Mandy Meltdowns

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).  And she would get SO cold, from the marked weight loss of that final few weeks.

 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 11 years old, 2012

Mandy at 8 weeks old- summer 2001

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.

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.

Hannah’s Last Day

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.

Hannah and GRAPES !!!

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, and the toy named “Weirdo”- feeling better !

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.