I don’t know where to start, so I think I’ll start at the end. Or the beginning of the end, rather. Last weekend Connor had three seizures. Two within two hours, the third a little different than all the rest, with a prolonged stage of stumbling before he went into the grand mal. On Monday I called the vet to discuss our next steps, which I assumed would be another dose increase. And the vet did advise a dose increase and left a refill of meds for me at the front desk. But he also told me he was still concerned that we could be dealing with a brain tumor and that either way we weren’t looking at a very good long term prognosis. He was unhappy with how quickly the seizures had progressed and how quickly we had to increase the doses. The seizures only started in August. He told me at some point, even if it was epilepsy, we would have to make a decision about quality of life. Evaluating the balance between managing the seizures and having a dog doped up on high doses of anti-seizure medications.
The conversation sat heavy in my gut. I had done a pretty good job of believing we were just dealing with seizures, and as complicated as it was, as much as his personality changed (we assumed due to the medications) we would keep marching down that road and pay as much as we could manage for the medications for his seizures. But the conversation with the vet yesterday brought me back to a reality I had convinced myself couldn’t be real. I called my mom. I called my good friend. I cried, I talked. I worked on reports in between fits of worry and sadness. And then the headache that had been mounting with every tear I tried to hold in got too much and I decided to leave work early. I cried on the way out to my car. I cried on the way to the vet’s office to pick up the medication. And then I told myself how ridiculous I was being, I would go home, I would take the dogs to the back yard and we would lie in the grass, take photos with that crisp spring sun shining down on us. It was not to be. My gut was right.
As soon as I walked in the door I knew something was wrong. Shelby ran to me as usual. Connor sat in the room in front of the door and looked at me. He did not come to me, he did not even look like he recognized me. I said his name and saw the slobber on his side. I figured he must have just had a seizure and was still coming out of it. I tried to approach him to comfort him, as I have done every time he has had a seizure. He shied away from me, not moving, but pressing his body back away from me. I tried to grab Shelby and approach him with her next to me, thinking that would help his recognition. Shelby wanted nothing to do with him, and he pressed himself further into the wall, trying to keep away from us. He trembled as we approached and started foaming at the mouth. At this point prickles of fear started forming on my neck. He was foaming at the mouth so much I was honestly alarmed that he could be rabid. Or that he would attack me or Shelby out of fear. I put Shelby in the kennel and came back into the room with him, his body continued to tremble and he foamed more and more at the mouth.
At this point I called the vets office, in what I’m sure was traumatic for the poor reception gal. Into the phone I sobbed that my dog looked rabid and I didn’t know what to do. She got the vet on the phone who told me to get him into a room alone where he couldn’t hurt himself or me or Shelby. I approached him and tried to take him by the collar, I do think I got close enough to brush his ear, but he shied from my touch. I didn’t want to push the issue, so I let him be and left Shelby in the kennel. I stepped outside and called my husband, asking him to come home immediately.
My husband at first thought it was just another seizure, and he’d get home and Connor would be normal and we’d all go for a walk. When he got home, he too was alarmed by the state Connor was in. We called the vet back, desperate for help. We couldn’t entice him with treats, couldn’t get him to move from his spot in the room, couldn’t get him to follow commands. There was no way we would be able to get him loaded into the truck to take him to the vet.
We made arrangements for a house-call vet to come out. She was the first person to talk about putting him down. Up to this point, despite his wild state, I thought we’d get to stabilize him and get him back. We didn’t. The next hour, waiting for the vet, he declined further into repeat seizures and the throes of death. We didn’t know that’s what we were watching. We tried to talk to him, to comfort him, but he didn’t even seem to recognize our voices, the sounds just frightened him.
When the vet finally arrived, he was gone. He was still warm to the touch, but he had left his body. She took a paw print and filled out the paperwork for the doggy undertaker to come and remove his body. She left and we sat alone with him, stroking his fur and saying our goodbyes. My parents came over and said their own goodbyes. This dog was a favorite of many. The younger and wilder of the two, he captured hearts with his cuddly nature and big personality. My parents mourned him as much as we did. And so we sat, the four of us, around his body. We poured a drink, toasted his honor and essentially held a doggy wake while we waited for the guy to come pick up his body.
