As long as I have been blogging, I have been writing about my dogs. My boy, Rudy, and my girl, Reggie. The two of them have always been more than just my pets. They are my pack, my family, my identity. We are Team von Schnauzer Kraut.
When Rudy first came to me at the age of 5 in the spring of 2008, he had to have about a dozen teeth extracted that had rotted while he was in the care of his previous owner. I had to give him liquid pain medication from a syringe after the surgery, so I gathered him up in a towel on my lap, cradling him like a baby, and squeezed the medicine down his throat as he grumbled and groaned his displeasure with the whole arrangement. And I knew, even then, that the day would come for us when I would hold him just like that again, for the last time, because there was never a doubt in my mind from the very beginning that Rudy was my forever dog.
That day did come this past weekend, after nearly 10 wonderful years, when the vet tech wrapped him in a blanket and placed him in my arms over my heart. The sedative took hold and he slowly relaxed. And then he was gone.
I traveled the grieving road with Rudy for a long time, from the first time he failed to make the jump onto my bed until the last morning I took him out to pee and he could not stand up. He went downhill slowly, then all at once, navigating past one health problem after another and rallying again and again. I nearly lost him a couple summers ago to hemorrhagic gastroenteritis that I did not get him treated for promptly enough. He had chronic compromised liver function, so I gave him Denamarin every day. He had keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), so I put cyclosporine drops in his eyes before bed every night. In the past year or so, he stopped being able to jump onto the bed or into the car altogether, so I lifted him on and off and in and out every time. He was frail and shaky in his hind end, more so each week, and sometimes peed in the house almost involuntarily. He would restlessly shift and shudder at night, grumbling and coughing and flapping his ears repeatedly. He bumped into things in the dark. He was mostly deaf. He frequently refused to eat his breakfast, or would eat it and then vomit it, always on the carpet. He forgot his routines and had to be reminded what to do next all through the day.
With every one of these challenges and losses, he kept moving forward, as we all must. I would love to tell you that I was compassionate toward and supportive of him every step of the way, continually adapting to whatever came up and giving him whatever he needed. But I was not.
The grieving road begins in denial, of course. It’s a fluke, he’s fine, this is nothing to worry about, it will clear up.
It progresses, or it did for me, through anger and impatience, and a great deal of frustration that he could never again be the dog he once was. The dog I never had to worry about. The dog that was happy and well. I regret to say, I spent too long there, and did too much yelling.
As I did with Reggie, albeit, to my shame, much too late, I finally came to a place of compassion for Rudy just a few weeks before he died. I was able to fully accept that he was doing the best he could, and that he never had done and never would do anything simply to annoy me.
So when he came in from the yard hitching on three legs last Thursday evening (after being, as far as I could tell, fine all day) and I could find nothing wrong with his paw or leg, I was concerned. He had always had a flair for drama and would gimp sometimes, it seemed to me, just for attention. But I could tell he was not doing that this time.
By Friday morning, he could not stand on his own. I picked him up and carried him to the yard, where he managed to stand up just long enough to do his chores before plopping down in a shaky heap. He then laid down in the yard and refused to get up, so I carried him back inside and called the vet. The diagnosis later that day did not have any specific name, but it was clear that Rudy’s back legs were no longer working, likely because his spine was somehow compromised. Perhaps a slipped disc, or just the degeneration that I had seen progressing for months. The only way to make a definitive diagnosis was an MRI, the vet said, and they would not do one unless I would commit to surgery to repair whatever they found. With or without treatment, recovery was highly unlikely. And that was it. Game over for my boy.
I sat on the couch with him all night on Friday, giving him tramadol when he started shifting and groaning, and squirting syringefuls of water into his mouth every few hours. He would not eat or drink on his own, he could not pee or poop, and he could not stand up long enough even to turn around, let alone walk. His paralysis was not going to kill him, but he was going to be miserable very soon for being unable to tend to his bodily functions. There was no mercy in letting him go on that way another night.
That is how we came to be sitting in that cramped and dreary exam room at the vet clinic, his frail little body curled in a ball in my arms and his head under my chin where I could kiss it again and again and tell him how much I loved him as his heartbeat and breathing slowed, then stopped. The grieving road came, at last, to tears.
Reggie and I are both still adjusting to life without our lodestar, our namesake, our Little Dude, our Mister Man. The organizing forces of Reggie’s life have always been either following or competing with Rudy; she has not known one day in our home that he has not also been here, until now. I always joked that Reggie ran our lives, but now I wonder. Perhaps Rudy ruled by deferring. We both feel lost without him.
Our friends and neighbors have been exceedingly kind to us in our loss, and I am so grateful for all the love we have been shown.
Rudy was, of course, the best. He was one of a kind and loved by all who knew him. Every dog owner says the same, and we are all correct.