The dog who lived


“A bad good dog will just about break your heart.” — my friend Al. This sounds like a line in a country song, but it is the truth.

Two week ago today, my dog had a severe & acute hemorrhage and almost died. I cannot tell the story of the actual event because it was too horrible. And it already feels like so long ago even though two weeks are not such a long time. They have been some of the worst days I can remember, and certainly they have been no picnic for him.

I am thankful for many things: I was home when it started happening and was able to rush him to the emergency hospital. My parents were able to be there with me for the worst of it that night. The hospital is only a few minutes away and from what I can tell is very state of the art and the best in the state. They saved him. They saved him that first terrible night, and they kept saving him and saving him, day after day, for a week in the ICU.

They saved him through a shock dose of fluids and through every blood transfusion and plasma transfusion. Through every x-ray, ultrasound, and test of various numbers that they had to watch constantly. Numbers I never knew about until this happened but have come to know intimately. Packed cell volume. Platelets. Coagulation times. In the wrong direction these numbers would go, filling us all with sorrow, and transfusion then transfusion then transfusion would help to get them on the right track, only to worsen again. Finally they started to hold steady and then improve. Finally he was strong enough to come home.

It has been terrifying all around. He is not out of the woods. He is on ten pills per day, pills that I cannot bring myself to force him to take, so I bring him to the vet twice a day to have it done there. I have resorted to charts to check things off and keep track of all the doses. (I am so grateful that my regular vet is down the street and that they are doing this free of charge.) He did not eat anything of substance for about 9 days, but he is finally starting to eat a little bit. He would not touch boiled chicken and rice, scrambled eggs, peas and carrots, cottage cheese — all bland foods recommended by the hospital — or about fifteen varieties of the fanciest canned dog foods on earth. The only thing he seems remotely interested in eating, and that is just in the past few days, is cheap, plain old Purina Dog Chow. Who knows why. He has always been a very weird dog.

Now what. I am learning about all kinds of new things. Bilirubin levels. Splenic thrombus. Apparently when you lose buckets of blood, your whole body takes a beating and various organs can start malfunctioning. A few of his organs are in bad shape, possibly dire shape, and he is being medicated for that and hopefully time will resolve the rest.  If not, I am not sure what else I can put him through. There is the real possibility of relapse and of the need for emergency surgery on the horizon, and the other day I had a come to Jesus with the vet about it. He is eleven years old and has been through so much.

brown eyed boy

Through this experience, I have had a lot of existential thoughts about what it means to hold a life in my hands, to be responsible for whether another living being lives or dies. To be the person who makes those decisions. It has been a very profound couple of weeks for me, with these questions of suffering and and possibilities of healing and at what cost you fight to keep your dog alive. Cost to your sanity, to your emotional wellbeing, to your pet’s quality of life. And yes, sadly but truly, to your bank account. I have begged and prayed for black and white answers and clarity, but the truth is that I’m finding that those things rarely present themselves in these situations. If and when they do, it is a blessing. When they do not, you stop sleeping and question yourself and your doctor, who had to be told who Danny Zuko is but has otherwise been awesome. Questions, questions, questions, none of which can be answered by this stupid dog who should not have survived but did.

What has gotten me through these crazy days: the love & support of friends and family who have borne insane daily updates and breakdowns and checked on him and on me multiple times per day, kind and understanding coworkers who do not blink an eye when I randomly come and go all day long and go on marathon dog food shopping sprees for me, Deadwood On Demand, the constant consumption of my favorite strawberry beer, and episode after episode of my new favorite show. Note — I have no idea if that interview contains spoilers. I have only just finished season two so I have not actually listened to it yet. But let me just say that this show is wonderful and pretty much perfect in every way.

I kissed him on the head, kissing him goodbye, when I left him on the night it happened. It was very grave, and it is not very hard to read a doctor’s face. So I am at peace, I think, with whatever way it goes. I am at peace not knowing why this happened or whether or not it could happen again. What choice do I have. Now that he is home, it is amazing how he can seem so okay on the outside now even though things are still wrong on the inside.

I do not know how he spent the first year or so of his life or how he ended up at the pound. I do know that since he got here in May of 2001, he has led a pretty charmed life, and I hope that he has already forgotten the past two weeks.

side by side

All I know is that he still loves walking down the street, only a few houses down and back because he is not supposed to exert himself too much. He loves lying in the sunshine, stalking the cats, being best frenemies with Daisy, barking at the mailman, being petted and brushed and kissed on the head, curling up on his pillow. Just yesterday, I started to notice that he has really kind of started acting like himself again. For as many days that he can do that, I want to give him that. He has driven me insane for ten years, but I want to do right by him.

home again, home again

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9 Responses to The dog who lived

  1. Jessamyn says:

    I have no doubt that you have always done, and will continue to do, right by him. Thinking of you and your bad good dog Zuko, and wishing you both lots of love.

  2. Lisa says:

    Heartwrenching! I too have dog babies and this just made me sick on your behalf. I am glad he survived, I am glad you are enjoying every minute with him, and it makes me realize, oh so sadly, just how short their lives are. All the more reason to make every moment count. You will both be in my thoughts & prayers.

  3. Anne says:

    This made me cry. You are such an amazing mama and you and Z are so lucky to have each other. Please let us know if there is anything we can do.

  4. Rudy says:

    You’re a good mom.

  5. Payada says:

    Eliza, this made me cry. I am so glad he pulled through. No matter what happens, know you are a great Mama. Lots of love to you and Zuko.

  6. Andrea says:

    How heart-wrenching. I am so happy he is home…I’m sure that’s where he wants to be. I know people who say, “It’s too hard to have pets…when they die…it’s just too hard.” But when I think of all my pets (past and present) have given to me – what they have been to me – the short time they’ve been in my life somehow makes it all worth it in the end. But oh, yes, it is so very sad.

  7. Eccaka says:

    Hugs to both of you…

  8. Chiara says:

    Oh Zuko. What a bad good dog.

  9. eliza says:

    Thank you all for your kind words.

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