Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Angel and Wolfy

(See below for pictures of Angel and Wolfy.)

After Jill died, I told her dog, Wolfy, the Husky-Shepherd she called her soulmate, that he wasn't permitted to go. I told him this many times. "Wanna snuggle?" I'd ask, using his favorite word. This suggestion would send him flying to the sofa to fling his 70 pounds on me. And in a little while, my fingers buried in his soft, thick fur, I'd remind him, "You're not allowed to die."

Wolfy evidently took my order to heart. He's 14 now, and his fur is still thick and soft. But arthritis, despite the two meds he takes (one ridiculously expensive), prevents him from flying to the sofa these days, or even gingerly clambering upon it. And since my arthritis prevents me from sitting on the floor, Wolfy isn't getting much snuggle time.

Wolfy is also on an anti-depressant. I'm one of those people who thinks the world (or at least the U.S.) is way over-medicated. But when your dog shows every sign of sadness and anxiety, and you can't lie down with him anymore, what do you do? Amitriptyline is what I did. But after more than a month, I can't see that it's done any good.

I get home from work at 10:00 p.m., give the dogs their pills, and feed them. Sometimes Wolfy won't eat, but usually he does. Then, as I start winding down, he gets anxious. He pants and follows me. When I head upstairs to bed after midnight, he pushes his nose into the door opening. Stairs are an impossibility for him now, and he knows that. But he doesn't want to let me go.

I look at the clock when I turn out my light, because I know it'll be less than ten minutes before I turn it back on again and head downstairs. Wolfy's night pattern these days is to go to the pantry, where he wedges himself into a tight space that he can't back out of, and cries. In the process, he breaks things. He has removed the shelf from my kitchen cart, and a door from an old wardrobe. He's split open a 5-lb. bag of flour and a 10-lb. bag of rice. He upended my two aloe plants. All of this makes a lot of noise, but I've learned to wait until he cries. That's my signal to go down and help him out of whatever corner he's gotten himself into.

Often, we repeat the above several times. Last week I was sweeping rice off the pantry floor at 2:30 a.m. One night I tried sleeping on the sofa, but that seemed to upset him more. I'm guessing my presence on the sofa made him want to jump up and join me.

Have I mentioned that Wolfy is semi-incontinent? So is Angel. She's 16.

Angel is also strongly connected to Jill, who found her 16 years ago, hit (but not hurt) on a road. I thought the puppy was the Collie-Shepherd of my dreams, and named her Angel because I decided she'd been sent to see me through menopause. But she quickly lost her Collie-Shepherd look, and grew into a Briard. I had never heard of this breed until I ran across it in a book, and said, "Look! There's Angel!" She has the Briard personality (suspicious of strangers and highly protective of me) and memory (really excellent), but she must be a mix, though. Hybrid vigor would explain why Angel has lived far beyond most Briards.

She has a touch of arthritis, but nothing like Wolfy's. She's profoundly deaf, and her water intake and output would indicate that her kidney's aren't functioning all that well. She has started barking at night. For a while it was every night, but now it's only some nights. She also barks to wake me up in the morning, no matter what time I got to sleep the night before. She displays occasional signs of what they call "doggie dementia," but not to any great degree. At 16, in many ways she's not all that far removed from the puppy who rested her head on my arm the day we brought her home, and declared herself my dog.

She has, however, lost most of her house training. Sometimes I wonder how she feels about this. Both dogs have been in this state for quite some time. Years. At first I found it exhausting and stressful. Then I got used to living with plastic and paper on the floor all over the place. I learned to take the dogs out twice as often. I got into a routine with toilet paper, paper towels, wood floor cleaner, and daily mopping. I stopped inviting people over.

Now I seem to be in a third phase: I find it exhausting and stressful. I'm sure my sleep deprivation plays a role in this, but I am so weary of the drudgery.....and of smelling Dog Infirmary every time I walk into the house. It's spring, and my iris are in bloom. I want to invite people over to sit on my porch and have a drink. I want to be able to sleep the night through and come downstairs in the morning without wondering how much of a mess is waiting for me. I want my house back. I want my life back. But I don't want to forsake my dogs. Or lose them.

When Joe and I moved to the old farm 30+ years ago, we made it our mission to adopt as many animals as we could reasonable care for. At our peak we had five dogs and 12 cats at one time. (The 11 horses weren't adopted, so I didn't count those.) In all those years, I've never been without more than one dog and cat. There have been many "final decisions," and each of those decisions was horribly painful. Oddly, they seemed to get harder, not easier, with each animal.

Certainly I'm facing the hardest ones now. Not one animal, but two. And while an inner voice is saying (and at times screaming) "It's time," the fact is, my dogs aren't sick. Wolfy has night anxiety, true, but Angel loves her dinner, loves her walks. There is no misery to put them out of. The only misery is mine.

"You're not allowed to die," I told Wolfy, and I meant it. It seems inconceivable to me that I could even contemplate something so in violation of this heartfelt order. But sometimes I do. And then sometimes I don't.


crystal said...

Susan, I think I know how you feel :( All my cats were about the same age so they all got elderly and sick about the same time. Towards the end with Kermit, I pulled my mattress off the bed and slept with it on the livingroom floor to be close to her and help her use the litterbox at night.

If Angel has kidney disease, giving her fluids (like I did with my cats) might make her feel better and live longer. I don't know if it's true for dogs, but sometimes cats meow a lot at night if they have hyperthyroidism - that's ofte fixable with a little pill.

I'm sorry this is happening. I know it hurts a lot. Wish I could help.

Indigo Bunting said...

