This past Friday, we had to make the hardest decision in the life of a furbaby parent — when to let your beloved furry baby go. Helping my dog cross the rainbow bridge last week broke my heart even though I know it was the right thing to do.
Missie the Yorkie was 12 years old. She came to us on New Year’s Eve 2009, and she must have wondered “wow, what kind of house is this??There are SO MANY PEOPLE!” because just a few short hours after she arrived home, we had a huge NYE party that was not quiet and went on until around 4am.
Missie was the sister to my son’s autism service dog, and she was my first little dog, and my first “my dog” ever. She soon found herself a regular spot on my lap as I worked and despite the husband saying “no dogs on the bed,” it wasn’t long before she was sleeping soundly all night long burrowed up next to me. We quickly got used to her little ‘footprints’ on the fabric of our couch and seeing her curled up in various perches on the backs of furniture.
We quickly became inseparable.
In September of 2011, she got very sick. It took a couple of months of figuring out how severely ill, and in November of 2011, she was hospitalized for a long period of time due to pyelonephritis, or a kidney infection. Due to the level of care she needed — to remove a septic kidney full of stones and to repair the liver shunt that had caused it all in the beginning — she was referred to a specialty clinic in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, about a 2.5 hour drive from our very rural home. That last night in the local vet’s office, she was so sick that the vet took her home with him so he could monitor her as there was concern about her making it through the night.
We are forever grateful for his kindness, as she was clearly very sick as we made that long drive to the pet hospital to meet her surgeons. They, too, were extremely kind and professional, helping ease our worry as they made the plans to operate on her at the next morning. They were upfront with us that it was going to be rough, and that she may not make it through that evening, but they also felt she was feisty and knew she was in good hands with a loving family willing to do whatever it took.
Whatever it took meant over $10k in bills for the care, but she survived the surgery and we picked her up a few days later. We gave her antibiotic injections daily for 10 days at home, and there were re-checks but she whizzed through it all with flying colors. Our vets spoke with world-renowned lithotripsy experts to determine if she was a candidate for blasting the stone that remained in her other kidney, but learned they did not feel it was a safe and viable option. She was placed on daily medications, things she was still taking until her last two weeks with us, and sent home to return to whatever type of normalcy.
Normalcy was amazing. It was like she was a new dog entirely. She has the energy of a puppy and we felt daily as though she was thanking us. She played and ate and ran and did all the things most five-year-old dogs do, with gusto. We were so relieved and we bonded even further. When we moved back to Southern California, she rode next to me, tethered in her purple harness, then played with her squeaky toys in the RV at night and taking walks around the RV parks as happy as can be.
The last few years, we noticed she was aging but she never let it stop her. She lost her sight fully due to cataracts, but it didn’t really slow her down. She learned to navigate and still play with her favorite squeaky toys, so we chose to not risk her kidney by having further surgery done. About six months ago, she was placed on subcutaneous fluid treatments, three times per week, to help flush out the remaining kidney, as tests showed it was struggling. We knew were on the clock then, but when her appetite started to dissipate and she stopped getting up to greet us, we knew things were coming to an end.
Missie was such a character. She thought she was a much bigger dog, protecting me from all things doorbell and knocking and anything that entered the yard. She had attitude and when denied something she wanted, she would make sure I knew it. She loved to play fetch, though her version meant that I’d throw it, she’d catch it, and I’d have to go to her to throw it back to the other end of the house, ensuring that I was playing as much as she was. She’d smile at me, playing “who’s the <cutest, smartest, prettiest..> dog of all!” game, waving her arms each time I said “Missie!” Perhaps favorite of all was when she’d settle in next to us on the couch or in bed and give her content snort, showing she was happy and comfortable. I will never forget that sound.
Two weeks ago, our vet gently told us that there wasn’t a lot of time left. We were sent home with instructions to let her eat whatever she wants, stop forcing meds on her, and to do the subq treatments daily as long as she tolerated them. It was heartbreaking, but we knew it had been coming. Last week, she stopped eating and over a period of five days, we were only able to get a few bites of food in her mouth, and a lot of them didn’t stay down, so on Friday, we took her into the vet to help her pass peacefully and without pain.
It was devastating. It still is devastating. I am sitting next to her favorite squishy, soft bed as I type this. I can’t bear to put away any of her things. I hear her collar jingle even though it’s been laying on our coffee table since Friday evening when I took it off my wrist. I feel a bundle next to me in the bed, even though I am alone. I got up this morning and the house is too quiet. My morning potty visit was just not the same without her running in with me, jumping on my shins and trying to give me kisses. I miss her up dog yoga poses as she stretches, and rushing out to take her to potty before I do anything else.