We sent him to the canine morgue wrapped in a blanket and draped with lilacs and white flowers from our yard. If a dead body can be beautiful, his was.
Really, Connor gave us a tremendous gift in his death, he made the decision for us. He didn’t make us decide that it was time to put him down. There was no doubt left to haunt us. It was his time. You can’t ask the universe “why?” because you’ll never get an answer, or one that really makes sense. But I did ask my parents, why did we have to be the people who only got to have this dog for so little time? Why did we have to have a dog who ended up with a brain tumor and died in a dramatic and rather tortured way? My mom simply said “Because someone has to.”
“And because we’re strong enough to handle it?” I asked.
In unison, both of my parents said “Yes.”
We were lucky to have Connor. His full name was March’s Chance O’Connor. Because he was born in March, the house that we had just moved into belonged to the O’Connor’s for many years and their names were in several spots around the house. And the Chance came from the fact that I desperately wanted Connor, but Dean was unconvinced we should be getting a second dog after just buying a house. So we flipped a coin. And my side of the coin won.
That big goofy bastard could be a huge pain in the ass. He was always too aggressive with other dogs. He chewed important things long after his puppy stage. He constantly stole food off the counters. But he was so full of love for life and for me and my husband. He would wake up in the morning and come wake you up, yawning and yowling and telling you how happy he was to greet the day and to see you again for another day. I wish I had half of his exuberance to meet the day.
I started a draft blog post to give people encouragement when coping with dogs with epilepsy. I had it mostly written, but I just hadn’t got around to refining it and posting it. I’m glad I didn’t. I would have felt like an ass hat, telling you how to cope with epilepsy and then a month later having my dog drop dead. Well, writhe into death. Dropping dead would have been a blessing. I think I’ll still work on that post, because some of the information is valid, but it will have a sad conclusion now. And I’m not sure that’s what owners who have dogs with epilepsy want to hear.
We had an amazing run with him. He got to travel cross country with us for our wedding in Wisconsin. He took hikes in all the states along the way. He even got to ride in a cage elevator in a hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota. When we checked into the dog friendly hotel in Cody, Wyoming he lifted his leg and peed on the bed skirt as soon as we got into the room. The very next day we hiked with him and Shelby east of Cody and watched wild horses as we walked along a dirt road. He and his sister got sprayed by a skunk at least 4 times in his life, I’m sure to his delight and our misery. He hiked to Crater Lake outside of Teton Village in Wyoming. But the biggest thing he did for me, was adore me. That dog would be anybody’s best friend, he loved being with people. But he absolutely would have followed me into fire. I never had my own dog growing up, I never had a dog I really connected with before the way I did with him. When an animal trusts you, loves you, believes in you, the way he managed to communicate, you don’t soon forget it. If ever.
There might be some people who won’t get my grief. Who have had way more trauma in their life and think I should buck up. If anyone ever disparages your grief, just move on. Grief is highly personal and varies so greatly from person to person. And no one should ever determine what should cause someone to be more or less upset or depressed.
But even in the deep end of my grief, less than 24 hours since my dog left this world, I have found pockets of humor. We have joked about how he saved us a lot of money, because we got to return that $113 dollars’ worth of medication I just refilled. It sounds a bit morbid, I know it is, but it made us LAUGH. I’ve talked before about needing to have humor to get through life, well, getting through death is no different. It’s fucking depressing and I will make jokes all I want if that’s what helps me get through. (I apologize to my mother-in-law for using the F word, but I think this painful topic warrants some stronger language.) And whatever helps you get through, is what you should do. Unless meth and robbing liquor stores is what helps you cope, then I think you may have gone too far.
As much as it hurts, as dramatic and traumatic as his death was, my life is richer for having him in it. You can’t ever let the threat of pain hold you back. You can’t have joy without pain. If you have dogs, go take some selfies with them, give them a couple extra treats and really live in the moment with them. Life goes so fast, make sure you absorb the good times as much as you wallow in the bad times. And send me pictures of your dogs, or tell me dirty jokes, or tell me your sweet animal stories.