I adopted Ripken from the Humane Society when he was six months old. He had come in as a six week old puppy who had been hit by a car a few days previously, but had been left in someone’s garage until he seemed like he may die. Only then did they bring him in to the shelter. He had a dislocated hip, a crushed toe, and lots of infected cuts. A local veterinarian nursed him back to health and he went up for adoption at about twelve weeks old. He had several people interested in him, but ultimately he was too boisterous so they ended up choosing other dogs. Finally, at six months old he when he was about to be euthanized, I adopted him. At the time, I was living in an apartment that did not allow dogs, so we moved and he was my best friend for the next nine years. I had my son, Tristan, about five years later, and Ripken was devoted to him.
In June 2013, Ripken was running around in the back yard with Tristan and our other dog, Surge, when I noticed he was lame on his right front leg. He was bearing weight on it, but he would just step a little gingerly when he used it. It was a Saturday, so we decided we would monitor him over the weekend and take him to the veterinarian if needed on Monday. By Monday, he had a large swelling midway up his front leg. We took him to the vet that morning fully expecting that this was something that was fixable. They took him for some x-rays and blood work. When the veterinarian returned, he told us that Ripken had a tumor that was primary osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. We discussed what the possible options were: amputation, chemotherapy, or simply pain management. Unfortunately, due to his hip dysplasia, the vet did not think he would be a good candidate for amputation. Chemotherapy was estimated to give him an additional six months, but even with that, this is an aggressive form of cancer that would likely spread. If we did not do chemotherapy, the veterinarian thought we could keep him comfortable with just pain management for around six weeks until we would need to euthanize. My fiancé, Jason, and I took a couple days to talk about it, since we were both too emotional to make a quick decision. Ultimately, for Ripken and for us, we decided to do pain management for as long as he was comfortable and he still had a good quality of life. This was one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make and sometimes I still question whether it was the right thing. Maybe I should have done the chemotherapy and I would have had him longer. But I continued thinking that longer isn’t always better. Ultimately this cancer would spread and I would still have to say goodbye to my best friend. I just wanted his life to be the best it could possibly be for as long as I could keep it that way. I was worried he would be miserable from the side effects of the chemotherapy and his quality of life would be poor. The veterinarian warned us that waiting too long could result in the tumor growing so large that it would eventually break his leg.
He was on several different pain medications and for four weeks he was his happy, normal self. We waited and watched. I was petting him at the end of those four weeks and when my hand ran over his hips, he yelped. It was rare for him to ever yelp in pain so it caught my attention immediately. He had been bearing more weight on his hind legs over the last couple days to prevent him from needing to put so much weight on that front leg. When Surge was ready to go out and play one day, Ripken just laid on the deck and watched him run around, which was also not at all like him. We called the veterinarian that night to schedule his euthanasia the next day. I didn’t want him to be in pain, so when he started showing me that he was, we knew it was time. The next morning came and he seemed better. He was playing with Surge, not as enthusiastically, but still playing. I started questioning whether we should wait. Ultimately, I wanted to do what was best for my friend and no matter how much it hurt, I owed him the same love and caring he had always shown me. We decided to go through with the euthanasia that day, because even if today was a good day, tomorrow may not be and he was going to have many more bad days than good. He was going to continue to decline, and I didn’t want him to have to suffer through those bad days because I was unable to let go.
We went to the veterinarian. My parents met us there (they were always very firmly cat people, but they attribute Ripken to opening their eyes to how great dogs, especially Pit Bulls can be) so they could say goodbye and take the boys and Surge back to their house where we were going to bury Ripken. Ripken was so excited to see them and he had always loved going to the vet because they gave him lots of treats. He walked into the hospital with Jason and I and greeted everyone, like always. I thought my heart was going to be broken into a million pieces forever, but I was determined not to break down until after he was gone, because he needed me to be strong. He was my rock through many transitions in my life and now it was my time to be his. Ripken was humanely euthanized on July 17, 2013 and was buried at my parents house with a hand carved headstone to mark his grave.
It still hurts. I still miss him every day. They say that time heals all wounds and I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that time makes them more bearable. I would have given anything, paid anything to save my friend and to still have him with me, but that isn’t the reality of pet ownership- we often outlive these incredible creatures with whom we have shared our homes, lives, and love. I believe that we love all our pets, but there are those that we have a special connection with, and Ripken was mine. I feel blessed to have been able to have that connection for the nine years we were together, and I was able to give him a gift in return- I was able to end his suffering in a loving and painless way.
-Katie Bruner, RVT