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Putting Maggie Down

I just spent a glorious week disconnecting from my ordinary workaday world and escaped to paradise… northern Lake Kootenay in the Canadian Rockies.  I was there with my wife and dear family friends staying in a gorgeous mountain home where our major decisions were whether we had wine and hors d’oeuvres before or after the bocce-ball game, or what garden greens to pick for that evening’s meal.

Along with the house came with three big dogs, including Maggie, a 20 year old Black Lab mix nearing the end of her life. She was virtually immobile, spent the day sleeping only getting up to eat, drink or relieve herself. She struggled to get up, moaning in obvious discomfort. Watching her, filled me with pain and I thought I would’ve put her down long ago, but the family said she was eating, drinking, surrounded by love, and they didn’t want to hasten her demise.

Seeing her every day made me reflect on what is a good death, and I think it’s dying at home surrounded by loving family. As a dog we could relieve Maggies’ suffering but that’s not an option for humans. We seem unable to end the current epidemic of unnecessary end-of-life suffering in people who are dying. Our technology allows us to subject people to unending tortures that may fend off death, but that do not restore health.

Let’s stop fighting for maximum longevity and start providing a good death for people; to live at home for as long as you can with pain managed, support, kindness, and surrounded by love; not a prolonged struggle in a hospital surrounded by doctors, nurses and machines.

How is that going to happen? We need less interventional care and more palliative care doctors, and we need to pay them more. Medicare pays meagerly for palliative care, but they will pay over $100,000 for open heart surgery on a patient who may be too fragile to survive it; they will pay an oncologist a 4.3% markup on drugs they administer (some costing more than $10,000 per dose) but they will not reimburse hospice without first requiring patients to forgo whatever other treatments they are currently on.

Finally, watching Maggie’s struggle, reminds me that all life is relational; stay connected to those you love in life and in death… leave an emotional legacy that includes witnessing death at home and dying with dignity.

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7 Responses to “Putting Maggie Down”

  1. Carol White says:

    I agree, but my only caveat is that IF people want interventional care, there should be parameters of allowing that. Not everyone will choose quality over quantity. I do fear the idea of “death panels” the older I get. I don’t want some group of docs or others deciding I’m too old for a hip replacement or an angioplasty if I want to have it. I want to weigh my “odds” for myself thank you!

  2. Annie MorrisonFaltis says:

    Beautiful dog. Touching sentiments on a topic we all need to ponder.

  3. Doggie stories always get to me. I know your message was about relationships and end of life issues, but being a dog person, Maggie is the story that touched me the most. May she continue to be surrounded by love as I hope we all are as we age.

  4. As usual, well written. Well said. Thanks.

  5. Kristin says:

    I agree with so much of what you said, but I do want to add something pertaining to our ability to decide on the timing of our beloved pets’ deaths. I have had dozens of animal relatives: dogs, cats, ferrets, a parrot, guinea pigs, mice, chickens, etc. etc. I consider them my adopted family members, and love them deeply. One thing I’ve heard for decades and have always found to be true is that your aging pets will let you know when they feel it is their time to die. It comes through as a crystal clear, non-verbal message. You just suddenly KNOW when the time has come. It is often extremely painful for the human who is responsible to watch his dog or cat decline, no longer be able to play, lose hearing and sight, and suffer pain. But even with all of those losses and difficulties, sometimes an animal, like a person, is not ready to die. I am not saying that it is wrong to put a suffering animal down, but when the decline is slow and there is a close bond between the person and pet, I do believe that the pet will make it very clear when he or she has had enough, is tired of the struggle, and wants to move on. That is the right time to ‘put your pet down’. It is unfortunate that this cannot also be done for humans when they are tired and want the struggle to end.

  6. Mary says:

    I just had to put my beautiful best friend Ollie to sleep. He suddenly got a blood clot and his hind legs became paralysed. There was no warning one minute he was tucking in to his food the next he was meowing in pain lying on the ground unable to move his hind legs. It was a real shock one minute normality the next panic. We rushed him to the emergency vet and she said the kindest thing to do was to put Ollie to sleep. It was hard but I was there till the end he had always been there for me it was the least I could do. I don’t like to call the procedure to put down I always think it is lifting up our beloved pets.xx

  7. Patricia Bartosik says:

    Excellent video!!!
    I am facing this situation with my 15 1/2 year old poodle. He is my little soul friend and need to let him go soon. The cancer is taking him from me and I want to help him suffer less. So, I am going to have the Vet ease our burden and let him escape to heaven…Until I see him again.

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Dr. Carl A. Hammerschlag, M.D., CPAE is a psychiatrist, author, and professional keynote speaker. He is an authority in the science of psychoneuroimmunology mind, body, spirit medicine and speaks about health and wellness, healing, leadership and authenticity . He has delivered motivational keynote speeches to corporate and business clients around the world.