Friday, August 19, 2022

Dogs and dog Heaven and a quiet house

Young Maddie at Tailgate

The day that my beloved dog Simon died, my friend Pam, who had gotten Simon with me at a pound near Vassar, was visiting, so it was a bookend. He took his last breath in the back seat of my car after a visit to Dr. Ruder, as in, couldn’t have been ruder, when we took him there after his legs went out from under him in the yard. He was about as old as my big dogs got (11 or 12, until Maddie came along). We had tickets for Tanglewood that night, so we went ahead and went. I sat on the lawn and cried. The next day, still crying, I picked up the phone to hear my mother crying. My Uncle Warren had shot himself. My cousins came. We went to Brattleboro for lunch before a ceremony at the top of a mountain. Then we came back to the house and ate. And I cried some more, for my dog and for my uncle. At some point during those few days, I remember furiously dead-heading snap dragons on my front yard. 

Winnie, the big black Lab, had become as much Jim and Jane’s dog as mine, and they took her when it was time. Misty just fell asleep on the rug near the front door and never woke up. I believe my “baby brother” Sam died at the dog sitter’s. The story goes that at a family gathering, my mother was crying her head off, because he had been her special friend. “What’s wrong?” someone asked. “Sam Gordon died!” someone else said. “Who’s Sam Gordon?” 

“The dog!”

Starting when Maddie turned around 14 or so, she had really slowed down. When I walked her across the street to get to the lake, I was worried that we might get run over. Some people didn’t have the patience for it. (Me to that person: “Then don’t walk the dog with me. I need to do it.”) But the dog people got it. It was worth it to get her to the lake. The years melted off. She was so happy sniffing around. If it was too hot, I walked her after the sun went down. She liked to sit in the ground cover near the door when I watered the plants. She loved walking to the lake with her friends Sue Ellen and Mary Margaret. She liked going “downtown” with her new friend, Rusty. I can’t say that the last year or so wasn’t stressful for me. Coming downstairs to check if she was breathing. The UTIs and in the last month, pneumonia. The dog meds were incredibly expensive, as were the fees for the tests. As I shed pills, she accumulated them.

Favorite toy

She didn’t always greet me at the door like she had done her whole life. But mostly she did. She dissed all her toys except for the long skinny snowman. I sent photos to the kids of her snuggling with it, hooking her paw over it. For some reason, when she turned 14, she started barking. I wrote a story for un upcoming issue of AKC’s Family Dog Magazine about how, with the help of a trainer, I got her to stop.

She was a “difficult child.” I remember writing a blog post, “Does anybody want a dog?” I complained at yoga. Erin, the teacher, said, “You love that dog.” Of course I grew to love her. She helped me recover from cancer. We helped her recover when she was hit by a car, a story that I wrote about for AKC's Family Dog Magazine, which won an award for inspirational feature. 

She wouldn’t stop getting up on the couch, so I put a special blanket in her spot in the corner. Then when she stopped jumping up on the couch, I wished she would do it again. When she couldn’t go upstairs anymore, I got her an extra downstairs bed. First thing in the morning when I came downstairs, I got down on the floor and gave her a body hug. She put her paw over my arm. 

In the past year, as I was weaning off some of my meds, she was adding on. I asked at the vet what happens with a dog like this, and she said that one day, they aren’t able to get up. 

It didn’t happen that way. First, the possible ways that I jinxed it. (Take this with a “grain of salt.”) I hadn’t wanted to put her through going to the groomer, so I hadn’t done it for a while, but her coat had gotten so full of dander that I took her. I kept buying small bags of dog bones because I figured she couldn’t possibly live long enough to go through a big bag. Then I figured that this was silly and got her a big bag. 

She had gone to her home-away-from-home at Jim and Jane’s when we went to Wellfleet for another fun family vacation at Diane and David’s. On Sunday, the day of my return, Jane called and texted to say come back as soon as possible, Maddie was sick. She thought it was another UTI. The next day when I took Maddie to the vet, there was some confusion. The vet who saw her said it was a UTI and to stop her pneumonia meds. The vet who prescribed said meds said it was not a UTI and don’t stop the meds. An ultrasound found something strange, a possible “foreign object” stuck in her digestive tract. They tried to fill her with fluids to flush it out, and when this was not successful, they said to take her to what they call VESH, aka the emergency vet in Deerfield, aka Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital, where they had saved her when she was hit by a car as a puppy. She stayed the night.

