Ten days ago, Jim and I had to make the most difficult decision
a pet owner ever has to make: euthanasia for a beloved
four-legged companion. Our lovable yellow Lab, Tater, would have been twelve years old today, but she
couldn't make it quite that long.
Using the common (but misguided) formula of one dog year = seven
human years, Tater was almost 84.
She was one tough cookie till the end.
Even though we knew for
several weeks that her health was rapidly deteriorating and we'd
face the Big Decision sooner rather than later, it was Tater who
really told us when she was ready to die. We quietly and
tearfully reassured her that we understood, and we let her go.
To keep her alive any longer would have been a selfish thing to
our interest, not hers.
Tater's body rests in a grave in our woods, just beyond the tree
where I painted a white blaze three years ago to symbolize the
successful completion of our
Appalachian Trail Adventure Run. Tater was an important part of
our team, which I dubbed "Runtrails & Company." Her
adventurous, fun-loving spirit
lives on in the hearts of Jim, Cody, and me.
This essay is more a reminiscence of Tater's niche in our
family, her unique personality,
and the fun experiences she had than of her decline; I've detailed
that elsewhere in the past few days to help me get through the
grieving process. Now I'm ready to move on and remember all the
good things about her life.
photos of Tater at various ages and in
interesting places. This dog climbed more mountains, ran more
trails, and visited more states than most people do! She
had a life any active dog would envy. Years ago Jim commented
that if he is reincarnated, he wants to come back as one of my
dogs because of the great lives they have!.
I began an essay about Tater in late July, soon after she was diagnosed
with several serious nerve-related, and possibly cancer-related,
problems that affected her ability to swallow, breathe, and
move. I was also working on an
entry about Jim's and my
thoughts on turning sixty and realized that one reason I had
been thinking more about my own aging process was watching
Tater's rapid decline in physical abilities this summer.
I've joked for the last year or two about Tater and me both being "old
ladies with arthritis" that still think we can run like we used
to. I could empathize with her decreasing ability to run as far
and as fast and as often as she used to. Neither of us can climb
or descend stairs (or get into the truck) as quickly or comfortably as we did several
years ago. And we both need to rest more often.
Closer to our prime -- Sue (age 51) and Tater
(age 4) at Sundance Pass
in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana,
summer of 2000. Photo by Jim.
But neither Tater nor I want to give in to our aging bodies. Our
minds (and memories) are still younger than our years. To
paraphrase a popular saying, "The mind is still willing but
the flesh is weaker now."
As Tater required more and more care during the month of August,
and as Jim and I realized more clearly that we'd have to make
the tough decision about euthanasia sooner than we'd hoped, I
just never found the emotional energy or time to finish my first
Now I present it, and more, in memoriam to Tater. What follows
is the long version. If you don't have time to read all of it,
you might enjoy the photos.
"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole."
~ Roger Caras
I am a Dog Person.
Dogs have been an important part of my life since I was born. My
parents raised German shepherds as pets on our farm and bred them several
times to sell the litters. I grew up surrounded by puppies and
learning to be responsible for their care. The only time in my
life that I have NOT had a dog was during college.
Most of the time I had two dogs so they could keep each
other company while my ex-husband and I were working.
It took me several years to realize that Labrador retrievers
would be ideal for my temperament and lifestyle. I had some
high-maintenance Siberian huskies and
Norwegian elkhounds when I was in my twenties. After I
began running, I wanted to find a breed suitable
to run long distances on Southern trails with me (too hot for
those Northern breeds). I did considerable research
before adopting an adorable Lab-Rottweiller mix puppy that
looked and behaved more like a Lab than a Rottie, and I was
hooked on Labs for life.
Tater at eight weeks (L) and 13 weeks (R);
there's that wrinkled brow that showed when she was
Tater was the third of four purebred Labs that I've adopted as young puppies.
She quickly filled a void in the family after Callie, my first
female Lab, died unexpectedly from a cancerous tumor when she
was only seven. Her male companion, Bubba, needed a buddy. So
did I -- Bubba was also seven and no longer able to run with me as
much as he did when he was younger.
