The Death of My Best Friend…Who Waits at The Rainbow Bridge

At 2:45 p.m. today (December 27, 2012), my best friend and amazing dog Mandy died in my arms.  About 15 minutes earlier, she had been lying on her ‘TV bed’ and made a sound that was similar to those she made when she’d faint, but not as loud and only one time (instead of the usual three deep, agonized moans). I immediately went to check on her, and she was semi-conscious.  I picked her up and she began to wake up, ears perky, and  looking at me. But something wasn’t right- normally when she started to wake up, she ‘came to’ quickly and was on her feet and steady. She did go over to her pee pads and peed, but she wouldn’t leave that area- she just kind of froze standing up. So I picked her up and brought her to my recliner, to hold her and see if she’d perk up.  I decided to get her onto her comforter with a disposable underpad beneath it (she has had ‘issues’ with bodily functions after fainting).  By then, she wasn’t able to support herself on the floor, so I laid her on her recliner as I got her situated (yes, the dog had her own recliner).  I picked her up to hold her  on my lap and see what was next.  She again picked her head up, but then essentially collapsed, and began some slow, agonizing breaths that became slower and slower until they stopped altogether.  I checked her heart rate with my stethoscope. There was silence. The entire process took about fifteen minutes as she died in my arms.

I’m extremely thankful that she didn’t have any prolonged suffering; just this morning she was looking at me and wanting her Charlee Bear dog treats (which she got), and eating Swedish meatballs (microwaved and low salt, just for her).  I’m extremely grateful that she was in my arms, and not alone or afraid. She just relaxed into my lap and let go. I told her she’d been an amazing friend and dog, and that I loved her more than I could ever make her understand, and that it was OK to stop fighting the heart failure.  I knew it had been hard for her for a couple of weeks, but she had been so alert and interested in what was going on, and had still been eating (though becoming very picky).  I’m so thankful that she took the reins, and it was fast.  I had agonized with the decision to put her to sleep last week, but unlike my last dog, the signs weren’t  so clear.  Mandy was still invested in life…until she wasn’t.  The end left no questions.

I’d called my dad when I noticed something wasn’t right, and he came over as fast as he could- thinking at best we’d be taking her to the vet to be put to sleep if she was still ‘not right’, or at worst to the animal crematorium.  I also called my birth-mother. She’s been keeping up with the gradual decline. Mandy  was ‘gone’ when dad got here, which was OK, since it gave me a few moments alone with her during that time when everything changes and the order of my world began the process of adapting to the void left behind without her.  I know it’s a process, and that I’ll be a mess on and off for a while.  I’ll miss her for a long time, just as I still miss the one before her, and the one before her.

I can’t explain in human words how much I loved that dog.  There is no ‘dog-language’ to explain how important she was as the one living thing I saw more than anybody else. Being home 24/7 about %98 of the time, she was my sole companion and closest friend.  All I could do was to do all I could do, and I did. I have no regrets about the level of treatment for her congestive heart failure. I have no regrets about letting her lead the way as far as when she was ‘done’ (and she was quite decisive 🙂 ).   I only know that there’s a hole in my heart left by her absence that will be raw for a while.  I know I’ll get another dog, though none of my dogs have ever replaced her predecessor. They just grew in my heart in their own way.

Thanks to the vets and staff at the Mulford Animal Hospital in Rockford, IL.  You have been so caring, and kind.

Mandy Bluebonnet Tumbleweed- my forever friend, who never let me down and always lifted me up. ❤

Mandy Bluebonnet TumbleweedMar. 28, 2001- Dec. 27, 2012

Mandy Bluebonnet Tumbleweed
Mar. 28, 2001- Dec. 27, 2012

 

"Mandy

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’…

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.