Will you get this off of me?

The next day, a surgeon called me to say that she would need surgery to get “it” out. She was so full of gas that they could not see what “it” was, by the way. I had half an hour to decide. I cried. I wasn’t ready to go up to Deerfield to put her down. Maybe I should have, because she was already past her life expectancy. It would cost $5,000, on top of the approximately $3,000 in tests over the past several days. I didn’t even have time to consult with my vet. She was 15.5 years old. Was I really going to put her through surgery? The vet said that after a couple of weeks of recovery, she could be back to where she was. I talked to the kids. They said they knew me well enough to know that I would second guess if I didn’t do it.

They did the surgery. It wasn’t what they thought. In non-medical terms, her colon was messed up. The next morning when I talked to the doctor, he said her colon had twisted, then untwisted, and he had done a resection. The recovery would now be more complicated. More dire though, something bad had caused it. Probably something like cancer. She would need more tests. She was having trouble standing up. If I took her home, she would have at least four weeks of diarrhea. Just as my first thought the day before was that I couldn’t put her down, my thought that day was that I would have to. Jeff came with me

They brought her into a room where we waited. She looked OK. I told her all the friends she would see in Heaven. "You'll see Sam, and Simon, and Winnie, and Misty," I said through the tears. I realized as I write this that I didn't say she would see Charlie, the Golden who attacked me. I guess I can be forgiven.

For the past year or so, when I looked at her lying in a patch of sunlight on the rug, it was like watching Sam on the blue living room rug, in his spot near the window. Was Sam still breathing? Was she? It seemed both like she could die any day and that she would never die. I didn’t put it on Facebook, but by writing on NextDoor that I was looking for ideas on what to do with her beds, it had almost the same effect. (Someone told me, correctly, that I could take them to Dakin, the Humane Society animal shelter in Springfield. I have packed them up and that’s what I’m going to do.) People have been so kind, sending me flowers and cards and feeding me cake. It is so strange to come home to a quiet house. I cried so much that I had to gasp for air. It stops and starts and stops again. She kept me company after the kids left. We have been alone together for a long time. I still think, when the sun starts to go down, that it is time to walk her. 

I found a pet loss support group through the Dakin website. The meeting was helpful. I am keeping busy though not sleeping as well as I usually do. Something about losing a dog makes me want to pull out weeds, or deadhead like I did with Simon. At tennis, George asked why I was playing so well. I said that maybe all the toxins had come out with the crying. Some people say to get another dog right away, some say not to get a “rebound dog,” and some say not to get one at all. I’m pretty sure that I will get a dog, though not right away. For some reason, it feels disloyal to do it too soon. 

Michael Gordon photo/Family Dog Magazine story


Anonymous said...

Ronni, as always, your straight up writing moved me. Dogs, especially, dogs, make us so much better humans.

Anonymous said...

By the way, that comment is from Tommy.

Anonymous said...

Ronni, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.
Laurie B

Cheryl B said...

I have felt the same enormous pain and loss too many times. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Ronni. I don’t really like dogs but I liked reading your story. Liked like in loved. Lee

Anonymous said...

I’m so sorry. It’s incredibly hard.

Anonymous said...

Ronni, truly sorry.
Such a wonderful and loyal companion.
You absolutely were the best Momma.
Sending love

Nancy H said...

So very sorry for the loss of your Maddie. So much love with a dog, but oh when they are gone it leaves such an empty space in your home. You gave her a wonderful life.

Anonymous said...

My 16 year old husky died in November. She was my walking buddy, my cancer comforter and my avid hide-and-seek partner. She was a rescue dog, so she knew about hard times, but she was still so sweet and loving. She took a chunk of my heart with her. I’m so so sorry for your loss. Grief is hard. You gave your dog such a great life.