Poor Bubba. Six-week-old Tater was full of spunk, a cute little
ball of pale yellow fur and sharp puppy teeth.
She was all over Bubba (photo above, at nine weeks). Good thing he was a gentle giant,
totally laid back.
Tater Tot soon had him under her spell. She often appeared to
out-maneuver him, like when she'd hide behind a corner of the house
or in another room and pounce on him when he walked by. That was
the first evidence she gave as a pup of being able to think
ahead. Tater wasn't just a tough cookie, she was a smart cookie
She could also be cuddly and quiet, as in the next photo at age
Tater and Bubba were good buddies for five years, until Bubba's
death at age eleven. Here they are at ages four and eleven (this
oval photo with punched paw print is from a scrapbook page):
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Although Tater was a purebred Lab with a certificate of pedigree
going back five generations, there weren't any champions closely
enough related to justify formally registering her with the AKC
or giving her a fancy-schmancy name like I've given some of my
other dogs. As it turned out, she grew significantly larger than
a female purebred Lab should be and she also had some physical
problems that ruled out breeding her (in fact, I've neutered
all my dogs). But she made a remarkable pet.
You're probably wondering how Tater got her name. You probably
also think I know the answer! Not really. My "ex" named her
and never did tell me why he chose "Tater." It's been fun
to give her nicknames, though -- Po' Tater, Sweet Tater, Tater
Tot, Common Tater, Spec Tater, Little Spud. I used plain
ole "Tater" to call her or give her commands, but I greeted her
with "Hey, Baby Girl" until her dying day and had
other "pet names" for her.
Running through the lupines in the Big Horn
Mountains, June, 2006
Probably the funniest moment regarding her name was in an
agility class in Billings when the instructor was teaching the dogs (and owners) how to use a
teeter totter. The command was, "(Dog's Name), TEETER!"
Everyone cracked up the first time I said it to Tater because it
came out, "Tater, TEETER!" Even I didn't anticipate
what it would sound like. It still makes me laugh.
Maybe you had to be there . . .
ADAPTING TO A NEW "DADDY"
"Love me, love my dog." ~ Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Tater was three and Bubba ten when we moved from Atlanta to
Billings to share our lives with Jim. It really was a situation
of "Love me, love my dogs" -- or at least be nice to them!
You see, Jim was not yet a Dog Person. There are family photos of him
at a young age with a dog, but he doesn't remember it. Until I
moved in with two big dogs, the poor fella had never lived with
one. That was probably the biggest adjustment he had to make in
our new relationship. It's not that I put the dogs' welfare
before mine or his, but he quickly discovered how important
canine companionship is to me. We came as a package, for better
or for worse.
Fortunately, it turned out for the better. Jim grew close to
Tater over the next nine years. He has kids and grandkids;
I don't. Dogs are my "fur kids," the creatures I
nurture after choosing a child-free life. I was glad
that Jim adapted to the new situation and learned just how much
fun dogs can be to have around. They really do help to keep
people happier and healthier, as many studies and anecdotal
The dogs and I also made some behavioral modifications to keep peace with
Jim, such as no dogs on the furniture any more:
What, me spoiled?? Tater at
twelve weeks of age, before moving to Montana.
We all adapted to the new house rules just fine.
ULTRA LABS: BORN TO RUN
One of the first things Jim learned about Tater was how much she
loved to run. Now he had THREE new running buddies! Sometimes I
had trouble keeping up with Jim, but he simply couldn't wear
Tater out when she was in her prime, whether he was doing speed work or a long run. At
ten, Bubba wasn't running nearly as far or fast any more but he
got to go along sometimes, too.
One of Tater's unique personality traits was her ability to run somewhat
parallel to us in the woods for a minute or two (or more) but out of our sight. She
was all over the place yet obviously tracking us by sight,
scent, or sound because she'd unfailingly come out ahead of us
on the trail and run back to us. (That was another of the things
she did that indicated her ability to "anticipate.") We figured
some days she was putting in two or three times the distance we
were! She was never gone for long, and we never "lost" her
in a park or out in the wilderness.
