Dog Days

We have a 13-year-old Golden Retriever named Chelsea. She is the most loving, even-tempered creature you will ever meet. The kids have taken food right out of her mouth, The Hare used her tail to pull herself to standing when she was learning to walk, The Tortoise has left her outside for hours by mistake in the rain and yet she just looks at us with her big brown eyes, smiling to say, “That’s okay, I love you anyway.” Her coat was a lustrous deep honey color with red under-tones, not at all like the yellowy-gold you usually find. Over the years though, her muzzle masks her face in almost complete white, her hair is matted where dry “hot-spots” have formed (places she continues to scratch or lick until all the hair has disappeared), and dark grey splotches float around in her eyes. She is partially blind, deaf, occasionally incontinent and arthritic.

Chelsea is really my husband’s dog. She was four-years-old when we got married. It was obvious that a single man had been raising her because she slept on the furniture, jumped to greet you whenever you’d walk in the door (not ideal when you are bringing a small child home), and would never stay in the yard. When I came on the scene, things changed. I was expecting it to be a difficult transition, prepared for a clashing of the wills – which one of us was going to be the bigger bitch? But Chelsea gladly relinquished her throne, followed me everywhere, and quickly became BFF to a three-year-old who gave hugs too tightly. It wasn’t long before she quit being just DW’s dog, she was my dog too. And most of all – she was The Tortoise’s dog.

Just months before we moved into this house Chelsea had been showing signs of weakness, until one morning she collapsed in our backyard and wouldn’t get up. She whimpered for a while and then just layed very still. I saw it happen from our family room windows and ran out there to try and help. She was fearfully breathing, but not gasping for air. Pain was clear, but I just couldn’t figure out where. I don’t stand much past 4 ft 11 inches and she weighs almost 70 pounds – picking her up really wasn’t an option, especially since I didn’t know what hurt. I went inside and called DW, voice trembling I told him what happened and as we spoke she tried to get up again and could only manage to use her front legs to drag herself as close to the patio as possible to be closer to me. It felt like I was having a heart-attack, the fear was shooting through my whole body, I was in complete shock that there could be something so wrong with Chelsea.

I never thought I would be one of “those” people – the animal fanatics that think of their pets as children, spend thousands and thousands of dollars diagnosing ailments or treating cancer in canines. But when our vet told us that the x-rays showed that her spinal cord was being crushed by disks in her back I was prepared to say yes to anything if she could walk again. Apparently she had degenerative disk disorder, and a couple of her disks were so inflamed, they had fused together. She was in a great deal of pain. Our vet put her on a cocktail of muscle relaxers and Prednisone, sent us home and said, “All we can do is wait and see.” Everyday was “wait and see”. Some days she could walk and others she would collapse without warning. It was just a game of increase or decrease meds. This went on for almost two weeks until it was clear that she would need to be on some pretty heavy doses indefinitely. We took her back to the vet.

He recommended we say our good-byes because she couldn’t be on Prednisone for too long. It was bad for other organs, he explained. DW was in shock, his whole body was tense, but I just refused to listen. “We want a second opinion” I said confidently and preceded to find a specialist. I suddenly became one of “those” people. We spent thousands of dollars for an MRI and a spinal tap. The diagnosis was the same, and she was not a candidate for surgery. The risk of the surgery causing permanent paralysis was greater than fixing the problem. However, he was willing to keep prescribing the Prednisone and muscle relaxers. After all, she was already 11-years-old. He also agreed that as long she was walking and going to the bathroom by herself, then the drug cocktail was doing its job. She was happy and we didn’t have to say goodbye. That was almost 2 years ago.

Miracles do occasionally happen because when we moved into this house, it was like she had found a fountain of youth and the back problem vanished. She is still on a smaller dose of Prednisone, doesn’t take many stairs anymore, but we haven’t had anymore paralysis. The ailments she suffers now are just old age. Most of the time, she sleeps near a warm vent and is my only companion all day. As of late, she has become my writing partner, laying next to my chair as I type away. Occasionally raising an eyebrow while I read my blog out loud.

