When the quiet is due to loss.
Have you ever rocked a sick child through the night or listened to your puppy cry in pain while you were powerless to help? How long the dark hours seem when you are physically and emotionally drained and all you can do is pray for daylight and a potential breaking of the “spell” of fear and fatigue. I had a night like that recently. I know this is a long post, but I felt like I needed to write the account of our last days with Lil’ Dawg and the sad, quiet house left behind.
Some people think of dogs and cats as just pets; they enjoy having them and at the end of their lives, they are somewhat sad to see them go. But for others—like me and my husband, Bart—our dog was an important part of our family. We planned on spending several more good years with him; in fact, Bart thinks he got gypped.
Papillons are supposed to live longer than 13 years, and until very recently, Lil’ Dawg (Little) showed no obvious signs of any health issues. So, his troubles came as an unexpected (and unwelcome) surprise to us. The more I think of it though, there were some little clues: he seemed to lose his balance and slip a little more often on our tile floors, and he waited for me to pick him up and put him in the extra chair in my office rather than jumping up there himself. Just some signs of aging, I thought. But then came the first scary night.
I had come home from work and was on the computer, where you’ll often find me. Then Bart came home and joined Little and me in the office. Out of the blue, Little started holding up his back left leg and whimpering. We got down on the floor with him and he wandered back and forth between us. He’d let us hold him for a minute, but then he’d squirm to get free. He kept wanting to get under the desk, but he couldn’t seem to lie still for very long. I gave him a pain pill from an earlier prescription, but it didn’t seem to help. Bart went to bed and took Little with him, but Little wouldn’t stop whining. Finally, we decided I should take him to one of the emergency vets and see what was going on. Bart needed to stay and get some sleep as he had an early-morning meeting.
The vet told me it seemed to be a neurological issue as there were no signs of a break or fracture; the only thing he could do was take an x-ray, but I knew that it would cost more there and it wouldn’t do me any good until our regular vet was open, so I declined. I asked if there was anything they could give him for pain to help him get through the night. This way, I thought, we could both rest until the vet’s office opened. I did tell them I had already given him a pain pill, but they said that was fine.
On the drive home, in the back seat, Little cried louder than ever the whole way home. I kept trying to talk to him and soothe him, but it was heartbreaking to listen to him. At home, I discovered that his jaw seemed to be locked up and he had drooled all over himself and the blanket, poor baby. I stayed out in the living room with him so Bart could sleep. I wondered if I had done the right thing. I felt like the shot had made things worse for him not better; it never did help him get to sleep. I felt guilty for making Little suffer through the effects of the shot and guilty for praying for just one hour of quiet so I could sleep.
Exhausted, I got Little in to the vet the next morning. Dr. Tucker was wonderful with him. He said Little had no feeling at all in the one back leg. He believed that the problem was a herniated disc and advised that we could try steroids to help; the only other option was a very expensive surgery with a neurologist, which was not guaranteed to change things. He began to address the issue of quality of life and perhaps having to make a decision at some point, but when he saw me tear up, he hurried on to say that he didn’t believe we were at that stage yet and we should give steroids a try.
So we did. For the first two days, I couldn’t get Little to eat. I was able to get some water in him, and I had to put the pill in the back of his mouth to get it in him. Bart began to prepare himself for the worst. He said if Little wouldn’t eat and seemed to be getting worse, he’d have to make the decision to let him go; we couldn’t make him suffer because we didn’t want to lose him. I was proud of Bart for coming to that conclusion because I knew how much he didn’t want to make that choice, but I felt that we weren’t there yet.
Finally, on day three, I got Little to eat some of Sylvester’s cat food, and he started to make progress. Bart and I were thrilled that he was eating and beginning to walk normally again. But our joy didn’t last long. A week later, as we began to wean Little off the steroids (going from two pills a day to one), everything took a turn for the worse. I tried giving him a second pill to see if it would help. I figured we’d just keep him on steroids for a while if we needed to. He showed a slight improvement in the morning but by evening, he was not only dragging the one leg, but suddenly seemed to lose feeling in his whole back end. He couldn’t even stand up outside to go to the bathroom.
