It’s 2020. This month marks four years since we put our Rainey to sleep. I wrote this four years ago. This is the last in a series of posts from a now defunct blog. I started the series in July of that year as it seemed that we were on the verge of losing our girl. I published this on September 20th, one month after she was gone. When I wrote these posts I knew that the end was coming but I didn’t know that it would be less than a month. Still there was hope.
I revive the series every now and then. I was relatively new to blogging then. The original left something to be desired in some ways and this posting includes some edits. While the words and punctuation, the nuts and bolts so to speak may have been changed, the story and the lingering heartache remain.
Sometimes decisions make themselves. You mull over options and without realizing it you’ve discarded all but one; good or bad, right or wrong the decision just turns up. Just turns up, sometimes uninvited, often unwanted – but there it is. It’s at times like this that you put yourself on an unemotional autopilot and do what you have to do with or without the realization that when it’s done you’ll drown in a wave of hurt. I did that some 20 years ago when my mom suddenly died. Nobody but me to plan a funeral, keep my dad on some sort of even keel and tend to the visiting relatives. You just do and when it’s done you allow the collapse into exhaustion and grief.
I walked over to Cora who knew by now where this was all going and she tried desperately to steer us away from the inevitable. Cora is that person who will spend hour upon hour scouring the internet and for weeks she’d done just that, hoping for an answer to jump off the computer screen at her. I sat down next to her and listened while she told me that she’d read articles explaining that sometimes it can take months for dogs to get used to three legs. “She’s still weak. She has to gain her strength.”
“Yeah but she has to start chemo for the cancer,” I reminded.
Cora responded, “Rainey can’t do the chemo until she’s strong.”
“Then the cancer takes over.”
And that’s when even Cora who’d tried to hold out for that further out end was coming to a realization. She realized that it was circular logic. She just stared blankly ahead; a thousand yard stare focusing on the gameboard with no moves left – checkmate.
It’s been a month since that Saturday that began with such great promise. I’d managed to get myself up early and got in a good run; 40 minutes, pouring sweat and feeling exhausted. It was the kind of exhaustion that makes you feel great knowing it was good effort. Longest run in as far back as I could recall. It was going to be a good day. Changed into a dry shirt and headed for Starbucks for morning coffee.
The Starbucks drill on a Saturday morning is to cruise by and peek inside. Yeah, lined up to the door. Never mind the coffee I needed to get home to see how Rainey had done overnight. When I walked in she was lying in the downstairs bedroom. She sensed that I was home and struggled to get up on her three legs to greet me; a good sign. She seemed to be progressing through the early stages of being a tripod. Then came the screams.
There was something causing her unbearable pain. She would try to stand and then something set off pains somewhere causing her to go into a writhing panic. With our help, she hopped over to the family room and I held her and eased her into a comfortable position. I noticed that her hind legs were splaying out to the side when she tried to get up. And so one of us supported her front end with a strap under her chest while the other stabilized her on her hind legs. Cora told me that Rainey had a similar episode while I was out running.
After that early morning occurrence Cora gave Rainey ¾ of an Acepromazine tab; a sedative that normally would have her loopy. She was also wearing a fresh Fentanyl patch that should have kicked in the day before. She should have been completely pain free.
That patch was from a visit to the Sage Emergency Clinic two days earlier after a similar fit of pain. I didn’t even try to walk her to the car that evening so I gave her a sedative and when it kicked in Cora and I rolled Rainey onto one of the dog beds and used it as a stretcher. At the clinic the vet checked everything; the amputation site looked good; vital signs were all good; blood flow to the other limbs was normal. The only issue was a rapid heartbeat which didn’t alarm the doctor. He suggested that Rainey’s pain might be phantom pains of the leg she no longer had. Before we left I asked the vet if they could apply another Fentanyl patch and he obliged. We figured that this would get us through the few days until the following Thursday for the appointment to check the surgical site. Like every other hunch we’d had over the past few weeks this one went as badly as the others.
And so two days later there we were. Cora sitting at the kitchen table; me on the floor with our girl who was having excruciating pain that she couldn’t describe. That’s the way it is with pets isn’t it? Most times you’re kind of glad that they can’t talk because you figure that they’d be calling you out for your bad behavior and then telling you a moment later what a wonderful person you are. And then there are those times when you’d give anything for them to suddenly develop a gift of gab.
