Gone, but never forgotten

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
–Josh Billings

tammy_daisy

On Wednesday, October 9, 2013, I made the difficult decision to put Daisy to sleep.  Saying goodbye to my best friend was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I knew I could not watch her deteriorate any more than she had. She was experiencing regular bowel incontinence and neurological issues that would only get worse. I made the decision that I had to let her go. I felt I was doing what was best for her because her quality of life had declined. I wanted her to have her dignity, so I arranged for her to die peacefully in my arms in a quiet room inside Danvers Animal Hospital.

When I announced Daisy’s passing on my Facebook page, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy and kindness. Everyone knew how much Daisy meant to me.  After all, she was with me for almost 15 years, which is more than a third of my life. Daisy and I were a package deal, so I was fortunate that she was such a well-behaved dog.  I took her with me whenever I could, and now I will carry her memory with me for the rest of my life. If I could tell her what I’ll miss about her, I would say:

Dear Daisy,

I will miss our walks and the way your little black ears bounced up and down like bird wings with every step.

I will miss the way you rested her chin on my lap or nudged my hand with your snout when you wanted my attention.

I will miss your polite bark requesting to come in from outside.

I will miss watching you prance daintily around the backyard looking for the perfect spot to relieve yourself.

I will miss peering out my office window to see you lounging in the sunshine on a warm patch of grass.

I will miss feeling you leap gently onto the bed, curl up in a ball, and breathe a sigh of contentment.

I will miss the sound of your whimpering as you chased bunnies in your dreams.

I will miss asking you for your paw and knowing how happy you were to oblige.

I will miss watching you befriend people and other dogs with a level of patience, acceptance, and graciousness like no other.

I will miss the glorious sight of your racing down Singing Beach in absolute glee.

I will miss the almond-like smell of your fur after a bath.

I will miss the way you would find the squeakiest toy to play with whenever I got on the phone.

I will miss the way you could never truly decide whether you wanted to be in the house or out in the yard.

I will miss taking you for rides in the car and seeing your smiling face in my rear view mirror, peering eagerly out the window. (I enjoyed Driving Miss Daisy!)

I will miss the way you always slipped out of my grasp during vigorous brushing sessions.

I will miss clipping your toenails.

I will miss the little patches of white on your feet and how your paws smelled like corn chips.

I will miss the way you put your paw in the center of a plate you were licking to keep it from sliding around the kitchen floor.  Not every dog is smart enough to figure this out.

I will miss burying my face in the scruff of your neck when I feel like crying.

I will miss kissing your velvety cheeks.

And, believe it or not, I will miss your stinky breath.

Most of all, I will miss the joy and love you brought to my daily life.

Love,

Mummy

There are so many other subtle things I’ll miss about Daisy–there are too many to list. She loved me faithfully and unconditionally, and I loved her as though she were my child.  Once many years ago, when I was talking to my neighbor’s 5-year-old daughter, I referred to Daisy as my baby. Her mother later told me that her daughter asked, “Did Daisy grow in Tammy’s belly?”  I thought that was the cutest question.  I remember laughing but also thinking that loving Daisy was the closest I could relate to loving a child.

Agnes Sligh Turnbull was correct when she said, “Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” Not many dogs live to see 15, much less almost 16. Daisy was fortunate to have a long, happy life. And I am so blessed that I could be a part of it. Everyone always quotes the Rainbow Bridge poem, which is beautiful, but my favorite passage is  Where to Bury a Dog by Ben Hur Lampman.  It brings me comfort and assures me that Daisy, and any other pet I have, will always be with me.

Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease (“Old Dog Vestibular Disease”)

On a Tuesday in February 2013, my neighbor called me at work to let me know something was wrong with my 15-year-old dog, Daisy.  Her daughter lets Daisy out after school every day because I usually don’t get home until about 5:30 or 6 p.m.  But this day, her daughter had come home frantic and crying.  Daisy had vomited and pooped in the den where her dog bed was, was drooling, and couldn’t get up.  And something was wrong with her eyes. They were very glassy, and she seemed dizzy — almost drunk.  My first thought was that she’d had a stroke. I raced home to find her much as my neighbor had described.  I would later discover that she had also urinated on the carpet.

