I finally took Preston in to see his veterinarian. I realized how long it had been since we had seen her when it turned out that she was no longer working where I expected her to be. Fortunately, the receptionist did give me the name of her new clinic when I asked.
So, I brought him in to the new clinic, which was also the old clinic that I had started with when I had Filbert. It was also the emergency vet, so they already had many of Preston’s records. When we were taken into the room, the assistant took all of the information about Preston’s seizure and general health. Then she took a blood sample and disappeared.
When Dr. Parker (Preston’s usual vet) came into the room, her first words were: “phenol barbital.”
I didn’t really like the sound of that. It reminded me of two times when I had to deal with phenol while working in a DNA laboratory, one which burned me and one which burned my assistant. Not the same thing, of course, but it set off bells in my head.
“It’s really quite safe,” she assured me when she saw the frown on my face.
I still wasn’t sure. I just didn’t want to add something that may not be good to his already messed up chemistry.
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
“I can send you home with some Valium,” Dr. Parker said, “At least he won’t have to go through another night like that one.”
She did sell me on some extra blood tests.
Dr. Parker sent me home with a syringe of diazepam (valium) with instructions to administer it anally as ‘he would probably bite me if I tried to administer it through his mouth.”
Sure, I thought. Just TRY that anally part.
Nothing happened for a few days. Things seemed nearly back to the “new” normal of Preston being the invalid. The vet didn’t call back about the blood tests so I assumed they were good. Then, she did.
The glucose levels were extremely low. White blood cells were 32,000 – almost double the 13,000 – 17,000 normal range. Eosonophils were high.
Another blood test and an ultrasound.
So, we took him in for an ultrasound with the promise that they would really try to do it without any sedation (Preston was pretty good about these kinds of things). In the end, they did it just fine without sedation.
They took him into the back rooms of that large veterinary hospital with the promise that they would call me the SECOND he was out of any harm and I could pick him up as soon as possible after that.
So. I waited.
I sat anxiously by the telephone.
Finally, they called and said that I could pick Preston up. I was there as quickly as possible (within the realm of speed limits).
One side of his stomach was shaven. It was awful! To take away that beautiful part of that beautiful dog!! Well, really I didn’t care.
It was just a part of that thing that I heard so much on the trail as Preston lumbered behind: “And then comes the OLD dog.”
Preston was never old to me. I knew his spirit. Now, he really looked like the OLD dog.
But, such was it. The vet who had overseen the ultrasound and had done the initial reading called me and said that she couldn’t see anything major except that the urinary bladder was thickened.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It just means that there is a chronic infection.”
“Is there anything else?” I asked.
“No, and I can’t completely verify that until the radiologist looks at the films.”
And, again, I waited.
Life went on as was normal in the previous few months. Preston became a little weaker although we were giving him his antibiotics for whatever infection he had. He loved to hang out in the Pet House and sleep all day and, occasionally, wake up and sniff around. He seemed perfectly happy although I know that wasn’t really what he wanted (just like all of us as we get older).
One night, I could see a seizure beginning again. I immediately ran to my bathroom and grabbed the Valium syringe. I came back and he wasn’t really full throttle yet. I started looking for his anus under all that fur and tail.
‘Shit,’ I thought. There was no way. So I tried to open his mouth and, just as predicted, he bit me (not really hard, though). I then just pulled the side of his lips back and found a notch in between his teeth and shoved the syringe in and pushed.
He immediately recoiled and shook his head. It wasn’t very tasty. He then lay down and I started to pet him in reassurance once again.
It seemed like hours, but eventually he fell asleep. I watched him for a long time, but then decided he was going to be okay and crawled back into bed.
Again. The next morning, it was as if nothing had happened. He woke up. He went to the top of the stairs and waited for either Paul or I to help him down, and then we went for our little walk after coffee.
A few days went by uneventfully. Then, one morning, we went off to the forest as we did every day. Preston seemed perfectly fine on the way. He was pretty quiet these days and didn’t bark when Ursus did, but he was aware.
We off-loaded the dogs and they walked their separate ways. It only took a few steps until the back end of Preston gave way. His rear end fell to the ground. He looked up to me helplessly. I attempted to help him up, but there was seemingly no connection between his mind and his hind end.
It was awful.
People who didn’t know us walked by with that understanding and sympathetic look.
“No!!!” I thought, “You don’t understand!! This is the miracle dog!! The Stealth Dog!!”
But, it was true. He was there flopping on the ground without any control.
My eyes teared up. Paul watched the scene unfold and eventually took Preston by the collar and, in his authoritative way, pulled Preston to his feet, back to the car, and lifted him in.
I crawled into the passenger seat and Ursus jumped into the back. The walk was over.
By the time we got home, Preston was back to his ‘new normal’. He wolfed down his breakfast– after an impressive (for the moment) breakfast dance.