There are times when you feel an unrelenting and unwanted reality closing in. You dodge, feint, weave and the absoluteness unyielding, backs you further into the inevitable corner. We obviously couldn’t wait until the Thursday appointment. I considered calling Sage for an emergency appointment. But what were they going to tell us that they didn’t 2 days before? I considered calling Sage for advice. I considered driving there by myself just for advice. By then I was crying because down in my gut I knew that what I really wanted was for someone to tell me if it was time or not. Cora wasn’t going to help me with that. In the end she’d acquiesce but I’d be the one to make the decision.
Two weeks prior, Dr. Richardson, one of the Sage veterinarians told me that it was time and so I’d made the appointment for Rainey to be put down, only to cancel when she started hopping around on her three good legs, looking playful and spry again – at least as spry as you could with one bad leg. It was then that we’d decided on the amputation of her front left leg and what would be a subsequent chemo regimen.
I pleaded to Cora that I didn’t know what to do. She reminded me about the appointment for Thursday and I reminded her back that the appointment was to check the surgical site. “And what are we going to do about the pain for 5 days? I added. “The patch and sedative aren’t doing anything.”
“So are you going to euthanize her?”
“I don’t know, Cora. I just don’t know.”
And I didn’t. I didn’t know if it was phantom pains or if her hind legs were cramping or if she was simply panicking because she just couldn’t stand. All I knew was that I didn’t know. The only thing I knew at that moment was the promise that I’d made to myself for Rainey years before when I vowed that if she would ever have to be put to sleep it would be in her home and not at a veterinary clinic.
And so on this Saturday morning I knew that my window for making a decision was small. I was pretty certain that I could get someone there that day if I had to. I was equally certain that I wouldn’t get anyone for Sunday, meaning two more days of pain, panic and anxiety for Rainey until Monday. Stalling was only shrinking that day’s window.
The alternative was to wait out the day and if necessary have the euthanasia done at Sage in that little room with the “Quiet” sign on the door. It was furnished to look like a living room but it was still the vet. Dogs, even blind ones, know the difference between home and the vet. That was a nonstarter. She was not going to go away trembling in fear.
I ran through every possibility that I could think of and realized that the path had played itself out with nowhere to go and no turning back; no amount of money that I threw at this would buy a solution; no more hopes to float; no more prayers to send.
Sometimes decisions make themselves.
My daughter Jessica helped me get through the phone conversation to Doctor Ivey. She would arrive at our home at one that afternoon – three hours away.
Rainey always loved the upstairs particularly during the day when the rooms were not so bright as the downstairs and her day blindness wasn’t so much of a handicap for her. When she didn’t curl up in her crate that she considered her little apartment, or wasn’t with her family downstairs she would go upstairs and sleep in our bedroom or perch at the top of the stairs.
After her foot surgery she was banned from the upstairs until we relented and helped her get to her favorite place. After her amputation there could be no way to get her upstairs. Still there were times when she went to the gate at the bottom of the stairs and stood on wobbly legs as if pleading to be allowed up. She seemed desperate and a few days after Rainey was gone my son Matt offered that maybe our Rainey knew that she was dying and needed to be in her special place.
And so, on this day I decided that Rainey’s last moments would be in her cherished upstairs. Jessica and I gently got Rainey on the dog bed and carried her upstairs. And there I lay down next to her, where I would be for the entire time, talking to her, petting her; rubbing her head and smoothing those floppy ears. Lying beside her I could tell that she was weary; but not so much so that she couldn’t manage to tap her tail slowly on the floor; a languid thump, thump, thump. I occasionally looked at my watch to see time slipping away. At times Rainey’s breathing grew shallow and I thought that she might be dying. “Stay with me girl,” I would say even as I harbored a hope that she would slip away on her own. In one of her visits upstairs Cora offered the same thought; “I don’t want that injection,” she said.
Rainey tried to get up and I tried gently to keep her still and coax her out of it but she was having none of that and then whatever pain or panic that was afflicting her struck again; she screamed and writhed and I eased her into a comfortable position on the bed with my left arm around her. I embraced her with my left arm, stroked her head with my right hand and talked quietly to her. We stayed there and I held her in that position for some time.
Once again Rainey tried to move and once again she was hit with pain and once again I eased her into a comfortable position and calmed her down again. Cora came back with some dog treats and fed them to her one by one. We’ve always been fussy about what we give our dogs. Most people food is off the canine menu. That morning Rainey had bacon. Everybody likes bacon, right? After the last of the treats Cora soaked a paper towel with water and let the water run into Rainey’s mouth. She repeated this devotion several times until Rainey’s thirst was satisfied. This was only one instance of the reverent attention that Cora had given over the past few weeks. She had iced the amputation site, applied warm compresses, fed Rainey by hand and I imagine had prayed a thousand rosaries on Rainey’s behalf. For my part, I slept on the floor by Rainey’s side every night and sat outside on the back patio with her in the cool evenings.