I called the vet immediately and arranged to bring Daisy in for an emergency appointment.  It was not easy getting Daisy into the car.  When she did stand, she tilted her head to one side and fell over.  I ended up carrying her to the car.  By now I was in tears, thinking I would have to put her to sleep.  I was not ready.

At the vet, one of the technicians came out to the car and carried Daisy in to an exam room.  Once they’d settled her in, they invited me in to sit with her until the vet came in.  When the vet tech said Daisy was showing signs of “vestibular disease,” I feared the worst.  I had heard of the condition and had seen video of dogs afflicted with it.  It was awful.

While I waited, I stroked Daisy’s fur and cried.  Her eyes moved side to side like a typewriter.  She couldn’t focus on me, so she lay her head down in my lap.

Our vet, Dr. Teague, came in and confirmed that Daisy did, in fact, have vestibular disease, a condition that strikes older dogs quite often, but is not a death sentence.  He assured me that Daisy would recover, but that the next few days would be difficult.  She would need round the clock “nursing” care.  I didn’t know if I wanted to put her through this given her advanced age.  Dr. Teague said that Daisy was in otherwise good health, and he felt pretty confident that she would get better.  I just needed to give her a chance.  So I did.  I opted to keep her at the veterinary hospital until Thursday night.  They would be better equipped to care for her than I would at home.  And I also would be able to go to work.  (I was still relatively new to my job and didn’t feel comfortable taking the time off so early into my employment.)

On Wednesday, I stopped in to visit Daisy on the way home from work.  She didn’t look much better, but she took a few bites of food for me, which was encouraging since she had been turning her nose up at food.  They said she had taken some water, which was also good because she needed to stay hydrated.  In addition, they gave her a Cerenia injection to help with the nausea.  She had trouble walking on the tile floors there, though.

When I brought Daisy home Thursday night, I set up her bed and put rubber-bottomed scatter rugs around the kitchen.  She was really unsteady, but seemed happy to be home.  She slept most of the time.  I worked from home on Friday because a snowstorm was predicted to start and carry on into Saturday.  When it was time to take Daisy out to relieve herself, I took a towel and made a sling to go under her belly so I could hold up her rear end while guiding her down the deck steps.  Luckily, Daisy is only about 40 pounds.  This would have been much harder with a larger dog.

Daisy had not taken any food since those few bites on Wednesday night.  And she also had not taken any water. Knowing that the storm was coming, I called the vet’s office Friday morning.  They told me to bring her in for an injection of fluids under her skin.  That would at least keep her hydrated through the weekend.  While I was there, a tech gave me some plastic syringes that I could use to squirt water or watered down baby food into her mouth.  I hoped it would not come to that.

Once the snowstorm hit, getting Daisy in and out was even harder.  I had to shovel off the deck and create a path for her so she’d have a bit of space to work with.  She was so good about doing her poops and pees outside.  She never had an accident.  I was so proud of her, yet still worried.  She still was not eating or drinking.  I half expected to wake up and find she’d died in her sleep.  But she was there every morning I came down, trying to wag her tail, but not really having the energy.

By Saturday afternoon, Daisy began taking a bit of water. But it was a painfully slow process.  She would stand over the bowl, her head hovering just above the surface of the water.  She’d make little lapping motions, but didn’t get any water at first.  Finally, she’d sink her head lower and drink.  By this time, her eyes were not moving side to side like before and her balance was getting a bit better.  But still, she would not eat.  On Sunday, with the roads clear, I went out and bought a couple jars of chicken and sweet potato baby food. When I got home, I watered down the baby food, sucked it up into the syringe, and squirted it into Daisy’s mouth.  She HATED it!  She did NOT want it at all.  But I managed to get something in her.

