2010 started out as a bad year. I found myself having emergency surgery at midnight one Saturday, due to a life threatening injury. I sprung myself from the hospital early, yet was dreading my recuperation at home, with a dog and 5 cats to care for. During my second day at home, my dog began to seizure, and I was forced to euthanize her. I mourned for months, not only because of her death, but because I inherited her from my mother, who had died a few months earlier.
One day in late June, I opened a copy of Animal Print to find a photo of the saddest Boston Terrier I had seen in a long time. I couldn't even see his face-he was so shy he turned away from the camera. His accompanying biography was heart wrenching. He had been found cowering in an animal pound in Texas. He was slated for euthanasia until he was rescued by the wonderful organization, Friends of Homeless Animals, Inc. He had a severe heart murmur, and Friends was looking for someone to take on the task of caring from him. I put the magazine, and all thoughts of him, away.
On the drive home, he popped back in to my head. All I could think about was this poor dog, so traumatized that he couldn't even look someone in the face. Long story short, I was approved for adoption, and he arrived on my doorstep July 4, 2010. The first few days were challenging- he wouldn't eat and we had to run outside every 20 minutes because of stress diarrhea. Many people believe that the animals adopted from rescue are abused, when in actuality, they simply haven't been socialized when they were younger. Yet, my dog, Liam, was scarred both on his body and his psyche. Besides the horrific heart murmur, he had a scar running from his chest to above his shoulder. He was scarred in both eyes, from untreated corneal ulcers. You couldn't touch his belly, he screamed. You couldn't touch his ears, he screamed. If the leash accidentally grazed his back legs, he screamed and dropped to the ground. He had a history of disc disease, and was recuperating from a recent flareup.
For months, he slept in the living room. He wouldn't look at me, even when I called his name. I was beginning to think I made a wrong decision. I spoke to one of the Friends volunteers, who told me it can take 7-8 months to form a relationship. She said be patient-certainly not one of my strong suits.
One day it was as if a switch flipped. I called him and he looked, although briefly, at me. I felt like doing a cartwheel, (as unrealistic as that may be). Certainly, it wasn't perfect, but our relationship took off from there. He found a great friend and mentor in a fellow Boston named Buddy. Buddy was the polar opposite, Mr Personality, overflowing with confidence. When they were together, Liam seemed happy (perhaps the foundation for a "bromance"?)
One morning, about a year later, I woke to feel a steady pressure along my back. Turns out, it was Liam curled up, sound asleep. I felt I was loved, or was it because of my size, I generated alot of heat and served as a great snuggle partner? Who cares?
Every time I brought Liam in for a checkup, my bosses were amazed he was not on any meds. Instead of a regular beat, Liam's heart sounded like the whoosh, swoosh of a washing machine. No one could explain why he was doing so well.
The latter part of 2012 found Liam having "episodes". He would fall to the ground, scream, and his heart would beat at an extremely low rate. We did loads of blood work, xrays and ultrasounds (none of them easy) and narrowed the cause to a brain tumor.
The brain is a funny thing in dogs. Once Liam was on a regimen of drugs, he could not stand to be out of my sight. If I left a room, he screamed. (If only the men in my life felt the same way). The dog that preferred to spend his life huddled in complete darkness, under a blanket was now my best buddy. He would run up and down the hallway at home a dozen times each night looking for something only he knew about. And yet, his damaged heart kept beating.
Last Saturday, he blew out his back. With some pain relievers and muscle relaxers on board, he began to feel better in a few hours. Sunday morning was normal, but by mid morning, he was having trouble breathing. I tracked down a veterinarian I worked with, brought him in, re xrayed him and found there was a little fluid in his lungs, (a typical sign of heart disease/failure) We treated him and I brought him home to see what would happen. Liam began to breathe better, and I thought we had just cleared a major hurdle-saved from the brink one more time.
I had a big family dinner planned for that evening and was busy cooking when I heard a scream from the living room. I ran in to find Liam collapsed. I quickly checked his vitals and knew he was in trouble. As I was bent over him, he turned his head and stared at me. STARED AT ME!!!!! As I looked in to those scarred, aging eyes, it was as if Liam were telling me, "enough!" Clients often ask us "how will I know it is time?" I am a firm believer in the fact that our four legged friends tell us.
We often call euthanasia a choice, when in actuality it is an unspoken responsibility we undertake when we let them into our hearts. No matter how scraggly or demanding, or quirky, they are, we owe it to them to end their pain,desperation and suffering. When you ask us to help your friends leave this world, believe me, we feel your pain, your sense of loss, the emptiness in your hearts.
As he breathed his last, curled in my arms, I knew we had tried our best. A special thank you to Dr C and Dr Joe from Lincoln Animal Hospital, Dr Newell and Dr Stamoulis from Ocean State and Dr Nelson from Greenwich Valley for all they did to help Liam and me as we forged our lives together. It was certainly not easy, but is anything worthwhile without its hiccups?
Sunday, St Patrick's Day would have been Liam's 12th birthday. So when you are out, enjoying a green beer, raise your glass in a toast to Liam, and all the others that have gone before him. We are better people for having them in our lives.
Goodbye my friend, I love you.