Monday, June 1, 2015

Saying Goodbye Never Gets Any Easier

This is Nina. We adopted her from Cayleb's Kindred Senior Rescue in Denver in 2013. They specifically work with senior dogs that shelters have a hard time placing due to medical issues. Some dogs go to forever sanctuary homes to live out their lives in a loving home. Some of them, like Nina, get placed for adoption, have their surgery and get to finish off their lives with a loving family who adopts them as their own.

Nina had mammary cancer, and a tumor on her back. She had surgery to remove it all, and was just fine. She's a German Shepherd, so being away from her family was hard for her. But they could no longer care for her. She came to us in December, 2013.

It was just a few months after we lost Athena, another female German Shepherd that we had. Nina was confused, but attentive. She eventually attached to me, and was my little shadow around the house. She followed me everywhere, always wanted to go for car rides.

 I tried hard to work with her on her herding instincts on the farm, she was often too aggressive with the sheep. It was, though, at times helpful to bring her out to give the sheep an extra nudge to get home, especially when they escaped our yard completely.

But she was a good surrogate mom to our lamb Hattie. She kept her company in the house when she had to sleep inside, and always alerted me if she hopped out of her box during the night.

She came with us on Shannon's first day of Kindergarten, and helped see her off on her first time riding the bus. She would even pull Shannon on a sled down the street on really snowy days.

 She was also a surrogate mom for Hercules, and slept with him in his crate his first night home so that he wouldn't be so sad being away from his mother. She kept him in line and always had the patience to play with him.

She was protective, a family dog through and through. She was the epitome of what they mean when they speak of companion animals. She was my shadow, my pain in the butt, but was always there to help me round up sheep, chickens, turkeys, or just come with me on my daily chores, so that I was never working alone. And she slept every night by my bed. I loved brushing her long coat, or just hugging her and petting her in those rare moments of downtime. She was quirky, as shepherds can be. The yard is strewn with her toys, and she loved to play, but I think her favorite game was "keep away" as she loved to fetch her toys, but didn't quite like to hand them over for a second throw. She loved stuffies, and there are many shredded ones throughout the yard. She also loved to carry around rocks, which was bad for her teeth, but difficult to get her to stop.

Sunday morning, she woke us up with incredible whining. I got out of bed to see what was wrong (thinking the dog door was closed, and she needed to go potty but couldn't). Then I saw a trail of vomited water all the way down the stairs and across the front room.  I went outside, and saw her with an obvious look of discomfort on her face. At that point, I feared the worst - bloat. Bloat in a dog is when their stomach twists, and closes itself off. Whatever is in there continues to process, creating gases that now have no place to escape. Dogs tend to try and drink a lot of water - probably in the hopes to make their tummies feel better. But since the water has no where to go, they vomit it back up. She is so furry, it was hard to see the obvious swelling that is typically on one side of their body. We've been through this with Sergeant. We know there is no time. We rushed her to the vet. 

They took us straight back without even checking us in, and though on first sight they agreed with our assessment, they wanted an x-ray to be sure. X-ray confirmed that her stomach was twisted. The vet said she was in a rapid state of decline and we would need to make a decision right away.  (With Sergeant, who I think was 7 at the time, they told me I had an hour to decide).  So Nina was heading downhill quickly. By the time they brought us back for the x-ray, her breathing was labored, her eyes were bugging out, and she didn't even acknowledge that we were all there. 

Though there were definitely financial considerations here, it was more about how much damage may have already been done (Bloat puts pressure on other internal organs) and her ability to recover from this trauma. The vet said that they could do the surgery, but encouraged our decision to say goodbye. It was not specifically said, but I could tell the implication was that she was in such a bad state that the surgery alone might have taken her life. Everything happened too fast. They put her on a blanket on the floor, and I snuggled up next to her, so that she was not alone. She fell asleep quite peacefully. My arms were wrapped around her. We said goodbye.   Even though she never met Ditka, Grish, Hobbes or Athena - she will be greeted by them wherever it is that dogs go when they leave us. We now have more dogs underground than we have in our home. 

I hate goodbyes. They never get any easier. But I would never forego the love of a dog for the pain of seeing them leave. It just got a little too quiet around here, and a little more lonely.

We love you Nina, we miss you.