If you are a dog owner, the story I am about to share with you about Bob’s last 24 hours might save your dog’s life.
Today, it has been one month since Bob passed away. On the morning of his passing, Bob woke me up in the middle of the night and wanted to go outside. He was panting heavily. I wasn’t alarmed by the panting because just before he went to bed I had given him some medication his vet gave him the day prior to open his bronchial passageways due to his chronic bronchitis. We would go out, come back in, and he would want to go out again. He has done this when he had diarrhea, but he didn’t show any indication of having the runs.
Over the next few hours, he began to drink a lot of water and “lick the air,” which he had not done before, and started to retch, though he did not vomit anything. Outside we went again and went for a short walk. I started to worry that he looked bloated. This is a condition I am aware of because my first sheepdog was thought to have died of bloat (the twisting of the stomach). When we came back into the condo, I don’ know why, but it popped into my mind that it could be Bob’s last day. Given his age (14.5 years) and medical issues – enlarged heart, arthritis and chronic bronchitis, and having recently overcome sepsis – I had been trying my best to prepare myself mentally for the day he would leave us.
After a few hours of this inside-outside, walking, drinking a lot, some retching but not throwing up anything, he began to cry. I immediately took him to the emergency Vet hospital (luckily we live nearby). When they saw him, they said he looked “bloated” and took him for an X-ray. Minutes later, I was informed he did indeed have “bloat” (a twisted stomach). They did an immediate medical intervention giving him painkillers (fentanyl) and releasing the gas that results from the twisted stomach with some apparatus. Bloat is a very painful condition for dogs.
The vet told me Bob needed surgery or he would not survive, but that he was a poor candidate given his medical conditions and age. It was all or nothing. I sat in the room and listened to how they would untwist his stomach and staple it to the side of his body so it would not happen again. How they might need to remove his spleen, but would not know until they got into it. And, of course, there would be the recovery period.
Many of the staff knew Bob. He was well-known in the ‘hood. Kind of a popular guy. They told me they were willing to do the surgery, but he might not make it. Or, even if he did make it, I might have to put him to sleep after.
So many thoughts raced through my mind, such as how difficult life was for him after his last surgery this summer when he had septic arthritis in his elbow and how long it took him to recover after his surgery. It was challenging.
I thought of a woman whose young dog was in the hospital with Bob during that time, who had surgery on his knee , but went into cardiac arrest, and days later had to be put to sleep. She told me she paid well over $10,000 for his care, only to not take her dog home with her. Bob’s last surgery cost also a lot of money, and his rehab and meds added up. His last surgery this summer cost about $7,000+ and this one would be about the same – and that would mean 2 surgeries for him within one year. So, of course, I thought of the cost, but that wasn’t what was most important.
What was most important was what was best for Bob.
I was under duress.
All those thoughts were fleeting. The only thought that stuck was I could not put him through such surgery at his age, because it would be too difficult for him after. He was in his final stretch of his life and to go through it in MORE pain and suffering was not something I wanted for him. But, of course, I love my dog and want more time with him.
Distraught, I called my mother, who suggested putting him to sleep because it was the kindest thing to do.
My heart screamed, I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I did not want him to suffer.
And so, out of love for Bob, I decided to let him go. I put him to sleep, so he would not suffer.
He went peacefully. I gently stroked his head and kissed the inside of his warm ear, whispering that I loved him, that he was a good boy, and thanking him for being in my life. In those last moments, I said all that needed to be said, that I was grateful for him being in my life. Then his heart stopped and the vet said he was gone.
I stayed with him for about two hours. I couldn’t leave him. A lovely social worker who works at the Vet hospital came into the room and talked with me for a while, trying to help me through shock and what would be the beginning of my grief journey.
It has been one month since he left us. I still feel heart-sick in a way that I have not ever experienced before, no matter how much I work on myself to get centred again, or how much I draw from my spiritual beliefs, or how much I see the new form of love, or anything. I suppose having a furry little guy who was with me almost every day for 14 years, except for when I travelled, factors into that. He was like my kid. It was unconditional love.
I made a decision under duress and, to be honest, today I regret it. I regret it because reality sunk in: he is no longer here. I regret not giving the surgery a chance, because maybe, just maybe, he would have made it through and it would not have been as bad as I made up in my mind that it could be. In my wisdom, though, I recognize that in time, with some distance, I may find peace with it.
For those of you who have a dog, you may face a similar situation. You, too, may have to make a difficult decision under duress. If you do, make it out of love – for your dog and also for yourself.
Love and light xo
Photo credit: the late Margaret MacNeil, who had Bob’s mother and passed away.