Relampago, as you all know, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure back in February. He was put on medication, and the vet warned me that though the meds could slow the progression, he'd never be back to normal again. I was so relieved at the time that he was going to be able to go home again that I didn't really care.
For the next six months or so, he seemed to be doing well. Certainly he didn't move quickly, and he spent most of his time sleeping, but he seemed comfortable. He didn't cough as much as he used to, and he'd spend hours doing laps around the house when I came home. Every time we went to the ranch, he reverted to a three year old.
Still, I could tell he was deteriorating. Little things, like he'd not make it all the way to the grass outside to pee, but would stop on the deck instead. And more and more frequently, he'd lose his balance on the hardwood floors and fall down, unable to get back up unassisted. In late July, he started coughing again, to the point that I worried. When I called the vet, we adjusted his meds, and the first week or so with the new meds dosage, he improved drastically. He'd wake up in the morning and follow me around a lot. He'd beg shamelessly for whatever food item happened to be around. It made me think that the med change was really helping. I think it did, for awhile at least.
Around this time, I started worrying a lot about what was going to happen with him when Graham and I went to Burning Man. My parents, my usual babysitters, were going to be out of town that whole week, and my siblings couldn't move into my house to take care of him because of Athena (for Claudia, Holden, for Jose, allergies). Claudia was already taking care of Zapata while my parents were out of town, and I knew that putting the burden of Relampago AND Crianza on her in addition to Holden and Zapata would be too much. I toyed with boarding him at the vet, but I knew that'd probably kill him, as he hates the vet with a passion. I found a solution when my friend Smash decided not to go to Burning Man. She lives two blocks away, and she and her dog come over at least two or three times a week. My dogs liked her, and she was familiar with them and their eccentricities. She enthusiastically agreed to come over and keep an eye on them.
On Monday, I came home from work and as usual, Crianza barked her head off to greet me. Relampago was barking, too, but he was stuck in the bedroom. This isn't that unusual lately. Sometimes he moved in his sleep and ended up under the bed and couldn't get back out again. Sometimes he just lost his footing and exhausted himself trying to get back up. Graham helped him up, and he peed instantly right there. Unable to stand on his own, he fell down on top of his urine. Graham had e-mailed earlier that he'd had explosive diarrhea earlier that day. When I finally got him outside and back in again, I realized that I forgot to give him his meds that morning. I've giving them religously since we started down this path, and I haven't missed a single day, morning or evening. I gave them to him then, and he did seem, after an hour or so, to perk up a little. He still needed help getting up more often than not. He still tended to collapse, but he was better than he had been.
On Tuesday, it was more of the same. I had to pick him up a lot to get him on his feet, I had to carry him outside to pee, and he had to pause a lot to get back into the house. I gave up asking him to make the three steps back into the house on his own. And then, at maybe eleven o'clock on Tuesday night, he had diarrhea again, this time while he was lying down, and he couldn't get up to get out of it. Graham and I were on automatic pilot by this point, used to cleaning up after our dog. He got the paper towels and cleanser to clean up the mess, and I got the sink ready to give Relampago a bath. We both held him while I bathed him, and my dog who hates baths more than anything else in the world, just sat in the sink in defeat. I wrapped him in a towel and hugged him dry, and he just collapsed on the floor in the kitchen on the towel. That's when I knew.
Graham and I talked it through rationally and calmly, and after I made my decision, I collapsed into tears in his arms and sobbed uncontrollably for fifteen minutes. He just held me. Relampago just lay on the towel on the floor, exhausted. I pulled myself together enough to call my parents and my siblings and let them know that I was taking Relampago to the vet in the morning and I didn't think he was going to come back. My mother and Claudia said they'd be at my house in the morning. Liv called back at around three, totally worried.
We all moved into the bedroom, and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed while Graham just held me. Relampago slept on the floor at my side. I didn't get much sleep that night. Graham says he's never seen me twitch that much. Every motion, every breath, every shift from the dog sleeping next to me would set me off.
Our alarms went off early yesterday, and Graham got up before I did. Relampago slept in a little, and when he woke up, I gave him a fortunte cookie that said "a new adventure awaits you this weekend." He loved fortune cookies. I dressed all in black. And we all went to the front of the house. Relampago walked himself to the TV room, but he couldn't stand very long and lay down on the carpet. My mother came to the house first, and he barked at her but didn't get up to greet her. Same with Jose and Claudia, who came next. They all hugged me, and Relampago. Graham went to get some pupperoni, and Crianza got all excited that we were all leaving. It meant food for her.
I didn't bother leashing Relampago. I just carried him. I did let him stand when we got outside, thinking that he may want to pee or sniff around, but he just stood there on the sidewalk looking at us all. I picked him up and put him in the back seat of my mom's car with me. Claudia took Jose to work and told us she'd meet us at the vet.
