Today at approximately 11:40, we euthanized Maddie. My heart is completely torn from it.
We made the decision yesterday, when it was apparent that we were simply prolonging the inevitable. Maddie would only eat three teaspoons of baby food every hour, not nearly enough to sustain her. She looked positively skeletal, yet her spirits were good. She would roll over and sleep on her back, she went to the front door when we opened it and joined us on the porch. She was alert. That being said, she was physically weakened, tottering about in the back yard while straining to poop. She would exhaust her energy reserves easily by doing nothing more than going up a flight of steps. Although her mind and heart were willing, her body was fading.
Maddie’s final days have been filled with peace (and feedings around the clock.) She had been able to do most of her favorite things (minus eating out of Gennaker’s bowl and chasing ducks in a pond.)
She was “porch dog” nearly every single day since her illness began, including braving the massive thunderstorm with her daddy yesterday. I went outside and found them squished together on the old iron patio couch, content to sit there like bumps on a log while lightening flashed all about the neighborhood. I took off my denim shirt and tucked it around her to help her conserve some body heat. She watched the birds most days, content to hear their song.
During my “shift” with her, we would spend time either eating (that is to say, I would warm up the baby food and place it in my palm so that she could lick it off) or cockroaching (that is when a dog rolls onto their back and sticks all four legs in the air.) I pet her, scratched her ears and under her collar and told her all sorts of things that needn’t be repeated here.
We brought her to our vet today. Maddie, as always, went to her favorite corner in the waiting room and blended herself with the wood paneling on the wall. She trotted (sort of) down the hall once we were called, and lay down on the exam room floor.
Better Half and I had a bit of a wait, which suited us fine. We reassured Maddie with kisses and petting, whispering, “I love you” and “Such a good dog” to her. We cried and blew our noses, then cried some more.
When the time came, our Doctor (who I like immensely) came in with the euthanasia drug. I have worked as a tech previously and I have had to endure the pain of watching my own dog put down; I wondered where the pre-euthanasia tranquilizer was. It is customary in Colorado to administer the tranquilizer first as it knocks the dog out. The euthanasia drug itself can be very harsh on the system, meaning the animal feels the burn of the drug and panics as their body reacts. Feeling one's heart stop and slipping into death can be traumatic.
This is why my heart suffers. The doctor, his tech and myself attended to Maddie. Mads was perfectly calm, but they could not get a clear vein on her right foreleg. This left her stressed, but I wonder if there wasn’t a bit of the agent that made its way in, as she began to react strangely. At this point, I told her “exam” and “blood work”, two commands that are a lifesaver for any vet tech. We tried again on the left leg and did find a vein. It was at this point that Maddie began to cry. It wasn’t her “I don’t like this” cry, or her “I’m uncomfortable” cry. It was her terrified, agonal and in distress cry. I began to weep and repeated several times, “Good girl, it’s okay.” The only thing that stopped her struggle to cling to life was the agent stopping her heart.
We lay upon the floor with her, shedding tears and stroking her fur. I placed my hand over her chest, knowing that her heart would not beat again. Her soul was gone, free from her ravaged body. I began to apologize to her for the aweful way by which she passed.
As I write this, I am still horrorstruck by it. I hear her final cries, her pleading with me to make it stop. Better Half grieves and relives looking into her eyes; they were questioning, asking him, “why?” Euthanasia is meant to be a peaceful departure from this world.
Her final moments are seared into my memory and replay on an endless loop. I was prepared to part with her, realizing that I was giving her the gift of liberty. I was not prepared for the agony that she endured during those final few minutes. It is as if her soul followed me home, and hounds me with the same phrase: damn you, I was not ready.
I mourn, I doubt myself, and I am angry. Furiously so. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t even begin to mourn; rather I find myself so bitter that my companion of fourteen years departed this earth knowing only blind terror during her last few moments. It was inhumane.
TGIF, although we are still struggling to with Mattie’s health.
She was refusing to eat when I last updated here. She is eating small portions now, mainly baby food. This evening she ate a bit of steak (meaning that she actually chewed and swallowed it.) This is cause for celebration for us, but I will still remain guarded with her prognosis. I do realize that she could crash at any time and I will not delude myself into thinking that she will emerge from this unscathed and with the vigor of a puppy. Mattie is dieing, albeit slowly and (at the moment) painlessly. When her time comes, we will be ready. I grieve yet I am grateful for the privilege of having her beside me. (This doesn’t make my pain any less.)
I had a wonderful surprise from my friend Annie. She had called to cheer me up and told me that she had dropped something into the mail for me. It arrived just as I was crawling through one of my most frustrated moments with Mattie and my own health.
Annie sent me a milagro that reminds us both of St. Bernadette. Milagros are small devotional charms often venerating a particular saint when one wished for a miracle (thus “milagro”.) She could not have picked a better saint.
St. Bernadette of Lourdes was an amazing woman. I urge you to Google her or purchase a book about her. She lived a life of complete poverty as a child. She chose to serve God as a nun, however she was not a healthy person. Regardless of her health and poverty, she was chosen by God as the person to see the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Lourdes.) She, along with St. Philomena, is one of my favorite saints. Her patronage is against bodily ills and illness in general, however she is also the patron saint of Lourdes in France. Her benefaction further extends to people ridiculed for their honest piety, impoverished people, and shepherdesses (as she was a shepherdess herself at one point.) Annie pointed out in her letter to me that “St. Bernadette had absolute faith in her vision of Our Lady.” It would be sensible of me to consider her attributes and incorporate them into my own life.
