How do we define quality of life?

Posted: September 27, 2006 at 12:57 am

On Sunday, Sheila and I had taken Chase to the local park as there is usually a lot of activity going on during the weekends.  We thought it would be a good opportunity to work on Chase’s need to chase things that move in a very busy environment.  The place was full of activity as there was some kind of kid’s soccer tournament/practice going on.   I said to Sheila I was going to bring Oliver here after we took Chase home because Oliver loves being out and about.  He loves to “see and be seen”.  The hustle and the bustle of it all make him so happy and I don’t take him out as often as I should.  So that is what I did.  Unfortunately, the soccer games were breaking up just as I arrived with Oliver.  But Oliver had fun running around using his nose to smell all things smelly and his tongue to lick up water on the wet grass.
 
For those of you who haven’t met my foster dog, Oliver is disabled.  A truck rolled over his back which caused spinal nerve damage.  This resulted in his back legs being paralyzed. Through water therapy and acupuncture, Oliver’s nerves are in the process of regenerating and he can walk – well his own version of walking.  He is not completely stable on his feet.  He often stumbles and can’t walk on all surfaces yet.  But Oliver is getting there. 
While at the park, Oliver and I ran into, someone I know.  By this time, Oliver had been running around for a ½ hour so he was stumbling more and his weaker back leg would sometimes drag behind him.  We went over to say hi and she petted Oliver and asked how he was doing.  She asked me why Oliver hadn’t been euthanized when he came into the SPCA way back in January and I explained to her why.  Then she said a funny thing that struck such a chord in me.  She said Oliver had no quality of life (she meant right now – not before when he was first injured) and that the best thing would be to PTS him.  I was shocked that she thought this.   I said “I think he has quality of life”.  She said “you give him quality of life”.    I wasn’t sure what she meant by this as I think Oliver gives himself quality of life.  I said I think he is pretty happy.  And she agreed that he seemed pretty happy to be out here.  I then said that Oliver doesn’t know he is disabled and she agreed he didn’t seem to let his disability hold him back.  We were interrupted by someone else approaching her and wanting to meet one her dogs so I left.  I wanted to leave as I was disturbed by the conversation.  I came home and talked to Sheila about it.  We discussed the fact that no one had ever told us that Luke should be euthanized for his disability.  Luke being blind and deaf actually is more reliant on us than Oliver.  So we wondered if Oliver’s lack of quality of life for some people was based on the way he looked – stumbling around on his legs as opposed to Luke who walks normally (i.e. Oliver’s disability is more in your face).  Does this mean that some people will look at children who have cerebral palsy or are mentality challenged or are reliant on a wheel chair and believe these children have no quality of life?  What is quality of life?  I have always thought that if you are pain free and happy then you have quality of life.  It was a long haul for Oliver to get where he is today but I see a happy dog and, thus, never ever considered he doesn’t have quality of life.  The first time I met in Feb he was a happy little guy dragging himself around. 
To be honest, the question of Oliver’s quality of life has come up before for other people.  I guess I was just shocked that someone could look down at Oliver’s happy, panting face after having a run around the park and say yeah maybe he shouldn’t be alive.  Its funny how he can create this reaction in some people and yet I can take him to a luncheon where he gets a standing ovation.  I guess that means everyone has their own definition of what quality of life is.

9 Comments on "How do we define quality of life?"

  • Carol says

    there is 2 sides to quality of life…theirs and ours. dogs like oliver make people uncomfortable, sometimes we see difficulty and challenge and we just want that black spot to go away, so we euth. them.
    i had a visitor here a few months back (a friend of a friend) who was chomping at the bit to get up here and see SAINTS because everything we did was so wonderful. all went well, til Honey was introduced, then the tears started, and the happy glow faded and a profound emotional disturbance for that person insued. saints is no longer a happy place for that visitor. honey did not poke out her own eyes, a human’s neglect caused that damage to her. she is old and sleeps alot, and she has moments of profound joy (even more now that she has nicole)….so, to her, her life has value but to another, her value in life was destroyed by her sightless sockets. we kill more animals out of bleeding hearts and weep while we do it because our hearts are too easily wounded. animals are stronger than we give them credit for, a little bit of hope and faith, and a little bit of steel inside us can let them have a little bit more fun.

