Saying Goodbye by Andrea Steele


In photo (above): Murphy and Naia. 

Once upon a time, I had four Labrador Retrievers: Murphy, Riley, Naia and Dublin.  Murphy, Riley and Naia were all one year apart, Dublin was the baby brother.  I recall a breeder friend cautioning us not to get three so close in age, as we were setting ourselves up for eventual heartbreak, but at the time, puppy-love won out. People talk about “heart dogs”; that one stand-out dog. But in my mind, all four of them qualified. Our dogs were our kids. My husband and I even cut our honey-moon short because we missed the dogs. They prepared us well for when it was time to introduce “two-legged kids”. 

Naia was the Queen. She kept the boys in check. She settled arguments, she was always the leader and she got the primo couch spot.  A sharp bark from her meant business and the boys respected that. 

Photo (left): Naia and Riley. 

Two weeks after bringing our son home from the hospital, Naia collapsed while coming in from outside.  As a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) that worked in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), I knew it was bad.  Checking her out, all signs pointed to internal bleeding; she appeared to be in shock. I called into work and asked them to be ready. We were on our way.  My husband stayed with the kids and I drove so quickly it felt like we flew to OVC. The team was prepared with a gurney – and my team that I worked with every day went to work trying to save my dog’s life. 

I will never forget how hard everyone tried to save Naia. The ICU veterinarians and RVTs did everything they could to stabilize her, but ultimately, I knew that we urgently needed to make a very painful decision. Naia needed surgery immediately in order to remove a bleeding tumour on her spleen, or we needed make the decision to euthanize her.

I called my husband and he rushed to OVC so we could discuss our options. Unfortunately, we received more bad news: Naia was still not stabilizing despite blood transfusions and fluids. X-rays showed she had tumours in her lung and an ultrasound revealed another mass on her liver. Her prognosis was very poor – even if she survived emergency surgery.

As a member of OVC’s emergency and critical care team, this is a familiar scene that I have been part of countless times: an emergency occurs, animals are rushed in to our service, we work for hours to make the patient comfortable, even though it is obvious that despite our best efforts, the owners are faced with making difficult, unexpected and heartbreaking decisions about their beloved pet. Daily, we realize not all of them can be saved — we have to focus on those that we can save to keep ourselves sane.

The OVC team treated me the same as any client that comes through our doors: with dignity and the utmost respect. Our medical team offered my family tremendous support and guidance while we made the toughest choice, deciding what to do for our beloved girl.

Within hours of arriving at OVC, we made the decision to let Naia go. We stayed by her side as we told her we loved her – the Queen of our household and our sweet, loving dog. We said our goodbyes and we humanely euthanized her. She was only eight years old. 

The weeks that followed were hard: she was the first of our dogs to pass, and it was so sudden and out of the blue. The boys wandered around the house, not really understanding where Naia was and they started to have more and more arguments as they decided which of them would take her place as top dog.

In retrospect, having a newborn and a two-year old child to care for forced us to suppress our grief and move on. In writing this, almost 15 years later, I have tears streaming down my cheeks. The pain and grief of losing Naia has certainly lessened over time, but she will always have a special place in my heart.

Photo (right): Dublin. 

Time passed, the boys settled and we got back to our “normal” life. The dogs aged and remained generally healthy; the kids grew.  Murphy, Riley and Dublin all lived to the age of 16 before we had to make that final decision. Each dog developed issues in their final year of life. Murphy’s back-end had failed him and was getting weaker and weaker. The day “it was time”, he was unable to get up or control his bladder. Riley also developed hind end weakness, very common in geriatric Labradors, and followed a similar path to Murphy. Dublin began to have seizures, likely due to a brain tumour, that were getting more and more frequent and scary to experience. 

Was saying goodbye to Murphy, Riley and Dublin easier or less painful because we were able to choose their final moments? With Naia we didn’t have time to come to terms with what the end of our dog’s life would look like. Perhaps having to choose the time and place was harder, whereas Naia made the decision for us. The end – whether it is planned or whether it is sudden – is heartbreaking no matter what the circumstances are.

Either way, I know in my heart that we gave each of our dogs a great life and a calm and peaceful death…the way they deserved.

In photo (above): Drawing of Dublin by Dr. Judy Brown. 

Read more in the fall / winter issue of Best Friends Magazine