When I was at my weakest moments in caring for a terminally ill cat, I was continually confronted with the term 'quality of life'. My first reaction in every case was to be stunned, look at my boy and think 'What are you seeing that I'm not?'. Well, in fact, it's more about what I'm seeing that they're not.
Each of us looks through our own lens at the evidence before our eyes. We then interpret the evidence as we see it based on our own experience. When you think about the different experiences of people who care for animals, they vary considerably.
Consider what it's like for someone who works in an animal shelter where many animals don't have companion people to care for them. To a shelter worker, an animal that is suffering from a terminal illness has little hope of good days, other than the brief moments of care and affection that are afforded by the shelter staff. In those cases, when considering the quality of life, it would likely be that a quick end to it's suffering is the only course that is humane.
And what of veterinary care providers? While they have a somewhat less onerous task in that they are often helping animal companions to care for sick and injured pets, they are seeing these creatures in a production capacity. They see many animals each day and in many cases, animal companions are expecting the veterinary staff to tell them the best course of action. That's a pretty considerable responsibility. Although the veterinary community will know likely outcomes of various conditions as well as options for treatment and resolution, they don't know the animal as well as the companion.
So, while coping with the challenges of caring for George, I also struggled with my desire to prevent him suffering unnecessarily. I found myself often trying to manage my own anxiety that I would fail to see his suffering while observing the pleasure he took in his days. It's a difficult evaluation to make. When you're caring for a sick animal, they love every bit of care and attention you give. Because I didn't know George as a well cat, or as I had my previous charges, I decided I'd be forced to make my decisions based on his involvement in daily activities he obviously enjoyed.
He had certain behaviors he initiated, such as his walks in the garden or around the house. Also walking over to us to greet us when we went into his room accompanied by talking or rubbing his head on us. He had learned to ask for food and that was another indicator I felt I could use to gauge his interest. I knew I had to make decisions on his behalf, and after considering my knowledge of him along with the indications that he was having good days, recognized these were the things I should use to evaluate his quality of life.
George had a good life with us, even though I know he experienced greater pain and discomfort toward the end. I believe we made the right choices for him and that he had the full benefit of the best of what life could offer him in those final days.