No more baby gates when we leave. We can leave the house at night without worrying about who will feed her and if she’ll stress. We didn’t realize how much of our lives revolved around ensuring our beloved baby had everything she needed, and I hate that life has changed so much.
But, the reality is that she was likely uncomfortable for some time and we know we did the right thing. She trusted us for all those years to care for her and this final act was the best way to show her the love we had for her…but I am crying as I write this because I miss her desperately.
So how do we get through the loss of our pets? I honestly don’t know yet, though I know that we will. There is a butterfly flitting around our backyard a lot, when we normally don’t see many. I planted last Spring’s garden with the intent of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies but the butterflies didn’t really come. This one seems to hang around and it makes me smile. A new friend made me the poster of Missie along with the story of the Rainbow Bridge and the support of an online Facebook group for parents of dogs with canine kidney disease has been immeasurably helpful. My post about her last day is nearing 200 likes and many more comments from other dog lovers. It doesn’t take away the pain but the support helps ease it. (If you’re going through something similar, I highly recommend seeking out a fitting group.)
We chose to have Missie cremated so she will be returned to us later this week. That visit to the vet’s office will be so difficult and I’m not sure I’m ready, yet I also can’t wait to have her back here at home. I worry if seeing that little cedar box will be easier or harder for us, but we also know we’d have regretted not doing it.
When we left the vet’s office on Friday, it was thankfully a quiet day there. Only one woman stood at the counter, and the usual chatter and animal sounds was quiet. We walked by the memorial candle, lit to tell others in the waiting area that someone was saying goodbye so to please be respectful and quiet. Seeing it undid me. I’d seen it there every time we visited, usually not lit, and knowing it was lit for my baby was so hard, I almost couldn’t keep walking…yet I am so appreciative of it.
Today is hard. It was another in a long series of firsts — the first time working in an empty office. I need to get out and get some groceries later and I can’t even put makeup on. My eyes are puffy again and I’m just lacking in any motivation. I turned down a visit to Knott’s Berry Farm yesterday because I just couldn’t do it, and I also didn’t attend an event to screen new episodes for this season’s Disney Channel, both events being things I wanted to do. I am picking and choosing where I go, because while I need the distraction, I am not ready to drive alone. Loneliness is very hard. I also am lacking energy, and I think things are starting to settle, and the focus on getting through Friday is turning into a reality that my precious cuddle buggle is gone.
Missie has her own Instagram account and Facebook page. I haven’t made announcements on them yet, and I’m not sure what I’m doing with them yet. Here’s Missie with her brother, Charlie, just a few hours before our vet appointment.
Loss sucks, but I know she loved us and wouldn’t want us to be sad. I’m using my melancholy as a catalyst to start doing some things I’d been considering and I’m taking it easy on myself at the same time. I am focusing on getting through, and knowing that my tolerance for things is low, and my emotions are raw, I’m vastly limiting myself. I need this time to be self-protective. Even seeing the neighbor take his dog for a walk was hard, though I still love animals and The Dodo animal feed on Facebook is one of my favorite things to look at…just not right now.
This picture was that morning, snuggling on the couch doing one of her favorite things, sunbathing. She’d always work so hard to find the only remaining patch of sun to lay in. Looking at these photos now, I see she was tired.
Be kind to yourself. If you’re unable to deal with others, don’t. If your furbaby is nearing his or her end, cuddle. Snuggle. Do whatever you can to make memories. Go sit in the yard with her like I did, even if she doesn’t move around. It was something she couldn’t do for a long time and it always made me sad that she missed out on some normal dog things due to her health issues, inability to get dog vaccinations, and of course, lack of vision. Don’t let others push you into doing things you don’t want or to take actions you don’t want. Let your furbaby guide you, and while others kept telling me that she would tell me when her time was near, I still had a hard time accepting it. I don’t know that I ever really felt it, because I was focused on the scientific fact that you can only go so long without eating. Now though, I can look back and notice things that told us the end was coming.
My heart goes out to you if you’re facing the loss of a pet, and I know what you’re going through. Take pictures, take videos, stay home and cuddle. Time passes so fast. Don’t feel forced to get another pet right away if you don’t want to. I don’t know right now that I ever will, though people tell me that my feelings will change. I’m not sure, even though I feel like Missie would want us using all that we’ve learned to help better the life of another animal. One day at a time, right?