All my Labs have been very lovable, intelligent, active dogs who get
along well with people and thrive on running through the woods
with wild abandon. Tater's agility as she dodged trees and
scaled boulders and deadfall was amazing to watch. Like Callie
and Bubba before her, Tater loved nothing more than to ride
somewhere, anywhere, because each trip might just end up in the
woods or on a mountain trail somewhere.
Jim and Tater enjoying the chilly waters of
Lake Tahoe in July, 2001
These treks usually
involved a creek, river, or lake, too. That's pure nirvana for a
Lab: running and swimming and maybe chasing a squirrel. Heck,
Tater even loved going to the vet's office, as did Callie,
Bubba, and now Cody, who is five years old. It's a Lab thing.
They love people. It's why they've been one of the most popular
breeds for many years.
Tater also had the ability to know when we were within a few
miles of our favorite running venues in Billings and Roanoke.
She knew the turns, and even though she couldn't see out the
windows of the van, she had them memorized. She'd pant so hard
it sounded like she was hyperventilating, such was her
excitement when she knew for sure that she'd be running at
Riverfront or Explore Park! If we didn't make the familiar
turns, she'd lie quietly in the back until we reached our
She also had trouble containing herself upon exiting the van or
truck. She'd grab a leash and play a rough game of "keep away"
with Cody while Jim and I got ready to run. Even after we
started running, she was still a wild child for several miles.
Eventually she'd calm down. This continued until a couple years
Definitely born to run.
Running for the sheer pleasure of running: Cody (L) and Tater
frolic in the snow
near our house in Virginia in February, 2005
Every one of my athletic Labs was able to gradually and comfortably reach the ultra
distance (between 26 and 31 miles) from about age two
to five years old. None of them except Cody did it more than a few times, but that was
more due to various logistics than to their ability or
willingness to run and hike that far. For the longest distances I was careful to choose
cold or cool weather, soft trails, lots of water (streams, lakes)
on the course, and a pace
they could handle. More often they ran ten or fewer miles at a
None of these Labs, including Tater, ever turned down an
invitation to run or hike. In fact, each one was quite sad to be
left at home, especially when they knew Jim and I were going running.
They all knew the signs (it was probably those smelly shoes!).
Their demeanor was different if we were just going out to run
errands and not RUN, although they loved riding along during
errands, too. Their enthusiasm was a joy to see -- their bright
eyes and wriggling bodies, bouncing up and down, running to the van or truck in
excitement and jumping in, ready to go anywhere we'd take them.
"I don't know where I'm going, but I'm happy to be in this
truck!" Tater at age seven.
We've seen Tater slowing down for several years now. She was
only about five when she tore one of her anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL)
while jumping up to catch a ball. After she healed from
surgery, she was back out on the trails with us but we reduced
the number of miles to protect her joints. Around age seven she developed arthritis
and was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Both are (too) common in
Labs. Tater continued to run and
hike with great exuberance for several hours, however, as Jim
and I traveled around the country with her and Cody. Several of
the photos in this essay show a few of the cool places she got
Last summer Tater was
still able at age eleven to run/walk with us for four or five
miles. That dwindled down to three miles, two miles, then one by
Tater walking with Jim at McDowell Mountain
Park near Phoenix, AZ
very badly to go with us every time, but she had to stay home
more and more frequently when it was too warm to stay in the vehicle while
we ran or walked. Every time I had to tell her that she couldn't
go, it broke my heart to see the dejected look in
her eyes as she slowly turned around to go to her bed, waiting
patiently for us to return. I hated that.
OTHER "TATERISMS" WE'LL MISS
Every dog has its own personality, even within the same breed,
and Tater was no exception. She's been the only one of my four
Labs to exhibit certain traits that Jim and I will
1. Her uncanny ability to track us when we
ran parallel to each other, coming back at us from up the
trail (discussed in more detail above)
2. The extra distance she'd run,
often double or triple the mileage Jim and I ran. Cody and Bubba
are/were just the opposite, sticking to the trail most of the time
and doing tangents on switchbacks whenever possible. (Callie was
an out-and-back kinda gal, but stayed on-trail mostly.)