On Monday, I went to work.  I arranged for another neighbor to come over and tend to Daisy around lunch time.  She said Daisy went out and peed, but looked so very sad.  I suspected it was because she felt weak from not eating.  When I got home, Daisy still wouldn’t eat.  So I called the vet again.  Dr. Teague told me to bring her back for another Cerenia injection.  He also prescribed an appetite stimulant in pill form.  I wondered how I would get it into her, but I managed to do it.

Within a half hour of giving Daisy the appetite stimulant, she ate a small bowl of boiled chicken that I had made for her.  I was so happy, I cried.  It was then that I knew she would be okay.

Today, Daisy is a few weeks away from her 16th birthday.  She has slowed down quite a bit and has begun pooping in the house more often.  Her hind legs are giving her trouble now, too.  But her sweet personality continues to brighten my day.  If I had not given her the chance to recover, we would not have had this extra time together.  I think, in some ways, the event prepared me to lose her.  It will still be incredibly hard, but I know I will make the right decision for Daisy when the time comes.  She will let me know.  But I will always be glad I gave her the chance to recover from her bout with vestibular.

Buttercup, the Stuffed Donkey

I don’t remember the first moment I unwrapped him, but Buttercup came into my life on Christmas morning, 1980.  I was seven years old, and I had asked Santa for a pony.  I was disappointed when my wish was not granted.  My parents told me that Santa knew that our yard was not big enough for a pony and that the neighbors would not appreciate the stench of manure.  Later in the day, after we had filled our bellies with turkey, stuffing, squash and cranberry sauce, my uncle presented me with one final gift.  It was a soft stuffed donkey with sad, droopy eyes, and a mane and tail of white yarn.  His body was soft, beige; the insides of his ears were dark brown, as were his “hooves.”  From that moment on, Buttercup became my favorite plush toy.

My parents have many pictures of me holding Buttercup.  He was my sleeping companion well into my high school years.  I talked to him, cuddled him, and braided his mane and tail on numerous occasions.  He kept me warm under the covers, and he protected me from the boogeyman.  Buttercup comforted me when I cried and forgave me when I accidentally tossed him out of bed.  His new stuffed animal smell faded quickly, and soon he smelled like my pajamas.  On occasion, Buttercup would go for a bath in the washing machine and come out of the dryer smelling fresh and clean, like Bounce fabric softener.  At one point, Buttercup’s plastic eye got dented, but I was thankful that he never lost his adorable expression.  He always looked as if he were saying, “I’m sorry.”

Much to my chagrin, Buttercup’s eyes invited unwanted attention from my father.  Dad enjoyed poking Buttercup’s eyes with his two fingers like Curly did in “The Three Stooges.”  I believed that Dad was hurting Buttercup, and I would scold him for his cruelty, but he would always laugh and reassure me that Buttercup could not feel it. Dad poked Buttercup’s eyes on a regular basis, even though he knew it bothered me.  Buttercup’s torment went on for years; only as an adult am I able to laugh.  Dad had (and still has) a warped sense of humor — one that I was too young to appreciate at the time.

When I left for college, I decided to leave Buttercup behind.  I was afraid I’d be teased by my roommates; even worse, I feared that he’d be stolen by some callous boys.  More than anything, I did not want to sully Buttercup’s innocence by exposing him to the adult world of college.  So he remained on my bed at home, waiting patiently for me to return on weekends and holidays.  Until then, his only company came when my mom popped into my room to dust the furniture.

Today, Buttercup still sits on my bed, but it is a newer bed in a different house in a different city.  His fur is not as soft, and his head flops from side to side because he’s lost some of the stuffing in his neck.  Today, I have a real animal to cuddle — my dog Daisy.  Daisy has always known that Buttercup is off-limits.  Even as a puppy, she never tried to chew him.  It was as if she knew that he was worthy of great respect.  After all, Buttercup is a symbol of my childhood innocence, of simplicity and of security.  When I look at him, I remember the little girl who wanted a horse, but got so much more out of a donkey with expressive eyes.

