This weekend has been one of the most unexpectedly difficult times of my life. It’s not yarn-related at all, but this is my blog and I need to let some things out. It’s not going to be fun, it’s not going to be happy, it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be the kind of thing I normally share. But today I need to share.
If you’ve read my About Me page, you have seen the bit about our pets. If you haven’t made it over there yet, let me introduce you to Emmy:
Something you should know about my husband and I, as well as our other dog, Toby, and Olivia the cat, is that we’re all a very laid back, easygoing, quiet bunch. Emmy, on the other hand, is rambunctious, energetic, noisy, and to be completely honest, I’m still in awe of how I ever achieved the monumental feat of capturing this image of her. She never looks at cameras, she never sits still like this, and nearly every photo we’ve ever taken of her has been followed by three more or so, because she was born with an incredible talent for knowing the precise moment a shutter would close and the ability to move just a split second before hand, resulting in an infuriating black and brown blur.
Emmy was the only surviving black puppy (one other black puppy didn’t make it) in a litter of brown babies from our friend’s rescue dog back in 2012. We initially balked at the idea of bringing on a second dog, Toby being our first ever. Could we afford another dog? Did we want to go through puppyhood again? Toby had just reached the age where we didn’t have to spend every moment watching him like a hawk and teaching him good behaviors. But we also knew that we couldn’t play with Toby the way another dog could. He needed a friend. And Toby, although he was “our” dog, was still kind of “my” dog. Joey needed a “his” dog. A couple of visits when she was only weeks old, and he was convinced too.
While she had an obviously different temperament, it didn’t take long to convince us that she was meant to be a part of our little family. It was interesting to note the differences between her and Toby as she grew and we got to know her. Toby is very “chill,” while Emmy is like a coiled spring. Toby will growl and let out an occasional low-key boof, while Emmy tends to randomly, without warning, let out a loud, jarring bark that I am convinced could one day land me with a heart attack. She seems to have a stronger sense of smell and hearing than Toby, and is usually the first to react to a sound. Toby is much more resilient than Emmy, who is extremely dramatic and vocal. Toby will literally run circles around you when he anticipates a car ride, while Emmy will barf before even reaching the end of the driveway. Toby is calm, Emmy is nervous. About everything.
Since Toby is a Westie, he has itchy skin problems that we’ve been battling for years now. But we’ve finally found a formula of medication combined with a regimen of medicated shampoo baths that allows him to live a normal life, if we are diligent. Emmy is a mutt, and we often refer to her as our low-maintenance dog. She hasn’t had a quarter of the amount of baths that Toby has had during her lifetime because she doesn’t seem to get really dirty or smelly (which is quite the opposite of Toby). Emmy is quite a bit more athletic than Toby. She loves to run and she’s never really had any health issues.
Until about two weeks ago.
For no apparent reason, Emmy started doing something strange. That’s not exactly unusual. She’s always doing strange things, but this was something new and unusual even for her. She would smack her mouth like she had something in it (we checked and never saw anything), and then would make swallowing motions. We thought it was weird, and asked a relative who manages a veterinary office if she’d ever seen anything like that and she said she hadn’t. We thought maybe she’d be over it in a few days and that if she appeared to not get better or grow worse we’d contact our vet.
A week later, she seemed to be doing the weird thing less, but we noticed she was eating slower than normal. Usually she and Toby both inhale their dinner, and Emmy is always faster at eating than Toby. We suspected that maybe she was having some kind of tooth pain, and since she was still doing the weird thing, we decided it was time for a vet visit. Two weeks ago today, we were at the vet office where they sedated her and checked out her mouth and x-rayed her to make sure that she hadn’t eaten anything bad that would be causing issues. They also took blood for testing. We were allowed back to see her mouth and what they found, which was a couple of fibers on one tooth that we suspect may have been from her rope toy, and some unusual red abrasions on her upper soft palate near her throat. Other than that, her x-ray showed nothing unusual and her blood test only showed a slight irregularity in her blood cells. We were given anti-inflammatory and light antibiotics to treat what was found.
