For those who have read some of my dog articles, you’ll recognize mention of my 12.5-year-old dachshund, PJ. In mid September, we adopted a younger pet for PJ.
We got a 5-month-old corgi/border collie that PJ helped pick. We saw a couple dogs online at Last Chance Ranch in Quakertown, almost an hour away. We had an appointment for Friday morning. A volunteer met us, and we showed her the pictures of the dogs we were interested in. This energetic, skinny ball of fur was the first into the outdoor “meeting pen.” PJ liked him. The girl brought two smaller dogs out, but the “chemistry” wasn’t there.
“Blackwell” came home with us and became “Howie Mandel.” PJ may have had some second thoughts about this new creature when Howie wanted to play and PJ wanted to nap. In fact, we all had second thoughts when Howie begged to be walked 5 to 9 miles per day. Obviously, he was more border collie than corgi. My adult daughter lives with us and shares pet responsibilities. We are all getting more exercise than any of us bargained for.
Our vet strongly encouraged getting a new “pet” for PJ. He said younger dogs often make older dogs live longer; they seem to give the old fellows a new “leash on life.” (Our vet is a great comedian at times.)
During October, we had to take both dogs to the vet for different reasons. PJ got a hot spot, the day before his new pet insurance kicked in! (The claim was rejected. I hadn’t even looked at the date it went into effect.) Howie had cystitis. The vet said that is common in newly-adopted dogs that undergo neutering, worming, vaccinations, etc. It’s a highly stressful time, and they are quite susceptible.
Then, both dogs went into diarrhea. By now, we are all getting a bit over-tired and stressed out. I started keeping charts of feedings, output, snacks, exercise schedules, etc. Our vet’s office recommended a bland diet of rice and cooked, ground beef (actually “boiled,” and not just cooked. I misunderstood and thought I played into the ongoing problem.) The quality of “output” started becoming a core of conversation.
On my daughter’s birthday on October 29, PJ had two liquid bowel movements. I said to my daughter, “Let’s run PJ over to the vet before dinner and get him on some anti-diarrhea medicine.”
We went to the vet’s at 5:30 while my husband cooked the birthday lasagna.
I told the vet I wondered if all the activity and changed schedules (PJ sure didn’t get to sleep as much) caused the change in his bowels. I had him on cooked burger and rice for three days. Our vet said, “We’ve got one sick puppy here,” and the mood turned somber. He said, you can go for a biopsy, scan and blood tests at the emergency pet hospital (20 miles away), but I’ll base 40 years of experience on the fact that PJ has lymphoma.”
I said, “That’s cancer, right?” He said, “Yes.”
If you live long enough, you will know what I mean when I say I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach and took my breath away. My daughter felt faint and had to leave the room. I hugged PJ, started to cry, and said, “Do you want to put him down today?”
Our vet said, “Let’s not rush into anything. He is a happy dog.”
When PJ had surgery for an eye growth last year, the vet thought it might have been a tumor behind the eye. I said if he put PJ under anesthetic and there was a tumor near the brain, I didn’t want him to wake up. He said he understood, and he removed the growth as one long piece, like a dandelion, and our dog was fine until now. In fact, he was fine three weeks ago. There had been absolutely no warning signs of tumors or growths. The vet had me feel three lumps on PJ and said the cancer would go into all of the lymph nodes quickly since they had come and spread so fast, without warning.
I asked if PJ was in pain. The vet said he probably had a tummy ache; all future symptoms would revolve around gastrointestinal upsets with the bowels, diarrhea and vomiting; no seizures, which I was worried about. He could give prednisolone for relief and an anti-diarrhea medication for the bowels. PJ could probably live 4 months. I said I would not wait until advanced signs of illness; I would spare PJ from that. I said I wanted him to tell me when it was time “before it was time.” He nodded, and his eyes grew red-rimmed. My daughter and I cried openly. Our vet choked up and was teary-eyed when we left. He has known PJ for 9 years. This is his loss, too.
As we paid the bill, with the diagnosis of “lymphoma” on the insurance sheet, the three staffers were very quiet. Nancy gave us directions on the use of the medications and quietly said, “I’m so sorry.” We all got tears in our eyes, and I said, “We’re going home to cake and lasagna. It’s my daughter’s birthday.”
They all wished her “Happy Birthday,” but the words sounded like a sympathy card. No one could speak any more. PJ has been one of their frequent patients, getting Depo shots for allergies every 3 weeks for the past year. In fact, our vet said the shots may have helped delay the symptoms we were seeing appear so suddenly now.
The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You want to kick the process into high gear and move forward quickly. We look forward to the holidays with my aging mother. Every visit is a balancing act with time, travel, and how long we can leave the dogs home alone. The pup got along with their 100-pound lab on the last visit, but PJ is too old for the high-energy activity.
PJ’s final wish is for all the food he can eat, and the vet says he can have it. We had him on a restricted diet because he was considered overweight, but he lost over a pound of weight this month alone. And so, every day is like Disney World for PJ. He gets fed all of his regular food, which includes two top-quality dog foods he loves: fish and sweet potatoes and natural chicken. He gets liver treats wrapped in pork. He gets dried chicken strips daily. We took both dogs on a 35-mile foliage ride in the car. Howie sat in front and looked out the window. PJ sat in back with me on his favorite red sheepskin, which means pleasant rides and not going to the vet.
Everyone deals with grief differently. We had gotten a pup for PJ but now our pup needs another companion. We are looking at other dogs from other rescues. We found another black and white pup that looks like Howie, but his ears flop; Howie’s stand up noticeably. This new pup is coming north into rescue on November 6. We are submitting an adoption form.
Is that disloyal? Is that denial?
Most of us don’t know our “expiration dates,” but always live, in our autumn years, like we’re facing death multiple times as we grow older. The “Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan, says dogs live one day at a time. No matter what they go through, they look at each day with fresh eyes and don’t hold regrets about the past or worry about the future. They live for today.
PJ will have his “final wish” every day he’s got. And we will not delay until we regret having waited too long. Our dog will go to the vet for his regular visit for his Depo shot, but he will go into a deep and final sleep at the hands of a vet who loved him almost as much as we did. (On one of the last visits, our vet kissed him on the head. My mother asked if that’s normal; I said it is for dog lovers.)
Then we will go and get a new friend for our pup, who is starting life anew, without grief for his “old friend” who was here with him for such a short time.
PJ will cross the Rainbow Bridge to meet my dog-loving father and all of our previous dogs: Rex, Trinket, Lucky, Renee, Babie, Mo, Sandy, Nicky and maybe our old horse, Bow, and some of our other pets, which we will never forget. We will envision them playing together in evergreen fields while we stay behind with two new furry friends.
Source: Personal experience after 60 years of living with dogs.