My best friend

Leah and me in 2004

Leah and me in 2004

A few months ago on Twitter (or maybe it was only weeks?) I remember reading about Neil Gaiman losing his beloved dog. A few days ago, JC Hutchins spoke of the death of Lap Kitteh. I haven’t lost a pet in many years, but when my first horse died in 2003 the anguish was crippling, and I still have to blink back tears when I think of that horrible horrible night.

This morning Kyle, who got up before me, came flying in to wake me, saying something was wrong with Leah.

Leah is a pitt bull – catahoula hound dog mix. She is my best friend of 13 years. This dog saw me through my dissertation. She was beside my bed through a broken off engagement, 1 serious relationship’s beginning, middle  & ending, and a 2nd serious relationship complete with marriage . She has been along for the ride on 3 cross-country moves, and has dealt with the boxes that came with 6 changes of address. She has caught frisbees and balls. She has nabbed blue jays out of the air (and they were wet angry and unharmed when I took them from her). She has caught snakes in the grass (it was, err, harmed when I took it from her… but it slithered away). She has caught minnows in the water (and eaten them whole). She barks to keep me safe (or because she’s bored). And she’ll curl up in bed with me if I’m alone to keep me warm (but hop down with a sad whine/snort if a man comes into the bedroom).

Leah has been there. For all the parts of my adult life that matter, she has been there.

She turned 13 on Valentine’s day.

And this morning Kyle woke me up because something was wrong. She kept falling over. She was shaking. I feared it was a stroke (but her strength was even in both sides – she just had no balance). The vet thinks it is her inner ear – an old dog problem that makes their eyes twitch, and makes them feel like the world is spinning. There is medicine. She may get well. She is somewhat better tonight… but she is broken. She can’t stand without help. She can’t go up the stairs. Her brain is there. If you ask her to “high five” she knows she can’t lift her paw, so she rolls to paw up while laying on her back. She is alert. She is just… broken.

It is a lesson in morality – What do I do to provide the right hospice care? At what point do I say no more? That question wasn’t asked today, but I know it is coming. I had hoped that she might pass quietly, asleep on the patio watching the ground hog. She loves it there, wind bringing her the smells and the sun warming her fur. I can still have that hope. But today at least… she can’t get there alone. The dog door is too hard. The stairs to the grass – those three small stairs – are too much to do without help. The second story of our house… it is gone to her, at least today. I can hope she’ll heal. I can hope she will follow me up the stairs the next time she decides my lunch needs to be shared.

But tonight I am on the sofa, my best friend at my side. She is asleep on her bed in the living room, and when I’m done with my work I will sleep at her side. She has always been there for me, and I will always be there for her.

Leah versus Ball

Leah versus Ball (full Album on G+)

UPDATE (5/16/2013): Leah, my 13 year old mutt, is starting to do better. We still have her wearing a harness that allows us to help her up and down the stairs, but she’s able to go out and bask in a sunbeam on our porch at her leisure.

The diagnosis was vestibular disease. If you want to learn more so you can help your old guy or gal when they are in need, read up about the problem here.

 

15 Comments

  1. Ross Anderson April 25, 2013 at 2:28 am #

    You’ve brought tears to my eyes, the memories of my beloved border collie, Kiri, came flooding back. Hope it works out OK for you and Leah, if not, my thoughts are with you.

  2. Arturo April 25, 2013 at 2:28 am #

    Awww. She is very lucky to have you.

    I went through something similar with my best friend/companion last year. Well, the initial diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure was well before that and I did everything I could for him despite his cardiologist (who knew doggie cardiologists existed?!) giving him ~6 months. 7 meds, 2x daily and all those visits added up bigtime!!

    Long story short, after 18 months and finally having to have *that* discussion, his cardiologist suggested to me that I should pick 3 things he loves to do. If/when he can no longer do those 3 things then his quality of life probably isn’t what it should be.

    I thought that was reasonable and more helpful than other people telling me ‘you just know’. I loved him so dearly that I was surely going to be easily blinded to see things clearly. Her advice helped.

    I’m pulling for ya’ll!

    Arturo

  3. eddie April 25, 2013 at 2:36 am #

    That is too sad. I hope she recovers. My calico cat has been with me for 13 years,and I often wonder what life would be without that that fat, lazy feline brushing my leg with her tail when I get home from work. We kind of take the critters for granted until the thought of losing one of them becomes a stark possibility, don’t we? Best of luck to you and Leah.

