Bo had a lot of fun helping with the trick or treaters at Halloween. But after the kids had stopped coming and the porch light got turned off, he didn't want his supper. Very uncharacteristic, but then sometimes dogs go off their food for a day or so.
It was a little worrisome, because at treat time, he came into the kitchen but had trouble sitting up. His feet kept sliding out from under him. And he looked at the treat, but didn't want it.
After about 36 hours of no food and lethargy, I was about to take him to the vet, but all of a sudden he seemed his old self. Hungry, energetic. Anxious to go for a walk. Oh well, I thought, one of those GI viruses that lasts a day or two, I guess.
But over the next two weeks, there were a couple of more refusals to eat. More worry. Whatever this is, it's not entirely gone. . . .
Last Wednesday, he didn't want breakfast and he seemed weak again. Wobbly. I called the vet and made an appointment at the first time they had open. I left to teach my class and got home in time to take him to the vet.
When I came in the kitchen from the garage, he didn't come to greet me as he always did. "Bo?" I called. He came into the kitchen, but couldn't sit up. He collapsed onto the floor. I sat and petted him. "Poor baby. I sure hope the vet can fix you right up." After a few minutes, he went back to the couch and managed to get back up on it.
When it was time to leave for the vet, I got out the leash - a sure sign a walk is imminent in Bo's world - and he seemed excited and happy for a minute. He tried to leap off of the couch in his usual way, but slid and collapsed on the floor. I attached the leash and he struggled to his feet, headed for the door - "Going for a walk!" - but stumbled over the threshold, stumbled again over the small step down to the sidewalk and collapsed onto the grass. He was panting and seemed exhausted.
I picked him up to carry him to the car and then realized I had to put him down to open the car door. He lay on the concrete with his legs outstretched completely immobile. I got him into the car with some difficulty. He was heavy and couldn't help me at all.
At the vet's one of the techs carried him in while I filled out paperwork. Finally the vet came to talk to me. "His gums are so pale, I think he's bleeding internally. In Labs, and a few other breeds, in a dog his age . . . the usual reason for that is cancer of the spleen. Especially given what you told me about how he'd get better then worse again. That's how splenic cancer goes. It causes bleeding from the spleen, they feel bad, then it clots and the blood is reabsorbed and they feel better until the bleeding starts again. I'll do some X-rays and blood tests, but you should know . . . ."
She brought in the X-rays and the printout from the blood work. His RBC count, hemoglobin, etc were all less than half of what they should have been. His spleen on the X-ray was huge. There was no doubt.
"I can do surgery and remove his spleen. It's major surgery but we can do that if that's what you want to do. Generally, when you remove the spleen, the dog can live for about six more months."
No. Nope. No way. I've had major surgery. It hurts like hell. Even for a human with pain meds and when you know why this is happening to you and that it's worth it, it sucks. No way I'm putting the-best-dog-in-the-world through that. Pain and misery and nausea and me leaving him. Leaving him in the vet hospital, or as one fellow dog-lover described it from the dogs point of view, "the bright lights, fear-smelling, stick you with needles place."
No. Just no. For what? Six months? Six months of . . . ? It will be just as hard, just as "too soon" then as it is now. And in the meantime, pain and misery for Bo.
I sat trying to absorb what she was telling me. Just a few weeks ago, I said to my daughter, "When people ask me how old Bo is, I always say, "He's seven," but it occurs to me that I've been saying that for a long time now. How old are Bo and Mali really?" "They're nine," she said. And there was a little pang. Nine. Damn. That's getting old for a big dog. We don't have that much time left, Bo and I.
But I thought we had a few more years.
I suddenly realized - "I can't even take him home, can I?" I asked the vet. She said, "Of course you can. But you'll have to carry him when you get him home."
I thought of him stumbling and lurching off of the porch step and collapsing in the yard. No. No more of that for Bo.
And so, as they say, I had him "put to sleep." Some people resist that euphemism, as if it's weak or dishonest to put it that way. But really, that's what happens.
I called my daughter and she came to say goodbye. While we waited for her, we sat on a blanket on the floor, Bo and I. I petted him and stroked his ears. He had the softest ears I've ever felt on a dog and he loved to have them gently tugged and stroked. He leaned on my leg, the way dogs often do when they feel insecure or worried, but this time he had to lean on me lying down.
When my daughter got there, he lifted his head a little. He seemed tired and weak and like he just plain didn't feel good, but he seemed glad to see her, to enjoy the petting and attention anyway.
Finally, I called the vet in. She injected a sedative and he went to sleep as I stroked him. Then the other drug. Nothing seemed to happen. He still seemed the same, asleep. I asked her, "He's gone, isn't he?" She leaned over him with her stethoscope and then nodded.
I petted him a few more times, kissed the top of his head. "Bye, Bo, best dog in the world. I was so lucky to have you."