A couple of days later, she began not wanting to eat. We tried using a little water to soften her kibble, and that seemed to help at first. Since we wanted food on her stomach so she would keep the medication down, we did everything we could to convince her to eat. We wondered if she might have a UTI. She would drink a lot of water, and had to urinate frequently but didn’t want to go outside or up and down the stairs. We noticed she was not pooping regularly, so we tried running with her in the back yard and taking her on walks to get her bowels moving. Since she wasn’t eating much, there probably wasn’t much to eliminate, but we wanted to make sure she could go if she needed to. We even suspected she might be having abdominal pain. During all of this, she very clearly communicated that she did not want anything to do with Toby, who didn’t seem to understand that she didn’t feel well.
Toward the end of the week, she woke us up at 2 or 3AM two nights in a row whining and trying to get out of her crate. We would let her outside to urinate, and as soon as she was in her crate, she would start all over again. Eventually, we let her out of her crate and let her sleep in dog beds, but the night following that, she seemed fine to sleep in her crate. We thought maybe she was making progress toward getting better.
On the food front, at one point, she would only eat tiny pieces of Milkbones, and then she threw up half of that. Eventually she lost interest in all forms of food, but we were told that as long as she continued to drink water, she would be okay, as we continued to be in communication with our vet to report her condition.
Emmy grew more lethargic every day, even as she was restless. It was like she couldn’t get comfortable, and she was constantly back and forth between two dog beds and her crate. She even began inexplicably pacing. In response to our concern and frustration with her condition, our vet told us on Wednesday that we could contact a couple of different specialists, one of which was for gastro-intestinal issues, and another was somewhat a specialist in dental issues. We made appointments with both, but the earliest we could be seen was Monday with the dental vet, who also mentioned that the spots on her throat might be related to an autoimmune issue, perhaps as a result of a tick bite. Believe it or not, that actually made us feel better. At least we were on the road to answers. Not knowing what was wrong or how to treat it was beginning to drive us batty. Part of the scheduling for the Monday appointment included having her seen at our vet on Friday to get another x-ray and round of bloodwork so that she would be that much more prepared for Monday.
Tuesday night, when we put Emmy in her crate for the night, she got very nervous and threw up. Joey got up to clean it up, and I got up to use the bathroom. When I did, Emmy all but ran after me. Another unusual behavior. Wednesday afternoon I took some photos and video of her. She was obviously miserable and weakened. When standing, she trembled on her legs as if she could barely hold herself up. When walking, she couldn’t walk straight. When lying down in her dog bed, she fell into it. I thought it would be good to have those to show the vet on Friday and Monday. I was feeling incredibly frustrated that there didn’t seem to be any urgency to help my dog feel better. We let her hang out on our bed all evening. Helpless to do anything for whatever was ailing her, we made every effort to at least allow her to be comfortable while she waited for Friday’s vet appointment.
That night, we let her sleep in the dog bed again and didn’t even try to make her get in the crate. I was leaving for a girls’ weekend at the beach in the morning, and wrestled with myself all night and the next morning about whether I should stay home. I was understandably worried about Emmy. Thursday morning, I picked her up and let her lay on our bed while I did my last bit of packing and preparing to leave. She was drooling profusely, the way she normally does when she’s in the car and nervous about getting car sick. I didn’t want to read anything into it because I was feeling so guilty about the fact that I was going to be leaving for the weekend, but I felt like she knew I was leaving on a trip and didn’t want me to go. As we drove 300 miles to Ocracoke, NC, I vented all of my frustrations to my mom and sister, even that I hadn’t expected her to survive the night. I had almost stayed home, but I knew that she was in good hands with Joey and he would do anything he needed to for her. He kept me posted throughout the day on how she was doing.
