The other day, as a friend and I discussed our old dogs, she mentioned that someone had once described the final stage of a dog's life as the dog being "in God's waiting room." The image made me smile -- as an adopter of old dogs, I know that stage only too well.
It is a time when each morning you put your hand on your still-sleeping dog to be sure she is breathing. It is a time when every sickness or stumble or refusal to eat has you questioning "Is this it?" And sometimes it is a time, after they stop eating and drinking and show no interest in their favourite things - maybe not even in you - when you place that dreaded call to the vet.
And just as you hang up the phone, they bounce down the hallway and look at you as if to say "ARE YOU CRAZY? I'm fine, feed me, play with me, let's go for a walk!"
|Mama Jean, play wiv me!|
When Charley was going through this final stage, back in 2011, I called it her 'Dance with Death" - two steps forward, one step back. Charley kept up that dance for a long time - three times I called the vet, three times I cancelled. And then one day, she told me it was time. She was tired of dancing. The music in God's waiting room went silent, and we said our last goodbye.
|Ha ha, I really kept ya guessing!|
Some of my old dogs have barreled through the waiting room door, charged across to the inner chamber, jumped at that door with both front paws, and demanded to be let in NOW. Others have patiently sat, neither doing the dance nor charging the door, just biding their time until they were ready - to either pass on their own or to ask me to help them.
I'm not a 'heaven or hell' sorta person, but love the imagery of God's waiting room. Even more, I love the imagery of the Rainbow Bridge beyond, a bridge where our dogs wait for us and our loved ones guide us on to the other side. And I do believe in some sort of spiritual afterlife. So, for me, I think perhaps an image of a long rustic fence with an old gate that leads to fields of flowers, rolling hills, blue skies, happy playing dogs, and in the distance the Rainbow Bridge, is more the image I see for my dogs. Waiting by the gate, sometimes running back to me, sometimes pawing at the latch. But knowing their time is near as surely as I know it too. Mitzi is now waiting by that gate.
|What's on de other side?|
We went through a tough time the last couple of weeks, Mitzi and I -- a time when I thought the gate was about to open for her to prance through. She went for days without food. Then she stopped drinking water. She staggered, she had small seizures, she lost her sense of direction, and she developed bleeding into the anterior chamber of her eye. So I emailed my mobile vet for an appointment. And within fifteen minutes of receiving a response from my vet, Ms. Mitzi got up, went to her dish, had a big drink of water, went outside to do her business, ate some food, and looked at me as if to say:
I kept the appointment time as Mitzi was due for her next check up anyway, and she was again refusing food, so we ran all the usual blood work and urine tests and other stuff that we do for very old dogs. The results were much as I expected - her kidney failure, first diagnosed two years ago, has shown significant change since last year. Her creatinine, urea (BUN) and SDMA are all very, very high, she has lost two of her nine pounds, and other symptoms have appeared as well, putting her into the start of the final stage of kidney failure, a stage at which her kidneys are operating at only about 10% of normal capacity. However, she still has some good days and is not in pain - yesterday, for example, she went for a reasonably long walk (for her), ate several servings of smelly green tripe and then some other dog food, followed me around the house and came up on my lap for a cuddle (something she never used to do - one recent behavioural change among several others). We made some changes to her medications, and we are taking it one day at a time. Most of the time she sleeps, often she doesn't eat. It could be days, weeks, or even a few months, but it likely won't be more.
|I betcha I last longer than this snow on mah nose!|
Perhaps the gate will open by an unseen hand on the other side. Perhaps, with the help of my vet, we shall open it for her. I won't let her suffer - the very end of kidney disease is often marked with vomiting, diarrhea, and pain, and the emergence of any of these symptoms beyond a short-term gastric upset will tell me it is time. I have always said I would rather help my old dogs to pass a week too soon than an hour too late. I do not want her to end her life in crisis. And I know my cousin, her former mama, would not want that for her either.
And so we take it one day, one hour, one moment at a time, celebrating the little things - a meal eaten, a healthy poop, a walk to the end of the block and back. And I let her sleep, and sleep, and sleep. I reinstated baby gates and carpet runners to keep her from falling on laminate floors, I use her xpen to keep her safe when I go out. And when she is awake, but not wanting to eat or poop or walk, I hold her. I hold her whenever she wants to be held - my dinner can wait, my sleep can wait, this blog can wait. I hold her and rock her and sing to her and talk softly to her. And I tell her how much I love her.
I think she can see those meadows through the fence, and she'll tell me when she's ready. She is standing in God's waiting room, and it has rustic fences for walls, and a wooden gate through which she looks towards fields full of flowers and a beautiful Rainbow Bridge.