Tag Archives: death

Goodbye Penny: On Losing A Dog with Dementia

21 Mar

I helped my sweet girl Penny leave this life on Saturday. She had dementia and rapidly growing mammary tumors and things were getting worse quickly. I wanted to make sure her passage was peaceful, not panicked. A veterinarian came to the house and Penny lay on her sofa with her brothers and me at her side. Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart played as she left us.

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But the truth is, like her brother Justin before her, Penny had been leaving for a long time. Dementia does that. The loss you feel for your beloved pet happens every day for months or years as you watch them lose their joy. The last time I saw Penny roll in the grass was last summer. Rolling in the grass had been one of her favorite past times. And instead of enjoying sitting in the sun as she always had, the brightness confused her and she would react as if startled and frightened. Just last week, we had a warm sunny day and I took her outside to sit in the grass, careful to point her away from the sun’s rays, but still she was not comfortable there. I carried her back into the house.

I’d been carrying Penny around for six months because she forgot how to go outside, where her water dish was (and how to drink – she would often drink the air above the bowl, which I kept raising up in hopes she would find it), and how to back out of places she got stuck in. With Justin, whose dementia lasted longer, I had to put boxes in every corner and crevice where he might get stuck and he still managed find his way into spots he couldn’t escape from.

There is no easy way to experience grief. It is awful to lose a pet unexpectedly. I’ve done that several times and it feels like someone has physically ripped the heart out of your chest. It is equally awful, but completely different, when the loss is spread out over a long period of time. Death feels like a relief, but you feel angry at yourself that you are not as torn apart as you believe you should be. You forget that tiny pieces of your heart have been ripped out for a long time. The sadness creeps up on you, but it seems familiar instead of surprising. You still glance around the room, looking for your sweet furry friend, but when you remember, pain is balanced with the calm of knowing they are not lost, afraid, or confused. Only you are.

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Getting Through It

16 Mar

My almost 17-old-dachshund Justin died two days ago. It was heart-wrenchingly sad having to be the one to make the decision that it was his time to move onto the next chapter.

But today I feel more relief than sadness. In reality, Justin hadn’t been with me for a long time. He had dementia, blindness, deafness and seizures and as his body and mind failed him, the Justin I had once known was already becoming a memory even as he lay beside me in bed at night. Now that he is physically no longer with me, the heartache is tempered with joy that he is no longer struggling with these awful things. And, to be honest, joy that I am not struggling with them either.

And that decision I made two days ago — I have been on the precipice of making it for at least a year. I have been sad and heartbroken and tired and unsure for so long. Not being in that spot is an odd feeling, but a good one.

I still think I have four dogs and get out four cookies for treats. I wake up at 2:30 a.m. thinking I will have to carry Justin out to pee in the yard, usually holding an umbrella over us both as the Oregon winter has been very wet. I get out four harnesses for a walk. I feel confused that there are so few supplements and pills to add to the meals of Watson, Penny, and Murray, my three other dog-children who have done their best to keep my spirits up.

When I came home from the vet, with the still-wet paw print in a Ziploc bag and my sweatshirt wet with tears, the first thing I did was remove the boxes. I had shoved boxes into every nook and cranny in every room Justin had free reign in. Something in his brain convinced him that if his snout was wedged between the sofa and the table or the bookshelf and the fireplace, he was stuck. So he would stay there. For hours if I had to be away. Rather than living with the fear that he was stuck and afraid, I wedged boxes everywhere. And then replaced them when Murray, who is still a puppy, chewed them up.

I took them all out to the recycling pile and stacked them up neatly. I wasn’t trying to rid the house of the memory of my sweet boy, but of his horrible disease that had stood between him and happiness for perhaps too long.

Old dogs and I are no strangers. My very first dog child, Copper, was in a wheelchair for the last three years of his life and I had to pee for him through a tube implanted in his bladder. His brother Slate lived to be almost 16 and their sister Maddy Lou left too early at 12. So I’m used to the extra work. What I wasn’t expecting was how angry and frustrated I could be, not at my boy, but at dementia that stole him from me. I called it many horrible names in the middle of the night. Fortunately, Justin was deaf and couldn’t hear this while cradled him in my arms or he fell asleep with my arm over him because he couldn’t sleep without knowing I was there.

I will try to forgive myself for my frustration. I will try to forgive myself for not making the decision for Justin earlier. I was hoping he could experience a few warm, sunny spring days, lolling in the grass with the other dogs as I worked in the garden.

That is not to be. I know that on the first warm, sunny day, Justin the joyful, playful dog who loved to run around the yard barking like that butterfly he spotted was a deadly enemy he needed to protect us from, but never actually harming any animal (unless it was a stuffed toy with a squeaker inside) will be reborn. Maybe we’ll sit and chat in the patio swing. He’ll love that.

 

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