A Dog’s Life

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It was almost 16 years ago. We had recently moved into a new house and it was roughly 8 months after we lost our first dog and the house seemed empty without animals so we made the decision to adopt. Looking at PetFinders, there were two dogs that jumped out at me. Chrissy was a chow mix and a dog with intelligence and personality and she was wonderful until cancer claimed her a few years ago.

The second one that jumped off the page was Dolly. She was a beagle mix and her short story was that she was found under someone’s porch with a litter of puppies. All the puppies were adopted but Dolly had some serious fear of people and so she was not a dog that stood out at their adoption events. I remember there was a little shock in their voice when I said I was interested in Dolly.

To be honest, she was not always an easy dog to love. She had a terrible fear of men and would often pee whenever someone would come in the house. She needed lots of patience and, at times, we didn’t have enough. But she loved running in the yard and on walks. We kept her on a leash on walks but she would get to the end and just do laps around us. Over time, she got to know certain people who came to the house and she would tentatively come up to them. If she touched you with her nose, that was a sign she liked you and wasn’t afraid.

Age takes away many things. She got super stiff in her back legs and couldn’t go downstairs to sleep on her couch. She couldn’t jump in the car and we eventually stopped taking her for walks because it was too much effort. This is a downward spiral because if they don’t walk, they lose muscle which just makes the legs weaker and so on.

She had issues with incontinence and we ended up keeping her in diapers. Her eyesight started to go and she didn’t like being in her crate overnight so we set up a place in the great room with a sheet down to cover the accidents.

Did we wait too long? It is certainly possible. They tell you that you will know but it isn’t easy when you just deal with old age. Our other two dogs that we’ve lost got sick and made the call easy. Dolly could still get around the house and she still loved her food and her cookies. She still responded to us and would wag her tail from time to time as if to say that she was still happy. I guess it was probably that stubborn beagle streak in her but she held on and never really gave us an indication that she was suffering. Yes, we made accommodations but that was because neither one of us wanted to put a dog down just for being an inconvenience.

Last week, before we left on vacation, I woke up to find her struggling to get up on our wood floor. This happened from time to time – with old age, her ability to grip slippery floors was not great. Carpet she could walk on. The hardwood was sometimes a problem. But I saw her struggling there trying to get up and I just had a nightmare of getting her to the kennel and having that happen. I actually spoke to our vet about putting her down before we left. But, the next day, she was up and moving around and staring at me and wagging her tail. It was almost like she knew what I had done the day before and was telling me not to do it.

But, on Monday, we got a frantic call from the kennel because she wasn’t doing well. A few more calls and the kennel people took her to the emergency vet hospital. We got several calls from the vets while we were at dinner. We were dining outside in a very loud area with lots of people walking by so I had to keep getting up to find a quiet place to talk with them. At that time, she wasn’t looking the greatest and I think the vets there were trying to tell us that it might be time to let her go. The thought of not being there was too much and we decided just to let them do what they could and keep her comfortable.

In true Dolly fashion, she initially bounced back. She was dehydrated and with fluids, she basically started getting up on her own and eating and generally not looking as confused. At this point, we were getting twice a day phone calls from the vets with updates. The first one was early in the morning, so it was my wake up call. The evening one tended to be when we were out so it was again trying to find a quiet place.

But luck was not totally on Dolly’s side. The vets thought she had some kind of neurological issue at the kennel and she had a second one on Thursday. On Friday, we heard that she was having real difficulty walking and was looking worse than she had the day before. In between flights and at two airports, I made calls on Saturday to hear that the situation wasn’t really different. We got back too late Saturday to really want to deal with it so we said we’d be in today.

This morning, we came to see her and they brought her in on a blanket. We brought a treat from home and she went right for it. We stroked her and talked with her and she touched both of us with her nose and rested her head on my hand a few times. But the stubborn streak was still there and she popped up a few times as if to show us that she was still fine. Unfortunately, every time she tried to take a step, she’d fall right back down. That didn’t stop her from trying several times.

They couldn’t really determine the exact cause of her issues. To do so would have required an MRI and medication which may or may not have helped. But she was in a state where she really needed 24 hour care just to pick her up and take her outside and/or clean up after her. She never lost her appetite and she still ate like crazy for them and she still had fight in her. It was a case of the mind was willing but the body had just given out.

On the one hand, with a dog that is fighting this hard, you want to keep giving them chances. Her quality of life though would not be great. While my wife works from home, she is often on the phone and we both realized that there would be too many times where Dolly would try to get up and not be able to walk and she’d do it to the point of exhaustion. In the end, this is a battle we are all going to lose and we decided that the best thing was to just say goodbye and let her go.

The hardest part was when the catheter was in and before they had administered anything and she was still trying to get up. I had to hold her down and stroke her and tell her that is was OK. The passing itself was quick. The sedative knocked her out almost instantly and in a few minutes, she was gone. It was hard looking at her because she just looked like she was sleeping and would get up at any time. Yes, I’ve been crying a lot. I cried at our vet before vacation just thinking about and I’ve teared up multiple times today. Even for a dog that was sometimes tough to love and was kind of a pain towards the end, they still take a piece of you when they go.

That just leaves us with Rocco. He stayed at the kennel so he was happy when we came to pick him up. Seems like he’s been a little edgy today looking around for her so we’ll see how he does now that he’s the only dog in the house.

There are so many ways to second guess yourself but that really doesn’t do any good. Different people in different situations would make different decisions and there is really no “right” decision in cases like this. It was not a great way to come back from vacation but it was important to be there for her at the end. Let her go out of the world hearing the two voices that (I hope) meant the most to her during her life.

I leave with my favorite (and my only) quote about rescues. “Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.” But this is not all one sided. We gave her a home and a good life and she gave us a lot as well. Saving dogs changes the world for them and you.

I’d like to think that there is a place for them and the she and Chrissy are reunited and free from the ailments and age and running and playing with each other like they did when we first got them.

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