This morning I just needed a reminder of how it felt to almost say goodbye; the immediate panic and emptiness that filled my body. It doesn’t mean I enjoyed cleaning pee from my living room rug this morning, or realizing that her lazy butt never made it off the deck all winter, because now that the snow is melting, I can see the piles of poop she left me. I’m not looking forward to sweeping the mounds of dog hair all over my house today, and I’m quite sure The Hare was annoyed when Chelsea stole her biscuit off the table.

But at least we have her one more day.

64 thoughts on “Dog Days

  1. I am gonna follow up your blog from now on…with a hope that some day I would read a post about a new pet…Female Golden Retrvr named Chelsea…
    I seriously hope that you do bring her back….

  2. I never thought I would be one of “those” people – the animal fanatics that think of their pets as children, spend thousands and thousands of dollars diagnosing ailments or treating cancer in canines. But when our vet told us that the x-rays showed that her spinal cord was being crushed by disks in her back I was prepared to say yes to anything if she could walk again.

    That is love and devotion. One can certainly go too far in trying to humanize one’s pet, but love is love. It’s completely normal and healthy to be distressed at the sight or sound of another living creature in pain…and to want to do something to ease that pain.

  3. Such a lovely blog. I am so glad you had a ‘miracle’ and that Chelsea is still with you. I haven’t been so lucky – I have had to say to two dogs and four cats. At the moment I am animal-less, but I can’t bear not having an animal around. No matter how much their loss tears our hearts out, I, for one, still come back for more.
    Nothing can compare to their unstinting companionship and love. Good luck to Chelsea and her family.

    1. Chelsea is not my first dog, but the first dog I have really loved. We had a labrador retriever growing up, but she was really my mom’s dog. I enjoyed having her around but I was already school aged when we got her, and you just don’t have the same bond as you do as an adult – I think. My childhood dog was put to sleep after I had moved out and was in college. I remember my mom calling me in tears. I cried for her loss more than my own. But with Chelsea – it will be my own grief. My children will probably grieve differently than I did too since Chelsea has been here since they were babies. It will be hardest on DW since Chelsea was a part of his life before we were married.

  4. I saw the photo on wordpress and I decided to click because it looked exactly like mine. 2 years ago I had to put my golden retriever with 14 years to sleep, it was a really sad moment. I still have his son, with 10, a crazy golden retriever, that still only does crazy stuff like Marley (from the movie), still behaves like a puppie…and when he was 6 months, the vet told me that we should put him to slpeep because is has big problems on both hips…is 10, we never did anything except having some small cares, not going to the beach and soft places for run! Enjoy yours!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. Yes, some days are crazier than others. Today I have discovered that our whole downstairs is covered in muddy footprints – gotta love the spring thaw and dogs!

  5. a beautiful read. i can almost feel your emotions. anxiety and sadness welled up just by thinking of the day coco (my toy poodle) would leave us and she is only going to be 2 yrs old. My husband and i was so choked up in tears by that thought. So i can truely comprehend how u feel. yes just one more day…pls.

  6. Oh my… we have an 8 yr old golden that looks just like your photo. He’s starting to have a really hard time getting around, but we’re trying everything we can do before putting him on steroids. I know it’s coming soon though.

    I’m glad Chelsea had a miraculous recovery for you… that’s awesome!

  7. Our pets bring so much happiness into our lives and constantly remind us what unconditional love is. Thanks for sharing this. Chelsea is such a trooper!

    My own best mate, Jade – a 12 year old Husky, has developed an inoperable cancerous tumour on her leg and my husband and I are playing the waiting game at the moment. It’s a terrible situation where you don’t want to give up on your pet, but don’t want them to suffer any more than they need to.
    I’m dreading the day we have to make the hard call but I’m not taking the remaining days I have for granted.

    @Jeri Leach: You’re comment was so perfect in its description. poetic 🙂

  8. Great post. There’s nothing more wonderful than having a dog around as far as I’m concerned. I once ran a yacht for a man, and one of the requirements for the job was to have a dog on board. He had dogs at home and wanted to be able to scratch a dog’s ears when he was on his boat, too.