Sue and Tater on the summit of
Mt. Massive, Colorado's second-highest 14,000+ foot mountain.
Photo taken by Jim in
3. Other ways she "thought ahead," like
hiding from Bubba and pouncing on him when he strolled by, or
running around to the other
side of the house when I'd be out walking or running from our
house. When she lost sight of me
on one side, she'd run real fast around the back of the
house and watch me from the other side. (The Invisible Fence
prevents them from going into the front yard.) And she usually
stayed there for as long as it took me to come back into sight!
Bubba didn't do this, or Cody, even though I think Cody's smarter in
some ways than Tater was.
4. "Running" in her sleep. When sleeping soundly on her
side, all four of Tater's legs would sometimes move as if she
was having a running dream.
"Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails."
Eastman, Enjoyment of Laughter
5. Her special tail wags. One of her favorite ways to get
attention was to put her chin on
my lap, scrunch up her forehead so it was wrinkly, look at me with
baleful eyes, and wag her tail just slightly (half a wag) when she wanted
some cuddling or to go outside. When she was happy or excited,
her tail would go around in full circles, even when she was
Who can resist such a sweet face?
6. Breathing like a "steam
engine." Tater panted very hard when she was excited
or exerting herself, even when she was young. We likened it to a
steam engine because it was so loud. Although I sometimes
worried she'd have a heart attack or stroke when I couldn't calm
her down, vets in Atlanta, Billings, and Roanoke confirmed that
her heart was healthy up to the time she died. She also had a
very high metabolism rate and could eat a fair amount of food
without gaining weight. Maybe the two were related.
7. Her bicycle paranoia.
I have no clue if she was originally traumatized somehow by a
bicycle or if she just inherently didn't like them. She always barked at
kids and adults riding by on
bikes and didn't want to be near ours, even if we weren't on
them. We never could get her
desensitized to bicycles.
"Labradors [are] lousy watchdogs. They usually bark
when there is a stranger about, but it is an expression of
unmitigated joy at the chance to meet somebody new, not a
warning." ~Norman Strung
Although none of my Labs have ever been taught to hunt, retrieving things comes naturally to the
breed. Tater loved to
chase balls when she was younger (that's how she tore her ACL) and got
better than my other Labs at catching them. This summer she could still catch a
ball from several feet away even when she could barely walk.
Tater loved to retrieve sticks, but only in the water. She and
Bubba used to swim out, grab onto the same stick, and carry it back
together. When Bubba got older and weaker, Tater would out-swim him
but let him grab the stick on the way back to shore. Cody never
shared a stick with Tater. He always got there first and used evasive
maneuvers on the way back so Po' Tater couldn't grab on!
8. Her squeak. Tater had two bad habits. One that might
have gotten her killed when she was about a year old was barking
too much. An annoyed neighbor in the Atlanta area left a
threatening note when my "ex" and I were out of town. The friend
who was coming over to feed her called us in a panic when she
found the note. When we returned we tried to train her with a
squirt gun, a shock collar, and other behavioral methods. None
were successful and it was difficult to control her behavior
when we were at work all day. So our vet recommended de-barking
surgery. Tater handled surgery well and had a very soft "bark"
the rest of her life. She got to bark all she wanted (which was
a lot) and no one was bothered by it any more. (This is a
controversial procedure in some quarters, but it worked in
Tater's case and I'd do it again if I needed to. I haven't had
this problem with any of my other dogs.)
Tater with Jim in the Beartooth
Mountains, summer of 2000.
She knew that doggie pack meant a fun day was
9. Chasing deer (and antelope, when we lived in Billings)
on runs and walks.
