Head’s up: frank talk of euthanasia and some raw language.
Cricket died on May 31st and I am not OK with that.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I guess “nauseated, furious rejection” of the whole idea belongs somewhere among the first two.
It’s just not OK with me. I don’t have strong beliefs about the afterlife (though please, those of you who do, I welcome your comments. I can take comfort from them). She is gone from my life here on earth and I’m not OK with that.
I can’t seem to write, except to write about her. Some for public, mostly for me. Folks have been kindly asking when I would blog about it—I guess I’ll give you the raw story.
It’s not OK with me that I remember so much of the past two years—no wait, that is OK—but I’m frustrated that I don’t have vivid memories of her in her prime. I am going through 800+ unnamed Flip videos that are no longer in a library and finding every one that she is in. Even if she is just barking in the background. Her “prime” means she was about 12 years old!
Cricket has had dementia for two to three years. She also had extreme neurological weakness in her hind end, and chronic, though not extreme, GI problems. For more than a year she has not had the muscle tone to sit in my lap without my bracing her. Her dementia was so advanced that for the past five weeks she could not figure out how to drink water on her own. Her neurological wires had gotten so crossed that she startled at almost any sensory input. She no longer had the muscle tone in her rear to sit normally; she splayed her hind legs out or let them both go out to the side, and hunched her back.
Yet she had a great appetite and still had pleasures in life. She was on medication for arthritis just to be sure, but I don’t think she was in much or any pain.
I have known for a year that this dog would not die a peaceful death at home. Her heart, other organs, and general constitution were way too strong. I knew I would have to intervene. In the past few weeks she has taken another step down into frailty and I have been waiting for some sign that the balance had tipped.
It happened on Friday. She threw up, then had an extended seizure. She aspirated vomit. She was with me at my office at the time and my coworker helped me care for her. After two hours she was still sputtering and had not gotten out all the matter, but I had already made the decision. If she had seized once, it could and would happen again. And the next time I might not be with her. Every time I left her home, as safe as I made things, there were ways she could hurt herself or suffer. The seizure was probably related to her canine cognitive dysfunction and she was way too frail to experiment with other treatment drugs.
Just like I have long known I would have to euthanize her, I have also known she was not going to go down easily. She’s just not that kind of dog. The last two animals I had to euthanize were both cats and both were seriously ill. One with cancer that had spread to the brain, the other with complications of diabetes. Both slid away from life with relief, one of them still purring.
In your dreams, Eileen. Everything I knew about Cricket said it would not go that way and it didn’t. I had been trying to prepare. Months before, I had asked the vet for an oral sedative to give Cricket before I ever brought her to the vet for her final visit so she wouldn’t be nervous. We “practiced” with a dose one day and I’m glad we did. Cricket got a paradoxical reaction and got all hyped up and anxious and weaved around drunkenly for a few hours. So much for that idea, and for my fantasy that she could already be relaxed and dreamy when we went.
But on Friday she wasn’t very anxious, at first. But she was completely alert and looking around and not liking the doctor, as usual. I didn’t try to give her treats since I was pretty sure they wouldn’t stay down. Though a perfect last meal had been part of the fantasy, too. (She had eaten very well and happily that morning, however.)
I spoke to the vet about giving her anesthesia first before even inserting the IV, and the vet didn’t recommend it, saying it could just lengthen the trauma, so I agreed to the standard procedure. Can’t know if what happened was better or worse than what would have happened otherwise.
The vet first administered anesthesia through the IV in Cricket’s front leg first, as is typical, before giving the drug that stops the heart. Cricket reacted strongly to the anesthetic, startling and whimpering. Damn damn damn. Horror. Then she settled down after it got into her system. After the infusion of the second drug, nothing happened. Cricket sat in my lap looking around. The doctor had given Cricket (who weighs 12 lbs), the dosage for a 30 lb dog and nothing at all happened.
The doctor brought a second dose. This time Cricket didn’t startle, so she must have been starting to get at least a little anesthetized. This dose (we were now up to the dose for a 60 lb dog) made her sleepy and slowed her metabolism. She essentially went to sleep in my lap, although my dear friend who was there said that she was still peeking out at the world. I watched her breathe. It was regular and a little slow, exactly as it was when she slept. And it stayed that way. The vet said her heartbeat was slightly irregular, was all. It was lovely to hold her when she was finally (probably, hopefully!) relaxed and asleep.
The vet got a third dose (up to a 90 lb dog dose now) and injected it directly into a back leg this time. I was desperate that this would startle or hurt her, but she didn’t flinch in the least. I hope it didn’t hurt. I watched her take her two last breaths. I held her close, probably closer than she would have liked were she awake and alive. But her little body felt so right up next to my breast, as always.
I asked the vet, not entirely joking, how she figured to get Cricket’s body away from me.
I asked for her ashes, something I have never done before. I’m an amateur potter and will make a little container.
My other dogs have much more freedom and will get more of my attention. After while. My life is so much physically easier now. But right now I basically don’t fucking care.
It is not all right with me that she is gone. I had 15 months to get ready for this. I thought we were coming to the end of the line ages ago. Perhaps it should have helped me prepare. But actually, I think it let me pretend that I would have her forever. As it should have been. The little Energizer Terrier, who keeps going and going.
Even now as I am sitting here I am waiting for her to walk straight up to me, stiff legged as always, stand straight and tall with those huge ears and look me in the eye, as she always did. Even when she could barely walk and see only fuzzily. (Other dogs hated her body language. Rude little terrier.) Waiting for her to find me wherever I am in the house and bump her nose to my leg just to be sure it was me. She fell away from the other humans in her life because of the dementia, but she always knew and loved me. We were each others’ anchors. And now I am adrift.
Because I remember the old doggie so well and want to remember the little spitfire, I made a video montage mostly from old training clips from when she was about 12. My training skills are rudimentary (why oh why did I repeatedly pull her out of position after the click!), I miss her ears with the camera half the time because I didn’t have a tripod, but it’s worth it to me to watch her. And I hope you all will enjoy seeing what a little ball of fire she was.
Two years after Cricket died, I released my book: Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. It won a Maxwell Award in 2016, and is available in paperback, hardback, and all major electronic formats.
Thanks for reading. Please remember my little girl.
- For a retrospective of our life together and lots of photos, see 10 Years With Cricket.
- For stories about life with an old dog see, “Poop in My Pocket: Life with an Old, Old Dog.“
- If you want to read about how Canine Cognitive Dysfunction affected her life, here is “Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.”
- And finally, I’m very proud of our movie “Polite Pet Behaviors and Enrichment for a Senior Dog.” She was still running down my back steps lickety split at age 14.
Copyright 2013 Eileen Anderson