It’s so hard with dogs and kids, when they feel horrible and they don’t understand what’s going on, and you can’t fix things for them or make them feel better. It’s hard on them and hard on us. That night, Little started out wanting to be up on the bed with us; then he wanted down on the floor. I tried arranging sleep areas for him with a pillow and blanket, but he couldn’t seem to get comfortable enough to go to sleep. He’d try lying down; then he’d sit back up and lean up against the wall. His head kept tipping back and he would look up like he was staring at something. I wondered if he was seeing angels.
I tried several times to go to bed and get some sleep, but I kept hearing him scoot around the room, getting stuck in different corners, dragging his back end and crying. I cried myself. For his pain, for my inability to help him, for the loss I knew was coming. At one point, Little didn’t even seem to recognize me, and he snapped at me as I tried to help him move from one of the corners he’d gotten stuck in. Bart and I didn’t even have to voice the words; we knew what the morning would bring. I prayed that Little’s misery would be removed and that he’d be at peace; I prayed for rest; I prayed that morning would come more quickly … but it didn’t.
After a long, sleepless night, I called Dr. Tucker’s office as soon as they opened and chokingly told them that Little was suffering and we needed to bring him in. They told us to come in right away. During the night, Little had scooted himself into the bathroom closet. Bart gently scooped him up in a blanket and hugged him close. He held him in his lap as I drove. Luckily, the office is only 2 minutes from our house. The staff at Frisco West was sweet and caring. Dr. Tucker came and talked to us and explained the two shots that he would give Little, and he reassured us that we were making the right decision. (I am tearing up just writing about this now.) He said that some people try to prolong their dog’s or cat’s life past the point where it is humane to do so; he knew how much we loved Lil’ Dawg and could see that we had given him a great life, but now it was time to give him peace.
As hard as this next part was, we didn’t want Little to go through it alone. Bart held Little and I put one arm around Bart and a hand on Little to let him know I was there. The first shot was a dose of anesthesia to relax him and put him to sleep so he wouldn’t feel anything else. No pain, no fear, no exhaustion. Then came the final shot—Bart felt Little’s heartbeat slow, slow, slow, and then stop. I couldn’t feel it, but I knew when it happened. He was gone.
As Dr. Tucker took him from Bart, I tried not to look at the limp body that was no longer Little. We cried then—as I am crying now—and went home to a quiet house.
When your dog has been such a big part of your life and your schedule, it’s amazing all the things that you begin to realize he affected and all the moments where you feel the loss.
- When I feed Sylvester in the morning, there is no one waiting to lick the spoon.
- Now that I’m not taking Little out every morning and when I get home from work, I haven’t been out in the backyard in over a week.
- When Bart and I go out for breakfast, there is no one to save a piece of bacon for.
- I still sit far forward on my office chair even though there is no one lying on the chair behind me.
- We keep a nightlight on in the bathroom, but I wear a sleep mask to block out the light. I just realized the other day that I was still leaving the bathroom door open, but I only did that originally so that Little had enough light to see to get up and down from the bed.
- Every time I pull the car into the garage, rather than an excited welcome-home bark, I am greeted by the sound of silence.
- Naps on the couch are just not the same.
Although we still have Sylvester, he doesn’t quite fill the same role that Little did. We will always be dog people. After figuring out many things—our schedules and time availability; whether we want a big dog or little dog; puppy or adolescent; breed; our needs and a dog’s needs—we will eventually invite another dog into our home and our lives. But we will always have a place in our hearts for Little.
We miss you Lil’ Dawg. But we will see you again.
- The book of Isaiah (11:6-9) offers a stirring image of what Heaven will be like; it suggests there will be animals, all living in beautiful and peaceful coexistence:
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
- A man once asked Dr. Billy Graham whether his dog would go to heaven. The great evangelist answered: “God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.”