Finally, on Friday, I heard from Joey after the vet visit and he said that she had nearly identical results from her bloodwork, and still nothing on the x-ray. The vet said that as long as she’s still drinking water, she’ll be fine until Monday. The abrasions on her throat had disappeared, which although puzzling, we considered a piece of good news. We felt a touch of relief to know that apparently things weren’t as bad as we thought. We’ve never dealt with anything like this before, and I kept wondering if I was making mountains out of molehills. Toby has been sick before, but not in a way that couldn’t be explained. The same with our cat. When Joey shared a photo Friday night, I felt even better. I consider myself a reasonable person, but maybe I was just overreacting?
Saturday morning, Joey called me just before 7AM as he was getting ready to go to work, in tears. Emmy had passed away sometime during the night. And I was 300 miles – 6 hours – away. He told me not to try to come home. We’d be leaving in the morning anyway, and there was nothing I could do.
Now, there’s something about me that I’d like for you to understand, but that is extremely difficult for me to communicate to people. I love my dogs. I do. But I don’t worship my dogs the way our society seems to. And I confess, I’m one of those people who never used to get why there was always such an outpouring of condolences whenever other people shared that they’d lost a pet. After all, they’re dogs, not people. Why are we making as big a deal about the passing of a pet as we do over the passing of a relative? Maybe it’s just because Toby and Emmy are my first dogs? They are part of my family and I love them dearly. But they are dogs, not humans. I don’t have a problem making my dogs move off of furniture when I want to sit down or go to bed. And they don’t have a problem moving. That’s how we raised them. We never want them to suffer or be mistreated, but they are not royalty. I always tend to roll my eyes when I see people say things on Facebook or wherever about how they guess they’ll have to sleep on the couch tonight because their dogs have taken over the bed. That kind of thing would never fly at my house. We don’t intentionally harass our dogs to any extreme, and we don’t allow them unreasonably put us out. I even made the comment a couple of times during Emmy’s illness that we needed to be selective about allowing her to sleep outside of her crate, because it is important that she sleep in her crate. People are people and dogs are dogs. We have a healthy respect of boundaries on all fronts.
Still, we’ve had discussions ever since Toby was a puppy about how awful it was going to be whenever he died and would look sternly at him and say “You’re not allowed to die, Toby.” I’m pretty sure this same ritual had been performed several times with Emmy. These statements would always be followed by an inquisitive head-cocking, some hugging, and some exasperated sighing from the canines who were unable to escape our strong loving grasps under their own power. We’ve thought about their deaths in passing, and knew that it would be difficult when the time came, several years from now.
Nothing has prepared me for this.
I had some emotional moments from Saturday morning until arriving home on Sunday evening. But nothing prepared me for walking into my house and Emmy not being there. My house is just wrong now. Her absence is overwhelming.
I finally had the big cry I’d been holding back all weekend. As it all sinks in and settles into my brain, it’s hard to think and to be productive. Every time I wake up in the morning, there’s no Emmy to whine and drive me crazy until I let her out of her crate. Whenever I shower, there’s no Emmy to sniff around the door when I get out and be wary of the towel turban on my head. Whenever it’s time to feed the animals, there’s no Emmy shaking with anticipation of her food. There’s still an indentation in the carpet where her food and water dishes used to sit. There’s no one to watch and scold for eating grass in the yard whenever we let Toby out to potty. One less set of toenail claws scratching on the hardwood floor. One less cookie to give out before bed. No more demanding that Joey change or lint roll his shirt before hugging me because it’s covered in dog fur.
No wiggly ball of energy barking, whining, and dying to greet me when I come home. Her new crate stands empty with the exception of the purple crate bed she last slept on. We chose purple as “her color” before we even brought her home. We can’t bring ourselves to remove the crate yet. Nor the little purple doggy bed we bought and put under the desk in “her spot” because she didn’t like to share with Toby. It’s still there, under the desk, waiting for her to come and curl up in it. But that won’t happen anymore.
