Friday, April 29, 2016

Scarlett... we'll miss you

Shortly after we returned from our Thanksgiving trip to Ohio, Mommy B and I noticed that Scarlett wasn't eating much. This is a 7 1/2 year old Golden-something who hasn't missed a meal since we adopted her. At first it was just one meal here and there - maybe waiting to eat her breakfast until later in the afternoon or not eating her dinner until the next morning. But as the weeks passed, we noticed that she was going days without touching her food. We thought maybe she had just grown tired of eating the same dry dog food for 7 years. So, first we tried getting it a little wet so that it had a different consistency. That worked for a couple meals, then she stopped eating again. Next we tried getting her canned dog food to see if that would do the trick. Again, it worked for a couple days but then slowly tapered off and she would only eat a couple bites every couple days. As you can imagine, since she wasn't eating she didn't want to do much else. She would follow-us around the house and go outside to use the bathroom, but that was about it.

After watching this behavior slowly get worse over a couple weeks, we decided it was time to take her to the vet to check her out. The vet felt around and told us that he felt a rather large mass in her stomach area, but wasn't quite sure what it was. They also drew a little blood so they could run some labs. They informed us that it would take a couple days to get the results, so there wasn't much we could do at that moment. So we took the weekend to see if it was just a blockage that needed to pass, and would bring her back the following week to have an X-ray done on her so we could get some answers. The vet had called early the following week to let us know that some of her levels were high, so they definitely wanted to perform the X-ray to see what was going on.

Tatsy took her in to get X-rayed while Mommy B and I went to work, and the vet called Mommy B later that day with the results. He informed her that the X-ray showed Scarlett had developed a cancerous mass in her stomach area. This mass was pushing on her stomach which was making her feel full and thus not wanting to eat. He kindly advised that he could always try to surgically remove the mass, but there was no guarantees. For a dog that age, the rehab process would be long and hard... and there was no way of knowing if she would be "normal" again afterward. He didn't mention the cost associated with surgery, but I already knew the answer. Mommy B called me full of tears while I was leaving work to deliver the news.

I cried all the way home. Why? Why did this happen? Why did it have to happen so soon? She wasn't THAT old, how does she have cancer at this age? What will the kids think? What will they understand being so young? What will the house be like... feel like... without a dog? Will the next dog love us and the kids as much as Scarlett did? What if the next one seems nice but then bites or attacks the kids? So many questions and no answers... All I knew was that I wanted to get home and hug my poor doggy. For 7 years I've walked in the door from a long day at work and she has greeted me with a smile and a tail wag. That night was no different, only I held on to her for a long time when I walked in and sat on the floor.

Mommy B started crying right away, and of course I did too. The kids asked why we were sad, so we explained to them that Scarlett was sick and that she might need to go to the doctor soon. We tried to explain that when she went to the doctor, she wouldn't be coming home and that the doctor was going to help her go to heaven. Alli, never missing a thing, said "Will she see Grandpa Great?" Yes, Alli - hopefully she'll see Grandpa Great when she gets there. That might, Mommy B and I talked things over and made one of the most difficult decisions we've ever had to make as adults. We decided that surgery would be too expensive and too risky for a slim chance that she might get a little better, and we weren't about to watch her starve herself to death. So I made the ever-so-fun phone call to the vet the next day to schedule when we would put Scarlett to sleep. They had an opening on Saturday at noon, so I decided that would give us a couple more days with her and the kids would get to hang out with her for a bit that morning. Tatsy said she would come take the kids for that afternoon and evening so that Mommy B and I could have some time to grieve without the kids around. That night, we reminded the kids that Scarlett was very sick and that in a couple days we were going to take her to the doctor and he was going to "help her go to heaven" as they said.

