A couple of months ago, I wrote my “last” post on realsmallrealestate. But then, Sunny died.
Sunny was my wing-girl. I adopted her from a rescue organization on 14 May 2015. It was just after I retired and I finally had time to give my full attention to a dog. I had been turning over the idea of adoption for a few months, casually looking through shelter Web sites when I came across “Berta.” The description said she was the perfect dog: if you wanted to hang, she’d hang. If you wanted to move, she’d move. Just a few days later, she was mine.
The description was perfect. After adopting my first dog, Zack, an Australian shepherd who was known as the “mean dog” at my former condo complex, I was looking for a pup who was a little more–how to say–“visitor friendly.” Sunny (I changed her name from Berta) was just that. People would come by and she’d say hello, wheedle a few pets and pats, then head off to her bed or to the backyard. She was friendly-ish to other dogs, great with my rabbits and chinchilla, quiet, and mellow.
The organization told me she was a Basset hound-German shepherd mix who was two-four years old. A DNA test later determined she was a Basset/pit bull mix, but basically looked like a short Lab. She’d just had puppies–10 or so–and whether it was the strain of the litter, neglect in her last home, or overall poor health, she came to me with a few issues. My primary concern was patches of missing hair. The vet diagnosed her with Demodex mange, but the hairless patches were taking quite a while to regrow even after treatment, so I sought a second opinion.
The doctor confirmed it was mange, but then offered a bit of startlingly bad news. Demodex is not uncommon, but puppies’ immune systems generally overcome it in their first months. Dogs who have Demodex as adults “don’t last more than 10 years.” He confirmed this prognosis with scientific findings from a veterinary textbook that he brought into the exam room and quoted from it directly. I know some people may find this bit of “helpfulness” unprofessional, but I was grateful to know what I was up against. Plus, it was seven years away. Plus, if I just gave her a superior diet, loads of exercise, and no stress, I could beat it. She’d live a full life. I set the news aside.
And the years passed.
In November 2021, I had to find a new vet. My previous one retired without notice during the pandemic. I had run out of flea treatment, and she also had a few suspicious skin growths I wanted to have checked out, so I looked around for someone new and made an appointment.
During our first visit, the doctor recommended blood work. The previous vet had never done any, so we went ahead. Just a few days later, I got a call with the results. Some of Sunny’s numbers were out of whack, which may indicate a rare, but aggressive form of incurable cancer: multiple myeloma. The lab recommended a deeper dive. She needed to come back for additional testing.
As I waited for the results, I did some research and it was grim. With treatment, Sunny would live about a year; without treatment, she’d be gone in four to six weeks. The second blood test mostly corroborated the results. The vet recommended I bring her back in three weeks for a third round of testing.
As I processed the news, the words of the previous doctor reverberated: Dogs who have her condition don’t live past 10. She was in the zone. I was about to lose my beautiful girl.
I faced a decision. Treat or don’t treat? Quality of life or quantity of life? Which was the selfish decision? Which was the kind decision? Which was the right decision? I decided to continue giving her the best life I could and then say goodbye when it was time.
As the months passed, I put this whole stressful episode behind. Sunny looked good and appeared to feel good and I began to think the numbers were out of range for some other unidentified reason. Besides, it was presented to me as an extremely rare cancer. Of course, she didn’t have it.
In March 2022, I went straight to panic mode after finding a suspicious growth that I’d convinced myself was mast cell cancer. I made an appointment, but the vet couldn’t see me for one long week. By the time the appointment rolled around, the “cancer” had resolved. A false alarm. I kept the appointment anyway. The vet checked it out and ordered antibiotics. “Oh,” she added, “that cancer we discussed a few months ago? I’m not worried about it anymore. If she had it, she would be gone by now.”
In June 2022–so seven months after the first sign something might be wrong–we were back at the vet’s office. She’d been limping for a few weeks. At first, I thought she’d injured herself, but it wasn’t resolving. The vet took an X-ray and said she had hip dysplasia. The treatment included hip replacement, but the doctor thought we should begin with a more conservative option: a twice a week injection of Adequan. She ordered the medication and the first shot occurred three days later, Thursday, 9 June 2022.
