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The Problem of Echo
Ever so often for the past several months, I've posted something or said something to the effect of "Well, she's still hanging in there, but probably just for another few days."

She's still hanging in there.

I like euthanasia; I think it's a spectacular idea, avoiding the most miserable parts of dying. [Insert complex ethical debate here, but not today.] But it's for when the critter is done wringing all the goodness out of life that she can wring. Still interested in food and snuggling and exploring? Not done yet. Given up on food, lying still in weird parts of the cage, having to put all her effort into things like breathing? Done.

The plan, ever since the throat lump popped up back in... June, was it? has been palliative care. Keep her comfortable as long as we can, then put her to sleep when she's not comfortable any more. It was a good plan. I was pretty happy with it; not wild about implementing it at her age, but she'd already had the one surgery and given how that went it didn't seem like another would really help (and indeed it wouldn't have, since the leg tumor popped up fairly shortly afterward).

The problem is that Echo's not done. She's enthusiastic about food (even regular boring blocks). She wants to say hi when we walk past the cage. She wants to sit on my lap. Right now she is wandering around seeing if anything interesting has happened near the balcony door since the last time she was there.

But she looks terrible. She smells terrible. The stupid throat thing's gotten so big she can only reach the ground with one front paw at time. The leg tumor opened up and has of course gotten infected, because it's a giant gaping hole in her leg. We do what we can to keep it clean, but see also giant gaping hole. It, also, keeps getting bigger.

She hates having her leg cleaned out. She hated the Tamoxifen, too; I quit giving her that about a month ago, because she had a day where I came home from work and thought, "Okay, tomorrow we make the call," but then the next day she was bright and perky again. And later that week, again I thought, "Okay, tomorrow we make the call. She doesn't need this medication she hates, then, might as well make her last night pleasant," and the next day she perked up and bloody damn well stayed perked up. I'd've done something much more aggressive about the leg sore, but I thought she was going to be dead in a few days.

But other than not liking the cleaning process -- which is totally reasonable of her; water, augh! nasty stinging antiseptic, augh! -- she doesn't seem to be unhappy, or in pain, or anything beyond annoyed at not being able to reach the back of the tumor to groom it and at the way it restricts her climbing. (She's just climbed up on my foot and demanded a lift to the lap.) She can't possibly be comfortable, but she's clearly not done. (Now they are both over on Andres' side of the desk playing How Many Keys Can I Press at Once?)

We are, though.

I don't want her to be miserable. She's not miserable. She is, at some point, going to be miserable. I'm trying really hard to talk myself into believing that it's okay to put her down now. When it gets bad, it's going to get really fucking bad. It's probably going to get really fucking bad really fucking fast, because what's probably going to happen is that the leg infection will eventually hit the bloodstream. She doesn't need to live through that. (Back in the cage now, rummaging around in a paper bag.)

It's not all about her, of course. I'd like to introduce the other rats, and get the little cage out of the living room so there's not litter everywhere. I'd like not to have to clean out her leg. I'd like not having to look at her leg, or at the other tumor on her leg that's gone scabby, or at the huge neck tumor. I'd like not to feel guilty about not going for a second surgery. I'd really, really like the smell to go away. I'd like not to feel selfish for not wanting to deal with it all. I'd like not to feel selfish for making her stick around, if she is unhappier than she looks (rats are good at hiding pain). I'd like not to feel selfish for making this decision more about me than about her.

I'd like somebody to tell me it's okay.

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It's okay. You need to take care of her quality of life. And also yours.

She seems to be more or less okay with her quality of life, is the problem. There's quite a bit of cognitive dissonance involved in wishing that one's beloved pet were miserable, because then things would be simpler.

If I believed in reincarnation, the quality-of-life argument would be more convincing at this point, but it's not like I can put her back in a normal healthy state. I can set quality_of_life = 0, which is only an improvement if it's actually gone negative.

I might get thwapped by somebody for this, but you know what? It's okay to take care of you! You're allowed to be part of this equation.

(Sure, Echo is a big part of the picture too, but I don't think you'd keep pets at all if you felt you were the only living creature worth considering. That's not who you are. Like me, you'd tend to err on the other side.)

I know it's enormously harder to think about this when she's not done. My beliefs align with yours: euthanasia is a mercy at the right time, and you can tell when the time is right. Given that, I'm imagining what my own emotions would be were I in your shoes, and I empathize, hugely.

Focusing on Echo for a moment, will you give yourself a guilt trip if you wait "too long" and she goes downhill in misery? I waited "too long" with a beloved pet once, and I feel bad about it to this day.

Another little bit to add here is that the other rats get to be factored in to the whole picture, too. Will they be happier after they're introduced and all are in the big cage with more room to run? Will they be happier, overall, having had the transition earlier on? Will Calliope be happier? Maybe none of that is a big deal (I'm fairly clueless about rats and what makes them happy), but I figured I'd throw it in.

I wish it were all easier. I don't know of anything that makes facing this kind of decision easy. But you are TOTALLY allowed to put yourself in the picture.

Guilt trip either way, really, but waiting too long is worse than not waiting quite long enough.

Aphrodite and Hera will be very pleased with the big cage. If Aphrodite and Calliope can come to some agreement about status, they'll probably be very happy to have extra rats to play with; Hera possibly not so much (she seems kind of rat-socially inept).

We have an appointment for Monday. She's been very quiet today and yesterday, so while I still think we're probably early, I don't think we're as early as we might have been. I'm feeling a little better about it.

I'm glad it's at least a little clearer. I'm sorry you have to go through this. :-(

We made a similar decision recently about our bunny Chana. This sort of thing is always difficult. *hugs*

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