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.