Eight and a half years or 101 months ago, to be more exact, can be considered the blink of an eye or a long time, a lifetime for some. We (Caleb, Sparky, and I) had moved to Florida and settled in when I volunteered at the SPCA in 2010 and found a dog who looked like Sparky that I brought home and named Piggy.
Caleb’s favorite memory is of him sitting in our office room on his computer in Florida when he was suddenly disturbed by this loud noise — a single bark. He thought a stranger had wandered in and turned around to see Piggy sitting there so cute and innocent, but really needing to pee.
My favorite memory was walking in Big Bend National Park in my dainty felt-bottom shoes and I ended up barefoot and carrying Piggy because her little foot pads weren’t developed for the rough terrain unlike Caleb in his hiking boots and Sparky with his pads made tough from playing fetch for hours on any surface — gravel, pavement, etc.
It took Sparky a while to warm up to her and the fact that we couldn’t leave food out because she would eat it. It also didn’t help that she chewed up his favorite orange squeaky ball while we all watched. Caleb and I waited for Sparky to do something about it, but Piggy was vicious and chewed on walls and the coffee table when hunger struck.
We were camping once and made the mistake of leaving the dogs in the tent only to come back and find out that Piggy had helped herself to a few sandwiches worth of bread, not that Sparky wasn’t guilty too.
People would notice Piggy’s eyes first, big globes of blue blindness on her cute little face that slowly turned white over the years. One way to see how young someone looks is to see them in old age. Piggy maintained her swagger up until her last week and I missed watching her butt wag as she chose to walk behind me on our daily walks.
It must’ve been a few days before my birthday when Piggy said no to food for the first time. I left it in her bowl and just added to it as a way to keep track of how much she wasn’t eating and made no big deal when her habits changed to reduced intake. I figured both dogs could use a diet in their old and sedentary age.
A couple days later it happened again. This had happened with Sparky before so we bought her some soft food and she would eat that off the kibble mixed in, so I still didn’t think to question it (even though it’s like a person eating a whole pizza and then wanting their money back because they didn’t like it).
And then, she just wouldn’t eat and I came home from work and her eyes were yellow or green. It was hard to tell that first day, but the neighbor’s kid noticed right away.
Google told me dogs come with green eyes, so it’s nothing to worry about because jaundice only happens to the whites of the eyes and not the iris. On Friday the 14th her belly was yellow too. I called her doctor’s office and they couldn’t see her until Wednesday, but a closer, and cheaper, vet could see her on Sunday at 10:30a so I booked the appointment and took her in at 10a.
I told them she was yellow, losing weight, and hadn’t eaten. They said they would pump her full of fluids, take some blood and x-rays (both cost my little paycheck), and keep her for the day with some antibiotics. I picked her up six hours later and she came home hungry for the turkey soft food they’d sold me too.
She was diagnosed with liver disease and they recommend I keep her in hospital over the next week (with their half-day rates at some $250+) and get an ultrasound from the pet emergency room in La Mesa (over 20 miles away) for an added $300-500 plus lab fees and supervision costs to determine how quickly she would die.
I went on a special shopping trip and bought egg whites, tuna, red beans, low-fat cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt (should’ve gotten the goat yogurt she liked) among other things to give her liver a chance to recover. She was taking milk thistle and another liver prescription and I thought she was fine till Tuesday when she ate one noodle and I came home to find half of it thrown up on the floor.
I went back to the vet to pick up the prescription they’d given her (22.7mg Baytril) and called at least five places before finding out Costco had it and I was buying the last of their stock. I dropped the paper off at 2p and went back to pick up the pills by 5p so they could start to work their magic again.
I had to force her medication down via a glob of peanut butter while Sparky was mere centimeters from her face and felt terrible because it caused nausea and she wasn’t eating. I started to look up euthanasia and found a website that offers a Quality of Life quiz, so of course I took it… a bunch of times (one for Piggy, Sparky, imaginary healthy pet, and one that is suffering terribly, and a walking corpse).
Piggy went from a score of 115 out of 150 to 160 in a matter of days. She went from eating “treats” her special diet to not eating at all, from taking 20 minutes to walk the neighborhood to 45, to peeing orange regardless of how much she drank (though she still had good poops).
She had lost weight, but all the gas in her belly made up for it in her appearance, but not when I picked her up and felt her skinny ribs and saw the dandruff on her coat. Piggy was always a sleeper and her mouth the most disgusting thing around, but her not feeling well didn’t stop her from spreading that smell all over her little paws.
The vet had left the IV in and Piggy didn’t bother it (something her former self would not have been able to do), so I left it for a day before taking it out myself. The worst part was the tape that stuck to her arm that would stay on for another day. I didn’t want her dying in it, so I pulled it off, along with her hairs on her fragile arm. She wasn’t using her front feet to lift her butt in the air to pee anymore, but going in puddles onto her back feet.
She used to greet me at the door and as all dog owners can attest to, it’s a great feeling that whether you’re gone for five minutes or five hours that dogs are just as excited by your presence every time. She went from looking up towards my sound to just laying there in wait.