Then he crawled up onto “his” couch and fell into the deep sleep that only dogs that are old and/or hard of hearing can fall into.
We took him for our little walk for a few days and he was fine. One day, we walked right up the hill where we had usually turned around. I made us all turn around. Once again, Preston lost control of his rear end and it fell to the ground. He kept pulling with his front feet, but those back limbs just would not cooperate.
I eased him back to the car. I held his collar while he walked to give him leverage. He did it. Very slowly. Eventually, after many stops, we made it.
The next day or so, we went back. Again, Preston had all of his wits about him on the way and then, once we hit the path, he walked about 100 feet and fell.
This was the third time, although in my head I wasn’t really counting. I just knew that this was it.
We eased him back to the car again. When we got home, I called my vet. She happened to be on vacation at that time, but I left a message for her to call me ASAP about coming to my house for an euthanasia.
There was no return call. Preston seemed to look worse. He was sleeping on his couch and only getting up when he really had to pee. It wasn’t often, like I would expect with a urinary tract infection.
Another day went by. We took Preston to Mac Forest in the morning. He seemed fine. Then we got about 100 yards from the starting point of the trail. He fell again. He was dazed and confused. Not quite like he had been in the middle of a seizure, but he looked lost.
Paul and I escorted and lifted him back into the car. Once again he seemed tired, but fine.
When we got home I was in a panic. In my head, something was really wrong. I had no real idea what it was. The cursory information that I got from the veterinarian was that there was nothing outstanding in his ultrasounds, but there was a lot going on in his bloodwork.
That day I decided it was time. To this day I feel overwhelmingly guilty. I don’t know if I made the right call.
When Filbert had prostate cancer, even as a neutered dog, I was confident that if we paid the money for his chemotherapy and radiation therapy that he would not only survive, but be a hero to all. Fil even actually LOVED the visits to the oncologist in Beaverton, 100 miles from home. Eventually, the treatments stopped and Fil went quickly downhill until he finally had to be euthanized two weeks after the treatments stopped.
We had spent a lot of time and money. We had put Filbert through many things that eventually didn’t buy him any time of meaning.
And that is why I decided not to put Preston through anything like that.
I called Dr. Parker. She was on vacation but was checking her messages. I really decided that it was time to send Preston to his final landing.
No one called back. I called them and they gave me the name of a traveling vet whose name I trusted. I called her. There was only an answering machine. There I was just waiting for a return call from…ANYONE!!
Two days passed and Preston was just hanging in. Finally, my phone rang and it was from the travelling vet.
And finally, we set up a time for Saturday morning.
The day before the deed, Preston looked like his old self. He even walked in Mac Forest for an hour and not once did his back legs give out. He tripped a couple times, but that was it.
We came home and he got excited and danced around for his food, just like he always had. I began wondering if I was doing the right thing.
I had planned to have the euthanasia done this day (until I found that the vet couldn’t do it). I swear. Preston was hanging around like he was waiting for it. I set up camp right next to him. He only got up when he needed to pee. I helped him out the back door and then back inside.
So, I spent the entire day with him, neither of us doing anything except laying there.
I had bought three big steaks, a package of marrow bones, and a cake for him (and Ursus).
That evening, Paul grilled up the steaks and a Gimme Lean patty that I had made to look like a steak for myself. Paul and I ate our dinner and then gave each of the dogs pieces of their steak. I don’t think they even chewed.
Afterward, Paul brought out the bones. He gave one to each of the dogs. We watched them as they licked the marrow from the middle. As soon as the marrow was gone, Paul grabbed it from them. Ursus was fine with that because he had been conditioned since a puppy. Preston looked like he just might bite Paul’s hand off until Paul handed him another one. Ursus got another one, too.
“Oh, in that case, I’ll let you keep your hand,” thought Preston.
The next morning I woke up from a fitful night. I did everything in the routine way that I always do, but it felt like a dream. Preston seemed okay. We took him to a park that was closer to the house for his final walk. He seemed fine. When we decided it was time to go back home, Preston even tried to go farther.
I could not help but think: Am I doing the right thing?
When we got home, I gave Preston a big piece of the cake that we had never actually gotten to the night before. I gave Ursus a tiny slice, just to be fair. After he had finished his cake, Preston went into the living room and lay down on the floor.
I went and lay down beside him. Paul sat in “his” chair. We could hear the clock ticking as we all waited for the moment.
Am I doing the right thing?? It’s not like Preston had signed a paper telling us it was what he wanted. Maybe it wasn’t what he wanted. Maybe he would rather have stayed until his body fell apart completely.
As I stroked his back, I saw that his lower eyelid all of a sudden began drooping. It had the look of a Bassett Hound. I then wondered if he was having some reaction to all of the sugar in the cake. Part of his problem had been with blood sugar.
