Hannah was my present to myself for my 25th birthday. She was a salt and pepper miniature schnauzer. I’d gone and picked her out from her litter when she was about 4 weeks old. When she was ‘ready’ at 7 weeks old, I drove out to Lake Travis (near Austin, TX) in a raging thunderstorm in November 1988, and got her. She and her littermates were all standing up on the covered patio with their dog mama, peeking in the French doors into the house. They were all so cute, but she walked over to me first when the door was opened. She seemed to remember!
She was so funny when she was little. I didn’t have the heart to make her sleep by herself, and since she was a ‘baby’ didn’t want her peeing in my bed. I put her into a regular baby bassinet that a neighbor had given to me, and put it next to my bed. She’d give a good puppy howl if she was scared, and as soon as I draped my hand into the bassinet, she’d quiet down and go back to sleep. After a couple of nights, she seemed to understand that I wasn’t going anywhere. As soon as she was potty trained, she slept in bed with me.
Hannah was about 2 years old when she had her first ‘seizure’. By the time I got her to the vet, the vet looked at me like I was a bit on the overprotective side. Hannah was fine, and just stared at both of us. Back home… She continued to have these ‘seizures’ on and off for years. They never happened more than 2-3 times a year, so from what the vet had said about risk/benefits of medication, I opted to keep her off of meds. She always bounced back as if nothing had happened.
When Hannah was 11 1/2 years old, she scared me out of my mind. One single night, she passed out seven times. I was up all night with her. She’d get sort of woozy and stagger a bit and, then fall over on her side, twitching. She’d then stagger to her feet and have to go out to pee immediately. Like right now. I thought for sure she was dying. She slept on the couch next to me that whole night between episodes. She had stopped eating the day before (which was very unlike her), but initially I thought it was some bug. I watched her, and she didn’t have any vomiting or diarrhea… but then that night. Oy. I thought it was the end.
As soon as the vet’s office opened I called, and got her right in. We lived in a small town from the time she was 7 years old; they didn’t have an emergency animal hospital there at the the time. I was glad her regular vet saw her. He asked me to leave her there for a few hours so he could figure out what was going on. I agreed, but I hated leaving her. She was my only companion. My best friend.
I got the call to come and get her (good news) and when I got there the vet told me that she was in heart failure. Grade 4 murmur ( a ‘5’ is the worst). He’d given her oxygen and a shot of a strong diuretic (water pill medicine), and she’d peed off a bunch of fluid her heart couldn’t circulate through her body normally, to be eliminated through her kidneys. I got prescription dog food, three medicines to give her by mouth, and a bottle of the diuretic medicine to give her as a shot if she needed a ‘booster’ to help her breathing, and the syringes and needles for her shots. He knew I was an RN, so giving shots wasn’t a problem. He just showed me where on the back of her neck to give them.
She also couldn’t have regular dog treats, or anything with a ‘normal’ sodium level. I got her some low-sodium peanut butter (to hide her pills in). She didn’t like it. She also didn’t like the prescription ‘heart’ diet food, so the rest of that case of cans was returned, and she got the ‘kidney’ food. It had limited sodium like the ‘heart’ diet. And she got grapes (this was about 10 years before I found out that dogs shouldn’t have grapes). She LOVED those grapes. I’d sneak her pills into them, and she acted like I’d given her filet mignon and truffles.
She did very well, and had many, many days where she was playing, and acting like she felt really good. She knew the names of her individual toys, and would get them, and enjoy chasing them. She still howled when I was on the phone to my folks; my mom had dementia, and one thing SHE still enjoyed was Hannah howling at her on the phone when I said “woof”, or “bow wow”. I just had to say the words, and she’d do her howling bit. Mom loved it !
Hannah still had an occasional fainting episode, but within a few minutes (and a quick trip outside to pee) was back to her normal self. I had told the vet that I would NOT put my best friend through a miserable year just because I couldn’t say goodbye. If she wasn’t going to have any quality of life, forget it. But he was right- she had some very good months left in her.
About 11 months later, I noticed her start to change not long after moving to a different apartment in the same complex. She started not wanting to eat, and her breathing was getting funky. I gave her the shots to get rid of the fluid (and it did). But it wasn’t working as well. I had told myself when she was diagnosed that if she started to refuse food completely, that was it. We were done. The shots were only helping for about a half a day, and I had to give them to her a couple of times a day for 4-5 days. Then she completely stopped eating. My heart started to break. That night, her breathing was horrible. I knew what was coming.
In the morning, she got off of the bed, and peed on the floor. Then she went and hid in my closet, as if to say she was so ashamed. I couldn’t get mad at her, she was sick ! It was pitiful to see her hiding from her accident. She NEVER peed on the floor- she was so good about waiting to go outside, or using the pee pads when I left her in the kitchen to go to work. I knew I had to take her to the vet.
I sat on the couch before getting ready to load her into the car. She got up on the couch with me, and climbed on my lap. She ended up sitting on my thigh, and then putting her head on my shoulder. I think she was saying goodbye, and it was easier for her to breathe if she was upright, but didn’t have to support herself. I loaded her into a laundry basket to put in the car, since her balance was a little iffy. When I took her in to the vet, he said he’d like to try some more oxygen and medications, and he’d call me. I told him that I could be back there in minutes if it looked like she was getting worse (she was already bad), and he agreed that he’d call me if I needed to come. I did not want her dying without knowing I was there, and I hadn’t just dropped her off and deserted her.
I got the call around 11:30 a.m. I had the kind of desk nursing job where there was flexibility for such things. I’d told my boss ahead of time what was going on, so when I told the receptionist I had to leave I could just go.
When I got there, Hannah was hooked up to an IV, oxygen, rectal probe (temperature), and heart monitor. She looked spent. But she also lifted her head a little when she heard my voice. She knew I was there. I was told to take whatever time I needed, but I think when she put her head on my shoulder earlier that morning, that was our time. Right then, I had to do what was best for her, so I started taking the equipment off of her, and just holding her. I was satisfied she knew I was there, and that it was OK for her to stop fighting. I told the vet to just ‘do it’.
She slowly dropped her head as the ‘go to sleep’ stuff took effect. I could feel her full weight against my arms, and then she took her last breath. It was over. My best friend was gone. I was told that I could spend time with her. (the vet’s office had cleared out for lunch, aside from those who were helping Hannah… and they were all in tears as well). I could hardly see her through the tears, but I did want to hold her for just a few minutes. They let me take her to one of the exam rooms where it was quiet, and private. I just cried, and told her how much I loved her, and how wonderful she’d been as my best friend. I wasn’t in that little room with her for very long. I’d had 12 1/2 years with her to remember… those were gifts. But I got to say ‘goodbye’, just her and me.
I just hope she knew how much I loved her.