Thursday, December 13, 2012

Never any easier

Some of my long-time readers may remember that I lost my cat, Prince, in the spring of 2010.  That loss was particularly hard to go through -- not only was it the first pet of mine that I'd ever lost (versus family pets when I was growing up), Prince was also my first cat when I moved out on my own.  We had been together 11 years and I was nowhere near ready to give him up.

Yesterday we suffered another loss: Grace, our white shepherd.

We got Grace five and a half years ago from Michael's brother and his wife.  They had had her for almost a year at the time, but she was always an anxious dog and didn't do well in the chaos of their home.  Even when she came to us, she had her fears -- such as thunderstorms, loud noises, cuss words, etc. -- but she did slowly learn to feel safe in our considerably quieter home.

We managed the hip dysplasia as best we could, for a long time just with daily aspirin and lots of walks to keep her strong, and she did many things no one would have ever imagined.

Her life got pretty hard at the end.  A year ago, she had gotten bad enough that we took her to a surgeon to see if a hip replacement was an option, and he said no.  Pain management had come to mean prescription medications, physical therapy, and -- more recently -- acupuncture (which, despite my initial skepticism, worked wonders for her, and she loved it).  But she also started having a lot of other problems in the last year or so, such as recurring ear infections and hot spots, decreased vision (she was always a little blind in her left eye, but we think it got considerably worse -- in both -- toward the end), and diminished hearing.  She was having a hard time going for walks and getting in and out of the car, so her world had gradually been reduced to just a couple of blocks, and she no longer watched squirrels with the same interest she used to, as though just getting through the walk required all her concentration.

Always an anxious dog, we think she also got a little senile toward the end, and her whining and pacing -- which she'd always done to some extent -- became incessant.  She was getting stuck (repeatedly!) in corners, too, and we had rugs everywhere to cover the slippery hardwood and linoleum so that she could get around more easily.

So we knew the end was coming, and were just doing what we could to maintain things for as long as we could.

And then Tuesday afternoon, our ability to keep her going came to an abrupt end.

She had been particularly crazy all morning, so much so that I called my husband and nearly started crying when I told him that I just couldn't enjoy working at home anymore, as I was having to get up every few minutes to rescue her from being stuck, or coax her to eat the rest of her breakfast, or give her medicine.  We made appointments to get a second opinion on the viability of a hip replacement, and to have her vision checked out (thinking, as we did, that it was contributing to her difficulty getting around).  When I left for my afternoon nanny job, I knew that she was likely going to get stuck almost immediately, and no one would be there to help her.

When I got home, only minutes before Michael, it was to the worst scene imaginable.  Grace had obviously gotten stuck, had diarrhea, and fallen down, then gotten herself trapped in a corner while flailing to try to get up.  We cleaned up the mess and got her up, but she was having trouble walking.  This had happened before when she'd been stuck for a long time, and had always gone away after a while, so we settled in to eat our dinner and watch a movie.

But it didn't go away, and she kept having the diarrhea.

When we went to bed, it was with the hopes that with a little more rest, Grace would regain the ability to get around -- but we knew that if she didn't, or if the diarrhea kept up (meaning it was more than just her nervous GI issues), we would have to take her in to the doggie ER.  So at 6am, after a night of getting up to check on her repeatedly (basically every time she started whining), Michael woke me up and we took her in.

And there was nothing they could do for her.  They said she was having a lot of neurological problems with her hind end, so we suspect she probably had a ruptured disk that she made worse in her desperation to get up, to the point that she could hardly use her hind legs at all.  She also had a high fever, so the diarrhea was not just stress or pain -- she was sick.  They said surgery on her back was not likely to be successful because of everything else that was wrong with her, and the likelihood of being able to restore any quality of life was slim, so we made the decision to euthanize.

Even knowing it was coming -- I was so certain of it that I tried to get our other dog, Emma, to say goodbye to Grace before we left -- it was a horrible, difficult decision.  We both took the day off, and after returning home to clean the house and pick up all the rugs (I can't believe how big the kitchen looks with bare linoleum), we decided to go for a walk in Washington Park, Grace's favorite place to walk before she got too weak.

While we were there, this little guy came up to say hi and beg for food:

See how cocky they've gotten without you around to keep them in line, Grace?

We will miss you, girl.


At December 15, 2012 at 3:50 PM, Blogger Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I'm sorry to hear that you had to let her go, and that her final days were so rough. It sounds like the decision you made was really the only choice in her case. I hope you can feel some peace in that.

At December 17, 2012 at 11:23 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

We do, NM, thank you. I'm glad that it wasn't a situation where I would always second guess and wonder if we made the right decision, yet at the same time, I'm glad she didn't have to suffer long. It was really only the last 16 hours that were bad. While she'd had pain in her hip and difficulty getting around, it was manageable until she fell while I was at work Tuesday afternoon -- and we had her euthanized early the next morning.


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