Sunday, April 9, 2006

Laid Low



The day we really wanted never to arrive has come and gone, the day we knew would come but we pretended could be put off another day and another and another.

And so we bid our tearful farewell to the Stinky Dog. We always hoped the end would come in her sleep some night, that we would wake up and find her curled on her pillow and cold. Barring that, we wanted there to come some obvious event, some tipping point where the timing of the decision became inevitable. But no. As she kept deteriorating, we had to make a judgment that at some point along an arbitrary line the quality of her life had fallen below a certain minimum level. And though we both felt she had reached that point, it still took as a week to make the decision, and several retractions before we could go through with it.

We got her in August of '01, a little over a year after we were married and a few months after buying our first house. We had gone to the pound in search of a puppy and found none. But we volunteered while we were there to take "Kiwi," as she was then known, for a walk (it was her time) and found her to be unexpectedly perfect in every way: well-behaved on the leash, utterly calm amidst the chaos of 50 yelping dogs in a reverberant concrete room, perfectly lap-sized, social enough. She was personable and friendly while at the same time being strangely remote; she did not lick or chew, and apart from a slight tail wagging she was undemonstrative. And so she would remain to the end. She seemed as though she were used to people, and was not at all wild but also not trained. Her scat was small and hard, as though she had been living on the street for a while, and we guessed she had been unceremoniously turned out when her elderly owner had died or been sent to a home (we never learned any more of her history). She was advertised as being five years old, but we were doubtful from the first. When we took her to her first vet appointment after adoption the vet looked at her eyes and teeth and her gammy back leg and declared "more like ten." But no matter. She had everything we wanted in a dog, and her only deficit was the promised comparative shortness of tenure.

It's a good thing we didn't listen to that objection, since we all would have missed out on nearly five years of really great family time. So we took her home and settled into our routine quickly and it seemed as though she had always been there.



But the years passed in a flash and the old flesh became less and less willing. Her hearing was the first to go. At first we thought it might just be a streak of old-lady willfulness, with her refusing to heed our advice, but gradually it became clear that she just wasn't hearing us. It took louder and louder noises to get her attention (or to wake her when we got home) and by probably a year ago there was no noise that would accomplish it. We would have to wake her with the gentlest of touches so as not to startle her. Even prior to this we began to need to leash her everywhere outside as she would trot away and could not be summoned. About the same time her eyesight began slowly to go. She had the beginnings of cataracts when we got her, and the vet noted degeneration of the irises, and her eyes became milkier and milkier until she was completely blind in the right one, even to light. This past year she could make things out with her left eye only very close up, and things moving into this eye's line of sight would surprise her and cause a start. She jumped in surprise this way a thousand times a day.

She bore all this quite cheerily until about eight months ago. After having her teeth cleaned the last time she nearly didn't pull out of it, and she spent a week wandering around the house in a demented state, unable to sleep, not recognizing anyone, wandering and whimpering. She snapped out of it after a few days, but was never quite herself again, at least not for more than a flash here and there. Her teeth became horrible, loose and pustular, almost immediately after her last dental, and she would not abide brushing. So she was on a constant course of antibiotics to control the infections, which would wander around her mouth almost at random. Her breath even earned her a Wordaholism post. She lost interest in any food except the braunschweiger in which she got her pills in the morning, even the scary cat-food-like soft stuff. Her arthritis was bad enough that without a daily prescription pain pill she would never leave her pillow except to pee. She had always slept a lot--say, 20 hours a day--but over the past couple months she started doing almost nothing else.



And now the demented nocturnal wandering had returned, and she had begun to empty her bladder unexpectedly and seemingly without control, so that a quarantine had to be effected.

It was time.

So we called the vet Friday morning and arranged to bring her in. I didn't identify myself when I called, and the nurse asked what the symptoms were (that led to our decision). When I listed her condition off, the woman said "It's Pupster, isn't it?" (How many other blind, deaf, dogs with three working legs did they work on?) Her name went in the appointment book for 10:am.

This was simply and by far the saddest thing I have ever done. Susan and I intended to go together, but it was just too much, so she said her goodbyes at the house and her dad accompanied me to the clinic. The two girls who work at the clinic had become very attached to Stinky over the past couple of years, and there were many hugs and tears from all of us over the next half an hour. Apart from a little prick from a tranquilizer to calm her down, she felt nothing and it was a calm and peaceful thing for her. Just a little grogginess followed by sleep, blessed, painless sleep. I stayed with her through the whole event, keeping her calm and protected for these final minutes until it was over (though I daresay she had no clue where she was or who was with her).

In the aftermath, I'm at peace with the decision from her point of view, but the event itself, and the registration of everyone's bone-marrow sadness, plays in my mind over and over again in a kind of negative feedback loop. It is an inherently profound and sobering scene, this final instant of a life, laden with the deepest kind of loss and with this fearsome truth that nips at the heels of each of us . But mixed with these huge facts are the little gnawing voices that remind me that her end came by my hand, by the hand of one trusted to protect and love her. In some tiny corner of my mind it feels like the ultimate betrayal, even if I know there was love and kindness behind it. Time is supposed to heal all wounds, and so I'll wait patiently and try meanwhile to work through her imprint on my life.

