So all 3 dogs I moved to New Mexico with have died. No specific tragedy happened, they just all got old and it was time. Bearing in mind that we don’t know the exact ages of our street rescues, the youngest was at least 14 when she passed. (I still don’t know how I feel about the euphemism “passed,” in one way it’s a little less crude than “kicked the bucket” and a little gentler than flat-out “died,” but on the other hand, it makes life sound like gas. Part of me wants to think that life is more than a stinky little secret that just farts out of us when we can’t hold it in any longer.) It all happened roughly over the last year and a half, and it worked sort of how we thought it would – pretty close together. It’s all sort of a blur so I might put things out of order, but not in any way that really matters.
Anyway, it’s been a big couple of years for dog stuff. Before all the dying started happening, there had still been plenty going on. Loki, our first New Mexican dog, came of age and tried to kill Watson one day, and there were stiches and drains and surgeries. Watson lived another year and a half, but that caused a lot of distress in the family and it meant we could never leave them alone again. (We did though, and Loki attacked Watson again. Not as bad, but damn.)
Sheba went quickly. She first had a couple incidents of vestibular disease, not serious in itself, but it’s uncommon to have it more than once without it indicating something more serious underlying. It’s terrifying if you don’t know what it is, you think your dog is having a stroke, they’re dizzy and they throw up and their eyes can’t focus and they can’t walk in a straight line. She recovered fine from it, but it happened again. Then one evening, she made funny noises, mostly belching, so we brought her into the hyper-expensive emergency vet and it turned out she had torsion bloat. The vet explained our options and we authorized an expensive and risky surgery. By the time we got home, he called and informed us that it wasn’t worth finishing the operation, she had a lot of stuff going on. We authorized her euthanasia, and that was that. It was a little jarring because she hadn’t had much wrong with her. We were all sad that we didn’t a chance to say goodbye, but it all happened pretty quickly and she didn’t have a prolonged old age. I miss her, a street dog with rough edges, a heart of gold, and the softest hair you’ve ever felt on a canine.
Ruby was starting to look old; her hair was brittle, and although we’d always asked about it, nothing important ever showed up in bloodwork. One day when I stepped out to meet the mailman or something, she wagged her tail so hard (very Ruby, if you knew her) that she broke the end off it on a metal object in the house. It was very bloody and probably pretty painful, but we kept the wound clean and the extremely expensive emergency vet stopped the bleeding without much fuss. They recommended followup tests with our normal vet, tails aren’t typically that fragile. Sure enough, she was found to have Cushing’s disease, she had a couple of months to live. It had probably been developing for years, the brittle hair was a symptom, but it’s the kind of thing where “if you’re below xxx threshhold, it’s not the disease, and when you get past yyy threshhold, it is.” The one hope was an expensive and invasive surgery. We opted for it, and she lived another six months. On one hand, I will never put another dog through anything like that, but on the other hand, we made the best decision we could at the time, and once she healed she was in far less pain than she was before.
As the disease ran its course, though, she was weakened enough that she was falling a lot and hurting herself, and she’d panic when she didn’t have the strength to get up. It was a difficult decision to put her to sleep, but it was the right thing to do and if anything we waited too long. This one was a lot harder than Sheba’s, not because we loved her more (although she was my first girl dog and my second dog ever, so I had a special thing for her), it was because we had no obvious trigger point. We spent probably two months daily going, “Is this the day? Was that the fall that was too much to endure again? Is this the sleepless night we can’t allow to repeat?” It was a hard call even when we did it, but the right one. I don’t know if I prefer having months to prepare for the death of a loved one rather than having it happen by surprise. There are plusses and minuses both ways. It makes you think, and one conclusion is that it’s better not to wait to have a reason to appreciate those around you. Appreciate them if that’s your nature, or don’t do it and have no regrets.
About the same time as the tail incident Watson had a vestibular incident. It was shortly after Sheba, which the vets couldn’t believe. It’s not contagious. He recovered well from the vicious attack Loki put down on him, but his belly started getting big. Tests revealed that he had Cushing’s as well; we never bothered to investigate surgical solutions as he was already almost 14. We treated the disease with medication as long as we could; he slowly lost mobility and started falling and getting hurt. He’d fall outside and we wouldn’t realize it and he’d be stuck laying on the ground – never too long fortunately, but always longer than you’d ever want to let it happen. He’d get up at night and fall in the dark and it got to the point where every little sound either meant he’d fallen and couldn’t get up or he’d just peed somewhere. It was exhausting.
He lost his voice somewhere along the way, most likely as a result of his big fight. He would take ugly spills down the single step into our living room and we could feel the impact and just cringe in sympathy. He was very incontinent and we steam cleaned dog pee out of the carpet probably six or seven hundred times over the last year. (Literally. 2-4 times a day for a year.) He got to the point where he wasn’t comfortable being awake and he couldn’t comfortably sleep and it was clear that he was strong enough that he wasn’t going to go on his own. Some of our more spiritual friends hinted that he hadn’t been given permission to leave us, that he felt he had unfinished work. I don’t know. It was just hard to see him suffer.
He was my first dog ever, and it was pretty sad. But it wasn’t a tragedy; he was an awesome dog and we had him for almost 15 years, and we did everything we could to give him a good life. I miss him, and I loved him, but it was a real relief to see his suffering end. Again, we probably waited a little longer than we should, but ending the life of a loved one is no easy call. The way we’ve made our decisions, there’s no way we can look back and say, “Was that really the right time? Was it really the right thing to do?” It was, and it was. Both cases.
So a big, heartrenching, expensive and emotional year to year-and-a-half. No regrets about any of it, when we took in each dog we’ve had, we were in it for better and worse and it’s been worth all of it. And at the end of the day, we’ve replenished our dwindling stock in a very organic way; we still have 3 dogs. I’ve learned some lessons, but none of them were the ones I expected. (This is coming from a guy who didn’t really learn anything important from almost dying in a car wreck; lessons don’t always fall where you expect.) The new guys are very much like our first team in some ways. In other ways, they couldn’t be more different. That’s another story though…
It bears repeating – it was all very sad, but it wasn’t a tragedy. I’m better for having known each of them, we did our best to give them good lives, they lived long and mostly healthy existences, and we did our best to give them a graceful exit from their suffering. Sad stuff happens, and you live through the sadness and move on. And if there’s a lesson, it’s to try to live without regrets; if you think you’re going to regret taking your loved ones for granted while they were alive, well… don’t.
For more dog photos, check this album.