Oh, Susan, this is so hard. You're hitting on some of the reasons I don't have pets with this post...how attached I would get and couldn't deal with end-of-life scenarios, plus the reality of my own selfishness and NEEDS. I appreciate the honesty of your post and hope that things get better, whatever that means.

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

It's taken me a couple of days to be able to comment on this sad, sad post.

You have done more than anybody could expect for these two wonderful dogs. But you also have a responsibility to yourself...easier said than done, I know. But as I write I'm thinking of my own 11-year-old Lexi, whose body is quickly deteriorating from arthritis.

I hope you have a good, kind, sensitive vet to help you think through all this.

Helen said...

This post is quite heart-breaking. Animals are never "just a (insert species here)" are they? I so understand how torn you must be, and exhausted by what you have to do and what you sometimes think of doing. Whatever decision you make it won't be a bad one(I don't actually believe that bad decisions exist). Hugs to you...

PS Angel and Wolfy are beautiful.

Susan said...

Thank you, everyone. I considered writing about this situation earlier, and rejected it several times. But then I felt I had to; it's on my mind all the time.

Our last vet believed in keeping animals alive no matter what. My sweet cat, Nocci, had mouth cancer, and when I finally brought her in to be put down I honestly couldn't tell if she was dead or alive. I'm standing there thinking, I will never do this to another animal, and the vet is standing there praising me for keeping her going so long.

My present vet will understand no matter what I do. My kids think it's time.....my daughter knows what's happening to the 1850 house I put so much thought into remodeling six years ago. And my son is the occasional recipient of 3:00 a.m. emails. I'm sure he doesn't like to think of his mother as deranged. But the decision is, of course, up to me.

Jean Campbell said...

We had a hard time when it was time for Curly to be allowed to go. He was never incontinent or confused, but he began to suffer despite his meds. He was a great communicator, and could indicate when he needed the ceiling fan turned on so he could breathe better.

Now we have a cat who found us, and a 6 months old puppy who came from the same line as Curly. It took time to ever begin to think about another pet.

I'll think of you often while you go through yet another painful time. Your animals are so fortunate to have someone who cares so much.

Mali said...

Susan, I'm in tears having just read this. My cats are both 16, and having the same problems. Or should I say I'm having the same problems coping with their changed behaviour and neediness (and Cleo meows loudly at night so maybe I now know why), and wondering how selfish I must be to consider their end. But one of the things I hated about my first few days from our holiday was dealing with them - I wanted to leave them safe and cared for at the cat home. And I am annoyed with myself,and now feel even more selfish, because I can't imagine how you feel about you dogs, given their connection with Jill.

Dona said...

Susan -- there's not much I can add to what the others have said here. It is such a difficult decision and whatever you do there are reasons for doing the opposite. And your decisions are compounded in that Wolfy and Angel are a connection to Jill.

It is good you have a vet that supports you.

Your dogs are beautiful.

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

My daughter, at 22, said at the death of Keeley, a long-lived border collie, "It's just not right. man's best friend should live longer. Why should we lose our best friends over and over and over?"

In her office "puts dogs down" when the time has come. That time is when the dog is suffering. But, she tells me, they don't experience pain the way we do. Sensation, yes, but, a thorn in the foot and the dog lifts the leg and goes on. Arthritis, she tells me, is similar. It just is. Live on.

But she can tell when the suffering has started.

My dog will be three this January. A dingo. She may live a long time. Sometimes I wonder what I will do when that time has ended. I try not to let it colour the present. Sometimes, though, I can't help it. And then we go for a walk.

Julie said...

Hi, I found your blog because I was looking up Sweet Rocket. I'm going to be writing a post about it shortly. (I love them too.)

So much of what you wrote about your dogs reminds me of Lady, who lived to be 16 1/2. She was deaf, losing her teeth, had cataracts, and was incontient. It was very, very hard to come home to, but she was still happy and had an appetite and was not in pain. As you said, it was my pain, not her pain. When the day came that she could not use her hind legs, we took her in to the vet and said our goodbyes. My friends were appalled that I put up with this, but Lady gave us 16 1/2 years of unconditional love and I wouldn't put her to sleep just for incontience. You'll know when the time is right to let them go - we did with two other dogs as well: Brandy, 14, and Beau, 14 1/2.

Helen said...

How are things going Susan?

Susan said...

Hi Helen, thanks for asking. I was just thinking about this situation. (Ha--the truth is I could say that at any waking hour.) Since I posted this entry, Wolfy has stopped displaying anxiety at night. This is a huge improvement, as you can imagine. But Angel's panting and pacing have increased, and I'm concerned.

I actually made an appointment to have her put down last week, and I came this close to keeping it. But I canceled at the last minute. (I'd never done that before.) At the time, I was convinced she wasn't ready (when it came time to leave she jumped off the porch like a puppy), but now I'm not so sure.

MM suggested that I might not be picking up signs of readiness, and I'm taking her suggestion seriously. Another friend said, "We owe them good days," and I'm keeping that in mind, too.

Helen said...

I do feel for you Susan. I haven't had to make such a decision yet, but I've watched my mother keep a cat or dog alive longer than I think she should have and longer than I could bear to watch. Of course, who ever truly knows when that time has arrived? But I think if Angel is suffering it may be time to let go.

Hugs to you.

Susan said...

If only dogs could talk! Well, I should amend that to: If only dogs could talk sometimes. Like when they're sick. Or if something hurts. Not when they're bored or annoyed with us.

I've been watching Angel very closely, and I really don't think she's suffering. I'll keep watching.

crystal said...


I know how hard it is to tell if they are "ready". I wasn't sure about Kermit and I can't help thinking I took her to the vet too soon. Maybe I just think that because I miss her so much, but deadness is so permanent.