Caleb said he was coming home a few days early because I let him know Piggy was ready and he didn’t want me to have to deal with her situation alone. Piggy had stopped sleeping with us after she took a dive into the wall one day and we worried she had broken her back, but her x-rays showed how perfect she still was (bone wise).
She was blind, oldish (in her 60s or more), and also suffering from tremors of the hind legs. I opened up our spare room and brought the dogs in for our last night together. She was on the left and he was on the right and off to dreamland we went until I got woken up at 4a to Sparky having a seizure. I called the ER and they said to bring him in if it lasts over five minutes or he has multiples, so I waited.
Piggy went back to her bed while I walked Sparky around the block twice before I could get him to sleep with me on the couch for two more hours. I picked up Caleb from the airport and he immediately agreed with my diagnosis of our once lively and shiny pup into a shell of cuteness waiting for the starvation to end her. Of course I cried for the second time.
I put her bed in the backseat and she shifted from facing the middle to putting her head in the sunlight on the 18-mile ride to the SPCA (where I will first see her and where we will see her last). Caleb let me carry her in and we sat in a chair in the outside lobby for ten minutes before being brought inside to the last place we would ever all be together.
The room screamed murder to me — a tiny table, two chairs, and a computer rigged from the 90s in the corner, with two doors with us locked in to say our goodbyes. Knowing this was the right thing to do made it easier and I’ve been able to joke, but also to cry as I go through the steps of grief twice.
I wasn’t ready for her to be done with our time together, but it’s not my decision and I didn’t want to wait for her to lose another pound, or turn more yellow, or wait on some other marker of suffering to determine when she was ready to go. Dogs are lucky that they don’t have to deal with chemo, painful tests and treatments, or months in hospice waiting to die, unless their owners put them through that stress.
I didn’t want to spend the time and energy to revive her temporarily only to have to go through this again in days, weeks, or months with less money and her still having to worry about what else would happen in the meantime. People outlive dogs by six of their lifetimes, so it makes sense for a bit of struggle to gain another human generation, but Piggy didn’t have that option.
I thought about all the things I could’ve done differently, all the what-if scenarios, and remembered the sadness those brought my mom. I have to let nature be and had she been out there getting eaten alive by ants or torn apart by a tiger this end process could be worse. I did her a favor by not waiting till the last moment when she lost all her hair as it had started to fall out.
We sat in that room with her in my arms and her little heart beat on my stomach and bad breath in my face. The seconds ticked by and soon Bri came in, “Are you ready for me to take her?” “As ready as I’ll ever be”, as I started to cry. Was it too soon? A million other questions rushed through my brain, but I let Bri know I was happy she wouldn’t be riding next to the asshole dog outside, at least not while alive.
They euthanize immediately, so there’s no way to experience drop-off remorse and change your mind. Caleb thought he would drive us home, but I took us to Living Tea Brewing Co. where I cried while trying kombucha (I got ginger and coconut), then to Nomad Donuts (buy 6, get 6 free), and then home to our last pet. It’s plants and rocks after he goes.
My friend called later and asked what I was doing. My response, “walking my only dog.” The more of something you have the easier it is to lose — cheap shoes, ugly couches, and bad friends, but when you’re only given two parents or choose to have two dogs (not that those are even close to being similar to compare Dad), but it makes you realize how important they are.
I’m down to one parent who better live another 30 years and down to one dog who could have five years left in him, but I chose one husband and have managed to hold onto him for 13 years (ten of those married). We don’t chose the family we’re born into and as a kid I always dreamed of growing up into a princess myself. What I forgot about was everyone’s happily-ever-afters — the divorces, the deaths, and other detriments that happen to us and those we love in life.
This was supposed to be part memoir for Piggy and she’s mentioned a lot. I also want this to be a helpful piece for those who have to go through this as it may not seem easy until you look through their eyes. Do they enjoy not eating, not walking, and having to get stabbed and tested as they waste away.
I tried to find how long it takes for jaundice to show up. I wanted to know how long Piggy had been suffering and if maybe I had made her wait too long, but Caleb tells me she’d have fought for another couple weeks to spend time with me, and that would be selfish.
I brought her bed out of the car and Sparky laid in it. Eventually we will get rid of her things, but I’m not ready yet, and he’s enjoying her food. I wondered how he would take it as he cuddled more with her in the last days, but he’s been his playful and whiny self.
Looking through the hundreds of sleeping Piggy pictures over the years I realize that she was young once, playful and full of energy, but she has always been shy. Other people were not as lucky to experience her cute and vicious side or to witness her flying circles. Some got to pet her, but it was rare to see them cuddling with her or even sitting close.
Thank you Piggy for prancing in the snow, making us carry you after long walks, stealing our food and our hearts. I think of you often because we had so much in common — walking, eating, napping, and enjoying the sunshine. I love you for all the adventures and belly rubs you inspired over the years, and obviously so much more.