  • Deb says

    Quality of life is such a subjective philosophy. In a perfect world, families are able (willing, responsible) to keep their animal companions with them until such time as letting them go is the loving thing to do. Therein lies the rub. Families who have spent 10, 12, 14 years with a companion animal know when quality of life begins to fail, and when it is over. Rescued animals and the Rescuers that love them have a much shorter time to bond, and sussing out “Q of L” is much harder, since, in many cases, assumptions have to be made in place of facts that are unknown.

    Our Clio is brain injured and blind. Her world is very small compared to our other dogs’ worlds. When she does get taken to a beach or a park, she hates every moment, and people feel sorry for her, and will express that pity in a way that I think Clio understands. So she doesn’t go out much.

    Nobody likes to be pitied.

    Clio is blind, Clio is brain injured. Does that mean she lacks quality of life? Hell no. Miss Clio is actively on her way to becoming Alpha Dog in our little pack. Clio she has friends. Whenever one of her “chosen few” walks through our front door and says hello to her, that little head swivels and she is totally animated. Clio loves (ferociously) and is loved, protected and valued for the little fighter she is. Had we not adopted her, she would have been “put out of her misery”. Whose misery, now?

    We recently let our Chunky go because we knew she was no longer enjoying the quality of life required to keep her here with us. We wanted her to stay, we agonized, I made deals with a God I no longer believer in, but Chunk was ready, and we love her, so we did the right thing. To a stranger, she may have looked fine, just as, to a stranger, Oliver looks damaged. What do strangers know? Who cares what the ill-informed think?

    Leila, you and Sheila will always do right by your family members, permanent and temporary. I think you are perfectly capable of reading your companions, understanding them, and knowing what is best for them. That, for them, quarantees qualilty of life.

    Carol, you make heart-wrenching decisions far more often than I ever could. I dare anyone to say you waffle on Q of L issues.

  • nicole says

    while i do it myself sometimes, honey shouldn’t be pitied (yes it is sad her previous owners were s.o.b.s), but she is getting better and better at not letting her lack of sight stop her. she can be quite the old goat when there is food around, sniffing and snotting on everything.
    I’m bringing them to my soccer game on sunday and I know some people will look at both of them and pity them. Ozzie, because she bails occasionally and Honey’s eyes can be gross sometimes yes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting anything out of life. Honey is ‘barking’ now, much more often. If I am petting her and then stop and walk away, I hear this little half-assed howl coming from her. This morning she disappeared, I walked down the hallway from the tvroom and she had somehow gotten into my room. there was a baby gate on the door( it’s gated when i’m at work as it’s carpeted), 6-8 inches above the ground so my cats can get in. A determined Honey had decided she wanted to be in that room and had squeezed herself under the gate and was lying on her quilt on the floor. And yesterday she made it the whole way down the hallway, outside and up the ramp to the grass. She is making leaps and bounds I think.
    Ozzie has no clue her legs aren’t fully functioning, that’s half the problem, she won’t slow down. she loves soccer balls and carrying teddies around. she likes to watch my cats and pretend she could actually catch them.
    yes, they can’t do everything ‘regular’ dogs can do, but how many ‘regular’ dogs are out there (separation anxiety, human or dog reactive, Phoebe, etc).
    carol, i agree with you on ‘animals are stronger than we give them credit for’. I need to remind myself of that more often.
    please let your friend’s friend know Honey is doing well. She is (in my opinion) enjoying herself. she discovered mango ice cream yesterday and tonight her lack of eyesight won’t stop her from enjoying pizza any less.
    Sorry that was so long i’m just so proud of them.

  • Jean says

    The first time I met Oliver, I was amazed that some short-sighted person hadn’t just put him down “to put him out of his misery” – I’ve seen vets’ offices recommend euthanasia for dogs far less injured than Oliver. And I didn’t envy Leila and Sheila’s challenge to help him develop his abilities and adapt to his limitations. But one only had to take a look at Oliver’s happy, laughing face and determined little body to know that Oliver thinks he has a fine life!!

