From a few years ago, we came home and found Dakota sitting on the table.
When we went to Leadville, Dakota went to her normal doggy day care spot for the weekend. We weren’t excited about leaving her behind but it was just for 2 nights and we felt she was in good hands. Unfortunately, her body was working so hard to save her kidneys that it weakened her immune system and she picked up a urinary tract infection. Not a huge surprise but just another thing to deal with. So she went on some medication to solve that and she wasn’t tolerating it well. So we had to go with another type of antibiotic that is rarely used and very expensive. One shot of it was $107. But it fixed her in a day or so and we continued on.
Dakota became weaker over the month of July. Going up stairs was totally out now. She would just sit and I would scoop her up and carry her where she wanted to go. At night, I would come in the bedroom and she would be laying on her beach towel waiting for me to insert the IV while we watched TV together and I rubbed her belly. She usually fell asleep during this so I would just let her lay there until I went to bed. Then I would scoop her up and put her in bed next to me for the night. When I woke up, she would usually be sitting there waiting on me to wake up. Not making a sound or anything. Just ready for me to scoop her up and take her downstairs and outside to go potty. Annoyingly, Wyatt started getting up in the middle of the night in July and having to go pee in the middle of the night. While Dakota just laid there asleep after taking 500-700 mL of fluids. What a girl. Her bladder just adapted.
Well, over the last few weeks, the struggle became food. She got sick of the homemade diet of fresh cooked hamburger, rice, etc. She wore out from all the super fancy dog food that we were trying. I would have eaten that stuff on rice if I didn’t know it was dog food. I started doing whatever I could. I would run to Arby’s for a few days and get food. Then she didn’t like that anymore. Wendy’s Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger. That wore out. Chicken Nuggets. That wore out. It was mostly psychological. The way her vet explained it to us was that her levels were becoming increasingly toxic to her. She was nauseous all the time. So eating became associated with more nauseousness. Her brain was just telling her that everything is going to make her feel sick. So just don’t eat anything. A total mind game and dogs just aren’t smart enough to know that you have to eat to live.
About the only thing, she dabbled in at this point was some dirt from the backyard over the last few weeks. She would come inside with her nose all jammed up. I learned how to use Q-Tips so clean her nose out and get her breathing good again.
Kim and I took turns with various portions of Dakota’s regime but we both noticed that whatever we brought home to eat was not being consumed. In fact about Wednesday when we laid food down in front of her — a literal smorgasbord of anything you could think of from fast food, deli meat, crackers, cheese, everything in the kitchen — she would get up and walk out of the room. A new chapter had started.
We changed up a bit of medicine and did some extra dosages of IV fluids but no changes. She was starting to shake and not really enjoy being touched anymore. I gave her a bath and really noticed a major change in her body as her former gut was now a saggy bag of flesh — as if she had given birth and the skin was just hanging there. And then I noticed that she stopped drinking. At least I never could catch her.
I had hoped that Dakota could stay with us through the summer. On Friday, Kim and I talked and decided that something had to change in the next 24 hours or else all the signs were about fulfilled. When we would ask the vets the key question — when do you know its time? — they usually responded with a set of common answers. 1) Not eating. 2) Not drinking. 3) Not wanting to be with you. 4) Loss of control – muscles, bowels, etc. 5) Stroke. We didn’t need to see all of that. I still vividly recall our cat Cosmo literally falling down our stairs because his back legs went paralyzed in his stroke. I didn’t need Dakota going through something like that.
On Saturday, we woke up to find a big black pool of liquid feces and the rear of Dakota while she lay asleep in bed. She didn’t really know what she did or didn’t care. I carried her outside and knew another major gate had just been crossed. I didn’t need a lot more proof at this point. However, we had plans to go to the Boulder County Fair Parade so we got the kids ready and headed out. We were gone for a few hours and I returned unable to find Dakota. Finally, I located her under a bush on the side of the house. Probably getting cool out of the heat but she never has laid there ever. Probably hiding. She did come out to me and I had a talk with her in the yard. Sort of asked her the question — are you done? She looked at me with those sad eyes and seemed to say yes.
I took her inside and she laid on the floor. I put a bunch of food down in front of her again. Gave her the chance to eat if she wanted to. Eat one fucking chicken nugget if you want to stay here, I thought to myself. Any sign. Nothing. I told Kim that my final gate had been crossed when I found her outside curled up under the bush. She didn’t want to be here anymore. So Kim curled up with her on the couch for a bit while I got a few things done.
I told the kids to take Dakota out front and play with her. They took her out front and did a half-hearted visit with her. Being a summer day, they had big stuff to go do but I couldn’t tell them in advance. Just seems cruel and sort of sick. So I took a few pictures because that is how I remember and I loaded Dakota into the front seat of the car. I left Kim alone with her while I went inside and got my things. Came back and drove away with Dakota.