Monday, 13 June: For the first time since I’d adopted her, Sunny wasn’t interested in her morning walk. I drove her to the vet a couple of hours later. She took her second Adequan injection and we drove home. I convinced her to take a quick spin, but she’d only made it a few blocks when she wanted to eat grass, then just lay down. She was better that evening. She walked, ate dinner, and generally followed her routine.
Tuesday, 14 June: She was back to her normal self. We walked about two and a half miles, and on the way back she did backflips when she saw Earl “the cookie man.” Earl didn’t have a dog of his own, but he bought dog treats and passed them out to the local canines.
Wednesday, 15 June: No hint of a problem; all was well.
Thursday, 16 June: At 1AM, she woke me up needing to go out and eat grass. This was a recurring behavior since I’d adopted her. Usually, she’d scratch at the door to get out, eat grass for a while, scratch to be let back in, sleep, eat or not eat in the morning, and be back to herself in a few hours. This time, she ate grass and followed up with a ton of water. She indicated she wanted to stay in the backyard, but I don’t like to leave her out at night. I got her inside, but a few minutes later, I heard her vomiting. At 3AM, she wanted out again. This time I let her stay outside. In the morning, I found she’d had a couple of more bouts of vomiting. This was not normal, but I didn’t think too much of it. She was always finding things on the street. I figured she’d gotten into something and would be better once it passed through her system. We walked to the vet’s where they administered her third shot. She wasn’t interested in walking much more afterwards, but we made it home. She skipped breakfast, but she ate dinner, and we took our usual walk that evening.
Friday, 17 June: I was going about my morning routine. Sunny was up as usual and headed for the backyard. A few minutes later, I caught a look at her face/body language that indicated another episode of vomiting was on its way. It came and it was profuse. I called the vet’s office. Was it the Adequan? Should we stop it? What was causing such nausea? The vet couldn’t see me. She said she didn’t think it was the medication, and no, we shouldn’t stop it, but she said I could come by for some pills to settle her stomach. The office scheduled an office visit to coincide with her Monday shot. I asked who they used as an emergency clinic on weekends…just in case…and got the name of a place.
Saturday, 18 June: For only the second time in seven years, Sunny was not up for a morning walk. That did it. Something was clearly wrong. The vet I’d been taking her to was a small office with limited staff, equipment, and hours. I needed a full-on emergency room to run all of the tests and settle this once and for all. I packed Sunny in the car and we headed to the ER.
Three hours later and the news wasn’t good. I can’t say I remember the conversation. I heard the words, oncologist, cancer, remission, death, and “I know that’s not the news you wanted to hear.” I finally began to put two and two together: the previous blood work, the intermittent infections, the gait issue, which was not hip dysplasia but the cancer. It had reached the point that it was impacting her bones. They wanted to keep her overnight, but only to “monitor her blood pressure.” I briefly considered it, but the news sounded so dire, I called back and said I wanted to pick her up. I needed her with me. They sent me home with a ton of medication. I didn’t use any of it.
That evening, I laid on the floor and petted her for four hours non-stop. Maybe things would be better in the morning. But they weren’t.
Sunday, 19 June: No walks. No food (day three). She half-heartedly ate a few sprigs of grass, so I knew her stomach was upset again. She was depleted. I had lost her.
I reached out to a home euthanasia service. The vet came at 4:18PM. Sunny passed a few minutes later in her favorite place, the backyard. It was a beautiful early summer Sunday afternoon. She left in a state of complete and utter peace.
It’s been a month and all that’s left are tears and second guessing. Maybe I made the correct decision, maybe I didn’t. I miss her desperately. I still call her into the house every night, “Come on, Sunny Bunny, time for bed!” I think I hear her soft snores during the night. I’ve been holding tight to every trace of her that remains in the house: the smudges along the bottoms of the patio doors where her nose pressed; blond hairs clinging to the patio furniture. I can’t bear to donate the collapsible stairs I bought to help her get into the SUV I that bought “for her” last year when I lost the Prius. I see them every time I open the back gate of the car, sitting on top of her pink camo cargo protector. In our time together, we took over 5,200 walks visiting so many, many, many places around town that every site sets off an emotional landmine.
That’s it. I thought this post would be therapeutic. It’s not as healing as I’d hoped.