We have said goodbye to a lot of really amazing dogs in our lives. Some lived a full life, from puppy to cranky old dog, and the goodbye was hard, but it was the appropriate time. Every time we say goodbye to a dog, it never feels fair. It never seems OK. And I am never ever ready.
Sometimes, weeks or months later, I may look back and realize that not only was the dog ready to go, but maybe I had waited too long. Part of the challenge of saying goodbye is really determining if the animal is suffering. And part of what holds you back is not being able to let go. Ditka was my first. It was really hard and I did a bad job of understanding. Since Ditka, I have done a better job of parsing the difference between what the dog needs and what I want. I always want them to stay. Forever.
Until today, the worst goodbye, the one that felt like straight up theft, was Hobbes. At 12, suddenly, he had a tumor in his lower jaw that grew so fast. I had two options, remove his jaw, or say goodbye. There was no time, he couldn't eat, not even gushy food. It all happened in a week. As a smaller dog (in comparison), he should have had a full life, I expected at a minimum 14, possibly even 16, like Ditka. It was so very very unfair.
I laid Herc to rest today. At the age of 6. As a big dog, I expected him to make it to 12. His life was cut in half. Besides, I am pretty sure I told the universe that I could only handle losing one pet per year. I just said goodbye to Moose in January. He went too soon, too. His cancer snuck up on us out of no where.
But Herc. What the ever living hell? It started with a weird lump on his throat. A biopsy showed it was a benign tumor, but that it could continue to swell, and cut off his airway. As a routine procedure, before surgery, vets take blood work to ensure the animal is healthy enough to handle surgery. This was just routine, and we didn't think much of it. But his blood results came back with elevated liver enzymes. Enough that the vet was concerned about the surgery.
What followed... it's already becoming a blur. There were subsequent tests to look for tumors on his liver, chest xrays, ultrasounds, more and more blood tests. As time went on, he stopped eating. There were occasional things that showed improvement - anti nausea medicine helped him eat one day. But his breathing started to get bad. We continued with supportive fluids and more tests. To the point my vet basically said that this was beyond her ability for care and he needed to go to the big vet. I couldn't wait. He went to the emergency vet last night and was kept overnight for more tests and treatment.
His liver values, which were already well beyond normal, increased exponentially. He was not a candidate for surgery, due to low platelets, which would prevent clotting. We couldn't even do a biopsy or aspiration on his liver for fear that it would cause a bleeding event.
At some point in the days prior, he threw up. A lot. Apparently, he aspirated fluid into his lungs. So on top of the lump, and the apparent very very serious liver issues, now he had pneumonia. I, stupidly, believed that a night at doggy ICU and antibiotics and the pneumonia would turn around. To solve the liver problem, we truly needed a biopsy, but we were considering an aspiration to see if we got any answers. The options that were put in front of me, that we could not figure out where these 1) liver failure, 2) cancer 3) hepatitis or 4) leptospirosis.
What we did know - the cancer was not tumors. Visible tumors could be removed, and his ultrasounds and xrays showed no perceivable lumps. Pervasive liver cancer would require chemo. Not only could he not physically handle it, we've always said no to chemo for a dog, because that would be more for us than for him. So if it were cancer, it still wasn't treatable.
Lepto, a spirochete bacteria, was treatable, but would take some time to get him better. The trick is lepto is carried by wild animals. If Herc had it, the other animals would all be exposed. And Herc could spread it to my other dogs, and even us. No one else is sick.
Hepatitis had a really mixed bag of results. Could get better, could need treatment for the rest of this life, could impact his quality of life forever.
Liver Failure is exactly as it sounds. It's the end.
The issue is, the pneumonia was absolutely kicking his butt. He actually got worse overnight at the vet. Very worse. He could barely be off oxygen long enough to go outside to go potty. His tongue would turn blue. He could NOT come home. Each night in the ER was costing $2K. An entire week in there in the hopes his pneumonia would turn around? And the vet even said it would get worse before it got better. Take away the lump and the liver issues, he might not have survived the pneumonia. Of course, he never would have gotten it if he hadn't thrown up, and he threw up because the liver malfunction made him nauseous.
I decided to call it this morning.
The options were all becoming too grim, and the cost was really getting out of hand. My precious boy was in a strange place, and suffering.
When I got there, to say my goodbyes ,the vet showed me his chest xrays. His entire lungs were full of fluid. Breathing was a chore for him. It was really bad. When they brought him into my room, he was just out of it. It took him a good 5 minutes to realize I was even there. When he did, he shoved his head in my lap, just like he does at home when he wants to snuggle. And I talked to my big deaf dog one last time. I apologized and promised him the pain would stop. I promised him he could go play with Moose again. I told him that I loved him, that we all loved him, and that it was love that was helping me say goodbye. When I saw him, I knew I was doing the right thing. He was hurting so bad. We had too many things to try and fix, and we didn't know what caused them. And in the meantime, my dog was suffering.
He didn't get his last meal of steaks and ice cream with me. He didn't get that one last hike or walk through the neighborhood. He got snuggles and hugs and tears and pets. And then it was over. The drugs made him fall asleep and his breathing finally slowed. And the final drug made his heart stop. And then there was just a big bundle of fluffy fur.
He came into our lives a bundle of fluff. On a long long car ride home from Wyoming, in a flash snow storm. He was a challenging puppy until we realized he was deaf and had to change how we handled him. I used the same hand signals I used on all my dogs and made sure to get his attention when I needed to give him a signal. He taught me to be a better pet owner, and to be there for him. Because of his deafness, we got Loki. Otherwise Loki would not have come into our lives.
I feel robbed of half his life. I'm pretty sure I told the universe I could only handle one pet loss per year. I'm still not done grieving for Moose, I still expect to see him sleeping by the couch, or out in the pasture. Now I have to catch myself not calling for Herc when it's time for a walk.
He deserved more life. He deserved a better end. He deserved more hikes and camping trips and car rides. He deserved the second half of his life.
I'll always tell you that our dogs were the bestest boys. They really are. Moose was a solid companion. So was Herc. He loved being petted and loved everyone that came over. If he could grab a chance to climb up on your lap, he'd be snoring before he even laid all the way down. You were done after that. Waking up deaf dogs isn't easy! And boy could that pupper snore! I'll miss him. So much. But I had 6 years. And I'll be thankful for that.
Odin will so miss playing with his buddy. But Odin will guard over you until he can be with you again some day. (please, Odin, stay with us for a while!) We planted a tree over him. And I hope in the coming days, my heart can come to terms with this second loss this year. The house is certainly much quieter without the clicking of his toe nails, and his ever present snoring.