Sunday, August 30th, 9:30 pm.
Ruby laid on the floor near the kitchen side entrance. Ann laid next to her, listening to Ruby’s rapid breathing. It was time for bed soon for those of us who have to go to start another work week in the morning. I knelt down noticing that Ruby’s rapid breathing appears to look as though she has a slight spasm in her abdomen. “I thought the Theophylline would reduce any tendancy to spasm.”, I muttered to Ann as I laid my hand on Ruby’s side. Ann had that same worried look she has had for days. “What is that she is doing?”, I ask Ann as I noted Ruby was for the first time I ever have seen holding her chin up as she stared around the room. Ann suggested that this must be something she was doing to help her breathe easier. Ann was heading for bed, and I thought I would lay on the couch and turn out the lights to see if this would make Ruby relax and go to sleep. I must have passed out instantly from all of the sleep I had missed earlier in the weekend keeping an eye on Ruby. It was shortly after midnight, my eyelids opened upon hearing heavy panting next to me. It was that familiar breathing sound which Ruby had been making for the past few days. I reached down and stroked her fur and muttered “What’s wrong Roob?”. She stood there for a few seconds, and turned around while I was still petting her, and walked toward her usual corner of the room. I could not hold my eyelids open any longer and passed out again.
Something jarred me awake at 2:20 am that morning. I thought I heard Woodruff making some fuss over a sock or something he had in his mouth. Anyhow, I stood up in the dark and did my usual shuffle while half asleep toward the bathroom. I say shuffle, because I had learned not to take large steps in the event that Ruby might be laying somewhere I might step on her. As I get to the end of the hall, listening for Ruby, I notice that for the first time in a long time, I do not hear the breathing. I shuffle back to the kitchen and flip on the light. I look around the Kitchen and down the hall, and in Ruby’s usual spot. I do not see her! I don’t care, I have to know if Ann took Ruby into the bedroom. I wake Ann up with, “Do you have Ruby in the bedroom? I can’t hear Ruby breathing? Do you have Ruby?” The light at Ann’s side of the bed comes on. “No, Ruby is not in here.”, Ann says as she struggles to an aware state. I shuffle toward the bedroom with my eyes looking everywhere, while Ann opens the door to the back yard and walks outside. It was not long after that I heard , “She’s out here. She’s dead. Ruby is dead.” My mind did not want to comprehend this, so I said “No. Oh no, are you sure? Are you sure she is dead?” Just as I finish the sentence I see Ann bent over Ruby who was laying on the grass with her back legs under her, and her front legs outstretched and pointing to her left and nose planted in the grass facing away from her front paws. It was such position that you knew instantly she had left us. “I think she has been here a while”, Ann said as she felt the full weight of Ruby’s body upon her right hand as she reached down to cuddle her lifeless body. Three other dogs were moving about in the back yard, and very much sensing that something terrible had happened. Sophie stopped short at the back door and laid down refusing to come outside. We motioned to the other dogs to see that Ruby had passed on. Kirb and Kaylee refused to look. Wood came up and quickly walked away. Sophie stayed in her place at the door, but the depression everyone was feeling was so thick the night air was heavy with it.
All of the dogs found a place to lay down, while Ann and I tried to find words to say what we were feeling. I’m sure we held that little dog for ten or fifteen minutes, with not much more than the sound of sobs, and mention of her name breaking the quiet. Obviously we could not just let her lay there all night. So Ann grabbed a bag and to our surprise Ruby was not at all stiff as we placed her in the bag. “It must have just happened. I thought she was stiff, but it was just her weight.”, Ann said. “She has so much dirt on her mouth”, she noted while I noticed in the dimly lit back yard how blue her tongue was. I started wondering if she made the noise that woke me. I wondered if she was struggling for her last breath while I was shuffling down the hall. I knew that this would be the start of guilt you feel when a loved one in your care passes. I knew part of what we would be questioning is whether we hastened Ruby’s departure by giving her the medicine the Veterinarian prescribed to ease her breathing, and make it more comfortable. So as we placed Ruby’s bag into the pool room refrigerator, we pretty much realized we would not get much sleep for the rest of the night. I am sure as I laid awake in the bed next to Ann the rest of the night, not speaking a word that she more than likely was doing the same until the radio alarm came on in the morning and we grabbed the shovel and pick axe from the garage.