Image

What was your favorite stuffed animal as a child?  And where is it now?

The Art of Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell

I admit it.  I am old-fashioned, a sucker for nostalgia.  I love paintings and sketches that depict a time when life seemed a whole lot simpler than it does today.  Yes, I love the paintings of Monet and Renoir, but when pressed to say which artist or artists I like best, my answer may surprise some.  My favorite artists are Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell.

Andrew's Wyeth's "Master Bedroom"

Hanging in my bedroom is a copy of Wyeth’s 1965 watercolor, appropriately titled “Master Bedroom.”  The painting shows a dog curled up on his master’s bed, sound asleep.  The bond between human and dog is evident, even when the human is absent from the scene.  While many of Wyeth’s paintings evoke a sort of melancholy feeling, his work is undeniably American.  In an article published after Wyeth’s death in 2009, New York Times writer Larry Rohter indicated that “Wyeth and his paintings came in the popular mind to embody both traditional notions of patriotism and sincerity and the type of taciturn hardiness associated with his New England ancestors” (Rohter).  I agree.  I like the sentimental nature of Wyeth’s work.

The same can be said of Norman Rockwell’s art, most frequently seen on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post.  Rockwell’s work was effective in that it could touch the place inside of us where emotion dwells and gently tug our heart-strings.  More of than  not, his paintings and illustrations could evoke a response from even the most phlegmatic individual.  Take, for instance, his “Four Freedoms” series of paintings.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Rockwell wanted to help the war effort so he offered his services as a painter.  But devising sketches to accompany President Roosevelt’s nobly worded proclamation of the four essential human freedoms proved difficult.  Finally, after tossing and turning in bed one night, Rockwell came up with an idea.  A neighbor had spoken up during a town meeting and even though many people disagreed, Rockwell said, “They let him have his say. No one shouted him down. My gosh, I thought, that’s it. There it is. Freedom of Speech. I’ll illustrate the Four Freedoms and use my Vermont neighbors as models. I’ll express the ideas in simple, everyday scenes. Freedom of Speech–a New England town meeting. Freedom from Want–a Thanksgiving dinner. [I’ll] take them out of the noble language of the proclamation and put them in terms everybody can understand” (Westbrook 202-203).  In 1943, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Saturday Evening Post sent Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings on tour as part of a war bond drive which ultimately raised almost $133 million (Westbrook 202-203).  Rockwell gave a voice, and even an identity, to the everyday citizen.  A person could see one of his sketches and relate to them in some way.

Naturally, because I love dogs, my favorite Rockwell sketches are the ones that include dogs.  Often, the illustrations are part of a series, such as the ones showing a little boy taking his beagle to the veterinarian.  The waiting room is crowded with dogs waiting to see the vet.  The little boy seems overwhelmed as he clutches his dog, whose wounded jaw has been lovingly tied with a handkerchief.

Norman Rockwell's "Waiting at the Vet"

Norman Rockwell's "The Veterinarian"

Inside the veterinarian’s office, the boy sits on a stool while the vet examines the beagle.  Rockwell took a simple moment in life and captured in his young subject the love and concern that many people have for their pets.  When I see these paintings, I wonder how the little boy got himself to the vet’s office.  Did a parent or sibling drop him off?  Did he walk?  He appears a bit frightened as he sits in the waiting room.  Does he have money in his pocket to pay the veterinarian for his services?  Will the vet treat the dog at no charge out of kindness and compassion?  Each of Rockwell’s paintings elicits questions and has a story to tell.  Perhaps that is why, as a teacher, I often used Rockwell’s paintings in creative writing exercises.  Students were asked to choose a piece and write a short story or poem about it.  Similarly, I would incorporate Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” into a unit on Ethan Frome because the painting not only evokes so much curiosity in the viewer but also relates to the novel’s theme of isolation.

Like those of Wyeth, Rockwell’s themes were universal and yet quintessentially American.  I never tire of looking at the paintings of these two artists.  I feel strangely comforted by their work because I don’t feel stupid trying to find meaning in abstraction.  In short, I love how these men interpreted life.  And loved dogs.

