I Just Want What’s Best For Her…

It’s so hard to know how to read what’s going on with Mandy (my 11.75 year old miniature schnauzer with heart failure).  She’s obviously not feeling well judging by her appetite and resistance to taking her medication (one is chewable, and she usually loves it; the others are pills I put in fruit that she usually snarfs right up). Her breathing isn’t ‘right’, and she’s coughing a little. She’s not peeing as much as she should be- but nothing smells funny or has a dark, concentrated color (she’s paper/pad trained, so it’s easy to assess).  And, she’s alert, getting up whenever I move, and doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort. She hasn’t fainted, and her tongue is pink.  Right now, she’s by the front door grumbling about something.  That’s ‘normal’ for her!

I’ve been down this road before. My last schnauzer had heart failure for the last year of her life, and she did quite well until the last couple of days. The only time she didn’t eat was the last 24-36 hours she was alive, and it was horribly obvious that she wasn’t doing well. I tried the extra doses of the medicine to help her get rid of extra fluid, but it was over. (I’d made a mental list of ‘it’s done’ symptoms to watch for).  It was- thankfully- fairly ‘quick’ at the end. The signs were easier to see.  I got her to the vet, who tried to turn things around, but he called me at work to let me know I need to come quickly. With Mandy, it’s harder.  Regardless, she has to go to the vet tomorrow to get checked out.

My dad and I have a ‘plan’  (God bless him – he’s 80 years old, and such a huge support, and he loves his ‘grand-dogger’). If I think I’m going to have to put Mandy to sleep tomorrow (not thinking that at the moment, but things are going back and forth a lot this weekend), he’ll drive and then take me to the pet crematorium.  If she seems like she’s doing fairly well, and just going to be seen by the vet, I’ll take her myself.  She’s good in the car (and loves car rides until she gets where she always goes- the groomer or the vet).  If something happens quickly tonight, and God forbid, she dies, he’ll take me to the pet crematorium. I’ll be a wreck.  The idea of putting her into a box to go to ‘that place’ breaks my heart.  I know she won’t know the difference at that point, but I will.  She’s been too good of a companion to put into a box for any reason. If there’s any way to keep her just wrapped in a blanket, that would be much better.  Even if it’s just for a 4 mile trip.  Even if it’s just because I can’t stand the idea of her being ‘disregarded’ by being in an ordinary box.

I’ve been through this before. I survived, and got another puppy who stole my heart all over again.  I can’t afford a schnauzer (which has been my favorite dog since I was a little kid), but my dad said he’d be sure I got the puppy I want, since he’s very aware that being on disability and having very little contact with people makes the companionship all that more important.  I’ve got my name on a schnauzer rescue list, and got an e-mail with 3 available, and very adorable, puppies just yesterday.  But, I won’t get another one until Mandy is gone- the stress of a rambunctious puppy probably would be too much for her- she’s never interacted much with other dogs (she hides behind my legs when I take her to the groomer), and gets a bit snooty about them sniffing her back door. She almost seems offended at ‘dog’ behavior :D.  I’m just hoping that Mandy does well enough to indicate she’s still enjoying life for a while to come. I know the outcome of canine heart failure.  I just have to be sure I’m reading her well enough to know when enough is enough.

I know other people love their pets as much as I do.  I think it feels ‘worse’ because I’m alone, and really don’t have contact with any other living thing as much as I do her, since I’m home all of the time. In the last 8.5 years on disability, we’ve been together nearly 24/7 unless I’m in the hospital, at some doctor appointment, or brief trips to the grocery store or pharmacy.  I talk to my dad pretty much every day- which is also really important. But Mandy is my primary source of interaction with anything alive and in ‘person’.  She is also really in tune to my routines, and understands a LOT of what I say (it’s kinda creepy sometimes- LOL).  I’ve never had kids or been married, but I think I can relate to the intense love a parent has for a kid, at least to some degree.  I’d do anything I could for Mandy, and if someone ever tried to harm her, I’d go postal.  And have no regrets.

It’s going to be horribly painful when she no longer has any quality of life.  Once it becomes a struggle for her, or there is any indication of suffering, it’s over.  I won’t put my best friend through anything that prolongs her misery to avoid my grief over losing her.  I know I keep writing about this, but it’s just so hard to think of her being gone.  I don’t mean to sound ‘dismissive’ when I talk about another puppy before Mandy is gone, but it’s how I keep my mind from being totally overwhelmed by grief.  The circle of life and all of that.  Knowing I’d get another puppy (Mandy) after my last dog died really helped me look forward, and not stay stuck in the crying part of acute grieving.  I could find some joy in a new ‘baby’.  I bought toys every payday until Mandy was old enough to come home. She  has an obscene number of stuffed animals now, most of which she ignores, so the new puppy will have a lot to play with as well.

Find Mandy !  She has about 10 times more toys now !!

Find Mandy ! She has about 10 times more toys now !!

As with anything in life, I can’t predict when Mandy will be too sick to ‘make’ her keep going, and I’ll have to let her go.  So, I have to keep myself prepared, and try and make her life the best it can be during the time she has left.  I also have to enjoy all of the time she has left.  Yes, I need to keep being realistic, but also can’t have her half gone while she’s still here!  I know I’ll love another puppy intensely, but right now it’s hard to imagine loving anything as much as I love Mandy. She has been such an important part of my life.  My primary goal is to give as much as I can to her for as long as she’s around. And know when the time comes to give her the final gift of no suffering.

Mandy in her sweater- 2012

Mandy in her sweater- 2012

In the meantime, I’ll probably keep writing.  I’ll keep having times when I’m in tears, and standing in the laundry area of my apartment so nobody can hear me cry when the spin cycle is going.  I’ll be a wreck after she’s gone. And I’ll love every minute I can still see her sweet face looking at me while she’s still here. ❤

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.