In those lonely hours of the morning in bed before the radio alarm sounded, so many thoughts raced through my head and the events of the weekend replayed over and over as I searched for anything to make sense of what just happened? Did it make any sense to spend so much effort gaining the trust and familiarity of this dog which would never even know she had a name only for her to die just as she came to know she was in a loving permanent environment? Did she come to me for help, and I let her down at midnight?
Even though she never heard her name, this house was always full of statements like “Ruby Doo!”, “Poor Ruby Toozday”, or “Ruby Toozday, you are just so darn cute!”. These walls would have never witness to any of these phrases, ever again. I would never see that set of eyes watching me from across the room, nor would I feel that wonderful connection we made despite the communication barrier we eventually broke. I started making a list in my head of things I never wanted to forget. I recalled how when I came home and she motioned for me to chase her into the kitchen, I would go into the kitchen where she crouched in a tiger like pose and touched her to turn out the side kitchen entrance. She then would start to the other kitchen entrance expecting me to come that way, but I would turn back and retrace my steps and catch her by surprise from behind. She then would follow me back out the side entrance, and the coughing would start. Then I remembered how the coughing would taint everything. It started with feeding her so she would not choke the food down too fast to not picking her up, to not getting her excited, to eventually walking and pausing constantly, and finally leaving with the other dogs while seeing her lonely shadow behind the frosted glass at the door, but realizing she could not make it down the driveway without choking and gagging. Suddenly I was remembering the weekend, and how Ann was so clearly seeing how desperate the breathing was becoming, and how I could see it as well, but had hoped Ruby would lay down and sleep…
Saturday, August 29th 2009
I found myself at Ace Hardware trying to find a Radio Flyer Wagon which with sides that could keep a little dog from jumping off during a walk. Ruby wanted so badly to go on the walk in the morning, but there was just no way at the moment. Ever since the last visit with the Veterinarian a month an a half earlier she was slowing down with every day being worse than the last. The mile walks turned into half mile walks taking over an hour to complete. She loved the walks so much. Just earlier in the week, the rains came and we took the dogs to the wash up the street, and as the other dogs played in the running water, Ruby and I inched closer to it until the water was tickling her belly. Her walk was stiff, which was not surprising having seen the arthritis/bony spurs in her spine which prompted Dr N. to say she could be fifteen, sixteen, seventeen or eighteen years old. That belly hung down in the water, not so much do to the weight she had put on, but due to the hernia that was probably the result of this chronic cough she had lived with for years. The X-ray clearly demonstrated a feature which Dr. N. never had seen before. He could not say if it was congenital, or the result of trauma. Her heart was slightly enlarged, but as he put it, “At her age, that is to be expected”. That was not the medical oddity. The medical oddity was that instead of her trachea and esophagus making a straight line to her digestive track, it curved high above the heart and there was some signs of tracheal collapse. Tracheal collapse is a common condition in small elderly dogs, and was the very thing which I had shown Ann when we started raising Ruby’s food bowl and stopped using a collar on her neck. So this seemed to fit. The point of all this is Ruby was not going to any time soon walk on her own with the other dogs. I wanted Ruby to enjoy the walk with all the other dogs, but as Ann was going to work before the sun came up, I had been walking all five dogs for the last month. I could not use the large stroller, so pulling a wagon with Ruby in it behind me as the other dogs pulled me forward. Unfortunately, I did not find the wagon at the hardware store to do the job. My internet search did not pull anything promising up either. Ann called home from work to check on Ruby. She suggested that a Vet appointment this weekend might be in order, because we could see Ruby struggle with this condition this weekend which she had grown accustom to prior to this weekend.
