Last week was a rough one at my house.
About 2 weeks ago, our dog, Dolly started slowing down. She became increasingly sedentary over about 4 days and then she went off her food. Anyone who has ever had a dog knows this is a really, really bad sign.
The vet said she may have an issue with her lungs or maybe her kidneys. They did some tests. The vets were concerned and kind but we didn’t get to the bottom of it and almost a week later she wasn’t doing better. Actually she was doing worse.
She didn’t move and she didn’t want to be touched. She spent 3 days at the vet – 2 days on a drip after becoming dehydrated because she didn’t have the energy or inclination to drink any water.
By the end of the third day when she wasn’t any better at all we had a serious decision to make.
Having 6 animals between us and both coming from solid animal welfare backgrounds meant that my girlfriend, Beck, and I have already talked about when euthanasia is appropriate. We are not interested in prolonging the inevitable and we are not prepared to drag out the life of an animal who is living a half life just so that we can spend another day with them on their death bed.
On Tuesday night, through tears and pats and hugs and sips of wine we talked about the reality of the situation and the fact that Dolly had not actually been “a dog” for over a week. She was getting worse and that was after spending the previous 3 days at the vet.
We decided that Dolly would spend the night with us and in the morning we would take her back to the vet to be put to sleep. The proviso being that if she would eat in the morning we would rethink the plan, however unlikely that seemed. She slept between us all night.
On Wednesday morning after a restless night, I woke up at about 6:30am. Everyone was still fast asleep. My head thumped and my eyes were still stinging from all the crying. Dolly’s breath seemed normal but over the week she had lost a lot of weight and I could see her ribs even through her fluffy coat. I lay there watching the rise and fall of her chest for about an hour until the rest of the house began to stir.
Beck and I lay there in the cold light of morning, resigned to our decision but not even close to coming to terms with the repercussions. We tried to lighten the mood by making a couple of jokes witch only partially worked. The jokes were mainly at the expense of the other pets and the juxtaposition of their indifference to the situation they couldn’t understand. You had to be there.
When Beck went to make a cup of tea, Dolly slowly stood up on the spot, she shook with less gusto than any dog I have ever seen and almost lost her balance. It was a pathetic movement but also more energy than she had expelled for days.
I carried her out to the toilet and it was clear she was stiff and sore but there was something else about her, something more animated than I had seen all week. She followed me back to the front step slowly but couldn’t get up the stairs. I carried her back to bed.
I had a thought that she did seem slightly better. Denial?
I asked Beck, “Should we try some food?”
Beck warmed up the mince that Dolly wouldn’t eat the night before. I took off her jumper and she did another doggy-shake, less wobbly this time. We gave her the mince, hoping but not holding our breath.
She scoffed it!
We hadn’t been able to get her to eat a single thing since she had a bite of dried liver at the vet on Saturday morning, then on Wednesday morning she eats a whole blood bowl of mince! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
We decided to give her the day at home with us. No more vets, no more drips, no more unpleasant jabs from strangers in unfamiliar surroundings. Whether it would be the start of her recovery or one of her last, she would spend the day with her family.
I gave her a bath and she came for a walk at the park. She was carried most of the way which is one of her preferred methods of travel, second only to riding dirty in the passenger seat.
She got tired quickly and seemed to have some stiffness in her back legs but like some kind of 4-legged force of nature she was definitely making a come back. In the afternoon, we sat in bed watching crime documentaries (Dolly isn’t fussy about what we watch but they’re my favourite) with the electric blanket on high.
She slept for a long time but Beck and I felt confident and relieved for the first time in days that we had our little Dolly back.
Now a week after that first day of recuperation, Dolly is still, albeit slowly, on the improve. Her appetite is back with a vengeance and her energy levels, while not what they were before she got sick, are much higher than this time last week. She has definitely taken a hit but she is by no means out of the race!
To think how close we came to knocking her on the head!
All jokes aside, it did make me think about how much I appreciate my animals. They are my family and I know, for many of you this doesn’t need to be said, but it’s nice to really think about it.
They are my kids.
I am sad when they are sick, I laugh when they are playing, I cry when I think about losing them. I feed them (well, Beck does), I bathe them and walk them. I make them clothes and cubbies under blankets. I give them medicine and treats and hugs and kisses because I love them and they love me back and it’s a relationship that perhaps seems quite straight forward but is actually very complex and crucial to my survival as well as to theirs.