This was Tater's other willful habit. We never could prevent
it when she
was off-leash so she was more often ON-leash. She would give chase for about 100 feet, then
come back to us. She wasn't interested in rabbits and squirrels
like my other Labs, just deer and antelope. That was a good
thing at home in Billings and Roanoke, however, because she'd
keep them out of the yard and gardens. Every morning when we
opened the dog door she'd race outside, barking and looking for
the deer she knew had been in the yard and nearby woods during
the night. Since her death, the deer have ravaged our tomato
plants. Even keeping the dog door open all night hasn't helped
the past week; Cody just isn't interested in deer.
10. Snapping her teeth together to catch annoying flying
insects that were "bugging" her when she was lying outside
the camper or house. The sound reminded us of one of those electronic bug
11. Yellow hairs everywhere (and I mean everywhere). I
dubbed Tater the "wool dog" because of her thick, soft undercoat.
She shed all year long, most copiously for several months in the
spring and summer. I swear she was part husky. When I needed dog
hair to try to deter the deer from eating our peaches this
summer, all I had to do was get the plastic bag full of hair
from Tater's recent brushings. She looked like a wet sheep after
a bath. It took several hours for her to
dry off after a swim or bath, whereas Cody, the "nylon dog,"
dries off in an hour or two.
"Now can we slide down the snow chute??"
Jim and Tater on Sundance Pass in the Beartooth Mountains
12. "Walking herself" by carrying her leash in her mouth. I'll
always remember this quirk as quintessential Tater. She never did it
outbound on a walk or run, only when we turned around or if she
knew we were getting closer to our vehicle. She had such a great
sense of presence. She'd suddenly take the leash in her
mouth and I'd let go. She carried her head
held high, practically prancing along like she was Queen of All
Dogdom. She'd do it for as
long as a mile, sometimes even running with it. And she
usually continued in a perfect heeling position even though I wasn't
holding onto the leash. I regret that I
don't have a picture of her doing this.
taught her to do it, although my laughter encouraged her
If she lost her grip and started tripping over the leash,
I'd fold it better and give it back to her. Tater
learned quickly that carrying her leash in her mouth garnered a lot of
attention from observers, so of course she continued
doing it. Everybody thought it was cute except Jim. People would
smile and invariably say something like, "That's so cute!"
or "What a sweet dog!" but Jim wouldn't
allow her to do it when she was with him. To keep peace in the
family, I let her do it only when Jim wasn't in sight.
But you know what? Now that she's gone, it's one of the first
things he told me he misses most about Tater.
Some of Tater's other endearing traits were common to other Labs
- Like Cody, she would often lie on her back in a most unlady/ungentleman-like
pose with her hind legs spread out to play with toys in
her front paws and/or to get her belly rubbed. She'd just barely wag her tail to get our attention, her
imploring us to pet her. She sometimes slept like that on her dog bed, too, until her
arthritis made the position too uncomfortable.
It's a Lab thing. Tater, above, at
age seven years in May, 2003;
Cody, below, at seven months (October,
- Sometimes we had to resort to spelling certain words in front of
Tater so she wouldn't go ballistic. Same with Callie, Bubba, Cody, and
about a zillion other dogs in the world. With our Labs, the key words
were related to running, riding somewhere, or food. I honestly believe
every one of them learned what "r-u-n," "r-i-d-e,"
"c-a-r," "c-a-m-p-e-r," "b-o-n-e," and "s-u-p-p-e-r"
meant when we spelled them!
Evenly matched: Cody + Tater = Jim
in weight, approximately.
Playing Ultra Tug at the Foothills CG in
Wyoming before the Bighorn 100 in June, 2006.
- Cody would encourage Tater to play tug with him, however. If she
wasn't interested, he'd put the toy or tug rope next to her and bark
at her as if to say, "Come on!" Usually he was able to goad her
into playing this game. Cody soon grew strong enough to overpower
Tater as she aged but she still played tug briefly with the rascal until
a few days before she died.
