I lost my dog today.
By lost, I mean I was faced with a really hard decision and I decided to let her go peacefully instead of clinging to the hope that her life would get better. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
I grew up with a myriad of animals in my house, in fact this is the first time in 28 years that I haven’t had a pet, so I’ve faced the loss before, but never so head on. I was never there when it happened. It was never my decision. I was never actually the sole caretaker and decision maker when it came to these matters. So I grieved, but not in the same way I grieve today.
I got Ginny as a puppy the summer after I graduated high school. She was a rescue from a foster home and she was the last puppy from the litter to be adopted. The local shelter didn’t have a building, so her foster parent met me and my mom in a parking lot, and I fell in love. I filled out the adoption paperwork while sitting on a sidewalk. It was the best $75 I’ve ever spent.
I named her Ginny because of her weasly-ish red hair. I tacked on the middle name “Longshanks” as she grew older and began to prance around on her long legs. I’d never raised a puppy by myself, but Ginny made it easy. She was always very compliant, so it was pretty easy to train her, as little training as I gave her.
She traveled around with me as I apartment-hopped through college. I watched her progression with strangers through all of these places. She went from solely staying in my room at my first and second apartment, to occasionally wondering around my third, to practically owning the fourth and the fifth. She was always nervous, but never mean. Tim tells me frequently that I’ll never have a dog as good as her, and I’m pretty sure he’s right.
She was with me for ten years; the ten years that I discovered myself, made true friendships, and met the love of my life. She was there through it all and supported me (in her own dog ways) through my depressive states. I was never truly alone, because I had this precious fur dragon (she let me put costume wings on her, thus she became the fur dragon) who gave me kisses and cuddles whenever I needed them. I will never have them again, and it breaks my heart.
About a year ago Tim’s mom noticed a lump on her throat. She thought it might be contributing to her constant panting. She had always panted a lot so I hadn’t thought it to be odd. Then I took her in to get her yearly shots a few months ago, and the vet suggested I get it checked out. They discovered that it was a tumor on her thyroid, and her thyroid levels were extremely high, meaning that she was one of the rare dogs to have hyperthyroidism, which primarily occurs in cats, versus the hypothyroidism that normally occurs in dogs. So treatment would be a little tricky. She also had an arrhythmia in her heart, so they weren’t comfortable sedating her.
I took her to an oncologist that my vet had been corresponding with, and he gave me a lot of very expensive and extremely invasive treatments that I wasn’t really interested in. No one could tell me if the tumor was actually cancerous, and the only issues she had seemed to stem from the hyperthyroid. I decided it was best to treat the symptoms so at least she would feel better. I told my vet and she said she’d get the medication and work it out with the oncologist, but I didn’t hear back from her for a few weeks. Ginny was coughing a bit, but nothing else out of the ordinary was happening, so I didn’t worry about it too much. I had the occasional thought of “what will I do when this gets out of hand?” But I cried it out for a few minutes and pushed the thought out of my head.
This week I watched her health decline rapidly. She wasn’t eating her food as soon as I put it down for her, when she usually devoured it to the point of almost choking. I had to hand feed her kibbles for her to eat them, and even then she didn’t seem interested. I made her some rice and pumpkin with some chicken, which she paid a little more attention to, but not with the fervor that she is once did.
Then she started coughing. Coughing like it was hard for her to breathe. Coughing like she couldn’t stop until I rubbed her neck and she calmed down. Then I noticed a larger lump in her throat, in a different location. Based on her symptoms, I thought it was a lymph node, and I was correct. She was also moving a lot slower than normal.
I took her to the vet on Thursday for an impromptu exam between my vet’s normal patients. She confirmed the swollen lymph node, but said she couldn’t really tell if it was because of the cancer or a separate issue, so she suggested I get an ultrasound with the oncologist. When I told her that probably wasn’t an option and asked for an antibiotic, she said she could give me one, but it wouldn’t fix the problem since her teeth were so dirty, and that may have been contributing to the problem. We still weren’t able to have her teeth cleaned because of the arrhythmia. I asked if she’d ever gotten the thyroid medication sorted out, and she said she’d call him again to check. She called me the next day and gave me thyroid meds and some pain relievers, but nothing huge for the issue at hand.
The coughing got worse last night, to the point that I woke up to calm her down and it wasn’t working, so I just held her until it stopped. When I took her out this morning, I noticed blood on the sidewalk, and saw that it was coming from her mouth. She also wouldn’t eat any treats I tried to give her.
I called the vet and they told me to come in; my normal vet wasn’t there, but they needed to see her. Ginny moved very slowly and with a lot of trouble, but I drove her out to the vet. This vet said there could be a number of things going on, including some respiratory and heart problems, she she gave her some shots and told me to monitor her breathing while she was sleeping and call back to let them know. Her resting breathing was 110 per minute, which was dangerously high. I called the vet back and she told me to give her 4 of the pills she’d given me, check to see if it had slowed down in an hour, and if it hadn’t, I needed to take her to the emergency vet.
I shoved all of her medication down her throat since she wasn’t eating and waited. Her breathe slowed to 84, which was still high. I waited for Tim to get home from working a parade, and we took her to the emergency vet. All the while coughing up blood and barely able to walk.
The vet there was very nice and straight-forward with us. She said she’d only seen one other case like Ginny’s and they had also decided to forgo surgery and chemo, which she completely agreed with. We told her the whole story, and she suggested we get an X-Ray done so they could see what was going on in her lungs. She started coughing during the exam, so they saw what was happening as well.
She had fluid in her lungs that was most likely blood. She said she couldn’t tell what was causing it, but that it definitely wasn’t good. Our options were to leave her there over the weekend to be observed and given heavier doses of medication without knowing if it would help, or to make the hard decision to let her go before she got any worse. Many tears later, we decided that was the best thing for her. It broke my heart to see her suffering and not acting like herself. She would barely look at me when I called her, like all she could do to survive was stand still and breathe as hard as she could.
We cried and said our goodbyes and pet her until they sedated her. I felt her stop, and a part of me stopped with her. I wanted her to wake up and look at me so badly, but it never happened. I sat with her until we couldn’t take it anymore and had to leave.
I don’t know how many times I’ve cried today. The minute I start to feel better, something reminds me of her and it all rushes back. I see her face when I close my eyes, and I swear I hear her moving around the apartment, but I know she’s not. I feel like a piece of me is missing and I will never be happy again.
So instead of sleeping, I’m writing this. To try to cope? To get it out of my head? I don’t know. Every time I’ve been sad, she’s been there to put her head on my knee and look up at me like everything will be ok if I just pet her, and in a way it was. She taught me how to take care of another living being and put others needs before my own, and it made me a better person. She made me better. And now I feel empty.
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