Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part 2: A Tragic Ending to a Good Dog's Life

Every year, from that first summer in 1957, Lassie developed an eczema that caused her immeasurable suffering, and she scratched and bit herself so badly that she lost hair on her back and her skin was scaly and sometimes bloody. In the fall, after cool weather set in, her hair grew back and she was happy. We, of course, didn't know what the problem was. I was only a boy, and my mom and dad had no experience in canine diseases. One neighborhood man (who raised beagles for field trials and was concerned that the condition might be contagious) declared that it was mange. Dogs with mange were routinely put down. We took her to a vet numerous times, but they had no clue and no cure. Finally, one vet suggested we leave her there to board for a few days, for observation (and tests, or so we thought), which we did. Every day I called the veterinary clinic to check on her, and each time the answer (from an office worker, not the vet) was that she was doing fine. When we picked her after a few days, I could see immediately that she hadn't eaten the entire time, and there was no life in her eyes, only a defeated look of resignation. She had given up the fight. At home, I couldn't interest her in any food, and had to spoon-feed her with broth and water to keep her alive. One day, she ate a small piece of baloney. That was the turning point, and from there she recovered her appetite and her will to live.

We had one more wonderful fall, winter and spring before summer hit us again, taking its annual toll on my dog (maybe this is why I still dislike summers). A decision had to be made: was her extreme suffering in the summers too high a price for her to pay, or for us to make her pay, for her enjoyment of the winters? Were we asking too much of her? The vet recommended euthanasia. In the end, we decided to follow his advice.

It may be hard to believe today, but veterinary science was quite primitive at that time. A vet primarily did spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and occasionally trauma treatment. Euthanasia was the ultimate answer to every serious problem. I still feel resentment toward veterinary science in those days. Today, even I know that she probably had a flea allergy. The only flea treatment available was flea powder, and it wasn't very effective. There may also have been flea shampoos, but since we had never even heard of flea allergies (apparently, neither had the vets), we didn't look in that direction. Maybe they just didn't exist. In any case, My dog had some kind of allergy, or possibly mites, because she ate the same kind of kibble in the winter as in the summer. And now, nearly sixty years later, there are not many days that go by without me thinking about her, and how she was cheated out of what should have been a full and happy life-- the best life a dog could have had, with the environment and the period in which she lived. The sadness for a loved one lost never diminishes. Time does not heal all wounds.

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