He picked her up around 5:00 p.m. on a Friday from a vet's office where her past owner had dropped her off, and he held her on his lap while his salesman drove. He called me and said, "Oh Mama, I don't think she's going to make it". She seemed almost dead already. He stopped at a fast food place and got a plain hamburger and she did eat some of it and that encouraged him. He called home many times during the trip and by the time he got home with her many hours later, she'd already won our hearts and we were rooting for her to perk up and pull through.
She was what we called a little "rag dog"; limp and non-responsive. She was absolutely skeletal and her spine was curved so that she was really quite a half circle. Her fur was thin and brittle and her eyes were covered with a brown film. We held her a lot and put her in a little bed and tried to get some water and bites of food into her. By the second day, she lifted her head and sniffed and we knew that was a good sign. First thing Monday morning we got her into the vet who told us that she was almost blind, almost deaf, had no teeth, a very very bad heart, and bad kidneys. We asked him how old he thought she was and he said, "Well, she's either 96 or 97. I can't tell which and I'm not sure it matters!" He told me not to blame myself if she didn't make it. He gave us medicine to deworm her and after several days she really seemed to be coming around, so I gave her a nice bath and a blow dry. As the weeks passed with good food and medicines, a very nice little doggie began to emerge! Her fur was never thick, but it got nice and white and soft and the brown film over her eyes got thinner. And because the worms were out of her, her food was available to her tiny body to gain strength and health. So little by little we saw a great transformation.
I remember one time not long after she came to be ours, when she 'discovered Mama's face'. Although she was almost blind, I know she could see shadows. One day she had done something sassy so I lifted her up nose to nose with me and began to say, "listen my little dearly, we do not..." and I stopped midsentence because she was looking at me with an expression that made me think she was discovering what I looked like for the first time. She was staring at me and tipping her head side to side - trying to see me, trying to 'connect.' I realized that the focal point of what little she could see was probably about in inch in front of her eyes so after that I often put her up nose to nose with me so she could 'see Mama.' I could tell you so many stories like that. I learned much from her about how to 'think outside the box' in caring for a special needs animal. I am definitely a better person for the time I spent with Missy.
We'd never had a blind dog before and I wondered how I'd take care of her. I found early on that I had to keep a baby gate at the top of our basement stairs. Also, after finding her several times half way up the stairs to the bedrooms, I put a gate at the bottom of those stairs, too. She was feisty and would insist on climbing them, and there we'd find her trembling her way up one step at a time! So we put an end to that, too. There are 3 steps up to our deck from the yard, and for the first months she'd struggle to climb those until one time when she kept walking and walked right off the other end of the deck! From then on we always watched her until she was done and brought her in the house. She learned her way around the yard quickly – walk till you bump into the fence and then keep walking along the fence until you bump into the rain spout, go around the rain spout and follow the raspberry bushes to the sidewalk and that will take you to the stairs. I was impressed with how quickly she figured it all out. In the bedroom, she learned to get from her bed to the water bowl and back by walking along the base of the bed until she bumped into the wastebasket and then turning left to the water dish. She really did a good job navigating around in her surroundings. All we had to do was be careful not to rearrange her landmarks and to keep her away from stairs.
Some dogs really are 'one person dogs', and Missy was quite the "Mama's girl". She would "arp" around the house until she could find me. The kids always said there was no consoling her while I was away no matter what they tried. She would just wander and cry until she would collapse from exhaustion. She liked to be in my arms and would many times fall right asleep there and other times would lick my hand a while first as if to say, "Yipee, Mom, I found you!" There's nothing to win your heart like a creature who wants you and no one else! So she quickly became MY baby. I always thought that somewhere in this dog's past was someone who really loved her and pampered her and doted on her and taught her what love was all about because she recognized it and responded to it very readily. Perhaps just by the grace of God, I reminded Missy enough of that person that she took to me as though she'd finally found her way "home".
Sometimes she would lay on her back and wriggle and paw at the air. I think she was just scratching her back, but it made us laugh because she was so much in her own little world of joy then. She liked to be brushed and would lean into it like a back scratch. When she walked, her curved spine caused her to look almost like a walking horseshoe with both snout and tail pointed toward the floor. When she slept, she snored enough to attract our snickers. She was a REAL good napper! And she liked to eat. Because she had no teeth we fed her canned food and had to mash it up for her and it took her forever to eat a plateful and we had to "repile" it over and over so she could keep gumming the top off the mountain, so to speak, but she always ate well.
