These last days have been very hard. As pet lovers, you know the grief we have been feeling and the process of trying to work through that grief. Something very funny happened to me on Thursday afternoon.
On the way back from my son’s doctor appointment, I thought I’d stop at the grocery store to get some bread for dinner as it was my husband and my 21st wedding anniversary. The store is not one that many go to anymore because of their higher prices, and with the road construction occurring around it, it is difficult to reach. As I turned left into the parking lot I said to myself that it would be funny if we just happened to see a golden. I was missing Maddie so much that I felt if I could just see a golden retriever I would feel better.
I parked, looked up and directly in my rear-view mirror I saw a golden retriever! I jumped. It was like how you see in the movies where the person in the movie gets into the car and looks up to find the killer in the back seat of the car.
I was exhausted. I actually rubbed my eyes and looked again and sure enough it was a golden retriever who was looking directly at my car. If I had parked one space over, or somewhere else in the parking lot (and I did think about parking closer to one end and decided to go over where there were fewer cars so my new car did not get dinged), I would not have seen the dog in my rear-view mirror (or might have missed it entirely).
As we got out of the car, I started walking over to that car to see the dog and I took a picture because I thought — Jeff is NOT going to believe this story at all. He/She barked at us with the “woo-woo-woo” bark with his/her head straight up in the air. The bark happened twice and the rest of the time it just stared at us. And I swear the dog was channeling Maddie. Messages from heaven are awesome.
If a death can be perfect, then we just experienced it.
On Tuesday, the diagnosis of lymphosarcoma was confirmed. Maddie was not having a good day. She lay in her spot for hours. She was not drinking or eating. She showed me her teeth when I tried to move her. Jeff and I talked and I told him I didn’t think she would last until the end of the week especially if she was not drinking water.
After Jeff and I agreed that there was no reason to wait to have this done, it was just a matter of scheduling. They were able to get us on the schedule for 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, October 23, 2013.
Tuesday night, it was all about Maddie. There were several times during the night where she rallied and looked happy. She drank and she ate. She adored the chicken we gave her. I allowed her to eat a half of a bag of pumpkin/blueberry treats. It appeared she was hungry but only for the treats. Forget that crappy dog food! A few times she went out back. She had time to hang out around the pool. We let her have some alone time outside. When she didn’t come in for awhile I went out to be sure she wasn’t in a corner somewhere, and I found her in the pool. She was not swimming, but she had both her paws on the first step in. Of all places, this was her most favorite. She needed help getting out. I made her carob/peanut butter treats. I wanted to save most of them for Wednesday, but I did give her one or two.
I had planned a pajama party for her. When she first came to our home as a puppy, she had a lot of problems adjusting to the crate. I had our inflatable bed blown up and I spent weeks with her every night. She was loud enough that she was going to wake my son up, so I stuck my hand in the crate through the slats to pet her, to let her smell me. I even got my hand stuck in there a few times and hurt it! (Ah, the things you do for love!). Eventually I was able to take my hand out, then move my inflatable mattress further away, then to the couch, then to my bedroom. For her the crate was always treated as a good place to be. Of course eventually she ended up in our bed, but that is another story. Laying with her on her last night on this earth seemed right; however, my old air mattress was not going to cooperate.
About 2:30 a.m. I heard her from my bedroom. I thought perhaps she needed to go to the bathroom. I let her go outside and once again she stayed there for awhile. When she came back in, I got her settled on her blankets in the living room. I was petting her and decided it wasn’t so bad on the floor. I brought out my blanket and it was so adorable. She had her paw near my arm and chest, and she tucked her nose under the blanket–just like how we used to nap together. I fell asleep and didn’t even hear Jeff get up to go to the gym. At some point between 4:00 a.m. and 6:15 a.m., I woke up, saw that she moved away from me, and I popped back into the bed to get some sleep for the long day ahead. After Jeff got home from the gym but before Patrick woke up, he spent some time with her on the floor.
We got Patrick off to school and I got into the shower. I had to leave at 9:20 a.m. to see my clients. I needed to be back at our house by 11:30 if we were going to be able to keep to the schedule and be on time. I was grateful for the distraction but found myself having several panic attacks.
Jeff was able to have some alone time with Maddie. He was able to get her outside. He said when he was crying, Maddie came over and licked him and then put her paw on his arm. She was helping him to know that it was okay. I was grateful they had time alone.
Jeff and I made a pact that we would support each other. Regardless of the signs we saw that might point to her feeling better, we needed to do this for her. This now was about her and any feelings that might creep in were selfish.