Cody (seven months) and Tater (eight years) play tug
with a ball on a rope
- Although Tater was very exuberant when she was young, she was as
tolerant of puppy Cody as Bubba was of puppy Tater. Jim and I joked
that "what goes around, comes around" and "Tater needs a puppy" --
meaning, wait until you get payback! After Bubba died, Tater was our
only dog for two years. She was seven when we got Cody, a bit too old
to appreciate his puppy antics. But she surprised us, tolerating quite
a bit of rough play and sharp teeth even though she'd never had
puppies of her own. Having a puppy around seemed to make her younger
and more playful.
Tater made a good mom and mentor to
Cody-pup. Summer, 2003
Payback!! What goes around, comes around:
now it's Tater's turn to be
terrorized by a young puppy (summer of 2003).
Ouch! He's got sharp teeth!
Tater's a good sport despite the little
monkey on her back.
Both dogs shared their toys nicely. (That's a
long rawhide bone.)
- Tater was a good pet therapist, too. She easily passed obedience classes
and earned her Canine Good Citizenship award, after which she was
allowed to go to nursing homes to visit elderly folks and give back
some love and attention. I also did this with Bubba and Callie and plan to train Cody for it.
"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to
train him to be semi human.
The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of
becoming partly a dog."
Like my other Labs, Tater loved to follow me around the yard when
I was gardening. She enjoyed lying in the cool dirt, passively
watching me. (Cody watches more alertly, hoping for a worm to sniff or
stick to chew.) Even on her last morning, Tater weakly followed
me as I spent several hours in the yard gardening. It was the last
enjoyable thing she did, and it took all the strength she had left in
her failing body.
"LET'S GO CAMPING!"
Cody-pup and Tater inside the camper door,
summer of 2003.
Tater loved to camp.
She'd get very excited when we'd start packing the camper before
each trip and would hang out nearby to be certain we didn't
forget to take her! It was cute to watch. She hated it when we
boarded her in a kennel with strangers -- who can blame her? --
so I did my best to find pet sitters who would come to our house
or let her stay at theirs. She handled that much better but she
definitely preferred to go WITH us, even if it meant being
cooped up for hours and hours in the back seat alone or with Cody while
we were in transit:
Cody's butt always made a nice pillow on
long rides in the truck.
On camping trips Tater adapted well to every place we traveled,
whether it was a Wal-Mart parking lot overnight in transit or a
huge site in a national forest area with a lake or creek nearby.
She didn't care, as long as she got to be with us and got to go
run somewhere. She wasn't as emotionally "needy" as Cody, who
wants to be under our feet more. She was happy to lay outside in the
cool grass or dirt until bedtime, barking (squeaking) occasionally at
something that caught her attention in the woods..
The only time we've seen Tater lie under the camper is when
we're camping. It was a cool spot from the sun, a place to stay
dry in the rain. She never laid under it at our home in Billings
or here in Virginia. I think it's remarkable that she appeared
to choose this location as where she wanted to die
instead of a cool patch of grass or her soft bed in the daylight
basement "dog room."
Tater and Cody enjoy our usual camping spot
near Leadville, CO (August, 2004)
Let's back up a bit. Without going into all the details of her
physical problems the past month, I can assure you it was a
physical roller coaster for Tater and an emotional one for us.
She required several medications, special food, assistance on
stairs, and other modifications to her routine and care. Some
days we could see the "old Tater," the one we knew and loved for
almost twelve years. Other days were very discouraging, when she
wouldn't eat or drink, her GI tract didn't work right, her
weight kept going down, she couldn't move around much, and/or
she was very lethargic.
Jim and I never knew what we'd find after we were gone several
hours or when we went to feed the dogs each morning. It was very
stressful for several weeks, but each time she seemed to
improve, our hopes were up that the improvement would last a
while. It never did.
Tater had a particularly bad night on August 20th and was very
lethargic the next morning. After we helped her up, she was able
to move around slowly outside for several hours during the cool,
overcast morning while I was gardening. Even though I left the
basement door open to the "dog room" so she didn't have to wedge
through the doggie door, she didn't go back inside the house. She could go to the
bathroom by herself. She drank some water but refused all offers of
yummy canned dog food (until her last month, she ate only dry
dog food). She followed me around the yard and laid
in the flowerbed near me but she seemed like a different dog.
