As a family, we are dedicated animal lovers and pet enthusiasts. For animals, my wife has an often-disastrous combination of an overflowing compassion and a knack for attracting jacked-up stray animals. She has a long history of nursing these strays through serious and expensive health problems so that they can die naturally and comfortably. And we’re big fans of animal rescue operations; we’ve even done benefits for Bernie Berlin’s A Place to Bark.

That’s why it was hardly a surprise when I discovered that, while I was away on business, my wife had arranged to adopt this dog named Coco from a local dog rescue. (Annoying as hell, but unsurprising.) So I got back, and the only thing I didn’t like about this dog was that she was pretty old (~10 yrs.). Otherwise she’s reasonable: Small but not too small, quiet, friendly, cute etc.

Coco had the horrible history typical of a rescue dog Neglect, poor health and so on; the rescue even took a risk on expensive surgery to get this old dog back in shape. So we were this big success story for the rescue when we adopted her.

And it was really nice, at least at first. She did lots of cute doggy things; we liked watching her patrol the back yard, proudly defending it from marauding squirrels and larcenous birds. We liked how happy she was to see us when we came home. We loved watching the “progressive shake” she does, starting with her head and working its way back to her butt. One of our favorite things is the way she rolls around grunting on the rugs after we give her a bath; it’s quite a spectacle.

She was even reasonably trainable. On Bernie’s suggestion we trained her to ring a string of bells at the back door when she needed to go outside.

Unfortunately, she got cataracts and became mostly blind about six months later. Poor dog. Which wouldn’t be so bad; I’ve seen blind dogs get by pretty nicely. Except that Coco has no mental map of her territory, unlike most dogs. She is CONSTANTLY banging into things that never move relative to her points of reference — bed, food dish etc. She also has no sense of direction. It’s just torture watching her find her way back to the house after going out to the yard to go to the bathroom.

And then, a few monhs later, she started to lose her hearing. Certain sounds still get through to her; any knocking sound, especially the ones near her food dish. And when she gets lost in the back yard I can clap and it sometimes helps her work her way back to the house.

Eventually, she became increasingly food-obsessed. If she detects us eating something, she emerges from her bed, and will crash violently around the living room or kitchen on constant patrol for food for the entire duration of the meal. She hurtles around, crashing over anything in her way, knocking things over. If we barricade her in the other room, she scratches at the kiddie gate incessantly. Then, when the meal is over, she just returns to her bed.

Finally, and most intolerably: If we are moving around the kitchen, she assumes we are preparing food. So she finds us and stands on or between our feet. If we are not wearing shoes (generally the case) it hurts. And if we’re moving around the kitchen it’s because we are doing time-critical things like preparing food or doing art, and her being underfoot is infuriating and even dangerous.

She cruises the kitchen if she suspects there is food (we call it “sharking”), and so the click click click of the claws on the linoleum is the precursor to her doing something dangerous, painful or at least annoying. So now the sound of the incessant clicking itself has become intolerable, creating instant tension for the entire duration.

Lately, her brain seems to be deteriorating. Her sense of direction is rapidly becoming worse; she can get lost in a corner — frequently. She’ll back up, turn fifteen degrees one way, thirty degrees the other way, then forward into the corner at an angle, winding up where she started. Even worse, she’ll occasionally turn around on the correct trajectory, and then become unsure, and turn back around facing the corner. Bonk.

Finally we realized that she has no interest in us as companions. If she comes by to visit, we start petting or scratching her, and the whole time she’s just sniffing around for food, and when she determines there is none she walks away, mid-scratch. Most intolerably, she paws at our leg if she things we are holding out.

And if that wasn’t heartbreaking enough, we got three kittens last Halloween that are an absolute joy; highly interactive and really enjoying being with us, snuggling, nuzzling faces and all that. This has served to highlight the dog’s isolation and disinterest in us as anything other than food-givers.

This leaves us with this horrible guilty dilemma. We cannot stand this dog. Her physical health is stable and reliable, so there’s nothing for it but to endure this daily torment for, what, years? At what point is a dog’s time up when her brain is going? Our natural instinct as parents is to say “never,” but we actually find ourselves trying to rationalize euthanasia for a dog who is simply permanently confused and irritating as hell.

Don’t get your panties in a twist. We’re not going to kill our dog. We’re not going to send her back to the rescue — now she’s even older, and blind and deaf, so that’s as good as a death sentence too. The point of all this is that we have found ourselves at the point where we want the dog to go away this badly. This is a completely alien feeling to us, and it’s horrible to live with, especially with no end in sight.