Friday, April 30, 2010

Puppy Love

Just a few more posts about death, I promise.

When I was 19 and living in a van, with a really great ex, I adopted a little puppy. She was six weeks old, a little black fur ball, and was so small she couldn't go up stairs by herself. She grew up to be this incredible dog, who was always loyal and dependable. I didn't have to use a leash after she was four months old, she learned lots of tricks, and she got along with most dogs and kids, but wouldn't take any crap either. She barked at the door when people came over, and liked to pee in the basement sometimes, but these were her worst flaws. She was always so cool in public, I would take her to festivals and pretty much everywhere I went. She was so mellow, she got left at more than one garage sale; where we all jumped out of the car to check it out. After perusing and buying goods, we would drive away, realizing a mile later that Zu wasn't in the car. I would freak out, flip a u-turn, and there she would be, standing in front of some guys garage, waiting for me. I'd lean over and open the door, and she'd hop in. We'd speed off down the road, as a group of people would chuckle at the scene. Good times.

My dog is now 14 years old. She was diagnosed with heart failure a couple years ago, and her life was graciously extended with dignity by the modern marvels of an ACE inhibitor and a little blue hydrocodone pill. Her symptoms started with this random collapsing when she was exerted. The first time it happened I was walking with friends from the gym, and Zula just fell to the side, laying there, breathing hard. It happened a couple more times, and I thought that perhaps 12 years old was the end for her, and this was just a natural progression. My husband told me to take her to the vet, and she was prescribed some meds that gave us some more good years. (Thank God someone in the family has sense to see the doctor!) Her quality of life has been excellent, despite occasional exertion seizures and accidents, she is always happy and loving. She is the best girl.

Zu-zam has lost a dramatic amount of weight in the past month. She has stopped eating and when she stands up, she wobbles back and forth like a drunken sailor. Her time is near, and I am trying to make her as comfortable as possible. She needs to be carried down the porch stairs to do her thing, and I bring her up again, laying her on a blanket that belonged to my sister. She won't even eat bacon, and we all know this is an ominous portent. I would like her to die at home, in her sleep. But, I don't know how it will all play out.

I tell people at work about her, and they all are sympathetic. One person tells me to use propofol under the skin, another says phenobarbitol, and yet another tells me to bring home an IV kit and some potassium. This is all well meaning, and shit, yes, we all want to save some money, but I'm not going to kill my own dog. I want to be the griever, not the agent. My role is to love and cherish her, not plan for and give her the best death. This is a new arena for me. I have had personal losses, but most have been sudden and devastating. I have not had to watch anyone get weaker and more feeble, except my Grandma, who was comically proactive, planning her own wake from the music and the food, and finally passed away the morning of the event.

It makes me glad that she is not in pain, and still wags her tail when she sees me, but I still lay down on the floor and cry heavy tears thinking that soon she will be gone. I know that she is "just" a dog, but she is part of my family and she has been with me through the most fundamental changes and progressions in my life. As a nurse who deals with death all of the time, It is surreal to have this in my own home. I have been to the morgue twice in three days this week, wrapping the bodies of two people whom I was with when they died. Still, this exposure doesn't prepare me for the loss of my baby and best friend. At home, laying with her, I easily slip out of my day job, and envelope her with inconsolable arms. Thanking the Gods that there is someone else who can lead us through any tough choices we may have to make ahead.


  1. My heart breaks for you and the lovely Zula, may the rest of her days be full of peace and love and her nights full of dreams of bacon and chickens. Love you both.

  2. I remember the van, believe it or not, and the young girl with her puppy, and I am so proud of the woman she grew up to be. Every word you write brings me joy. Aunt Kristin

  3. This is incredibly beautiful, thank you for writing it.

  4. I'm also an ICU nurse and nothing, no matter how many deaths we see, prepares you for the loss of a pet. Beautiful post.

  5. So sorry to hear about your dog Lisa, she's lucky to have someone like you...

  6. You sound like a very cold person and should get out of nursing. You sound like you are only in nursing for what it can do for you and not what you can add to the patients lives to make them better.