There was no affect, no sign of recognition, no wag of the tail,
no response to her favorite words or comforting strokes.
"Tater" wasn't in there, and it made me very sad.
A much thinner Tater on August 3. This was
one of the better days
in her last month, and the last day I
I went inside to eat lunch about 1 PM Tater was lying in a shady
grass sleeping. Jim and Cody had been out running for a while.
They came home soon after I went inside.
As usual, both of them looked for Tater before coming upstairs.
When Jim couldn't find her, he assumed she was inside with me.
Nope. Now I was alarmed, too. Where could she have gone? We went back out to hunt for her in the
woods. Jim finally found her under the camper. Since she never
goes under there at home, we didn't even think to look there
Tater didn't appear to hear us as we tried to cajole her to come
out. Her eyes were half closed, her breathing was raspy, she
barely moved except to breathe. I ran inside to get a couple
sheets so we could pull her out without hurting her. Jim crawled under the camper to
place a sheet under her body. She still didn't move or respond
to us when we had her out in the grass, so we carried her closer
to the house, shed more tears for our little girl, and called
We knew then that it was time to say goodbye to Tater.
A FINAL ACT OF LOVE
"Euthanasia is a
kindness extended to a treasured pet, a decision we make at
a great cost to ourselves. It is a final act of love,
("Considering Euthanasia for Your Pet,"
Dogs For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Gina Spadafori and Marty Becker)
Jim and I had talked several times during August about "how we'd
know when it was time" to euthanize Tater. We knew we didn't
want her to be in pain (she showed that only once, on her last
night). We knew we couldn't carry her outside to do her business
if she lost complete mobility; even after losing several
pounds and looking all bony, she still weighed 68 pounds. We
debated whether we were keeping her alive for our sake or for
We asked ourselves if we were in Tater's condition, would we
want to live? She couldn't walk well any more, let alone run.
She had difficulty getting up, urinating and defecating, eating,
and breathing. What kind of life was that? Neither of us would
want to keep going in those conditions, and we've spelled it all
out in our own Advanced Directives. In hindsight, we probably
should have euthanized Tater a couple of weeks earlier.
An enjoyable trek to the
Beartoths with Tater (photo taken by Jim the summer of 2000)
We talked about Tater with two vets, as well as several close friends and
relatives who are Pet People and would understand our dilemma.
We read articles on the internet like the excellent one above
and found comfort reading on-line forums where others talked
about how they made the decision to put down a well-loved pet.
All that helped, but we still didn't know the answer until Tater so
much as told us the day she crawled under her beloved camper. And even then, it was very hard to let
In my almost-sixty years I've had the
companionship of about a dozen dogs. I've watched in sadness as each
succumbed to either the "normal" aging process or various
In most cases it's been my own decision when to end their lives
humanely, before they suffered from much pain.
That decision has never been easy, however, despite
knowing in my heart it's the right thing to do.
This time was particularly hard because I had Tater a little
longer than any previous dog. In addition, I've been retired the
last nine years and got to enjoy her more than the dogs I had
when I was working full time. She was inside the house with me
more, she ran with me more, and she got to go on numerous trips
with us in the camper instead of having to stay home when we traveled. She was
more a part of my life than other dogs I've had (as is Cody, but
for a shorter period of time so far).
One of Tater's and our favorite places:
near Leadville, CO (photo taken
Ten days after her death we can laugh about Tater's antics and quirks and remember the
wonderful times we had, yet the tears are still close to the
surface. Tater was totally dependent on us and we feel not only
self-doubt but some guilt. Should we have done
more to keep her alive despite her age? Would she have been
better the next day?
It's wonderful that veterinary medicine has made almost as many
technological advances as human medicine, but it's ironic, too.
it's even more
difficult for pet owners to decide just how much testing and
treatment are reasonable to keep elderly or sick pets alive.