    Mark Twain had a couple of good quotes about dogs:

    “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

    “The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s.”

    I have an old dog, myself, love her dearly and will miss her terribly when she’s gone. If you care, I recently did a post about her on my own blog.

    http://oldsalt1942.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/walking-with-penny/

  9. Hi. I’m writing from Brazil. I just wanted you to know that I completely understang what you’re feeling. I would give my world to hold one more time my baby dog, which left me 10 years ago. She’s still in my heart. Please, hold Chelsea as much as you can. This kind of love is so rare and we may never forget.
    My best to the whole family.

  10. What a great photo – love her toy as a pillow. Thanks for writing your post, and I’m glad it landed on a link where Chelsea’s photo grabbed my attention. Enjoyed the read and happy to know your perseverance and TLC has won you all more time well spent.

  11. i always wants a dog.. but sadly never the chance to have one…

    i will give anything to have a Chelsea of my own… yes even to clean up after her.

    god bless.

  12. Being an owner of 3 golden retriever myself, I am one of “those” people too, and couldn’t help but read your entry…..How much of champion is Chelsea?!! We had a similar scare with our old girl Casey, aged 11. We found that her tummy was getting harder & harder & the vet thought she had a splenic tumour. My partner & discussed it and felt that if it was cancer, then we would say our goodbyes & put her down before she went through the pain of it. We had already lost our beloved black labrador “Oprah” a few years earlier and didn’t want any pain for Casey. Anyway, turns out that our girl Casey was nothing but F.A.T!! And after a year of dieting, she is soooooo hot right now!! The day will come when we have to say goodbye, but for now, you are sooooooooo right, “at least we have her for one more day”. x Connie

  13. Loved your story. I came home tonight after a long day at work and buried my face in the soft fur of my wonderful dalmation/pointer Rowdy. I reveled in the silkiness and breathed in the peace and love she brings to our family each day.

  14. love the story. it’s beautiful. my husband and I own 6 rescued dogs and can relate to your story. Chelsea is very lucky to have your family.

  15. That was a really touching story, it made me miss my dogs so much!

    I could relate to it 100% because my family used to have a Goldie who was an angel to everyone who knew her. She passed away at the age of 14 last February but I’ve been told that her will to live was so strong in her final days… unfortunately I didn’t get to say goodbye to her properly because I was abroad.

    Soon after my parents adopted another Goldie (who’s 6) from a dog shelter and she is so lovable but unbelievably naughty at the same time. Apparently she is even worse than Marley in Marley and Me!

    Best wishes, good health and hugs for Chelsea. As it says on my parents’ fridge, “dogs are not our whole lives but they make our lives whole”.

  16. We had a scare this week as our dog hurt her back. We were at the emergency vet spending lots of money but it looks like its just tissue damage but were going to get some xrays done just to be sure. My stomach dropped when she couldn’t even manage to walk up one step to our deck. I tore my heart out when she started whining. The morphine made her have hallucinations so she cried all night long. Lucky for us she is doing much better now, but it certainly served as a reminder that they won’t be here forever.

    1. Oh my goodness – hallucinations! Heavy doses of Prednisone just made Chelsea very lethargic and clumsy. I hope your dog recovers quickly. Thanks for the comments.

  17. Chelsea is a beautiful golden. Enjoy the time you have left with her. Nothing beats having a faithful dog at your feet during those long afternoons and nights at the keyboard.

    1. Thank you. She has been a wonderful company. I don’t know what I would have done without her now that the kids are in school. I find myself talking to her about my day and what needs to get done.

  18. this was very cute write up! i had a golden retriever named kasey. she passed aug ’09. i just want to say, start preparing yourself now to say good-bye. i wasnt ready when her condition came over night…it was the hardest thing ive ever had to go through… good luck and happy trails!