So we tried to spoil Scarlett as much as we could the next couple of days. We let her eat table scraps, took her for walks every night, and basically just let her do whatever she wanted. On Friday afternoon, we took the whole family to a park down the street which also happen to belong to a neighborhood church. Fitting, we thought. The kids had fun playing with the dog one last time, and she had fun sniffing all the new smells. That night we made sure the kids gave her big hugs before they went to sleep and we took pictures of them laying on her. She had always been a saint when it came to putting up with the kiddos, so it made me tear up a bit watching them play on her.

The next morning, we all had a family snuggle fest on our bed including the guest of honor. After breakfast, we went for a family walk and played with Scarlett as much as possible. Tatsy showed up a little after 11, and that's when reality hit me - it was almost time to go. We had the kids give Scarlett big hugs again and told them that it was time for Scarlett to go to the doctor. They seemed to understand and Alli was visibly sad that this was the last time they would see the only dog they've ever known. After they left, we loaded Scarlett into the car and headed to the vet's office. When we arrived, they ushered us into a room with a pad on the floor where we could get settled. After a few minutes of waiting, they took Scarlett into the back so they could put in the port where they would inject the lethal drugs. When they brought her back, she was understandably a little skiddish, but I think the combination of being sick and not eat much for a couple weeks finally caught up to her. She eventually laid down in the corner and just let me pet her for a while. Maybe it was exhaustion or maybe wishful thinking on my part... but as I looked at her, she seemed very at peace. It almost looked like she was ready to go. Ready to stop fighting a losing battle with something she didn't understand. Ready to rest... finally.

The doctor came in and he explained how the process would work - how the drugs affected the body and what the reaction typically looked like. I had been through this process before with my own childhood dog, but Mommy B had never put a dog to sleep. After saying a few kind words, we told him we were ready. He injected another fluid first to flush the port, then injected the drugs that would quickly and painlessly take away our first family dog. It happened very fast, as it usually does. As the drugs made their way through her system, she coughed a couple times, then laid her head down and closed her eyes. The doctor listened for her heartbeat for a few moments, then told us what we had hoped not to hear for at least another 4-5 years... that she was gone.

I leaned down and thanked her for being such a good dog and for teaching me so much. About how to care for another life that depended on me (she was good practice before the kids came around), how to reset my priorities, how to see life through a dog's eyes, but most importantly to not take life for granted. She only got to spend 7 1/2 years on this planet, but she had a darn good life. Mommy B's biggest point of sadness was that her life had been cut so short... and while I agreed, I also reminded her that if it hadn't been for us rescuing her, she wouldn't have even gotten that. She did more in that short time than many dogs get to do ever. While she may not have gotten to live a very long life, she got to live a pretty great one. I gave her a big hug and kiss on the head, then got to walk out all teary-eyed to our car. The doctors have a large tract of land out in the country, where they offer to spread the ashes of any animal that they euthanize. Mommy B and I agreed that Scarlett would have wanted that instead of being stuck in a jar or box on the mantle.

I managed to drive us home, where we hugged each other and cried some more. I had gotten most of my crying out the night Mommy B had called and delivered the bad news, so I didn't have many tears left. Anyone who has ever been through this process knows the empty feeling you have when you walk back into the house afterwards. There were no kids around, and for the first time in 7 1/2 years... no dog. It was awful, and I knew that nothing was going to help except time. That night, Mommy B and I sat on the couch and watched some shows, constantly looking down to Scarlett's favorite spot on the rug. I had a beer for each year she was alive, recounting my fondest memories of her with Mommy B. There was the time we went running on the beach when she was a puppy. And how I took her for a walk every. single. day. until the kids were born. And the countless times she made me swim after her in the neighborhood retention ponds, then bathe her after I had dragged her home. And the time she escaped down the street only to come running back into the garage with a deer hot on her tail. Or all the moles she caught. All the nights she was up with us the first few weeks after each kid was born. And all the licks she gave to the kids as the grew up before her very eyes.

She was our furry first-born. And she will be missed dearly. I hope she actually is up in heaven with Grandpa Great, getting all the walks they both want. Goodbye, sweet doggy... we all will miss you so much.