  4. davoyager April 25, 2013 at 2:54 am #

    My heart goes out to you.
    Dogs are extraordinary beings. Science does not admit how aware they are and how many of the characteristics we usually consider human they have; and then perhaps the truly unique awarenesses they bring to a relationship that makes dogs in some ways our equals as a species on this planet.
    Two souls… have traveled the river of time together. This is forever.

  5. Lucas Randall April 25, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    Thoughts are with you Pamela. Our little friends mean so much.

  6. Kevin April 25, 2013 at 4:27 am #

    Oh dear sorry to hear this I will not have a pet because we live so much longer than them and losing them is too painful. I hope Leah recovers and spends many more happy years with you one thing that can be said is you have done everything and given Leah a happy and loving life. My thoughts are with you.

  7. Bob April 25, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    This is so tough. I have been there and will be there again. It never gets easier, but you have been there for her. You will make the right decisions. Hugs!

  8. Christiana Ellis April 25, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Sorry to hear about your puppy’s troubles. Our animal friends really become members of our family, and their love is so pure and uncomplicated that it is inspiring, but also heartbreaking when we must face the difficult decisions. Sending you my hopes that this is treatable and that you will be able to spend as much more time with your puppy as possible.

  9. Beth Katz April 25, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Hugs to you both. You’ve had a wonderful life together. I pray that this is just a mortality reminder and that you have many more years to share life’s adventures.

  10. Elaine April 25, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Don’t worry Pamela, she will tell you when “no more”. I have a 15 years old dog and she is getting blind e deaf and can’t walk alone anymore, but she still there, with those cute eyes, jumping (or trying) like a crazy dog when I come home. And every day she makes me remember why I love her that much. And that’s what is worth it.
    I really hope Leah gets better!

    Hugs to you both!

  11. Jeff Ligon April 25, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    I hope the medicine works for you and her. I had similar decisions to be made for a Boxer my wife and I rescued a number of years back and it’s tough and sucks and blows and hurts and eventually makes sense. I’m hoping for both of you that it doesn’t go there just yet. Give her a pet from my wife and I.

  12. Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum April 25, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    I’n sad to hear about this, Pamela. Stay by her side as she has stayed by yours. She’s a good dog!

  13. RapidEye April 25, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Pamela, very sorry to hear your buddy is struggling.

    What you are describing sounds like a condition called “vestibular disorder”:
    http://www.petside.com/condition/dog/vestibular-disease-canine

    One of our border collies came down with it when he was around 11 and a friend of ours had their older golden retriever also come down with it.

    They really don’t know what causes it and there is really nothing that can be done to treat it, it just has to run its course. Both our dog and our friends dog got better over the course of several months: their balance improved and their movements got more coordinated. Dramamine can help get them through the worst of it during the initial onset, but usually that isn’t required more than a couple of days.

    My friends golden was eventually back to %100 recovered with no lingering effects. Our border collie got back to around %90. He lived for another 2 yrs before we had to put him to sleep for other reasons, but he always had a slight head tilt to one side and was never able to climb stairs as fast or easy as he used to. He could get up and down them, it just took more concentration on his part and if one of our other dogs bumped into him while he was on the stairs, it would cause him to stumble. He also preferred turning one way over the other. Often times he’d do a 270 turn one way rather than 90 the right way.

    One thing to keep in mind is that dogs live in the now – they don’t get upset because they can’t do the things they used to do. It upsets us, but not them. They also are much more adaptable than we are. They’ll be scared for a while until they adapt to their new restrictions, but once they figure out how to get around again, they’ll be just as happy as they were before. I know it really upsets us to see them like that, but they aren’t in any pain and aren’t upset themselves, past the initial vertigo and scariness.

    Hang in there and hopefully Leah will be mostly back to normal in a couple of weeks and fully recovered in a couple of months.

  14. ZZ April 25, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    I’m sure you’ve given her a wonderful life up to this point.

    Was it Aurthur C. Clarke who asked in one of his books, why do we give our hearts so readily to these small creatures who have life spans so much shorter than ours? The nature of love, I guess.

  15. Hannah April 26, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    I just went through the same thing with my cat. He was 16 and had been through it all with me. He was my best friend. Sadly he didn’t get better but I hope your dog does!

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