Also inside the packet was a photograph that Annie took in Capitola, CA. I have never been to this place but I did ditch school with my boyfriend Bill to spend the entire day poking around Big Sur, Monterey and Santa Cruz. Annie’s photograph artistically captured an old sea break weathering the surf as it lapped the shore.
The picture is poignant to me. I have been away from my beloved ocean for over two decades. The beaches are an extension of my soul. My attraction is not due to childhood memories of visits to the beach with my parents (although those are some of my favorite memories.) It is the feeling of inner peace that courses through my body as I recall sand and surf.
Isn’t it fascinating how the mind works? I gazed at Annie’s photograph and I knew exactly what the water sounded like as it rolled over the break and caressed the shore. I certainly would have been able to tell you secrets that can only be delved by counting the seconds between each wave. I could see the wet sand and for a moment I felt it between my fingers, the cherished joy of its weight and the texture of the grains. I knew that it would coat my bare feet (the only cure it to step into the surf – of course, once you leave, you would have coated feet again!) I could smell the salt and wind, the seaweed (so much fun to pop!) and the wildlife. The gulls were riotous and boorish compared to the majestic herons or egrets. Black-necked Stilts darted in the wet sand, hoping for a quick meal. Perhaps a pelican perched nearby. If I were lucky, I would see a Cormorant. Wading into the surf, I’d feel the ocean churl sand, seaweed and UFTs (unknown floating things) against my shins. My favorite activity was simply standing in the surf to experience the push/pull of each wave. I was also an avid shell collector; sadly, the shells seemed to disappear as the years passed.
I hung Annie’s photograph on my bedroom wall. I shall look at it when times seem tough. It will not only take me back to my beloved beach but it will also remind me that I have a wonderful friend.
I spoke with AnnieElf a while ago (she is a sweetheart) and I realized that I should do an update for this afternoon.
There is not much to report since the visit to the vet. We don’t have answers. Her labs were fine and she showed no indication of tumors or growths upon palpation (given her gaunt stature, it is fairly easy to feel her abdominal organs.) Her temperature was normal although her gums were slightly pale.
Our vet administered a steroid combined with an antibiotic. At this point, we are to give her some tablets to help keep her stomach calm; call him in the morning. We are taking things in twelve to twenty-four hour gulps. Madders will either begin to recover or continue to waste away (the latter would not happen; we would not permit her to suffer.)
Mads and I spent the early afternoon on the front porch. She enjoyed watching the birds at the feeder. We returned to the porch once we came back home. I lounged with a book and kept an eye on her as she snored on the cool concrete. Her new medication may give her diarrhea so Jeff and I will take shifts tonight in order to keep an eye on her in case of distress. I think I’ll light the citronella candle and take to the porch again, weather permitting.
It may seem like a lot of effort for “just a dog” but this companion is worth every ounce of love. I wept as I left the vet's office: he refused to charge us for the lengthy exam, injection and medication. During a week when the world is crashing down about our ears, this act of kindness moved my very soul.
This might be Mattie’s last day. She has been ill for some time (first with pyometra and then with a bad tooth.) She has not been able to keep much down since her dental work last week and although she is hungry she will not take food.
Waltzing Matilda Mae has been part of our family for almost as long as Better Half and I have been married. She is Red Dog (eternal bitch, protector of her food and guardian of the property.) She faithfully patrols each day, keeping us safe from the Vandals, Visigoths and Vikings. When the snow lays thick she conducts her winter warfare training; when the weather is good she is the ultimate porch dog. Her love of having her backside scratched is only secondary to her love of birds and liking the salt of people’s skin (both tie at first place in her world.)
Mattie (or Maddy, depending on who you ask) came to us when she was six weeks old, a rescue from a neighbor’s yard. She had food aggression issues (the Animal Planet “Heroes” would have failed her out and most likely put her down.) She is dominant. We swore that she sold her soul to the devil in Colorado, as she never appeared to grow old. Despite her flaws, she is an embodiment of love.
There was many a night when she would crawl under the covers and lick my feet and calves when my legs were in pain from cramping. She happily “cockroaches” on Better Half’s side of the bed, never demanding a pillow to lay on. The bathtub is her secret cool spot to nap when the heat gets too extreme. She has the uncanny ability to find objects that match her fur in color and she will use them to camouflage herself. She blends into the wood paneling at the vet’s office and she thrives in our red dining room with its high baseboards.
Parks with lakes are her favorite place to visit. She was an avid lake swimmer in puppyhood (until she caught a staph infection which managed to scar both her eyelids.) It was on a cold May afternoon in Colorado that Mads took her final lake swim. Ducks glided upon the cool water and the sight was much to tempting for her. She slipped through her collar and plunged into the icy water in pursuit of the birds. She realized as she reached the half way mark that she was not as spry as she remembered. We thought surely Better Half would need to dive in to rescue her; never doubt the persistence of Red Dog! She returned to shore under her own steam, exhausted but delighted with herself.
I think I will take my shower and have her join me on the porch for a while. We have an appointment at 2 PM. My heart aches in the knowledge that this might be our final day together. I am depressed beyond words that I might soon have to part with my Flabrador.
Some photos over the past two years:
This last picture and the one above it is from yesterday. My baby has gotten so old.