Today I severed the bond. This is nothing new. As a veterinarian, I've euthanized animals for years. I've grown accustomed
to performing this final medical act, but it never gets any easier. And some euthanasias are more difficult than others: the
poodle of an elderly man who lives alone, the golden retriever surrounded by the children she adores, the diabetic schnauzer
I've been managing for years. And then there was the most difficult of all: my own dog Toby.
Big heart: Toby made lots of memories during his lifetime with Dr. Melody Heath and family.
I met Toby in 1993 when his owner brought him to the clinic. Toby was an 18-month-old red dachshund, emaciated and timid.
The presenting complaint was vomiting and diarrhea that had lasted for more than a year. I palpated a tender, tubular mass
in the little dog's abdomen; radiographs confirmed my suspicion of an intussusception. Toby's owner requested euthanasia but
reluctantly agreed to relinquishment.
Spending the time, effort, and money to save this debilitated dog may not seem like a smart use of resources, but I have a
soft spot for red dachshunds. My first one, Jenny, was rescued from a shelter. She lived 14 years, after which Cleo, my second,
entered my life when her owner suffered a stroke. Cleo died not long before I met Toby.
There I was, a new graduate looking for challenging cases, living alone, and dachshund-less for the first time in years. And
there was Toby—scared, neglected, and left for dead. I had the skills to try to save him. After the miserable start he'd had
in life, I owed him that much.
Late that evening I performed my first intestinal resection and anastomosis. Four days later I brought an even more timid,
emaciated dog into my home. As time passed, Toby transformed into an outgoing, obedient, handsome companion, and we became
inseparable. Toby went to work with me every day for nine years before retiring and spending his days in a sunny spot in the
backyard. When the phone rang in the middle of the night, Toby ran for the door. He was always eager for emergency duty, even
when my enthusiasm waned.
He loved to chase squirrels, go for long hikes, and curl up on the couch beside me to have his ears scratched. He liked children,
unlike many dachshunds, and he stayed trim his entire life. He also performed a variety of tricks, such as sneezing on command.
He would lie perfectly still while I trimmed his nails, scaled his teeth, or drew blood. He traveled with me, slept with me,
and comforted me through major life changes. Toby was a cherished member of my family.
In his early years after the surgery, Toby was the picture of health. More recently, however, he'd developed a heart murmur,
arthritis, and chronic ulcerative stomatitis. He was deaf and partially blind. At age 16, he became fecal and urinary incontinent.
While any combination of these problems might have been reason enough to consider euthanasia, Toby adapted well and seemed
comfortable living within his limitations. The increased demand for nursing care seemed a small price to pay in return for
the endless joy and unconditional love Toby had given me for so long.
Then, seemingly overnight, Toby started to show his age more rapidly. Friends and family commented on how pitiful Toby looked.
He didn't seem to enjoy life the way he used to. For the first time I began to contemplate euthanasia. I set a date, but backed
out when my physician sister protested, saying it wasn't time yet.