When Ann came home, Ruby was still eating happily, although it was causing more than the usual cough response. We watched her and tried to not excite her. In the back of our minds was the possibility of taking her to the Vet and the Vet recommending putting her down. I did not want this, because she was eating and was excited to see Ann come home. We watched her until it was time for bed. Turning out the light relaxed her and her breathing. Before Ann left to work the next morning she fed Ruby just a fraction of her usual breakfast, as the coughing was so bad. So Ann called me later in the morning to ask I take Ruby into the Vet after I give her more food slowly. So I made the appointment and fed her slowly. Feeding her aggravated her breathing and coughing. So when she finally relaxed in the kitchen and was breathing easily I was so bummed to have to get her up for the appointment
I felt terrible having to lift her in and out of the truck, but somehow I managed to do it without aggravating the cough. As we stood outside of the Animal hospital in the shade inching slowly to the door , three kids I had never seen before looked down at Ruby and said “Oh look, that looks like the coolest dog ever”. It was surreal, almost as if it was something was trying to tell me that every moment I had with this dog had a profound meaning. Ruby had put on one pound since her last appointment, tipping the electronic scale at 26 lbs. Dr. N. had told us that for a dog her age to want to eat and put on weight was a good thing and to be encouraged.
Dr. N.’s assistant lead Ruby into the room with her voice so I said, “She is deaf”. “Oh”, came back the reply, “I hope you don’t mind I still want to talk to her.”
I said, “We still talk to her. No problem.” Sometimes I think the dogs pick up on a thought or a general feeling as much as words. Ruby, was lacking many of the normal dog social skills. She had apparently had no concept of a pecking order, which until I met her was the very basic concept I used to understand a dog’s view of the world. So much of the early frustration I had (as did the other dogs) in her not getting my attempts to communicate was not based in the fact that she did not “get it". I think it was that we had been sending her signals outside the realm of her experience, not that she could not sense our attempts to make a connection. So, I invited the assistant to talk away at this little dog. I think she could sense she was here to be examined in hopes to alleviate her breathing/coughing issue.
Dr N. came into the room and said, “So I see the coughing has not gotten better, in fact it may be a little worse.”
I said, “Yes, the cough tabs you gave us did not seem to be the answer. She also seems to be bothered greatly by her condition. Do you think it is her heart, or maybe fluid in her lungs?”.
“We’ll give those a listen. I just looked at her X-ray again, and see she had some signs of tracheal collapse. I think that is where we had left it.”
I interjected “She is stooling fine, and has not shown any indication that she cannot pee.”
Dr N. continued, “Has she shown any weakness, or problems getting up? Has she vomited?” .
“Once this weekend, she coughed up a little white foam, but I have not seen her vomit. I know she is uncomfortable. When she gets uncomfortable she goes out the doggy door to the potty place outside. She is doing that a lot this weekend. ”, I answered.
He put his stethoscope to her abdomen and listened for what seemed to be five minutes, finally asking me to hold her mouth closed so she was not panting before stating, “Well at this point in her life, her heart and lungs sound like I would expect. They sound fine. As to the tracheal collapse, anything we do diagnostic for this would be an invasive procedure such as a bronchoscopy. I’ve never seen anything like what showed on her X-ray. There is some enlargement of her heart, which is normal for her age, but the curve of the trachea over the heart and the space between the trachea and the heart…. I suppose there is a possibility there is some sort of tumor that is not showing on the X-ray pushing the esophagus aside… again, we are talking invasive diagnostic technique, and at her age…”
I said, “I am relieved you are not hearing any fluid in her lungs, and her heart sounds strong.”
“Yes, if you want to do a cardiogram, we can do that here, but I do not hear any murmurs or anything abnormal which would warrant such a test.”, replied Dr. N.
I had brought Ruby’s Cookie Jar. I took a little bit of cookie and crumbled it in between my thumb and forefinger. “She has an appetite, but it comes at a price. I brought these so you can see this.” , I said as I leaned over and fed her the cookie bits. To my surprise she actually paused and thought about eating the cookie before taking it and coughing.
At this Dr. N. said, “Well, it has come to the point where what I can do to help her breath more easily is to prescribe an anti-inflammatory, and a bronchodilator. I can throw in a diuretic in case there is some fluid build up to eliminate. Prescribing Prednisolone is not something I do lightly, but as I said it has come to that point. It should help her breathe easier and feel more comfortable. We can start with a week’s prescription and in a week we will see how she is doing, and lower the dosage for her therapy and find what works best.”
