Watching, Waiting, Wondering… When?

I was a little on guard last night when Mandy (my 11.75 year old miniature schnauzer) was breathing a little ‘off’.  This morning, I knew things were worse. The rate of her breathing and use of muscles not usually needed to breathe were obvious. Then she didn’t want to eat.  I’d recently switched her over to canned dog food (that she LOVES) since she had been eating so little of the dry stuff (both prescription). Her weight loss was visible, though not in the range of some animal rescue commercial.  She had been doing well on the canned stuff for the last 3 days. Until today.  My baby is getting sicker. She was diagnosed with heart failure about 7 months ago. It was ‘caught’ earlier than my last schnauzer, who died of the same thing a year after she was diagnosed.  Mandy seems to be going downhill more quickly.  I’m not sure she’ll be here at Christmas (in 11 days).

I’ve had great miniature schnauzers since I was a kid.  Mandy is my third, and since I’m on disability (for the last 8 1/2 years), we spend a lot of time together.  She’s picked up on cues that my other dogs didn’t. For instance, when I turn off the TV, she knows it’s time for bed, and gets up from wherever she is in the living room, and goes to the bedroom.  When I get my keys, she knows I’m going to get the mail, and escorts me to the door.  If I get her seatbelt adapter, she knows she’s going to get in the car, and goes to garage door.  She’s been the most in tune to my routines by far of any of the three dogs I’ve had.  While I’ve loved them all, there’s something different about this one. She really has been special. Her comprehension of English (and following through with commands or comments) is kind of weird. If I tell her I’m going to sneeze, she leaves the room.  Then comes back to check things out !  I know everybody thinks their dogs (or kids) are ‘gifted’… of the three I’ve had, Mandy is by far the most communicative.

Greta, my first schnauzer when I was a little kid, was a performer. She loved to jump through a hoop, sit, roll over, etc for a Milkbone dog treat.  She could clear the back of the couch with no running start. But she was also a bit bonkers.  If she got out of the front door, she’d run like the wind until someone (usually me, but could be a neighbor who saw her fly up the street, with me in pursuit) grabbed her- usually when she stopped to pee.  Hannah was a ‘talker’.  If I said ‘bow wow’ or ‘woof’, she’d howl. My mom (demented at the time) loved that!  She’d ask to talk to the dog when I started asking questions she didn’t know the answers to as I assessed where she was mentally. The dog didn’t ask questions- just interacted without expectations in return. She also knew each of her toys by name, and would go get the correct one when told to get one of them.

Now, I’ve got to face the inevitable outcome of heart failure in dogs once again.  I check the color of her tongue (still pink), and monitor how fast and ‘hard’ she’s breathing.  I watch her activity level, and know that when she isn’t getting up on her own that it’s time. Quitting eating is also a late sign- I know that from Hannah.  Any evidence of pain can’t be allowed to take what time she has and make it a cruel existence.  I realize that she could perk up, but I’ve got to mentally prepare myself that she could be gone in a matter of days.  My best friend is dying.

Last week at this time, I thought she was doing pretty well. It’s moving quickly; she had gradually stopped eating the dry food until she’d finally give in because she was so hungry, so I got her the canned stuff- there was no point in making her ‘put up with’ something she no longer liked- or took too much energy to eat.  Now, she’s resisting taking her medication, so I’m having to use applesauce and slip the spoon into her mouth with the pills hidden in each bite, and ‘lubed up’ to slide down more easily.  It’s breaking my heart.  But she’s still alert, and interested in every move I make.  I have been purposely letting her rest, hoping that her breathing will slow down, and she’ll have less stress on her heart.  What I’d love to do is wrap my arms around her and hold her for hours.  But, she’s not a snuggler.

I know she could pass quietly in her sleep, and while I wish for her a gentle journey to the Rainbow Bridge, I also know that I need to be prepared with a mental list of what is ‘enough’.  I held Hannah while she was put to sleep, knowing that she saw me come in and pick her up after a morning at the vet’s to see if anything could be done; I knew when I took her in that it wasn’t good.  I HAD to be there when she died- and for her to see me come back. I couldn’t have her remember that I’d just dropped her off and left her.   And, she had said good-bye that morning by sitting on my leg and putting her head on my shoulder…and just ‘being’ there.  She had also been an amazing companion, as I’ve always been single and don’t have kids, or that many close friends.

I know what to look for with Mandy, and I know it’s getting closer.  I dread waking up to find her lying too still beside me.  And yet, I don’t want her to struggle or suffer in any way.  She has been such an amazing companion that I have to let her go if I see that it’s too hard for her to stay here for even a couple of days.  I can’t make my best friend suffer at all.  I love her too much.

My dad told me just to enjoy the time I have left with Mandy. I’m trying, but being a nurse, I am also constantly assessing her breathing and medication and eating.  She did eat some freeze dried banana chips and peas today…so she’s not completely refusing food. Just the stuff that actually matters.  I’ll get another dog- never to replace one I’ve lost, but because of the years of joy and amazing love they bring.  I just hope she has an idea of just how much I love her.  Anything I have and can offer her seems so inadequate.  I just pray now that I’ll know ‘when’…

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