As the months when by, we could see her declining further and always wondered how much further she could possibly slip and still keep going. And yet she hung on and hung on. We increased her lasix a couple times because her gagging episodes increased. We kept her diapered all the time because her accidents came more and more frequently (we used newborn diapers and the tabs way overlapped on her tiny 8-9 inch waist - it was hard to keep a diaper on, too, because the vertical slant of her back half made the diaper just slip down with gravity - but we managed). Because of the accidents, I learned that I couldn't let her have free roam of the bedroom at night without running the very real risk of bathing a dog and scrubbing a carpet in the middle of the night. So I made her up a soft bed in an uncovered Rubbermaid tote that had sides high enough that she couldn't get out, and she slept in the bin next to my side of the bed. When she had to pottie, she would get up and bonk into the side of the box and I'd hear her and rush her out for potties. The last few weeks, I had to hold her up while she pottied so that she wouldn't collapse in it. She had trouble with her balance and her stamina.
Yes, she was a "high maintenance" doggie - so needy in her elderly state and with all her health problems and people often asked how long I intended to endure this, but love covered it all. Like a Mommy bathing her baby, it is work but rather a joyful labor and not one done begrudgingly. Although I could write a lot about how much work it took to take care of her, I could also write so much here about how sweet she was, how much I loved having her, all the joy she brought me, some of the silly things she did, how precious it was to have a creature in the world who's only care in life is being with you. But I fear I've gone on too long already. I'll just say that I loved being her Mama, I loved how I could make her happy with just some snug time (and she was so tiny I could tuck her under one arm like a football and pretty much go about my work), so she really became, to some degree, an extension of my body. That was something I enjoyed immensely.
The first week of October, 2004, she started showing signs that she was coming to the end, but I tried working with her just to give her every opportunity to perk up in case it was just maybe a virus or something. Perhaps I was hoping against hope. I'd already gone from hand feeding her to spoon feeding, then to syringe feeding. Eating had always been one of her joys and now she'd been refusing her evening meals and she'd only accept about a teaspoon of food at breakfast. The last few days she was rejecting even that, plus she was having diarrhea and she was getting more listless. About a month before October we increased her lasix (for her congestive heart failure) because she was having the gagging again, but although it helped, it didn't eliminate it, and much more lasix would have been toxic. So she had really reached the point where the very best I could do for her simply wasn't working anymore. It was her body's time to be done.
When she rejected food again Friday morning, I knew that if I didn't take her in that day, my next chance would be Monday and I'm sure she would have died by then. I didn't know if her death would be one of dying peacefully in her sleep or one of seizures and gasping and such, but when I knew for certain it was coming, I wanted her death to be as easy as possible for her, so I took her to Dr. Laack to be euthanized. She was non-responsive by our 4:15 appointment and Dr. Laack let me listen to her heart. The beats were very irregular and just a lot of whooshing around. It was quite obvious just by looking at her, but also by a medical examination, that death was well on its way. She died peacefully, except she did feel the needle poke, which broke my heart. But I think it was better than what she would have endured otherwise. So although I am missing her terribly, I do have peace in my heart that we did the very best for our girl. We all took turns holding her and saying goodbye. I stroked her while she was dying and told her I loved her and after she was gone, I stayed a long while and stroked her some more. It was just very very hard to leave her.
We ordered a private cremation for her and her urn is now in the hutch next to Nick's, with a photo of her and with her little purple collar and with her little purple brush. She always liked being brushed, so I took the brush along and brushed her with it while we were waiting for the doctor. I'm not sure whether she felt it. Usually, she leaned into it like a back scratch, but this time she didn't. But I did it for her just in case it would bring her a last bit of pleasure.
It is amazing how much a Mama's heart can love 4 1/2 scrawny pounds of fur and bones. Because I knew it was her last day, I spent the afternoon holding her in my arms. I had to wrap her in a towel because she had messed on herself a few times. I washed her up the best I could but she was in no shape for a full bath. During her last night, she got up to potty and afterward, I was snugging her and she fell fast asleep in my arms, so I just leaned back on my pillow and she and I slept about 4 hours like that. Then she got up to potty again and we went back to bed and slept like that some more. So her last night and her last day were spent largely in Mama's arms, and I think that was a blessing to her - it surely was for me. Also, on the way to the vet, we stopped at a friend’s home so they could say goodbye to her. They are not only our dear loyal friends, but they are our dear loyal 'dog-sitters' and they and the dogs have gotten quite attached to each other. It was hard for me to watch them say goodbye.
I liked how satisfying it has been to be able to make such a difference in her little life. We tried to give her a nice "twilight" season of life. It is a joy and a privilege to have such a close relationship with one of God's special creatures. It is a privilege to take a precious creature that is so vulnerable and see them through life through all they need, to give them every opportunity to have life at the fullest possible level for them. I do already miss her so much. Today the kids have taken Kitty (Drea's black Pomeranian) with them to Grandpa Mark's house for the day and so I am down to 6 doggies. The house seems far too empty... and I am hugging the others just a little bit tighter today.