We headed over to the Emergency Animal Hospital in Longmont. I had sort wanted to wait till we could go to her normal vet but then again, we have other pets and I don’t want to have to think about going into “the room” with my other pets from now on. Plus, these guys do this daily. They are the pros. So we got to the hospital. Only ones there luckily. I gave them the low down. They put us into a room in the back. Nice new building. Had a big window. Big rug on the floor. Kinda like a living room. No medical exam table. I think Dakota thought we were at somebody’s house. The doctor came in and gave me the rundown and then took Dakota in back to install a catheter in her leg. Then she brought Dakota back into me and she sat in front of me on the floor. They asked if I needed some time but I said no. However, I probably took 5 minutes for them to come back in. Seemed like forever. I talked to her, rubbed her, cried, gathered myself. No vet. Repeat sequence. Finally the vet came in. She sat on the floor with us and we began. Dakota laid on me like we do the IV every night. I like to think she was like just another day being at the vet. They put the first vile into her that would just heavily sedate her. She let out a small sigh as if she was tired and never blinked again. The other injection followed and my hand was on her chest and I felt her final heartbeat. The vet checked her heart one last time, told me it was done and gently left the room. I like to think I don’t get too emotional — probably don’t day to day — but I swing high and low. And the swing low began. I kind of gasped for air and did a big cry and release. Felt bad and good at the same time. I took a picture because I felt like it. It reminds me that she was at peace. I laid there with her for 5 minutes and kept talking as if she was still there. But she wasn’t. So I left and went home.
I came in and gave Kim the news that is was over just to complete it for her. She was upset as well. However, the best medicine for me was to get busy. So I went outside and mowed and did what I needed to. But every time, I turned the corner it seemed like she should be standing there waiting for me. Barking. Chasing a butterfly. Whatever. But she was gone.
Kim and I relaxed later in the evening and went through some of the same stuff we have with every pet. You can’t ever get caught up in “when was the right time”. A few days earlier. A few days later. Oh well. I more like to think about the good times we had with her. I have a little regret like we all probably do about how I should have done this with her more or that. But life is a balancing act. You have kids. You get busy. Dogs are hard to keep in the forefront like they were the day you got them. But that is sort of their role. Always there for you. You don’t have to return that. They don’t seem to mind. They are loyal to you no matter what.
About the only thing I was apologetic to Dakota about while we were waiting for the vet was not nailing this disease for her. Renal (kidney) failure just happens. They don’t know why. Its a weird way to die because everything looks good from the outside but you are becoming toxic inside. We spent our fair share of money and time on this issue and it got us. It was diagnosed late and we weren’t clear on the consequences. For a while, we believed (per the vet and others) that a change in diet would slow and maybe solve the issue. But day by day her kidney function decreased. Everything we did to slow that and fight it was not working. I finally got a layman’s explanation a few weeks ago when they told me that kidney cells don’t regenerate. You just keep killing it because the scar tissue grows and pushes out the good stuff. Everything was against her. It was a matter of time. Well, luckily through our resources, we were able to give her a few more months of what we like to think was a decent life. I know she wasn’t feeling the best day to day but I think we had good moments with her. And I think she felt bad nearly all the time as we got to the end. We ran it all the way down.
When we took her to the specialist after the stroke at the beginning of the summer, they told us point blank — she isn’t going to come out of this. It is just a matter of time. I left there in shock and disbelief. This dog had just run up Mount Sanitas and beat me to the top a month ago and now she is going to the grave? Fuck you. Well, they had seen it 100s of times and they knew how it went. It stuck in my mind and we battled for time with her and glimpse of hope that just maybe she could go on and get through this somehow. It was wishful thinking of course but that is how life motivates you.
This fight wasn’t just for Dakota. It was for Wyatt too (our other Beagle). We got Wyatt to keep Dakota company after Dakota the Puppy proved to need a lot attention. We brought Wyatt home and it was love at first sight. They spent more of their lives together than with us. Always home together, patrolling the backyard. Years ago we joked that Wyatt wouldn’t know what to do without her. Well, time will only tell. As Dakota got sicker, she wanted less and less to do with Wyatt. Wyatt probably seemed so full of energy and vigor and it just wasn’t her deal anymore. He didn’t get that and we would see him try and get her interested but it didn’t happen. He had to deal with it like we did. So over time, I think he gave up on her a bit. My Mom posed the theory that since Dakota was the pack leader of the two for so long and now resigned that role in her sickness, that Wyatt kind of took over and isn’t looking back. I sort of hope so. Unfortunately, over the summer, Wyatt has gotten the outcast treatment. Always locked out so Dakota could have her food spread out and eat in peace without Wyatt trying to steal it all. Dakota used to steal his food back in the day so he wanted payback I think but we couldn’t let that happen. Wyatt would come over and try and get me to play with him while I was giving Dakota the nightly IV. Why no attention for me? Usually ended up with him getting locked out after his paw ripped the IV out of Dakota. I felt bad but I knew he would have his solo time soon.
So today I woke up and had no big thoughts on the matter. It is done. I felt bad but I have no regrets about the extra time we spent with her and the funds it took to do it. I think we called it a bit on the late side but hey I will never regret losing her early. You just can’t win that one. So I did what I do on most Sunday mornings, I headed out for my long run. 16 miles today. Got into Longmont, hit about 1/2 way at Main Street and started running south. Realizing that in 2 miles I would pass by where I left my girl yesterday. Would have been easy to turn off and skip that but I didn’t. I ran right there. I stopped my watch and went and sat on a rock that was just outside of that picture window where we at yesterday at 2 PM. I drank my water, ate my GU packet and remembered her. Stood up in tears and gave her a final shout out and headed back towards home.
She was only 8 years old when she died. But she will always be my puppy. So here she is as one. We will miss her!