I feel like I am getting both good news and bad news at once. He is not talking about putting her down. In a way I feel like there is some hope being offered here, but Prednisone sounds scary to me. Of course watching Ruby not jump at the cookie I offered scares me as well.
So as I we left the Animal hospital with the medication in hand, Ruby actually seemed upbeat. She seemed happy to walk outside. As we came to the edge of the shade on the side walk I leaned down and touched the sidewalk where the sun was hitting it. “Too hot Ruby. I’m sorry, I have to pick you up.” I put her back into the truck and we went through the drive through at Arby’s on the way home. After I am handed the food, a smiling Arby employee reached out the window and hands me a dog cookie wrapped in a napkin. I thanked her, but stuff it in my pocket as Ruby only ate soft cookies and at that moment was not exactly wolfing them down. When we came back in the front door, something amazing happened which I had yet to witness. Each of the other four dogs all came up and sniffed her in a manner to suggest it was good she was home with family.
I started researching all three meds and any adverse reactions in canines on the internet. It was not uncommon for this sort of treatment to be employed. Ann’s sister called and I told her I had just taken Ruby to the vet and I had some scary meds to give Ruby to help her breath. Ann’s sister understood how I felt, having a dog who had fallen ill and was on some scary meds for a year, and was thankful for those meds improving her dog’s quality of life that year. Ruby, was breathing rapidly again, and I know she was bothered by this. I sat a camera down next to her and proceeded to comfort her. The other dogs started barking, believing Ann had returned home and Ruby somehow sensed the excitement and jumped up to greet Ann. It was 2pm. In just over 12 hours we would find Ruby’s lifeless body in the back yard in her potty place.
Just before Ann arrived home, Ruby threw up the little bit of cookie I presented her at the Animal clinic. I called the clinic, “Ruby threw up a little. Does this change her treatment?” Dr. N. had left, but the assistant who saw Ruby earlier in the day asked the
Veterinarian on site, who said, “No. Give her the Theophyline, wait a half hour and give her the other two pills.” I asked if this should be given with the food. She said that would work. Ann cut each of the pills in half, as they were prescribed. She prepared Ruby’s last meal. Ruby was a very hungry girl. Ann followed the Theophyline with the Prednisolone and Furosimide a half hour later. At 9:30 pm that night we laid with Ruby as she lifted her chin and stared around the room while breathing rapidly.
Monday Morning, August 31st, 5:00 am
Obviously being at work on time was not going to be in the cards for me. Ann was working a later shift, so we took turns digging the hard earth where we were going to lay Ruby to rest. We managed a couple feet, and decided to walk the other dogs. We finally dug to the point we could not go any deeper. As we pulled Ruby’s bag and headed to the grave, Woody and Kaylee wanted to come say goodbye. Kirb came over but would not look at Ruby. Sophie laid in the kitchen. Again, you could feel the depression thick in the air. As we laid Ruby in her grave, we wrapped her in a blanket, and placed her cookies with her. Ann once again wept, as did I. We covered her with dirt and pavers and dirt and pavers.
I showered and my body went to work, but my mind spent the rest of the day wondering if in any way we had hastened her death. I wondered if maybe she went outside and choked on food coming back up. Could I have done anything?
This dog, I had not known for the majority of her life or any insight to her history. This small creature who could not hear, did not know her name, was at the end of her days and only recently came to accept us as family left as suddenly as she appeared. Why does it feel like a tragedy? A tragedy would have been for her not to be in the care of those that loved her when she passed, right?
So I chose to write it down, so that I may read it and maybe understand what if anything this means. Will I ever adopt a senior dog again? I think I most certainly will, if my wife can also find the strength, someday. Did I gain from this? Yes, I learned to see that simply viewing dogs as being driven by social status was in error. I learned that you can accept and love without concern about status, or position in a dog’s view of the world. I learned that a simple gesture can open a world of understanding. I learned that parents must always question if they did the right thing, and hope for the best for a child no matter what the child is facing. I learned you still hope that somehow, someday you hope that the connection will return.