    When I first started working with Saints, I remember picking up Francis from CAC and momentarily questioning why he hadn’t been put down. But again I have no doubt that there was a reason Francis came to our attention, and that Francis enjoyed his last few weeks with us. His life may not have been what I would have wished for him, and many of my friends and family looked at his picture and questioned his quality of life, but I think Francis enjoyed the lovings he received and signalled us when that no longer compensated for the deterioration of his body.

    Isaac is another – an acquaintance asked me the other day why we would choose to spend scarce resources on an old crippled dog who, from her point of view, doesn’t have a life of quality. I am darn sure Isaac would disagree – he has loved being here, watching sunsets, sharing cheese whiz on toast, and even his spontaneous attempts at chasing squirrels. His legs may not support him at times, and I know that the day will soon come when his pain cannot be managed, but for now he is a loved dog soaking up sunshine and kisses and mooching from anyone with food, and to Isaac I think that makes life worth living.

    Watching my mom, who will spend her 88th birthday this weekend in hospital where she is immobile from a broken hip, losing her vision and hearing, beginning to show signs of dementia, and frequently depressed to the point that she has often expressed the desire to just go to sleep and not wake up, I can’t help but make comparisons and wonder why some people are so terribly unwilling to give a dog a chance at a few more fun filled, loved filled days or weeks or years, yet make members of their own species stay in their earthly bodies far longer than they choose. Of the two, I think Isaac has a far greater quality of life.

  • Leila says

    Don’t apologize for being long. I loved reading your post about Honey and Ozzie. Honey is becoming comfortale and her world is opening up for her. It is not many people in the world who let the Honey and the Ozzie and the Clio and this world explore and discover who they are.

    Deb it is very intersting what you said about Chuncky and Clio and that an outsider would have thought Chunky was fine. I guess it does have to do with having the animal in your home to figure out what quality of life is for that particular individual and that people base Q of L too much on what looks unpleasant to them.

  • Leila says

    Jean, your response in regards to Oliver reminded me of something. When I first became with Oliver, I was repeatedly told,that given Oliver’s injuries, most vets would not have given Oliver a chance and would have recommended euthanization. Oliver saw the one vet who was willing to give him a chance and I always credit him for saving Oliver. Literally Oliver wouldn’t be here if wasn’t for that guy. Being human, I kept wondering why did this vet make this decision, why him, what was it that he saw in Oliver beyond the medical stuff that said let give this dog a chance. I finally got my answer on Sept 10 at the Surrey SPCA walkathon. I bumped into Dr. D and his family in the parking lot. He has a disabled daughter who requires a wheel chair.

  • Melissa says

    I agree that animals are stronger than humans. We have become far too soft with all of our luxeries, and most are uncomfortable being faced with anything that reminds us of the ‘not normal’ ie. disabled, because I think it is what people fear most.

    I think these people just aren’t able to see the souls inside these precious animals. When I first came to saints it was Honey who made me want to come back the most, she is just such a special special girl and I fell in love with her immediately. And when I saw how she was with Nicole at the garage sale I knew immediately that she was a happy girl.

    Would those people say Ed should be euthanized because he is blind? Probably not, and the only reason for that is because his eyes don’t look as shocking at Honeys, people base on looks too much.

    Animals only weaknesses is that they rely on us humans, and all too often they are the victims of that.

  • Faith says

    I think that people who question quality of life, in that moment, think to themselves “Man, I’d rather die than be like that.” I can see if one of my cats or my dog isn’t feeling well. I can also see when they are happy. I think it’s a gift to be able to tell when that line has been crossed from good to poor quality of life. I also think it’s a gift when they are gently helped to go with love.

    I’ve accepted that people view things on a virtual TV screen of their own experiences. People can all look at the same thing and see so many different angles.

  • Carol says

    i think pretty much every moment that i would rather be dead…just kidding.

    i remember once we did an experiment in a psychology class…we all viewed the exact same object and the exact same sequences of events at the exact same time and OMG, were the PRECEPTIONS of every single student different!! it blew my mind.

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