Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Second Hardest Day of My Life

2016 will be memorable. And by memorable, meaning I'll never forget how sucky it was. Yesterday -- on the 9-month anniversary of my mom's funeral -- I had to say goodbye to the Best Puppy In The Universe, my beloved Maddox.

Maddox came into my life near the end of April, 2007. My then-boss sent out a mass e-mail looking for someone who would be willing to rehome their dog. Something in my heart and soul screamed, "DO THIS" and without so much as a consultation with my family, I went to see him at the kennel that lunch hour. He was 11 months old but already almost full-grown. He stood up on those hind legs, reached out his massive front paws, and gave me a big scratch down my right arm that lasted for days. The marks he left on my heart in that moment will never go away. I came back and told my boss, "I can't take him home with me tonight, but do NOT give that dog to anyone else. He's mine." God love them, they did just that, and on Thursday of that week, May 2, I took him home.

He immediately latched on to my mom (he probably thought, "Sucker!") and to my dad, "Papi," who never ever did anything wrong in Maddox's eyes. I might have been the one to claim him, but Papi did no wrong. Nanny (my mom) was just as awesome to him. We had some rough moments -- that first night, his dream state caused my brother to say, "Is that dog seizing?" (he'd never seen puppy dreams before). And about 4 weeks later, Little Buddy got himself a bad case of E. Coli that I assume came about from eating a hot dog he found in the street. Don't ask. That dog never ever passed up an opportunity to eat.

He had a few health issues, as Labs/Lab mixes are prone to have. He had an underactive thyroid that eventually went kaput. He had horribly dry skin and fleas flocked to him nearly every summer. He scratched constantly. I swear, he had just as much anxiety as his owner(s) did. But he was a trooper.

And when it came to the sad look -- oh my gosh, he was a master. My mother, The Sucker, could not resist the beggy-face. There were constant admonitions: "MOM! Do not give him anything, he's already eaten!" ("But he looks so sad" or "He just stares at me - I have to give him something.") Or when we were out walking, the bumps into people and the looks of "rescue me, I'm SOOOOO abused, they don't treat me well!"  But he also perfected the Ladies' Man Tail Swish -- when we were out walking and he'd seen a group of females approaching, suddenly he would perk up and give them the look that said, "hello ladies, you know you wanna pet me..... c'mon, you know you do!"  He never quite understood when he got the occasional resistant person. He was a "sniffer" extraordinaire. There was never a back side or front side he wouldn't stick his nose into....... I had to apologize so often that after a while, I just stopped.

He got older, more set in his ways, slower, sometimes grumpier. But I loved him in every place and stage of his life. He kept my mother company through her retirement, and then he witnessed her decline as much as we did. They kind of kept pace together through that. Usually around 1:30 each afternoon, he would go into my parents' bedroom, hop up on my dad's side of the bed and look at my mom as if to say, "Hey, nap time, get in here."

He wasn't quite sure what to think this past February, when the three of us sprang into action because Mom was in bad shape. He didn't quite know what to think of the EMS workers coming through our house and Mom being placed onto a gurney. All he knew was that Nanny left the house, and he did not know why she didn't return. We took him to see her at Hospice House when she was moved there. He sniffed at her, and she tried her best -- drugged up and weak as a baby kitten -- to pet him again. In my heart, I believe he realized at that point she was going, because he sniffed a little more and went away. I don't know if he sensed that she was decaying or what. But he went to the foot of her bed there and whimpered.

His whimper? Oh my gosh, to see this 120-pound big goofy beastie, you'd think he was fearless and powerful. But he was a big baby at heart. He'd see people walk down the street and bark ferociously -- but a kitten on the porch? Whimpers and vocalizations that would make any Husky proud. Our question back to him was usually "what are you womp-womp-womping at?" (to mimic the sound). I'd have to record an audio clip and post it because this doesn't begin to do it justice. Other doggies? Same thing. Squirrels, rabbits, birds..... none were immune from the whimper of doom.

And that same whimper -- but with more whine -- was uttered that day. He knew. He knew. And he would look at the chair that she occupied -- that I now do -- and be confused, even with knowing that Nanny was gone. He refused - absolutely refused - to hop up on her side of my parents' bed. It was as if he were saying, "She'll be back. I won't take her spot." We tried..... we tried, but no, he was loyal to her till the end.

