Last month, my red heeler cattle dog, Nacho, was attacked by the two dogs who live behind us, through their chain-link fence. The dogs had grabbed him by his legs and tried to drag him under the fence into their yard. I was horrified and worried too. Our history with these newish neighbors had not been positive. I got Nacho into the house and assessed his raw wounds. Blood ran from gashes on two of his legs and from a patch on his rump that was missing fur, near his tail. Our new carpet was being stained, but I did not care. I wrapped him in a towel, lifted the 50 pounds of him, put him on the back seat of the SUV and raced to the closest veterinary hospital.
This was our third ER vet visit in a year. Nacho still suffered PTSD from an altercation with a raccoon family. As we walked in the front door, the front desk staff jumped into action, calling for triage. As before, I was given a rundown on the proposed course of action and given a range of potential costs for treatment depending on what they found once they shaved, cleaned and examined him and then determined treatment. But this was the first time I had ever been handed a Do Not Resuscitate form and asked to check which box aligned with my wishes in case he went into cardiac arrest during the exam or treatment. Words to the right of the “resuscitate” box informed me that if CPR was administered, $350 would be added to the bill. I stared at the two boxes and felt compressed by the weight of the decision, as so many factors tipped the scale one way or another.
While Nacho is bonded to me and I to him and we are family, he is not technically my dog. When only weeks old, he was given as a gift to my 17-year-old stepson, Kenny, from his mother. At the end of 2014, I married into the family, which included four pets. Revive or not-revive wishes had never been broached, let alone discussed with decisions reached. I had no idea what Kenny would want — I had only been able to send him a short text saying, “Nacho was attacked. On our way to vet,” while I waited at a red light. My husband and I had never talked about his desires, though I was well aware how devastating it was for him to send his last dog to permanent sleep, and he was working in a country where the time difference made it the middle of the night anyway. I felt rather alone.
But I went with my instinct in checking a box, given Nacho’s middle-age status and excellent health when not fighting. I wondered how many others — pet sitters, walkers, pet hotel employees and significant others — had been in my shoes.
Hours later, when Nacho was treated, released and wearing the cone of shame and I had come down from the adrenaline rush, I went online to research living wills for pets. A company that legally advises veterinary offices called Veterinary Business Advisors recommends all vets give patients (or patient-parents) a living will with a DNR form to sign so they can keep one on file in case of emergency. The same form should also be signed and available to pet caretakers in case the emergency involves receiving care somewhere other than with the primary veterinary care office. Veterinary Business Advisors has a sample form here that can be downloaded and used by anyone.
Had I known about a living will for pets sooner, I could have saved myself a whole lot of stress. We hate to think of situations where our dogs may need such a form, but it’s better to be prepared for those scenarios than to be caught off guard.
Nacho has since recovered from his injuries, and his fur is in the process of growing back. He avoids the back area near the fence despite the dogs’ growling and jumping toward us anytime we are in the yard.
Now that my husband is back in the country, we’ve taken the time to sit down as a family, agree on a course of action should future needs arise and to fill out the forms. I am hoping we will never encounter another situation where we are forced to make a decision like this, but if the time does come, we will have a plan of action in place.