The car ride was grim. I was just holding my dog, while my mom and Graham talked about their own beloved pets: Chispa and Zeus. We got to the vet and I carried him in. I asked my mom to talk to the desk people, because I just couldn't. I sat down with Relampago on my lap, and I sobbed. Eventually, the vet tech took us to a room, and I reminded Relampago that the last time we'd been in that room, he'd had an expensive ultrasound to look at his liver. My mom and Graham laughed. There was a bit of a wait, as they weren't really expecting us and had to move some stuff around. The vet that had been taking care of Relampago's heart stuff was out of town, but his old vet, the vet that first saw him almost 16 years ago when he was just a puppy was there. He was going to do the procedure for us.
I had to sign a form allowing them to euthanize my dog. I asked for a pair of scissors so I could take some of his beautiful, beautiful fur. They asked me if I wanted to be there for it. I said yes. My mother handed them a credit card to take care of that stuff so we didn't have to wait around afterwards. Relampago lay in my lap, breathing hard, but not really moving much. I fed him a bunch of pupperoni, and he ate them with gusto. Claudia showed up at some point. I had to decide what I wanted done with the remains. The vet came in, and I explained what was going on with Relampago's health. He seemed ok with my decision.
Then, they asked me to take Relampago to the back so they could put a catheter in. I carried him back there and left him. It seemed to take a long time. When the vet tech brought him back, I said he must have fought them. He always fights. She said, no, he was just fine. They had trouble putting the catheter in because his blood pressure was so low. The vet said his breathing was really hard too, confriming that this was the right time.
He had that big smile on his face when he saw me, and we put him on the table. And it nearly broke me. I think he was just happy to see me. He's always happy to see me. He tried to get off the table. I was his favorite thing in the whole world. He licked me and I held him and I told him that I loved him. And I told my mother that I didn't want to do this. Graham left, unable to watch, which I totally understood. I went back down to Relampago and talked to him for five minutes. I told him that we were going to be separated again, and this time it was going to be the longest separation we'd ever have. But after that, we'd never be apart again. I told him that I understood that we had a pact to die together in a firey crash, but I couldn't make him wait for me. I told him that he was the best dog I've ever known, and that I couldn't imagine life without him.
And I held him, and the vet came in, and he administered a sedative. Claudia bent down and started petting his face. I held his heart. We were all crying. The vet then put in the drug that would kill him, and he told me it'd be quick. I felt his heart stutter a few times, and then I felt nothing. Claudia was still at his face. I'm not quite sure where my mom was. His paw was dangling a little off the table. The vet took out his stethescope and told us he didn't hear anything.
And my beloved dog was gone.
I stood there for a second in shock, expecting him to get up and insist on food. But he just lay there. The vet hugged me and left. I asked my mother to please take his collar for me. I stood up and walked out to the lobby, straight into Graham's arms. He hugged me and hugged me and I just sobbed. We waited for a second for Claudia, who came back and told us that she didn't want to leave him in that room alone, so she got someone to take him. I hugged Claudia and thanked her profusely. I hugged my mom, who drove us home.
I tried to go to work yesterday, but I couldn't stop crying. One of the secretaries was so worried when she saw me that she if I thought I could make it to the car. I lasted about three hours, and then came home. Athena helped a little by being a cat. Crianza doesn't really know what's up yet, but she does know how to divert attention to herself. Graham took care of me. We went to a nice lunch, and then we took a nap. Last night, we went to some friends' house and they showered me with warmth and love. I slept pretty well last night, probably because I was so sleep deprived, but it was so hard not to have him sleeping right there when I woke up. I automatically went to the area where his pills are kept and then remembered I didn't have to give them to him this morning.
I don't really feel guilt about putting my dog to sleep. It was time, and he told me it was time. I almost think that he was trying to spare me the worry of leaving him in the hands of others when he was in such poor health. I do feel this huge emptiness, though. He was devoted to me in a way no one else ever has been or ever will be. I was his center, and he gave me everything of his. All he asked in return was food. Lots of food. I got him as a baby puppy when I was 19 years old, and he's been through my entire adult hood with me. I don't know how to be a grown up without him. I will miss him so much, and I know that his paws can never be filled by another.
I'm truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support yesterday. I'm especially touched by jungleeyedgirl
's eulogy in the comments. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever read, and I'm so glad that someone understood the unique relationship that my dog and I had. Thank you so very much.
I'm probably not going to post again until after Burning Man. I leave day after tomorrow, and I really can't bear to write about anything that's mundane or ordinary right now, and I'm pretty tapped out writing about Relampago.
I'm not ok right now. But I'll be ok. My dog loved me, he had a fantastic life, and he was as loved as dog could possibly be loved. I don't think he was in much pain. I can't even express how happy I am that I got his tattoo before he died. He blessed it, and he'll always be with me.