Works Cited

Rohter, Larry.  “For Wyeth, Both Praise and Doubt.”   The New York Times.  16 Jan. 2009.  Web.  8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com&gt;.

Westbrook, Robert B.  “Fighting for the American Family.”  The Power of Culture: Critical Essays in American History.  Ed. Richard Wightman Fox.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Lyme Disease and Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia in Dogs

My dog Daisy turned the ripe old age of 14 in November, much to my great joy.  We had a rough summer that began in June when she tested positive for Lyme Disease.  What was worse, she had tested positive the previous June; however, the veterinarian never informed me of that test result.  He had said he would only call me if there was something wrong.  So when I never heard from him, I thought that “no news was good news.”  Needless to say, I was furious with the vet’s careless oversight and switched to another veterinarian within the same practice.  Unfortunately, Daisy had the infection in her system for a whole year before she began treatment with doxycycline.  But I remained hopeful.

I have been much happier with our new vet because he took time to explain Daisy’s health issues so that I understood them, and he made sound recommendations that were not rooted in how much money he could make for the practice.  In addition to the Lyme, Daisy’s blood test revealed that her blood platelet count was unusually low, around 84,000.  A follow-up test a week later showed they had dropped to 58,000.  The  normal range is between 200,000 and 500,000.  After a bone marrow aspirate revealed Daisy did not have leukemia, our new vet diagnosed Daisy with Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia, also called Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a disease that destroys existing blood platelets and hinders the development of new platelets.  Platelets help stop bleeding by forming clots.  Basically, Daisy’s immune system got confused (likely because of the Lyme Disease) and started attacking her blood platelets.

Daisy was placed on a twice daily dose of 20 mg of prednizone, which she remained on for three months.  Each month during the summer, I took her for a platelet check.  And each blood test showed that her blood platelet count had recovered and was in the normal range.  What concerned me, however, was that Daisy had dropped a lot of weight over the summer.  Once a solid 40 pounds, she had dropped to 34 pounds by late July.  I began feeding her three cups of kibble a day, as opposed to her regular 2 cups.  Being on the prednizone made her hungry, so she happily ate her third meal.  She was also very thirsty, and I had to replenish her water bowl more frequently.  But slowly, she began to put the weight back on.

In September, we began to wean her off the prednizone.  She went down to 10 mg twice a day, then 10 mg once a day throughout October, then 5 mg a day in November, to 5 mg every other day in December.  Each month, I brought her in for a blood platelet check.  And each month, Daisy’s platelet count remained steady.  She was in remission, and by December, Daisy weighed a healthy 43 pounds!  She is now off the prednizone completely, and her most recent blood platelet test result (1/12) showed that her platelet count is in the normal range.  I’ll probably have her checked again in one month to be safe.  God willing, Daisy and I will have many more months together; perhaps she’ll see her 15th birthday?

As an elderly dog, Daisy sleeps a lot more now.  She doesn’t hear as well as she used to–I have to be careful not to startle her.  Her teeth are in bad shape, and her breath is consistently foul, but it doesn’t bother me that much.  She has stiffness in her hips and is reluctant to jump up onto the couch or into the backseat of the car.  I am sure that her bout with Lyme Disease and the Thrombocytopenia has taken a toll on her joints.  But she’s happy and here, and for that I am thankful.

If I could offer one piece of advice to pet owners, it is this: ALWAYS have your vet call you with your pet’s blood test results, even if all is well.  A “no news is good news” practice leaves too much room for error.  And if you don’t hear from your vet, be sure to give them a follow-up call.  The old saying is true: the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Flea Dirt is No Circus

I am taking care of my parents’ beloved beagle Lucy for two weeks while they tour around Colorado and New Mexico.  Lucy came to me with a leash, a canister of kibble, and a rump full of fleas.  I drowned two fleas in a cup of water last week.  Problem is, Lucy is a bit of a doggie hypochondriac.  When I try to examine her for fleas, she panics and starts yelping as if I’m bludgeoning her.  Needless to say, my efforts have been somewhat futile.