One o’clock and there was an almost inaudible knock on the door. Doctor Ivey entered with a small bag and a gigantic heart. She spoke in quiet tones as I led her upstairs to our bedroom. She knelt down and petted Rainey and remarked that she looked tired and yes it was her time. I saved the doctor that awkward moment and asked her, “Shall we do the paperwork first?”
I’d earlier downloaded and filled out all the forms and all that was left to do was the payment. Then there was nothing more but to proceed. Cora refused to be there and she left to busy herself with something – anything. As so it was me, Dr. Ivey, my nephew Carl, sister in law Carrie and my daughter Jessica all seated on the floor.
Dr. Ivey started to explain the procedure. I was at the point where I wanted to get it done and I was about to tell her that I’d already read about it but I realized that the others in the room had not. And so she described the 3 injections. The first would be a mild sedative administered gently under the skin. The second would be a stronger sedative to induce a deep sleep and then the third would be an overdose of anesthetic to stop the breathing and the heart. She instructed that she would pause after each step and ask me when I wanted to proceed to the next.
I asked for the door to the bedroom to be locked so that the grandchildren wouldn’t enter. I also instructed cell phones to be silenced and then told Dr. Ivey that she could start. Rainey lay with her head on my lap. Even before the first injection she was almost asleep; likely the work of the Fentanyl and the oral sedative.
Some minutes after the first injection the doctor asked if she should proceed to the next. “Yes.”
She administered the second and I moved around to lie in front of Rainey with my face in front of hers and spoke in soft tones. I wanted her to know that I was there; that I would be her last sight and her last scent. Her eyes were open and pointed at me but I don’t even know if she was seeing me.
I told Dr. Ivey that she could give the third injection. It couldn’t have been a minute when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her take out a stethoscope. “She’s at peace now.” I never saw a last breath; never saw a twitch. Her eyes never closed. She was there one second and in the blink that never happened – gone. I hope that in the end she saw me and that she went away with the understanding of my love for her.
Yeah it was done. That afternoon’s wave of grief had started to lap against me long before that day. It wasn’t weeks old or months old. It didn’t begin when her paw became infected or when the vet told us of Rainey’s heart murmur. The crash of pain that I would feel on that last day was once a mere ripple months before when I noticed her activity slowing and her muzzle graying and I realized that her clock was ticking inexorably to an end that I knew was closing in. It’s the end that never crosses your mind when your puppy chews up your socks and pees on the carpet.
Even as I write this I have my doubts. Did I do the right thing? I know that question will always return. And I know that I’ll always return to that played out path with no way out. And I realize that I’ll never really know the answer. Cora was quiet the next day as she watered the plants. I asked her if she was mad at me and she said no, “I just don’t like the injection.” In the end it was my decision and she acquiesced and that’s okay because in the end we didn’t argue. It would have been a perversion to argue over our dog’s life. I know that she will continue to turn the moves over in her mind and she’ll always come to the same checkmate.
It’s 2020. A short time after Rainey left us Jessica’s friend painted a little wooden plaque for Cora. The plaque depicts Jesus with his arm around a Gordon Setter. The plaque hangs over Cora’s side of the bed.
Whenever Rainey’s name comes up, Cora says wistfully, “I miss that girl so much.”
After going through the hurt of losing a pet the initial reaction is, never again. It wasn’t long before I thought about getting another dog. A coworker, an amiable fellow from Chicago named Craig advised me to indeed get another dog, “They bring such joy to our lives,” he often told me.
I guess you weigh the years of joy against the period of sorrow and go with where your own personal scale tilts. Just over two years ago we got Lexi from the same breeder who brought us Rainey. We sealed the deal in April over the phone while I was sitting outside the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Up until the day we got Lexi Cora was unsure about another dog. In June, Laurie delivered Lexi to us from Ukiah in Northern California.
Lexi is the family’s dog but to be clear she is my dog. By that I mean, she shadows me everywhere I go. Sometimes she’ll trot over in front of me, sit and face me and look at me as if to ask, “Well, what are we going to do?” As often as I can I take her with me when I run errands. They know her at the local Ace Hardware store and at the pet stores. During the warm evenings I’ll read outside on the rattan sofa and Lexi will crawl up next to me (Don’t tell Cora though. She doesn’t like dogs on the furniture). I know that I’ve set myself up for a hard fall but I do keep in mind Craig’s words. They bring such joy into our lives.”