She won’t be there to gallop across the yard when she’s ready to come inside from pooping. She won’t come running from out of nowhere with her rope toy hanging out of her mouth begging for someone to throw it and let her chase. No more growling tug-of-war games.
She won’t be there to beg for petting or lick everyone and everything in sight. She won’t be there to demand to sit in our laps. The house is unusually quiet. I no longer have to check under the desk before I move to make sure I don’t accidentally step on her or kick her in the face (neither of which were actual common occurrences, btw). There’s no one to crawl into my lap while we wait for Joey to finish giving Toby his bath. No more funny little face to get in the way of book reading.
So much about her was unique. I never used to understand what people meant whenever they said that dogs had different personalities. I never really experienced it until Emmy became part of our family. I wasn’t prepared for that. I wasn’t prepared for the realization that I would actually miss all of the little things that annoyed me. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that I’d never get to pet her soft head and velvety ears anymore. I wasn’t prepared for how badly I would want one of her snuggles, in which she practically climbed me to get her chin resting perfectly on my shoulder, the closest she could get to the way I used to hold her as a puppy during those visits when she wasn’t old enough to come home yet.
I wasn’t prepared to mourn this dog more than I’ve mourned some humans. After all, people are people and dogs are dogs. Growing up I had fish, hamsters, birds, rabbits, and even hermit crabs that died. I was prepared for it to be more like that. But dogs are dogs. And this is different.
I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye to a 3.5 year old dog. I wasn’t supposed to have to say goodbye to my 3.5 year old dog. When I sat with her Tuesday night in the bedroom, trying to coax her to eat something… when she crawled up in my lap instead… when she climbed up as best she could, but was too weak to do it on her own, I helped her and I held her and she snuggled her chin onto my shoulder. I laid back on the bed with her, and she laid on me, her head on my chest, while I petted her and tried to stay the worry and think calming thoughts, and she rested. I didn’t know I was saying goodbye.
We want answers, I think partially for closure. We want to know what caused this in case the same thing could happen to Toby. And for peace of mind, to know that we did everything we could have done. In hindsight, I think we both wish we had pushed the vets a little harder, but they were all baffled, so what else could they have done? So we also want answers for them; in case this ever happens to someone else, they’ll know what to look for. Results of Emmy’s necropsy (doggy autopsy) won’t come for a week or two, because the person conducting it has already told us that there’s nothing obvious yet, and that they will have to do some culture and microscope work, which will take some time.
Meanwhile, there’s a great big Emmy-shaped hole in our home, in our hearts, and in our lives. And I’m still not prepared for that.
Update: So we got the results earlier than expected, and it’s a doozy, y’all. Apparently Emmy died from granulomatous meningoencephalitis. I’ll save you the Google search:
“Granulomatous meningoencephalitis, or GME, is an inflammatory autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that comes on quickly and is life-threatening. The condition is most often seen in small breed, female dogs between the ages of six months and ten years. There are three forms of GME, and a dog can develop more than one variety. Onset and symptoms depend on what form the disease takes and its location in a dog’s body. In multifocal GME involving several locations within the central nervous system, sadly, survival time is often measured in days once the disease is identified.” Source.
So I’m left pondering the fact that our dog died because she was a small, young, female dog. That there was no apparent reason for her illness, and no apparent treatment. So even if it had been diagnosed before she died, there was nothing we could have done except make her comfortable and prepare ourselves for her death. Which, actually, might have been a little nicer than never seeing it coming, but would have potentially involved some very uncomfortable and very expensive testing that would have been unpleasant for all of us.
We’re completely baffled by this. In a way it’s nice to know that it didn’t happen as a result of anything we did wrong, and that we truly did everything we could and nothing could have been done to produce better results. I guess the Lord saw fit to give her to us for a short time, and I can be thankful that we had any time with her at all, but I’m still not sure exactly what to make of all this. All I can say is, hug your puppies and love them well.