A few days into Lucy’s stay, my dog Daisy broke out in a sketchy-looking rash on her abdomen, so I took her to the vet on Monday.  After inspecting her belly, the vet took a little comb to the fur around her collar.  Lo and behold!  Flea dirt.  I was shocked because Daisy has never had fleas in her life, and she’s almost 14!  Flea dirt, not to mention what it indicates, is disgusting.  You put it on a paper towel, sprinkle a few drops of water on it, and it turns a rusty color.  Flea dirt is the excrement of adult fleas, consisting primarily of blood.  Turns out Daisy has flea allergy dermatitis, and she is on an antibiotic for seven days.

“You’re the third case of fleas I’ve seen today,” the vet said, adding that this was one of the worst flea seasons he has seen in a while.

Great.

The irony is that both dogs have been treated with topical flea control medications.  Daisy gets Frontline Plus; Lucy gets Revolution. My parents opted for Revolution because it also prevents heartworm disease, thus making the monthly doses easier.  I, on the other hand, give Daisy Interceptor tablets for heartworm prevention, and Frontline Plus for fleas and ticks.  Frontline Plus contains an ingredient that stops flea reproduction, and it is rated as one of the better flea and tick prevention medications on the market.  According to my vet, Revolution is a poor flea and tick medication for dogs because it does not stop flea development.  So with no imposed birth control, Lucy’s fleas can still reproduce.

Fabulous.

The vet recommended I bathe both dogs, apply Frontline Plus on Lucy, and put a flea collar in the vacuum cleaner bag so that the fleas that get sucked into the bag will die.  He also recommended a flea control powder to put on the carpets before I vacuum.  I have taken these measures in the hope that I won’t need to hire an exterminator.  The next line of defense: the whole-house flea bomb.  I hope it does not get to that.

My mind is getting to me at night.  I lie awake thinking about how for the past few days Lucy has ensconced herself among the throw pillows on my bed.  I start to itch.  Every little tickle on my skin is a potential flea hopping on for a late-night feed.  My arm, my face, my thigh, my foot, my head.  Last night, I didn’t fall asleep until almost one o’clock.  And, of course, the dogs got me up bright an early at seven.

I love my parents, and I love Lucy (when she’s not a howling fool), but I’m frustrated that, in their effort to save a little money, they’ve created an unfortunate predicament for me.  They have been kind enough to offer compensation for any money I spend in my efforts to rectify the problem.  But I would have preferred to avoid a flea problem all together.  The old saying is true: you get what you pay for.  Let this be a lesson to anyone who loves a dog–don’t skimp on flea control!

Doggy Deafness

At thirteen years old, my “greybador” Daisy has started to lose her hearing.  The other day, I came home from grocery shopping, opened the door, set down my packages, listened to my messages, opened the front door, and clomped up the stairs to find the old girl sleeping soundly on my bed.  She must have suddenly sensed my presence because she opened her eyes and began wagging her tail, happy to see me.  She leaped off the bed, assumed the downward dog position, shook her coat, and trotted down the stairs for something to eat.

Traditionally, Daisy becomes anxious during thunderstorms and Fourth of July fireworks.  She paces, pants, drools, whines, and tries to squeeze herself into hiding places that are not big enough to accommodate her lean 40-pound frame.  The only positive to come out of Daisy’s doggy deafness is that she doesn’t always hear the thunder.  This morning, we had several low rumbles and heavy rain, but Daisy slept soundly beside me, none the wiser.

Daisy’s deafness means a variety of things.  I can discuss taking her for a walk while on the phone with my mother without fear she’ll hear the magic word and pester me until I finish my conversation.  On the other hand, I can’t let her off leash anymore at Merry Mutts because she won’t be able to hear me calling her if she gets disoriented.  Ultimately, Daisy’s deafness is a reminder that her time left with me is limited, and I must cherish every moment.