When Mom was sick, I had noticed a small lump on his side but my focus was on her. And really I didn't notice much more about the lump until the summer. We had our family vet look at it, but we all thought it was just a lipoma and nothing much to sweat over. Then October came and it was much worse. The vet referred us to a specialist. He advised that it might be a sarcoma but unable to determine what. He drew aspirates to see if there might be some sort of clue, but nothing. The slides were inconclusive. The next option was a biopsy and surgery.

I was torn -- should I pursue this option? The specialist was very clear that even with this information, there were no guarantees, they'd have to operate and be sure they'd gotten enough margin and if not, perhaps more surgery or other treatments. I had to weigh the fact that he was ten years old now. Was I going to prolong his life by taking these measures?

As I pondered these questions, even more health issues began springing up. He began to drink excessively -- and I mean around 2 gallons a day. We had a huge water station for him that held 4.5 gallons. We went from filling it every 5-6 days to every other day, sometimes the 3rd day if we were lucky. He began waking in the middle of the night, panting heavily and wanting to roam the house. We had more labwork done to see if there were liver or kidney issues -- no, all clear, the other things were perhaps a product of his age, maybe even the early stages of doggy dementia.

Then this Tuesday, when I got home, I noticed he appeared to have scratched himself pretty heavily near this now-rather large lump. My dad and I investigated to discover that no, he was bleeding -- and dripping it everywhere. It was fairly consistent and we rushed to the emergency vet clinic. They did what they could with what they had -- bandaged him up, gave us meds (antibiotics and pain meds) and did a chest x-ray to see if the mass had perhaps metastasized into his lungs, causing the heavy breathing. Nope again. Chest was clear.

This mass had seemed to grow almost exponentially over the last couple of weeks. We woke the next morning to find he was still bleeding. And the next morning too. We added another med from our family vet. And none of the meds appeared to handle any of his pain. He woke again every night, sometimes at far too early an hour. He went outside in the very chilly temperatures at 2:30 AM - and wanted to stay outside. My dad, God bless him, stayed with him for 30 minutes, trying to coax him back inside, to no avail. Finally my dad, ever practical, said, "Just stay out here then." And he did -- and at 6:30 AM he still didn't want to come inside but did.

Food no longer interested him. Even peanut butter -- which he loved so much -- was turned away. This scared me more than anything. I'd seen it before with Mama. She suddenly lost her appetite for anything except sweets. For Maddox, it was bacon.

So Thursday, we put him to bed with no medicines, intending to go on Friday morning to the vet and pick up new prescriptions. He slept there all night. My father woke to find him in the same position. He even got the flashlight to shine in his eyes to see if he were still alive. He was but the breathing was shallow and a bit ragged. He didn't want to get up to go potty at all. It was almost as if he had no energy left to do anything. I went in to see him and knew. The time had come. The mass seemed to be in 3D compared to the rest of him.

Dad tried to coax him up with 3 strips of bacon. Behold the power of bacon - it heals the sick and raises the almost-dead. Maddox sat up and within 15 seconds, all three strips were gone and the plate was being licked. He finally got up onto his back legs, limping. His front paws were starting to swell - whether from edema or what, I don't know. At 8:30, their opening moment, I called the vet's office. I cried the whole time I talked to them. I told them that I was making the choice to relieve his obvious pain.

They called back and said to be there at 10:45. We would be there through the sedation, but couldn't be there for the final injection. We got there, and Doc came in. When he saw Maddox he only said, "Bless his precious heart....." and got misty too. He looked at us and said, "You're right. That mass is not going to get any better. He's not going to get any break from this. I'm so sorry." They came back with a sedative, and poor Maddox....... he just got panicky. He tried walking around but looked like a punch-drunk boxer trying to fight one last time. Yes, I wept all the more. We finally got him to sit, but he was fighting it. The doc came back, realized we needed a little more (given his size) and then Maddox lay on the floor, his breathing evening out to a very shallow puff. We stroked his fur, his nose, his thumpy-thump tail, and told him over and over how much we'd loved him, how wonderful he had been in our lives, and how much we'd miss him. I told him that when he saw Nanny, I wanted him to run to her and love her up for us, and that she would be smothering him in hugs and kisses. And I told him he was the best puppy in the universe.

Finally they came and told us it was time to leave. We hugged the staff, and walked out.

We will pick up his ashes next week. We're checking with the cemetery to see how much it will be to open the grave spot below Mom and put Maddox there. I had the idea that we could put him on the shelf until the next of us passes, but no, they didn't like that idea.......

The "best puppy in the universe" was something I would call him when I would be in the floor with him, giving him ear scratches and nose rubs and asking, "Who's the best puppy in the universe?"

He knew. He knew.

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