My sweet miniature schnauzer Mandy died seven weeks ago yesterday, on December 27th, 2012. She was my sole companion for all of the years on disability, and absolute joy for the 11.75 years I had her with me. Most of my human friends are in Texas, and I’ve been pretty much isolated since going on disability in April 2004. But Mandy was always here. We were with each other pretty much 24/7. The bond was different than with other dogs I’ve had (though I loved them intensely, as well). She knew my patterns and understood what I told her with an almost creepy accuracy. My dad commented about that often. He could tell her to do something, and she stared at him… if I said something, she knew what I wanted her to do and did it. I miss her little quirks SO much.
The last few days have been really hard for some reason. I’ve been sobbing when I think about how she just went limp on my lap after a few minutes of altered breathing and periodic looks of confusion. She knew that something wasn’t right. She stopped in her tracks after peeing on her pee pads (this was after she whimpered and had some type of ‘spell’ that was similar to other episodes during her nine months with congestive heart failure). She actually had the ‘presence of mind’ to go to her pee pads after an episode that was to end her life in the next 15 minutes. That ‘look’ made me feel that she was confused about what was happening, and so I picked up that sweet dog, and got her situated on her comforter, with a pee pad underneath, and got her onto my lap as I leaned back in my recliner.
She had some ‘leakage’ issues when she’d have those spells. I knew that if she was dying, she’d have no control- even though she’d had that brief moment of clarity to run to her pee pads. She knew something wasn’t right, but she also knew that I was holding her, and wasn’t leaving her to be confused on her own.
That last ‘episode’ was different from others. She’d whimpered and cried when she fainted before, and while that sound was horrific to listen to, she’d snap out of it and become alert fairly quickly. This was different. She woke up, but never seemed to become ‘clear’. So, I knew that this was going to be the end- whether she died naturally in my arms, or if it went into some prolonged situation that could only be dealt with humanely at the vet’s office. Regardless, I knew I was watching my dog’s final moments. This was my sole companion. She was with me every single day during some really lousy stuff, and there was no judgement (about the disability issues) and only love and companionship (during the chemo for leukemia). My best friend was dying in my arms.
When she had that ‘agonal’ breathing (deep, but very slow, and associated with the dying process), I saw the color of her tongue change. It became pale. She was no longer looking at me, but I talked to her and thanked her for being the amazing friend that she had been. I told her how much I loved her. But I also told her that it was OK to go. She’d been through enough. That’s what I used to do with human patients when I was working as a nurse, and while I’m sure Mandy didn’t understand those words, I had to say them. I had to let her go.
The previous two weeks had been long and hard, and indicative that things were changing, but she’d been alert, and interested in what was going on. Even that last morning, she was very eager to get Swedish meatballs for breakfast (she’d become very picky during that last 2 weeks). But at the very end, I knew I had to say goodbye…to the single being that was with me every single day for nearly 12 years, and the only being that was with me after I ended up home all day every day on disability. I have regular phone contact with my dad, but my dog was always by my side. All other contacts with humans at that point were either medical appointments, pharmacy and grocery clerks once a month, the vet, visits with my dad every couple of weeks or so, and package delivery people. There was also the brief contact with family on Christmas Eve. That was literally my only contact with people in person…. but Mandy was always there.
When she went limp on my lap, I knew she was gone. No more struggling. No need to take her to the vet, wondering if she knew what was happening. And feeling like I was ‘killing’ her (even though I believe in euthanasia for the sake of the dog). No more of the agonal (or difficult) breathing. No more wondering when enough was enough. No more of the up and down roller coaster of watching her have hard periods of time when she seemed to be going downhill very quickly, but then have her bounce back, and being alert and curious the whole time.
She went naturally. She died in my arms. She knew I was with her. She didn’t have to endure the stress of a car ride to the vet (it had become difficult for her because the excitement of being in the car made her breathing more labored).
But I wanted more time with her. It was 2:45p.m. when she took her last breath, and the crematory closed at 4:00… I’d called them around 3:00 p.m., and they were waiting. Dad was on his way to drive me over there. But I just wanted to hold her for a while longer. She was my only friend that I had contact with other than online. She was my life. And she was gone… I just wanted a few more minutes. Handing her over to the pet crematory staff (who were VERY compassionate and handled her very gently) was horrendous. Shifting her from my arms to his was agonizing. She was obviously lifeless, and yet it felt like I was giving part of my life away to death.
I can’t get these last minutes out of my head. I do still remember her quirky, funny times, but losing her hurts like salt in an open wound, in my heart. I knew the end result of canine heart failure, and I knew those last two weeks were winding down to the end… but it also felt like part of me went with her. Having such little contact with other people (because of the disability and physical limitations) made my relationship with Mandy so different. And she was special (as I know all pet owners feel about their babies 😉 ). Her understanding of what I told her was eerie and made her like having ‘someone’ here. Before becoming disabled, my other dogs were amazing parts of my life- and I loved them deeply…yet I had contact with people at school and/or work during their lives. Maybe I became too dependent on Mandy. I don’t know. I just know that this time was different.
I’m going to get another schnauzer; I’ve got a breeder in mind, and am awaiting news that their mama schnauzer is pregnant. It’s really hard to wait, but I really like the breeder and photo of one of their past puppies. In the meantime, I’m getting things ready for having a puppy again. And, I go through ‘Mandy Meltdowns’ – more so the last few days. Each day, something reminds me of what is missing. Then I replay those last minutes, then weeks, in my head- and dissolve into tears. I’ve lost two other schnauzers over the period of time from when I was a kid, through my late 30s… and this is different. Yes, I missed those dogs a lot, but things got better over time; I’ve never forgotten them or their individual personalities (one was nuts, the other smart and social 🙂 ). It seems like I’m stuck, even though I’m looking forward to the new puppy.
I just miss my sweet buddy. She made my life so much better.
Mandy at 11 years old, 2012
Mandy at 8 weeks old- summer 2001
Mandy’s final resting place. She is with her ‘big sisters’ and will be buried with me one day.
I still can’t get rid of her pillow bed.