  19. From one of “those people” (I should have part of the Big Vet Teaching Hospital’s oncology wing in my name), it’s okay to think of her as your kid and spend a little money. After all, think of all the joy she brought you in her better years, without costing you a penny! Many good thoughts to you, she & your family.

  20. gosh, I am having to write thru my tears. We are golden lovers, and have had many. Just 2 weeks ago my daughter had to put down her “Bubu” of 13 years. It was one of the sadest days. It’s so amazing how a dog gets into your soul. They are like family members, and with us such a short time. He too was on prednisone, and pain killers for arthritis in his legs. Loved hearing your “golden” story. They are the most wonderful dogs on the planet, bar none!

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. We were just not ready to give up, and neither did Chelsea. Somehow we just knew that it wasn’t time but I know that at 13, everyday is a blessing. Hugs to you and your family.

  21. Our pups are so special aren’t they? My Ridgeback passed away about a year ago now – she was 12. I was with her when she was put down. She had a tumour in her spleen and we didn’t even know until that day. She was fine up until then. Luckily, we still have out Retriever/Lab ‘Nelson’. He is 10 now and stays by my side all day, every day when I’m at home. We try to get him to stay outside but he knows how to open the fly-wire door! He misses his old buddy. Nelson is the best company and brings so much happiness to our lives.

    Congrats on the post! Cheers from Australia.

  22. I have just begun using WordPress and just been reading through random snippets of people’s blogs. But I saw your one on the frontpage, and I can happily say it was the first one that I read through, TWICE.

    You had me in tears, and nothing usualy makes me teary. I have a one year old Black Lab, and he is like my little brother and could not imagine anything so awful happening to him. I can totally relate with the bonds you are talking about with a pet, its a bond you cannot explain to others around you, but it is a special one.

    It is such a beautiful story, and I have to say I would be one of those people who fight their hardest to save their pet, they are like family.

  23. A wonderfully warm-hearted story of the true care & concerns of watching your dog age…. Do we ever realize how much we will miss these gentle kindred spirits… They are by our side daily & such a huge part of our lives… Thanks for a glowing report of how much one dog brings in2 your life. It rings with such profound feelings…

  24. Good for you for not putting her down when the first vet suggested it! I’ve also nursed many an elderly dog and cat, and I found it well worth the time and effort. So many people are too quick to “get rid” of an elderly animal when it is not necessarily in major pain but just a “pain” for the owner to deal with.

  25. I, too, saw your story on the front page of wordpress. Great writing of a great story.

    So often, we become buried in the difficult details in life and forget the incredible gift of having that extra time with our loved ones.

    Gladyly, we’d sweep up the mountains of pet hair for one more year, one more month, one more week, one more day with our pets.

    I hope your story with Chelsea continues for another three years or more!

    1. Thanks for commenting – I am just dumbfounded how my post ended up on the front page already! But how wonderful that I was able to share my story with so many people.

      1. I just wanted to say that a year ago on March 29th, I lost my best friend ( my 12yr, 120lb golden retriever Chuckie) to almost exactly the same thing. He was a large dog with hip problems and one day after I left for college my mom came out side to find our boy snarling at her. Something, as I am certain all golden owners know is very uncommon. She soon noticed that he was momentarily blind as he backed away from her in fear and into our truck.Chuck went through a series of several seizures in the months to follow, his life was prolonged thanks to the drug “cocktail”, and we were able to have time to say goodbye without having to “put him down”. One morning he went on his own.

        I just wanted to say I am so glad to hear of Chelsea’s recovery and wish you many more happy days with her. Pets teach us how to love!!
        Almost two weeks later, still in mourning, my dad found us an english cream golden puppy, while nothing can replace Chuck, I think he would approve. Thank you for your story.

      2. I am so sorry for your loss – it is very uncommon for a golden to snarl. Chuckie must have been so scared! Enjoy your puppy too.

  26. This brought tears to my eyes! I never tire from an animal story like yours. Our pups (and yes, I call my dogs that no matter their age) are truly a part of the family. Thank you for sharing your story!