Since she was still in the backyard and not back to a laying position, I got her leash and just walked her out to the car. With a little help, she was eager to jump right up. This is very weird. She disliked going in the car except for a brief time in her life when she would drive to Patrick’s school to get him (a 100-mile round-tip drive). Jeff stayed in the back with her. We helped her get down. I wondered if we should allow her to get one last moment outside, but she was pulling us towards the door. They got us right into a room. We fed her treats nonstop. We asked if we could see the x-ray so we could visually wrap our heads around this all. I am so glad I asked. There was really no room left in this poor dog’s chest cavity between the mass and the heart. They already had the catheter in her front paw. I asked if she would be on the exam table or if we could have her in our lap. They felt it was better on the exam table, but they put blankets down for her. We said final goodbyes privately, but when she was on the table, she looked a little scared. We told her that she had been an awesome dog and we loved her very much but we did not want her to be in pain. As the medicine was being infused (the kind that would stop her heart), we told her to go, be at peace, we would be fine, we loved her, go find grandpa and Sam and Buddy and Patrick’s brother Matthew and we would see her again when it was our time to go. I asked the tech — Has her heart stopped already? Has she stopped breathing? Is she technically considered dead?
They warned us that the brain might be hyperexcited from the medication being administered and warned us of weird things, even what might look like struggling, but it was physiological response. She had none of that. It was over within 1 minute. The tech (Buffy I LOVE YOU) said she was ready to go since everything went so well.
They let us stay until the end. I laid my head on her and it almost felt like her chest cavity moved a little bit. I asked them if they could please make sure that she indeed was not breathing anymore and they thought it was just the post-death gurgling noise. They let me listen in the stethoscope.
The last thing she tasted was her treats. The last faces she saw were of us. The last feeling she experienced was of love and of release of her job as our dog. Of course she was more than a dog to us, but those are our human feelings we placed on her that made her feel like our child.
We both felt relief when we walked out. We are both experiencing moments of sorrow, and moments where we have a minute or two where we just burst out into tears. But this place is familiar to us and we will get through it.
On a humorous note, driving home we saw something on the highway that just made us laugh out loud. We live in an area where there are a lot of coyotes. They have brazenly walked our neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning looking for food. Teasingly, when Maddie would misbehave, we would joke with her, saying if she didn’t watch it, we would feed her to the coyotes. They would find her tender golden retriever meat to be absolutely delicious. (OF COURSE WE TEASED). I turned my head as this truck passed and it said, “3-D Wolf Transport.” After laughing and Jeff staring at me, I said, “Look at the name of the truck.” He didn’t get it. So I reminded him of the story. I have never seen a truck with that name for as long as I lived in Texas. Was it a sign already from Maddie? I don’t know. It provides me a lot of comfort to think so.
On Monday, I was shocked to discover my golden retriever, Maddie, had lymphoma. It was not a diagnosis I imagined to get. When we brought her in that morning she was having difficulty breathing and I thought she had an allergic reaction to something. This dog walked 2 miles Sunday without any difficulty whatsoever. The mass in her chest is about the size of her heart. All her lymph nodes are engorged. We have had her since she was 7 weeks old. She just turned 6 in May. Not enough days…not enough days. Whatever time she has left we will make them wonderful for her. I thought you all might like to know more about this amazing little fur baby.
Before she was Maddie, she was known by the breeder as “tail.” She was marked with a pink spot on her tail. Her mother and father were champion hunters. Because she had a crooked tooth, she would not be able to be part of hunting trials. The woman, Mercedes Hitchcock, was taken by Patrick’s story. I shared that we had just lost our rescue golden retriever, Buddy. Buddy stunned us when he alerted us that my son was having a seizure on our bed. We wondered if a dog that came from a line of hunters could be trained to smell pre-seizure activity and warn us. And we wanted a puppy again. The group we did the adoption with for Buddy felt an older dog was better for us and would not give us a puppy. This road didn’t seem like an option to us. I understand there are a lot of shelter dogs and I believe in adoption, but we had what I felt were a special set of circumstances that made it okay for us. Mercedes came with high recommendations from other breeders in the area. She did not sell her puppies on the side of the road. She did not even advertise. She did not even have a web site.
It took us a few weeks to come up with a name for her. We discovered her brothers had some powerful names: Belvedere’s Mercedes Benz (aka Ben) and Belvedere’s Indiana Jones (aka Indy). Having both been from New York and the fact that golden retrievers are excellent marketers, we finally settled on Belvedere’s Madison Avenue (aka Maddie). She grew into wearing the “bling.”
I hope to share some funny stories with you about her in the days ahead. It will help us to cope with the overwhelming grief we are now experiencing.
Since the diagnosis has been confirmed and she is struggling a great deal, we have an appointment with our vet tomorrow, Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 12:15.