We waited for what seemed days until the vet came, exactly on time.
Preston got up when the vet came in and headed to the back door. He had to pee. I took him outside. I had thought we would do the ‘deed’ in the back yard, but the day was cool and the grass was wet.
“I think it would be better inside,” the veterinary said.
So, we went back to the living room. The vet laid a blanket down and Preston lay down on it. I sat down next to Preston’s head and the tears started pouring. The vet was watching me carefully. I suppose she was trying to ascertain if I was going to change my mind. I wonder how many times that had happened to her?
“Okay?” She asked. I nodded. “The first shot I am going to give him is a sedative to calm him down.” I nodded. I knew the routine from all the other dogs and rabbits I had been with at a time just like this one. Preston didn’t exactly need it because he was just lying there anyway.
Paul had brought Ursus over to witness the procedure. Ursus was nervous and panting. Did he think he was going to be next?
I waited, my head hanging over Preston’s. I expected the next shot, but it wasn’t coming. I looked up at the vet.
“Are you ready?” she asked. I nodded, the tears falling more.
And then she did it. The final shot.
I could hear Preston’s breathing. He took a deep breath. It was so deep I expected him to wake up and look around as if he had beaten the odds once again. Then there was another breath, this one not so deep.
Ursus stopped breathing and looked scared at the same moment.
Two breaths. He was gone. Then someone ripped my stomach out. I really started bawling then.
“I wanted you to be with me forever!” I cried as I buried my face in his fur. I saw the veterinary assistant stifle a catch in her throat and the veterinarian shook her head with a frown to say “don’t let yourself get emotional.” Later, I wondered if it was because Ursus had completely caught his breath and stopped breathing at the exact moment that Preston died.
The veterinary put a stethoscope to his heart.
“He’s gone,” she said. I nodded.
“Did you see how Ursus reacted?” Paul said. I, of course, had not. The two women nodded and agreed it had been amazing. Ursus knew the precise moment that Preston had died. Urs had caught his breath for a second, too.
After a while, they folded the blanket over my best buddy and took him away to be cremated.
“I didn’t know they were going to take care of it,” Paul said after they had gone. “I thought I was going to have to do it.”
“No,” I said through tears, “I guess I should have mentioned it.”
Then Paul started crying. “Give me a hug,” he said. So I did. Poor guy, he had been holding it in because he thought his services were going to be necessary.
Then we sat there. What do you do after that?
I guess you slowly just get back into your usual life.
It was April 9, 2016 at 9:40 am. Preston’s life had been five years before being with me and nine and ½ years with me. It took less than 15 minutes to end it.
People tell me “it was for the best. That’s the way he would have wanted it.” How the hell do I know? It’s not like he signed a “do not resuscitate” document. Maybe he wanted to live until his body absolutely quit. Maybe he really did only have a really bad E. coli infection in his urinary bladder. That’s all the blood tests showed. And that can cause seizures. Should I have kept him going to see if the infection cleared up? I had a syringe of Valium to give him if he started to have another seizure.
I don’t think there is ever an answer. Most people tell me “I wish I had done it earlier.”
I didn’t want Preston to go through a lot of pain and torment that he would hide because that’s what dogs do.
Still, it feels like a hole has been left in the center of my body. A little black hole left by a big black dog. I can’t help but think of all the summer days he will miss. I look out into the back yard where he would stretch out in the sunshine, even on the hottest days. Or he’d sit up with his nose in the air gathering every scent in the neighborhood.
When I come home, I immediately look to the couch to see his happy little face and wagging tail, only to see it empty.
When I’m running, I keep looking back to check on him only to realize that he’s not there at all. Then I look in the woods hoping that I’ll spot the ghost of a black dog running through the trees.
Even Paul admitted that Preston “got under your skin.” He quietly manipulated all of us. Actually, the whole house seems so much quieter without his presence, and he didn’t make much noise at all.
But I will always remember and miss his quiet snoring at night or his dreams when his feet ran against the wall. Chasing after some creature in the woods.
Preston was a character. But he didn’t show it much to people he didn’t know.
There was one woman who summed much of it up in a sympathy card:
“We will miss seeing Preston on the trails, hunting for plums, or nosing around in the grass, happy and content to leave all the other dogs to their busybody social packs and ready in an instant to take off on an adventure of his own!”
I received Preston’s ashes a week later. The veterinarian’s assistant called and then called back again to apologize that she did not realize that the vet who had come to the house had also said that she would deliver his ashes.
I couldn’t wait. I wanted him back, even in ash form.
There is this thing, I think. We don’t really see how our puppy is slowing down. Anyone who is outside and not completely attached sees it because they see the dog maybe every week, every two weeks, every six months. When you see him every day, the downhill progression may be fairly slow. We are in denial about it anyway.