The euthanasia decision and subsequent loss have been much
tougher on Jim than either of us predicted (we already knew it
would be hard on me). Tater is the first
dog he's ever been so bonded with. He loved running with her
and laughing at her antics. He became even more concerned and
involved with her care during the last month as he realized she
wasn't going to live as long as we thought. He was a tender,
thoughtful caretaker, just like he is with his human EMS patients.
He's still close to tears at times, too. Who would have thought
that Sweet Tater could affect a former non-dog person so
profoundly in just nine years?
HOW'S CODY DOING?
Cody watched as we placed a near-lifeless Tater in the van to
take her to the vet. We didn't let him go. I rode into town in
the back of the van with Tater, stroking her and talking softly
to her until the end. She had no response to either of us.
Unfortunately, Dr. Webster was off that day; a colleague
in his practice came out to the van to administer the injection.
(We're good enough friends with Dr. Webster that we think he
might have come out to our house, not that it would have been
any easier on us emotionally.)
Jim insisted that we bury Tater at home so she could have a
dignified burial. We brought her back and dug a big hole in the
woods just beyond the "Appalachian Trail" blaze. Cody sniffed
Tater's now-lifeless body and watched as we buried her. At
the last minute I remembered that we still hadn't spread Bubba's
ashes on a trail or mountain after he was cremated seven years
ago. We put his cremains in the grave with Tater and marked it
with both of their names.
Old buddies reunited once again:
Tater and Bubba's burial site in our woods
Cody didn't show any signs of distress until a couple of days
When we saw this normally very affectionate dog become remote,
even depressed, we started searching the internet for answers.
I found some good articles about canine mourning
with studies and anecdotal evidence showing dogs exhibit many of
the same symptoms of grieving that humans do when they lose a
close companion.. Cody's reaction surprised us before we read
those web sites. He often
tried to literally wedge himself between Tater and us when we
gave her attention. He's been "clingy" all his life.
We figured he'd be delighted to have us all to himself, but
he really seems to miss Tater.
At first he probably thought she'd be coming back. He seemed to be waiting and watching for her
from the deck or yard. Then he started sleeping a lot more than
usual in the basement dog room instead of sitting with his nose
against the patio door, begging to come inside.
Ten days later we still have to coax him to come inside with us
and he isn't his boisterous self on the trail. We've tried to
give him more affection, take him with us whenever we leave, and
even talk about Tater a little bit.
chow hound that he is, his appetite hasn't diminished (a common
sign for many dogs), but it's obvious he has been affected by
Tater's absence. He's also probably picking up on the
emotions Jim and I have been expressing lately, too. He's more
perceptive and sensitive than we thought.
The way we were: Cody misses his good buddy, too.
Photo taken in May, 2006 by Eric Rathbun.
Even though sociable Cody would probably like to have a buddy to play
with again, this isn't a good time for us to get another puppy
or adult dog. We have too much traveling planned this fall and
winter. We might consider getting another dog next spring, or
maybe just wait a while if Cody seems to adjust OK to being an
[Addendum six days later, September 6: The last
few days Cody has been acting more like his old self,
which is a relief. Jim and I are doing better, too.]
When I remember Tater, I like to think how much this furry canine and I
were similar in our approach to growing older. Even a dog can
remind a human about some important life lessons:
- life is an adventure; live every day to the max
Tater with us on the summit of Mt.
Elbert, Colorado's highest 14,000+ foot mountain.
Photo taken August, 2003 when we were
all younger and stronger.
Tater's ears flying as she runs toward
Jim after another wonderful day in the woods (summer of 2000)
Tater had quite an adventure in her twelve short years. We have
visions that now she's racing through a beautiful forest like
she did when she was young -- long ears flapping in the breeze,
tail going around in circles, eyes bright with doggie laughter, long legs gracefully leaping
over fallen trees -- finally escaped from the aged physical body that
betrayed her free spirit.
Goodbye, Sweet Tater. A bunch of people miss you.
"My goal in life is to be as good of a person as my dog already
thinks I am."
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
(in memoriam) Tater
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil