Have I gone crazy!?

I live downtown in an itty-bitty apartment with not just one, but THREE children all under the age of 5 and my hubby. We have a cat. I work as a receptionist at a vet clinic seeing lots of puppies and kittens every day. You'd think I have my fix, right? WRONG! We end up opening our heart and our home to 2 rescues... and that's it! I must be dog-gone mad!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Dog Named Max

I know this is Pepper's blog. Generally, I write about my adventures with Pepper, although I've kind of fallen behind on that. Occasionally, I will foster a dog and will write about the foster dog and their journey to their forever home.

Max's story, however, is one that has taken me quite a bit to write...

I knew Max from work. His owner was an older lady who loved him deeply and visited us often. At one point this year, however, the visits were further and further apart.

The first couple of phone calls that built up to my decision were from his owner. She was distressed about finding a home for Max, simply because she was moving to another assisted living facility that wouldn't allow her to keep him. Now, don't be quick to judge this woman; these phone calls were hard for her to make. She rescued Max from the pound back around 2005 or sooner and he was her companion since! Communication was iffy; she had no phone (she would borrow one from a friend if she could), and her mailing address didn't seem to work.

Then, before Thanksgiving, I answered a phone call and immediately recognized her voice: "How much does euthanasia cost at your clinic?" I gave her an estimate, and she asked me if the cost included the chance to be in the room with the pet as they pass. Somehow I knew that this is not really what she wanted, so I drew the boldness to ask, "What's going on with Max?" She said, with a very broken voice, "They are moving me to a new assisted living facility this Sunday. If I don't find a place for Max by then, they will drop him off at the pound to have him put down. I don't know who would want to adopt an old dog like him, but I don't have the money to afford having him put down at your clinic and I just don't know what to do..." I put her on hold, confirmed with the honey, and came back on the line. I offered her the option of surrendering Max to me. I knew it was hard to communicate with her outside her calls, so I told her I would be more than happy to take Max until I could find a permanent home for him. And it would release her financially of having to make a decision either way. She was more than thrilled and she gave me an address where I could meet her on Saturday.

I went to pick up Max and as usual, he was happy to see me. Seemed happy to go outside, although both dog and owner were a bit stiff walking in the snow and ice. I lifted Max, all 83 lbs, by myself to the backseat of my SUV (and my back took it's revenge on me later), and dog and lady said goodbye. The lady signed Max over to me and left me with some food and some instructions for his care... mentioned something about me being "God-sent", although I certainly didn't feel it. As I drove away Max was obviously disappointed that the lady wasn't in the car with us and when we got home, he seemed too depressed to eat or move around much.

When he did move, he seemed very stiff, and he had a hard time getting around in our hardwood floors. I took him to his vet at our clinic, and after examining him she was very frank with me. She said she would've allowed his previous owner to make payments on Max's euthanasia because he was not in good shape. It was just a difficult call to make, as both vet and I are getting kisses from Max and he's doing nothing but wagging his tail the whole appointment! So we decided to give it a try...

A couple of hundred dollars later, I come home to hubby with old dog, new dog food to help him lose a good 10 lbs, glucosamine supplements, omega 3 supplements, and 2 medications to help with pain relief. He also needed antibiotics because his teeth were in atrocious condition, but his blood work showed questionable liver values so putting him under anesthesia at this point was not really an option.

Max was on a strict diet and regiment, although if he felt good enough he was more than happy to try getting left-overs out of the trash or eating Pepper's food. My husband and I even logged it on the fridge, to make sure he was getting everything he needs if he was to have a fighting chance at life. We both knew at this point he probably was not adoptable, but we were willing to consider becoming his permanent home as long as his health would allow.

The only thing he got freely and abundantly was love. He would hobble over to wherever you were sitting and lick your feet. The kids came by and gave him love and affection whenever they had to walk over him or around him. Paul and I frequently loved on him as encouragement and motivation every time he was on his feet.

You could tell he loved being outside and on the first couple of days after the new medications, he would pull you out the door and seemed to want to go around the block. We quickly discovered that although he wanted to go further, his body really couldn't make it past the Chinese restaurant across the parking lot from us; he would start panting, walking really awkwardly. His joints would lock at the shoulder and hip level and his gait would be so ... difficult. Still, we waited to see improvement.

After a few weeks we noticed he was actually declining. He couldn't stand up on his own at all, and eventually resisted Paul's help by laying on his side; his way of giving up. He really didn't want to eat, which was odd for Max to begin with, and as I observed him I noticed his legs would shake and give out on him while he was eating. I started feeding him on the floor wherever he was laying down.

I have to point out here that Alaska winters are harsh and unforgiving. While we had Max we went from rain with hurricane-force winds to fast, deep freezes. Walking for us and the kids outside was painful, insanely icy and slippery. Our apartment didn't allow for Max to empty himself anywhere inside, he had to walk out there. I had 3 kids under the age of five in a one bedroom apartment, giving Max a "potty" break inside was not an option, and he wouldn't have taken it anyways. He refused to pee unless all 4 paws were buried in snow - and snow itself was hard to find this winter outside when everything was frozen solid.

Paul and I decided it was time. And we realized that it was better now than to wait for a slip on the ice, a broken hip or shoulder, when Max would've been in excruciating pain. He didn't deserve that.

Those 3 days from when his appointment was on the calendar to when we were actually in the clinic with him were painfully long. I cried at almost anything. We had a good friend take some portraits of him. I made a ceramic paw print of his to put with his picture frame. I feed him beef stew and chicken nuggets (why not? His diet days were over). We made sure he knew what a good boy he was! He took care of his owner. He loved on us unconditionally. All the while I was waiting, hoping his previous owner would call soon, but it had been around a month already and I didn't know how much longer Max would hold on. He was in so much discomfort.

Pepper kissed Max's face good bye, as if she knew he was leaving for good when he walked out the door this time. I told the kids to give Max hugs and kisses good bye. Anakin, my 5 year old, asked me if Max was going to a new home. I told him that Max was going to be euthanized, and he asked me what that means. I explained, "We are taking him to the vet, where we are going to help him die peacefully and without pain. It helps them to pass away without suffering, which is the best thing for Max now." I can't lie to my kids anyways. Anakin put his arms around Max's neck and cried onto his face. Then he gave him a kiss on the forehead, wiped his tears, and got in the car. We dropped off the kids at day care and went to the clinic.

In the clinic, in the room, we got Max comfortable and the veterinarian administered the sedative - the last thing Max would feel. There was a cookie jar by Paul with dog treats. Max kept licking Paul's hand, and looking at the treats, then looking back at Paul... It was funny to see him try to signal to Paul. Then Max got treat, after treat, after treat. His veterinarian, Paul, and me kept telling Max what a good boy he was. He laid on that table, wagged his tail, as happy as can be. He gave Paul and me a couple of kisses, then the vet gave him the final injection. Midway through it, Max put his head into my arms and closed his eyes, peacefully going to sleep. By the time the vet was done with the injection, she checked for his pulse and let us know that he was gone. Then Paul and I started bawling.

It's been days since and I'm still crying. But I know that he went loved and cared for, painless, and it was what he deserved. I'm at peace with our decision, but we miss him, and its altogether a difficult experience to get over. Paul still has a hard time looking at his pictures or seeing his things, even when we've already gotten his ashes back. We didn't even own him for that long and it still tore our hearts.

His previous owner happened to call after Max was put down, and it was painful for me to tell her that we did it. I apologized to her for it too, but when I explained that Max wasn't really doing well, she was appreciative of our choice. She shared with me that Max used to love running in the snow and swimming in the lake, and if he didn't want to eat or go outside anymore than it was definitely his time to go. She asked me if it was her fault for not taking better care of him, and I told her she took great care of him. Arthritis is a cancer; you treat it to live with it as long as you can, but you can't cure it. It got the best of Max's joints and he couldn't fight it any more. I got her new address, where I'm taking some of Max's pictures and his ashes to her this week. I still try to picture Max running in the snow or chasing ducks at the lake but I honestly have to say I didn't meet him when he was that young. He was still such a good boy...

So I wrote this blog for a purpose. And that is because every pet deserves Max's end. Not an end at a shelter, or in the snow, or on the street. But with the love and care of his owners. They love you unconditionally and see no fault with you, the least we can do is give them room in our home and in our hearts for the rest of their lives! And if you can't quite commit to that, then it's best to not have a pet at all. I know during the holidays many people get kids and spouses and girlfriends puppies and kittens... But what happens to the pet when the kids grow up? Move? or the relationship ends? It is not fair for that pet. It takes guts and a serious amount of selflessness to take care of a dog or cat until the very end. And that is my challenge to you with this blog: Not to go and get yourself a pet if you are not up for this kind of commitment and heart-wrenching end. But if you already have one, to love them and have them be a part of the family until this end comes to you.