The Dog Hospice Has Closed
Get Scout outside by carrying her down and out the steps to the back patio with Foxy following. Start the coffee. Fix their breakfasts and pills while intermittently glancing outside to see what Scout’s doing and if she needs help. This was a typical start to my recent mornings.
Scout’s back half was getting weaker and weaker. Her spinal cord injury from years ago was deteriorating. We were now helping her get up almost all the time by lifting her by her flashy red belt. Once she got going, she’d often surprise us and take herself for a walk around the yard, circumnavigate the house and maybe check out the neighbor’s yard, too.
We knew her day was coming. We watched for signs and symptoms. Maybe liver or kidney failure? She sure drank a lot. Congestive heart failure? Always a possibility with her heavy breathing. Her bowel movements? Always kept things exciting!
Sometimes she’d walk under the table, get stuck and patiently wait for one of us to move a chair or the table out of her way. She stayed closer and closer to her water bowl.
Sometimes she would tip over backwards, her rear feeling heavy and weak, before getting the water so I would pick up the bowl and hold it up to her mouth until she had her fill. I often wondered if *this* would be her last walk or her last trip to see my Mom. Sometimes she slept for so long and laid so still, we wondered if she was already gone. Then she would sense us checking her out and jolt awake as if to say “not yet, dammit”.
Me, leaning over Scout: Scout, blink once if you’re still alive, twice if you’re not.
Scout, rolls eyes to give me a dirty look.
Me: Good enough.
But even as she spent less time on her feet and more time laying around, she still seemed to recover enough to let us know that today wasn’t her day. The night previous, I told Clint we should do a little family photo of the four of us, before we lost our opportunity.
Scout’s ears and their fringe would still perk up and she still had a light in those cataract-filled eyes when she recognized her favorite things, i.e. Clint, food or me when she thought I might be bringing her food. She still had a decent shot of getting up on her own when she was wearing her Wonder Woman socks with the grippy rubber on the bottom. Every night Clint would get down on the floor with her, talk softly while intermittently stroking her and gently putting on her socks. The soft pat-pat-pat-pat of her walking in those socks brought a smile to my face, every damn time. Her black fur turned her into a ninja in the dark but the pat-pat-pat-pat always gave her away.
She seemed to enjoy riding in her wagon, like a queen with the three of us as her court. People loved seeing her and we would get ridiculous comments and lots of questions. Some would flat out stop us to talk and maybe take a picture, many would try to take pictures on the sly. One couple ran out from their house, yelling at us to hold up so they could question us. A man driving down the street did a u-turn, pulled up next to us and wanted to know her story. When we got that wagon for her, we never anticipated the genuine delight and surprise it would evoke in people when they saw her in it. Clint and I would often do a lap at Gray’s Lake with Scout and Foxy. When Foxy and I would walk behind Clint, who was pulling Scout, it would provide me a front row seat to people’s unfiltered reactions and comments as they passed them, not realizing or caring that I was part of the Dog-In-The-Wagon Pack. Is it really that hard to believe that we’d pull an aging dog in a wagon who could no longer do a lap but still wanted to go? Or did they just think we’re crazy? Both?
Then, about 10:40 Thursday morning, Scout had what we think was a seizure. She’s had them before but not in a very long time. Clint curled up with her on the floor and held her and kept her safe and comforted. Snuggling with him was always her favorite place with her favorite person. I watched her for signs of what was happening; eyes, mouth, breathing, feeling her heart beat. I talked to her so she could hear a voice in case she couldn’t see anymore. After an hour of all of us on the kitchen floor, me looking up info about dog seizures, Clint and I discussed what our options were. We knew if she couldn’t stand or drink, our decision was made for us.
We moved all of us to the couch after we put some extra sheets on it and Scout seemed mostly relaxed and comfortable. But after an hour or so, she still couldn’t stand and her left eye was twitchy. I called the vet. They couldn’t get us in. Are you serious? I have to repeat this damn call again? And again? You can no longer stay with your pet during the process at the Animal Rescue League and that was a deal-breaker. I called a couple of friends for referrals (thank you Jana and Tiawny, for getting me what I needed through a choked-up voice) and was able to get into the Van Meter Vet but not for a few hours. We moved to the floor on the front porch. We huddled on the floor as it softly rained. She licked my hand in a rare show of affection, she licked Clint’s face, we waited, we kept her comfortable and we waited. And waited. As the wise Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part.
Your mind goes to weird places when you’re waiting for death and you know you’re the one to usher it in, that her expiration not only has a date but a time. You vacillate between practicalities such as getting the pet hammock in the back seat and feeling the sadness and grief that are churning inside you. Take Foxy out for a whiz. Back to Scout. You watch her, you stroke her. You hope she’s comfortable. You get her what you think she needs. All while silently listing my favorite things about her, my private ode to her.
There is something about the vulnerability of a dog that raises a different kind of emotion in me. You are responsible for their lives, their care and their death. You will probably have to make all of the hard decisions for them. They need you. They depend on you. They give you everything they have and if you’re lucky, your last gift to them is a peaceful death.