We said goodbye to our sweet Tex yesterday. In his mellow, easy-going way, he waited to tell us he was sick until he was so far gone he made all our decisions for us, but it was still really, really hard.
Saturday seemed to start out fine for Tex. He slept in, ate his breakfast in an enthusiastic 90 seconds, and took his usual long nap followed by long nap. He went on an occasional walk around the house to check in on things and spent sometime outside sitting in his favorite bush (literally in the bush; he liked to be one with nature, or at least that one small piece of it). He ate his dinner with his usual vigor. And then, at about 7:30, when we let him back in the house after his evening constitutional, he started whining.
And he basically never stopped until noon the next day when we said goodbye.
He paced around the house, sitting in his bed only to get back out again. Tex feels very strongly about his sleep, so even without the whining we knew something was wrong. We worried he had a roofing nail in his foot, but a thorough inspection proved the feet were unlikely to be the problem. He'd settle for a moment and then get up again. At 10 we realized it was not something he was going to walk off, so we googled a 24 hour vet, and at 11 he and I headed out. Looking back I'm not sure why we waited, I think we just kept thinking he'd shake it off like he had other small discomforts over the last few years.
He was taken back for an examination and 30 minutes later, a very kind vet with very kind, very sad eyes sat down in front of me and took a deep breath. "Obviously, there's a lot going on here."
There were many many words... intercranial disc disease... advanced age... cancer... swollen lymph nodes... increased ocular pressure... at least two masses under the skin... possible fracture in the cervical spine... possible fracture in the shoulder... intense pain in neck... can possibly give him a few weeks or even months... could wake up paralyzed... could improve... there's no wrong decision... he's outlived his usual life expectancy... there's no wrong decision... you didn't miss anything you should have caught, sometimes they just wait until the very end to let us know that something is wrong.
I decided, through a myriad of texts and phone convos with James, to take the vet up on her option to give him the best pain shots and pills they could give him and bring him home. To let us see if we could make him comfortable. I deeply appreciated her gentle point that while they could do all sorts of tests- they're a state of the art emergency and oncology facility- unless we planned to treat the cancer and other issues, there was no real need to know where the cancer was. It was almost certainly there. He was very clearly in pain. Let's see if comfort is possible, then figure out if doing more is right.
So he got a shot and I got some pills and at 1 a.m. I pulled back up the driveway shocked to have a dog who was rapidly and painfully falling apart.
The night was terrible. He was completely freaked out from the pain medicine- panting, pacing, crying, yelping every time he turned the wrong way and moved his neck. Finally around 4 a.m. we moved his bed to the small laundry room attached to our bathroom, hoping the smaller space would force him to calm down and at least minimize his movement. We called the vet and got approval to give him another dose of oral pain meds. He didn't seem to know who we were and started any time we moved towards him or tried to touch him. Around 5 a.m. I could still hear him whining as I finally fell asleep.
The kids were up at 6:30 and so was Tex. I don't think he ever fell asleep. The outdoors seemed to calm him a bit, but he didn't touch his breakfast and didn't want us near him. We talked to the kids about what had happened overnight. Landon mentioned he could hear Tex whining at 9 and 10 p.m. while he was half asleep. We called the vet and they said to come back in. We talked to the kids again. We said we didn't know what would happen, but it was possible that we might decide that the best way to help Tex would be to put him to sleep. That for a dog he had lived a long time. That dog's lives are different from ours- they live for each day, and while yesterday had been a good day, today was not. That there were unlikely to be good days again and Tex wouldn't be able to understand why. That we were talking with doctors and we would all try to make the best decision for Tex because he was telling us he was hurting and it was our job to fix it.
I asked if they wanted to pet him or get a picture with him and they said yes. They seemed to understand what was happening- the fact that Tex hadn't eaten his breakfast was deeply unnerving for them. One of the kids has fed him his meals for the last 5 years and he inhales it with gusto each time. We were able to get a few gentle pictures, though Tex was skittish, particularly about his neck.
James took him to the vet, and unsure of what else to do on this thoroughly fucked up morning, I started a load of laundry and piled the kids in the car to go run errands. I was in Target when James called with an update. Basically affirming what we heard last night, except now we knew two common and effective pain meds were not helping in the least. Again, there was no wrong decision. The vet mentioned a cocktail of drugs they can use trial and error to create that can sometimes buy weeks or even months of relative comfort. But for what, we wondered? Tex was 13 or 14 years old. In our case, it felt like those extra days would be for us and not him. And the phrase trial and error made me think of more nights like the ones before and there was no way he could do that. We started realizing that his intermittent whining at night over the past couple months hadn't been bad dreams or the occasional wakings of old age. A million other small signs all came together to paint a very different picture than what we thought we'd been seeing. He hadn't slept since the afternoon the day before. There was no wrong decision, but it felt like there was a right one.
I asked if he wanted me to take the kids home and find a sitter so I could be with him. James said he felt like he was okay, that the doctor was supportive, that he just wanted it done. I checked out at Target, finding it bizarre that less than a mile away my dog was being put to sleep and no one in the checkout line knew it. I explained the situation to the kids when we got home. I made them lunch. I looked at pictures of Tex and tears just kept pouring down my face. He was such a calm and unobtrusive presence in our house, how could I already miss him so much?
James got home about 12:30, eyes bloodshot and face red. "It was so much harder than I thought" he choked out, "It was very peaceful. It was the first time he was quiet and relaxed since yesterday. But it was so hard. I didn't think it would be so hard." I hugged him as we both cried in the kitchen. The first time I've seen him cry in 13 years.
As we clutched each other, James's face buried in my neck, both of us dripping, Landon yelled the first of 6,000 questions about how exactly Tex died, "did his heart stop first or his brain? how did the doctor do that? did he get lots of shots or one big one? where is he? did you hold him after he was dead?". Claire announced her intention to adopt a kitten and name him Tex. And Cora stood on her chair, waving her string cheese in the air, yelling her grievances about my incorrect opening of the wrapper at her dad so he would know my shame.
After a moment, one of us started to chuckle in our tear and now snot-filled hug. It was so absurd. The string cheese stick was clutched in an indignant toddler's first, being haphazardly waved in the air, while Claire adopted a kitten in Tex's honor and Landon delved into the biology and chemistry of euthanasia. Life in all its brutal beautiful glorious chaos. And in 10 minutes I had to go teach a barre class because all the other teachers were out of town though I could not POSSIBLY think of anything I wanted to do less. James had to get out to his outdoor pool to fix a motor in the pump room. I hadn't eaten since yesterday. We needed groceries and the laundry needed to be switched. Glorious chaos indeed.
We miss him. We adopted him as a middle aged man in 2008 (from this amazing organization), a week before I took the bar exam, and over the last 8 years he has been a steadfast friend, consummate gentleman, James's coworker, and highly tolerant big sibling to 3 curious and affectionate babies. When we adopted him, he had been at his foster home the longest of any dog. This sweet, calm, noble, happy gentleman. I'm so glad he was ours. I'm grateful his suffering was short and he made our decision as easy as it could be.
Rest in Peace sweet boy. We miss you.
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