For the past month, my dog has been desperately ill. He had Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, which basically means his immune system was attacking his red blood cells. It killed me to think there was a war going on inside his little body. Some dogs get past this disease, with the help of steroids and blood thinners. Many do not.
Blue fought hard to stay with me. He knew how much I needed him. He and my other dog are the only family I have here in Seattle, and they’ve been through quite a lot with me. They saw me through the death of my boyfriend, a few failed attempts to change my life, a couple of nightmare landlords, and a relocation all the way across the country to a place where I knew no one.
My dogs have been my stability. My sources of unconditional love. My sense that things would turn out okay. My support system.
IMHA is a confusing disease. It’s not painful. But if your dog doesn’t respond to the medication as mine did not, you watch him slowly weaken as he gets thinner and thinner. It’s heartbreaking.
In the end you are left with a big decision. Is it the end? How do you know if it’s too soon to put your dog to sleep? There were days when Blue wouldn’t eat and I’d think he was ready to cash in his chips. But then the next morning he’d gobble down two bowls of food and wag his tail.
I tried everything to get his weight back on. Special soft dog food. Baby food. Cottage cheese. Baked chicken. Rice. Pasta. Hard boiled eggs. Gravy. Some days he’d like one or more of these things. Some days he’d reject them all outright. I never knew if I would come home from work to find him dead, or if he’d greet me at the door, happy to see me as he always was in the past.
I fed him a tiny bit every hour or so, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end. I began to deteriorate myself. I started seeing things out of the corner of my eye that weren’t there. Often I would forget to eat. But as long as he was trying, I’d be there to try with him.
But finally the other day he made it clear that he was done. He hadn’t voluntarily eaten in two days, and when I’d put food in his mouth, instead of swallowing it like he had been, he spit it out. He fought me. His fragile little body was worn out. And I thought, “What am I doing to this dog? He doesn’t want this. This is not quality of life.”
That’s when I decided to take him to the vet to have him put down. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I knew it was going to break my heart and that I’d never be the same without him. But I looked at it as me taking away his suffering and putting it on my much stronger shoulders instead. In the end, what loving parent wouldn’t do the same thing?
And I have to say that there are angels here on earth, because as I was taking him out to the car to go to the vet, my neighbors pulled up. Once I told them what was going on, Paula offered to drive us there and back. I’ve always liked my neighbors quite a bit, but we’ve never socialized, so this was really over the top generous of her, and exactly what I needed. A miracle, actually.
At the vet’s office, we were in tears. The receptionist was in tears. The assistants were in tears. The vet himself was in tears. As my baby drifted off, I said to him, “I love you. I’ll miss you so much. You are such a good dog. Thank you so much for all you’ve given me.” The staff helped me let Blue go with dignity and compassion. I knew I had done the right thing.
I had the foresight to dig the hole before I left for the vet, as I knew I’d be a basket case afterward. I also had some lime on hand, to help Blue return to the earth more quickly. And some chicken wire to put over the hole, so Devo wouldn’t disinter Blue in a misguided attempt to try to help me. (I’ve had dogs make that attempt in the past, and all I can say is ick.) I did all these things as a gift to my future, shattered self, and believe me, now that I am that shattered self, I am grateful for the gesture.
My other dog, Devo, is a little confused. He helped me bury Blue, so he knows where he is. But he’s never been alone before. I may have to get him some company, once the bitter rawness wears off. Time will tell.
As for me, right now I feel as if I have been dragged behind a horse and wagon. Face first. Through a patch of prickly pear cactus. Naked. And I know that I will never be quite the same again.
But I also know that Blue was a gift. Even knowing the pain I am in now, I’d do it all over again. And someday soon, I’ll be able to focus on all the good times, all the love, and all the joy he brought to my life, and revel in the fact that I was really lucky to have him for as long as I did.