The first couple years we had her she used to lay asleep on her pillow and her feet would twitch as she ran and cavorted in her dreams. We always wondered what experiences from her past were conjured as she slept. Was she a mommy w/ a brood of pups nipping at her? Was she being chased by an especially eligible bachelor? Did she have four good legs? Did a former beloved master chase playfully after her?



I hope she's romping about that place now, youthful and happy and pain-free.

Good night, sweet little dog.

21 comments:

Esbee said...

Bil, I am so sorry for your home's loss. She was obviously dearly loved. Whether or not she showed it, I am certain she knew that on some level.

wunelle said...

Thank you. She was undemonstrative, but she would always seek us out of a crowd, say, during a party, and sit in our lap. So yeah, I'm sure she knew we loved her.

Esbee said...

I came back to thank you for making room in your home for an old dog. Our county shelter doesn't even put them up for adoption, as the shelter's too small, old dogs are considered less adoptable, and they need the room for all the puppies. I think of old dogs as old people. They still have worth, and they still have things to offer. Thank you for seeing that.

wunelle said...

We've discussed this many a time. I'd be surprised if we stick with the two new pups, and we would not hesitate to take another senior citizen from our local pound. She was so perfect, and there's no guessing required about what a pup will grow into.

The only downside is that these painful days come more frequently. But she was so worth the difficulty of this day.

wunelle said...

I should clarify. I'd be surprised if we stick with ONLY the two new pups. (Their future is secure!)

Esbee said...

We, too. Pinochet is at least 9, and probably older. He is going blind and deaf, his back has been broken by a car, so he stiffens up, and his sense of smell is going, too. But I know when he does go, we will get another senior dog, probably through Petfinder.

I think it's like being a foster parent (which I've also done). If your circumstances and strength allow you to do it, the rewards outweigh the pain, and you've helped someone else along the way.

wunelle said...

Wow, fostering always seems kind of heroic to me. I must have some helper personality in me, but I can't quite imagining doing this (though I have an admiration that borders on disbelief for those who choose to do it).

Somehow I might have guessed that you did this before or presently :-)

Esbee said...

Check your email. Just as I didn't set out to get Pinochet - or any other third dog - I didn't set out to become a foster parent. Sometimes the universe works well, though.

wunelle said...

He's WAY adorable. I would have caved immediately!

Anonymous said...

Bil,

I'm sorry to hear about Stinky Dog. I know that this isn't the first time you've had to take care of an animal at the end of its life, but I am sure that it doesn't ever get any easier.

I've always considered that this is one of the ways that our pets sometimes get better care than we do. I think that most people wish that there would be someone who could make such a decision for them when they are no longer able to live a tolerable life. We make living wills to try to direct that we not be made to continue living past the reasonable end of our lives, but to have someone really looking out for our best interests and making the ultimate difficult choice is more than many of us ever get.

Stinky was lucky to have spent her senior years in your care.

-- Jeffy

Dzesika said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. I've said goodbye to several pets in the same way and it does make you wonder ...

But I am sure - absolutely dead certain - that she understood, all of it, and the pain of old age is now the furthest thing from her mind.

Hang in there!

Heather B. said...

That is the saddest thing. I am so sorry.

wunelle said...

Thanks, everybody. We're feeling a bit better today. Time marches on. I know a lot of people have been thru the same thing.

The new little puppies keep one occupied such that idle contemplation is a bit luxurious. Now that I'm working I have a bit more downtime (leaving Susan & Gabi to do the puppy work!).

Maglet said...

I'm so very sorry, Bil.

Lizzie said...

Oh, I'm so, so sorry. I know how hard that is. We went through the same thing a couple of years ago. I really am sorry for you and Susan.

Allison said...

What a sweetheart she was! I am very sorry for your loss.
But you needn't feel like you betrayed her. You did what you did because you love her so much that you didn't want her to suffer anymore.

I'm glad she had you guys as her family.

Allison said...

I know I know, I'm a little late. Sorry. :)

wunelle said...

Not at all. You guys would have gotten along famously! We joked that she was one step away from being a stuffed animal, since she was so undemonstrative. But the smell gave her away as the real mccoy. ;-)

She was a good, good girl and we loved her.

mango said...

That's so sad Wunelle. And really beautifully written. Stinky looks like a gem :)

Malaise Inc said...

Not sure if you will even see this, but I could have written this post our experiences were so similar. Of course, if I had, it would not have been written nearly as well. I've had to make that decision for one dog and several cats now. I hated it each and every time and always felt the same shame of betrayal.

wunelle said...

Rereading this post brings the whole sad experience back to me. It was bad enough that I dreaded--already!--knowing the day would come for our two new girls a decade and a half hence.

I guess this is the price of love.