012 at 12:46 PM
A moving story and tribute to your beautiful boy. I have been in your shoes twice, once with my beloved black lab Mel, and once with my handsome keeshond Murray. My whole family surrounded Mel as he breathed his last, but it was just Murray and me in his final moments. It is a heartbreaking honor to attend these wonderful friends as they pass on to their next adventure and we will miss them sorely and always. You have given us a gift with your narrative.
jonathan winant September 09, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Patty: Now my that my eyes are dry I can't thank you for writing this sdtory. I grew up with Dogs, cats, fish, and even a Mallard Duck. It's hard for somwe to understand the bond that animal (do not ever say pet) owners and their animal have, regardless of the type of animal. I held our little bird in my arms when he finally gave up a quick but heroic fight. The look on his face and the convulsions caused tears to stream down my face. Sometime later we brought home a larger bird and then adopted a rescued Cockatiel;. These two guys were as much family as young children are to most. Our little Girl "Lucy" a Chihuahua rescued by the North Shore Animal League is the daughter my wife and I will never have. So I am certain when the time comes I would be devastated. Someone once said it well when they explained how sometimes the bond a pet owner has with their pet is sometimes stronger then the bond they have with their own children. You have to have been a pet owner to understand how difficult your choce was. Thanks for writing that tear jerking story.
Janet Russell September 10, 2012 at 12:37 AM
I totally understand what you are going thru I had to do the same thing to my beloved Buster on 8/31 2012 he is in my backyard now and I even leave the light on I know some may say what he is over, but I still hear him at 3 am whimpering waking me up to put him out, they may be gone but never forgotten and I had a Max a few years ago that is on the Rainbow Bridge as well, I totally feel your pain, as I feel mine as well Just know that we did the right thing I am a spiritual medium and I do knwo that we will meet with them again, But just know that they are at peace now, I had my Buster for 12 years he was a pit lab and the love of my life Many Blessings Janet Russell
Patty Servidio September 15, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Ellen, Thank you so much for being there for me - you are one of the dearest friends I am blessed to know. Much love, Patty
Patty Servidio September 15, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Thank you so much, Jill, for the validation. Sometimes, as pet "parents" or owners, if you will, we torture ourselves with the thought of doing the right thing. I am so glad that I had others in my life, during this difficult and heartwrenching time, who encouraged me to "do the right thing" for Max, including my 17 year old daughter, who picked him out first. And thank you for the honor of your comment!
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Thank you, Florence, for a beautiful comment! The clouds are beginning to clear, and our family is now beginning to remember Max's foibles and silliness now, more than the sadness...which is always a good thing!
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Lisa, thanks so much for being there for me - being able to have you, Ellen, Leslie, et al through this has helped me so much <3
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Carol, that is the ultimate truth...the sadness is overwhelming. There is no other love that is given like a pet can give. It truly is unconditional. Thank you for your kind words!
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Throughout my years of nursing, I have said the very same thing. To allow humans to malinger is as much a heartache as watching a pet malinger. We keep both around for the same reasons - we cannot let go. I love this comment.
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Thank you, Helen, for your support and for your wonderful words about our beloved Maxie. It has been my honor to receive your support during this very difficult time.
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Oh, Laura, what a wonderful experience that you and your husband share - to adopt unusual, seemingly unwanted or "different" pets is fabulous - because it is your own experience, and because there are so many animals that can share our lives and capture our hearts. All animals, big and small, are so incredibly lovable. I wish I had the opportunity to meet all of your wonderful pets - my sister in law is very much like you - at one time, she had a tree frog, a lizard, a hermit crab, a snake, three dogs, a hamster, and a parakeet! :)
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Dear Mary Rose, I wish I had known this information sooner, but I have to tell you that I have already taken your advice, and have referred several friends to Dr. Inferno, so thank you so much! I have his name next to my laptop, because we still have one dog left behind, and she has difficulty with her back legs now (she is a golden retriever). Your information was both timely for friends of mine, and valuable. I am sorry for your losses, as well. Thank you for your soothing words!
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Dear Elise, THe words you used, "pawprints on your heart", were chosen perfectly. Max certainly left his pawprints on all of our hearts. I wear the medal, "Who rescued who" daily now in his honor, and I wear it with pride. Thank you for your kind words. And yes, you certainly did review me for some of the Minstrel Productions, for which I thank you very much! :)
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Dear Seadog24, Thankyou, thank you, thank you, for your kind words. My other dog who was left behind is very lost without our Max, but she is beginning to get used to being alone, which is what we have been trying to work on with her. WHen the time is right, I will certainly look for another dog. You are exactly correct - not to take the place of the dog we lose, but to love us the way they all do. What words of wisdom that come from those who totally understand what being a responsible pet owner means. I agree - we should be as loving as animals are...so many cues we can take from Nature in general as a species. Thank you for your condolences, and if you ever need someone to chat with, please feel free to drop me a message here. It is difficult when we come to the reality that our pets will not be with us forever. It is a shame that they do not live longer.
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Oh, Jennifer, thank you so very much for your condolences. Hardest choice, but the best choice I ever made. I am grateful for your kind words. Thank you again for your kindness.
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Dear Lisa, Thank you for your kind words. I am so sorry for your losses as well. You are correct; what a heartbreaking honor it truly was, and is, when we are able to attend the passing of our pets. Thank you for sharing your story with me!
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Dear Jonathan, I cannot tell you what your letter/comment mears tme. I agree - animal owner is a more appropriate phrase; those who have never experienced the joy of owning an animal will never understand the tears we shed, the heartache we feel. Animals love unconditionally; it is their nature. Your story about your bird actually brought tears to my eyes. I agree - animal bonds are stronger than those we experience with humans, because with humans, we are always on guard, for fear that we will be hurt. We do not have that fear with animals; their love is priceless. And it was my honor to write that story. It came straight out of my heart. Thank you again foryour kind words.
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Janet, Thank you so much for sharing your story about your Max and Buster with all of us. You are right - they are gone, but never, ever forgotten. My daughter had to do a narrative for creative writing this year; she did hers on Max, and I cried as I typed it for her, because she was crying so hard after having written it that she could not bring herself to hear the words in her heart again. You are so right - I am certain I will see Max again; he's only on another plane, over the veil, and every so often, I see him in my mind's eye,or in the house, for a split second. You are very blessed with your gift of mediumship; it is truth, and it is reality to know that life exists beyond this plane. Thank you for sharing your story with me. Many Blessings to you as well!
Patty Servidio September 16, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Dear All, Thank you so much for your kind words of condolences, support, and validation, as well as the honor of reading all of your stories about your personal experiences. It was my honor to share my story with you, and to write this as a tribute to my baby boy. I am so grateful to have touched your hearts; please know that each and every one of you has truly touched mine. Your validations are priceless; we never know if we have done the right thing, but when I think back, I can honestly say that I feel no guilt, no sadness for what I did - I feel a lightness, that I gave a gift of love, one last gift, and as a family, we were a responsible animal family. I am sorry for the losses that you have all experienced, and I have wanted to tell you that it has made me cry, as well, to read your stories that were obviously written with so much love in your hearts. Animal owners totally understand each other, and that you were all there in our time of need means more than you will ever know. I will pay your wonderful gifts forward in my life, of that you can be assured. Bless you all for your kind and thoughtful words about the article, as well as your beautul condolences for our family. Many thanks, and blessings to you and yours. Sincerely, Patty

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