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Ask a Vet: Difficult task to help a friend
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On this day six years ago, I killed my best friend. On purpose.

It was way overdue, but I still have mixed feelings about it.

Most people never find themselves in that situation, but being a veterinarian lends itself to doing things most people would never even consider. Yes, yes ... insert feces joke here.

His name was William, and he helped raise me. He came to live with me when I was 15 and he was only 5 weeks old.

Living in a rural area with no kids your age nearby encourages a closeness between dog and boy. A good dog is the same as a good psychologist. But your hour is never up, as long as you have bacon.

Still, 17-plus years later, he’d seen me through high school and three college degrees. I was even lucky enough to take a few pictures of him and my first-born human.

But time is a harsh taskmaster, and he had a lot of miles on him. Despite being a mixed-breed dog (usually a ticket to avoiding purebred disease tendencies), he had bad hips from his shepherd dad and bad disks in his neck from his beagle mom.

He battled allergies and ear infections. He’d even survived a close call with Leptosporosis and resulting temporary liver and kidney failure.

But he couldn’t overcome canine cognitive dysfunction, a disease strikingly similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. Medication and dietary management helped slow the progression, but once your brain begins to degrade in function, it’s a one-way street. Downhill.

Eventually, his quality of life was below what he deserved. But I resisted. I made subconscious deals with myself. If he eats today, he’s OK. If he recognizes me today, I’ll give him another week.

I eventually put his interests ahead of mine and gave him relief. But with the brutal clarity of hindsight, it was after he’d suffered tremendously.

It’s difficult to give away what you need to help another. Be brave and try if it’s ever up to you. Nothing gold can stay. But with difficult timing, you can prevent the memory of it from being sullied.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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