  27. My husband is an Animal Control Officer and we both enjoyed your blog. As I read, though, my stomach tightened, expecting the worst. With tears in my eyes, I happily read the final two paragraphs, elated that Chelsea is still with you and your family! She reminds me of our Casey (an Australian Blue Heeler) and my BFF. Thanks for posting this and please give some love to Chelsea from us.

  28. Oh she is so cute with her eyes closed.I am not able to ignore the lump in my throat as i finished reading this post..very glad that you didn’t have to say good bye 2 yrs before and wish you to experience lot more fun,love and more poop cleaning!

    Hopped over from dashboard and will stop by often..

  29. I just love this post. I long for my dog that passed from cancer two years ago. He was my dads best friend. My best friend. And luckily you didn’t have to say goodbye–let me tell you–it’s the hardest thing in the world. They aren’t JUST dogs. They’re apart of the family.
    I miss my boy. Give your girl a hug when you can.
    Take care!

  30. Nothing hurt more than putting my 13 year old, brilliant mutt who literally saved my life several times, licking my face on a cross country drive whenever I started to nod off.

    And compliant? We had a friend of my daughter’s over once, she was maybe 2 years old. I come around the corner and she has Rainy’s tongue gripped in her little hand while Rainy sat and waited for rescue.

    Putting him down was hard; getting up the middle of the night and returning to bed, I reached down to stroke his head as was my habit. That he’d never be there again truly hit me at that moment.

    No one can say pets aren’t family members…

    1. Chelsea and I share lots of quiet time together these days now that the kids are in school full-time. The girls have certainly tested Chelsea’s patience over the years too…halloween costumes, tea parties, American Doll rides around the house, etc. I am so sorry for your loss and can’t imagine what it will be like without my sweet dog.

  31. Loved this post. Our dogs are so special, aren’t they? Great picture of your buddy, by the way. Also, congrats on getting featured today on the front page!

  32. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Like you, I believe that dogs bring joy into our lives like no other pet. And our bond with them changes us for the better. Many best wishes for you and your beloved Chelsea.

  33. This reminds me of my grandparents dog Abby. She had very similar coloring to your Chelsea and was a fantastic dog. My grandfather misses her dearly because she kept him together; if he dropped one of his work gloves in the yard, she’d find it and bring it to him.

    It sounds difficult, but I’m glad you’ve been able to enjoy some time with her that you weren’t sure you would get. Thanks for sharing your story.

  34. Ah! This made me cry. 🙂 What a beautiful entry and I am so happy she is still with you (as long as she’s not in pain, of course). She’s a sweet girl. My golden retriever Zoe had to be put down 3 years ago when she was 11, so I understand the panic and the heartbreak.

    ❤ Sending hugs for Chelsea 🙂

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. We have been very fortunate and Chelsea has made an amazing recovery. The swelling in her back has gone down dramatically and most of her discomfort is just from arthritis now. Thank you for your comment.

  35. What a sweet, beautiful writing partner you have in Chelsea! Pets do make the best critics, and dogs most certainly top that list. I have only hamsters, but alas, they spell horribly and obey almost no grammatical rules.

    Give her a biscuit; it sounds like she’s earned it.

    1. Trust me, there are no shortages of doggy treats in this house. Her favorite are left over crusts from The Hare’s peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

  36. A lovely story. Our dogs do become part of the family. I think even more so for the parents than the kids, at times. We see the passing of time differently, and the time is more precious.

  37. Your story sounds so much like Marley and Me…I love to read your blog….as I read your words, I am transported back to 16 and 17 again…when we were in school together and used to have lunch or just simply hang out together. I have missed those times so much, but your blogs really do help to make my day go smoother. Keep writing. Perhaps…one day…you will have the makings of a wonderful book…I know I would buy it.

    Lots of love to you and the girls…and of course…the husband too…

    With love,
    Mia-Mia….Mac class of ’91

    1. Oh Mia! You are too sweet. I was just thinking about that crazy sequined and lace royal blue dress of yours that I wore to our senior prom! Can you believe our 20 year reunion is around the corner? When did that happen?

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