Last Tuesday was starting out as a normal day. Woke up, found out our dog Shifter had pooped on the carpet, stepped in it, and dragged it around. We spent the morning cleaning up. Everything was pretty much normal as it has been for the past several weeks and months.
Shifter turns 15 years old this month. He's a dignified old gentleman, and has his age related issues, such as arthritis in his hips, fatty lumps on his leg, we're watching elevated liver enzyme levels, and he has even had a heart murmur over the past couple of years. But all in all, he's been doing quite well, all things considered.
I took the kids to school, and as I was dropping off Harold, I noticed my mobile phone was ringing. I didn't answer, thinking I'll check the VM after I get back to the car. Once inside the school, the teacher saw me and motioned to me to take the phone. Rita was on the other end, telling me that Shifter was having trouble, he was noticeably bloated, in pain, and coughing up foamy gunk. I should get home quickly.
Once home, I saw Shifter just as described. We gently got him into the back of the truck and we rushed to the vet, who was expecting us. They immediately took us in and began work to get him more comfortable and relieve his bloat.
The doctor came out to give us status updates. She said that Shifter's stomach had turned around, nearly all the way around, 360 degrees. He would need surgery, it would get expensive, it would not be easy for him. We know that he's old and has other issues, but we needed more information. The radiologist just happened to be visiting the vet's office and we agreed to have an ultrasound done to see what was happening inside of him.
We learned that a part of his heart was enlarged. If he were to have surgery to fix his stomach situation, it would be incredibly hard on his heart, and he might not even make it through. We had to make some decisions, we had to make them quickly. We weighed all the pro's and con's, going back and forth on what to do. I kept thinking that Shifter is the kind of dog that never wants us to leave him; he never wants to leave us. When we go on a day trip and can't take him, he's anxious all day long, going back and forth, from one side gate to the other, listening for our car to pull into the drive, waiting all day for us. He never wants to leave us.
Eventually, I asked straight out to the vet, What would you do? She was very careful in answering, but I could tell that she wanted to suggest that the best thing to do, for Shifter's sake, was to not put him through the difficulties of surgery, to let him go peacefully. He was already sedated, he had a tube down his throat to keep his stomach drained of fluids and gas. We probably don't want to wake him because he would begin to freak out.
At around 10:30AM, we made the difficult decision to let him go. He has had a good run, lasting longer than a dog his size and breed should. We were allowed to go into the back and be with him. His head was on folded sheets acting as a pillow, and he was under a fleece blanket with puppy imprints on it. He looked very much asleep, breathing, even snoring like we're used to, even with the tube stuck in his throat, held in place with a piece of white tape tied around the back of his head. His tongue was hanging out of the side of his mouth, away from the business of the tube.
We hugged and kissed and cried. We love this dog. He's been with me longer than anyone else in our house. I got him as a puppy, eight weeks old, he was, when I drove him home from Modesto. He puked in the back of the car, as little puppies are prone to do. He was born some time in mid October, 1997 which means he is almost exactly 15 years old. He had a great run. He was a lucky, lucky dog. He had only one home, one house, one owner, one family. And he reciprocated his good fortunes. He was never a bother. The only things where we had to take special pains, or had special pains, was when he would chew on things as a puppy; he tore open a bag of bbq briquettes and he chewed the plastic handle of a small screwdriver. And when he and I climbed Mission Peak in Fremont, when Rita was at a baby shower when pregnant with Penny, his paw pads got worn down raw from the hot trail and I had to carry him down the steep trail over my shoulders, 65 or 70 pounds of dog around my shoulder. Other than that? Nothing. He has been a good dog all along.
I continued to pet him under the blanket and felt his heart racing. We stayed with him for another 15 minutes, the doctor giving him more sedative to keep him sleeping. We hugged and kissed and cried some more. How will we tell the kids? How will they react? Is this even happening? All these things racing around our heads.
We finally had to give the word. The vet put a different syringe into his IV, this time with a pink solution, rather than the milky white she had been pushing into him previously. Shifter's breathing slowed and his heart began to relax, not racing like it had been. Over the course of a couple of minutes, I could no longer feel his heart beat, and I could no longer sense him breathing. All the solution had gone into his IV, and he was checking out, falling asleep for the last time. We stayed with him for another few minutes, crying, tearing, still wishing this day had not come. Gave him a few last kiss sniffs, trying to sense that puppy smell that I still get once in a while, trying to remember his physical essence.
Then we left. Left without him, for the first time in 17 years, I was dogless.
The staff at the animal hospital could not have been better. The two veterinarians (DVMs) were the people that had dealt with us along along this path all morning, coming out to give status updates, helping us with the most difficult decision, and consoling us. Really, we could not have asked for better care for us, or Shifter.
Shifter, it amazes me what a remarkably good dog you have been your entire life, and all that we have been through, from coming home, having a new master move into the house and into your life, to having a human baby show up, going through the remodel, having another human baby show up, all the camping trips, and all the times we had to leave you alone at home on your own, or at a neighbor's house. You have been the best dog. Ever. We miss you.