Sunday, December 1, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Harley Part 1 of 4 "Something's wrong..."

I started writing this on Saturday morning November 16th, as a Facebook status update for my friends and family and soon realized it was way too long (Why do we share so much more on Facebook these days than we do in our "real lives"?). Anyway, considering one of the best ways for me to release my feelings is to write, I thought I would get my feelings out here on the blog before I explode in a very non-productive way. I have to warn you, this is definitely not my usual entry, consisting of my adventures in home decor or makeup or even the funny little life stories that I occasionally have to share....It's actually quite the opposite...It's about real-life shitty stuff that happens to us all sometimes. I'm even breaking my own rule that I put in place when I began blogging, which was to leave these type of shitty things out of it.

I like to make people smile, not cry...

...but, today is just not a day that I give a shit, frankly {side note: I swear A LOT when I'm upset}.
There are tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat and I'm literally in physical pain over the shitty news we received last night. Before I start, though, I have to give my little "social work major" disclaimer and let you know that I realize that there are those out there who won't understand, and that's okay. I also understand that even though I feel like this is one of the darkest and worst days I've experienced in my life, I know that there are worse things that happen to people.

However, I'm going to be selfish right now and pretend I'm the center of the universe.

There are only a handful of times in my life where I've literally felt that I've been hit in the stomach with a brick. Unfortunately, yesterday was one of them.

Harley, our German Shepherd, is almost 10 and she's had arthritis for the last few years, along with constant ear infections and allergies. She's never let this stop her until recently, though. Up until a few weeks ago, she still enjoyed escaping through the front door to jump in the car for rides whenever she had a chance to slip through as we were leaving to go somewhere. She still acted like a puppy whenever family and friends came over, always super excited to see anyone who knew her. She especially loved to jump on my dad when he came over, who was never too thrilled because her claws left holes in his shirts (though I think he secretly did love it). For the most part, she loved playing with other dogs and was never aggressive towards other animals. She loved being with her kids, and was known to hop on the couch and hang out with her "dad" when he was watching T.V., but I contend that her favorite thing to do was to  jump up onto the bed to curl up next to me. It's no secret that my room and my bed are my haven, so she'd frequently lay next to me and hang out while I did homework, took my regular the occasional nap or watched T.V. and every morning, she'd patiently sit next to Mitch's side of the bed. The second he was out of bed, she was on the bed in his place. When I was sick, or depressed, there she was, right next to me. She'd even skip meals in order to stay right next to me.

A few weeks ago, however, she stopped jumping up on the bed to lay next to me. It was kind of sudden. One morning as she started to jump up, she couldn't seem to get her back legs up with her. She tried so hard and I could tell she was frustrated, but she just wasn't strong enough. I reasoned it was her arthritis and that we just needed to get a refill of her medication, so we took her to the vet, who also prescribed her some Prednisone...which made her a little bat-shit to tell you the truth. While she was on it, she would pace around the house with anxiety, drink gallons of water, which made her need to go out to pee constantly and was a general spaz (even more so than usual). Not knowing that these were normal side-effects, we took her off of it last week and decided we needed to take her back to the vet and see what other options were there.

We could also tell there was something  more to her behavior. She was slower than usual and quieter. She stopped running up to the door to meet us when we got home. She just looked sick. She also hadn't been eating much for a while, which happens when she's on antibiotics because she hates the taste when we mix them into her food, but we knew this was something more. We needed to take her to the vet again.

For some reason, though, I kept forgetting to make the appointment (actually, to tell you the truth, I think I sort of knew something more than the usual was up and was avoiding making the call). Not much changed in the next few days, though, until one night when Mitch was petting her and discovered something that felt like a lump on her neck. Alarmed, he had me check to see if I could feel it and unfortunately, I could. However, I reverted back to my old habit of total denial when things get serious and told him it was just fat, while trying not to show that inside I was really worried. I called the next morning and made the appointment for today.

Turns out, that wasn't fast enough. Thursday night, she suddenly started getting worse and  I panicked. I knew something was terribly wrong with her and I kept Mitch up until 2 am, crying while I tried to come up with a logical and completely benign answer. The thought of "the end" really hit me and I mean, really hit me and I  remember saying to Mitch that I just had a terrible feeling deep in my gut.

I ended up waking up yesterday (Friday) and decided to skip class. She had started to walk funny, kind of like she was drunk. Her breathing, which we had noticed had gotten heavier and more labored in the last few days, was even louder. Her eyes looked different, too. Then, she did something she had never done before. She walked right into the kitchen wall, completely disoriented.

 I panicked and called Mitch who tried to calm me down and told me he would see if he could get off of work a couple of hours early. After I got off the phone with him, I decided to give her her favorite treat. Cheese. I broke apart a slice and threw it up in the air, expecting her to catch it like she always does. It hit her nose and rolled off onto the floor where she had to sniff around to find it. Not believing it, I tried it again (okay, probably 5 times). and each time she missed. I can't remember for sure, because it starts to get blurry, but I think my dad called about then only to hear me have a complete break down over the phone. He did his best to attempt to calm me down and it did work a little.

After I got off the phone with him, I decided to let her out to go to the bathroom. She could barely get off the deck, so I left the door open. A couple of minutes later, I checked on her and she was laying on the grass. She looked comfy, so I decided to let her lay there a while.

I wish I hadn't.

About a half hour later, I became concerned. She hadn't barked her "real bark" in a few days, but I hadn't even heard the little, "Mom, time to let me in" bark. I looked out the door into the backyard and she wasn't there.

I called her. She didn't answer.

I listened for the sound of her tags dangling on her collar. I didn't hear them.

Worried, I put my boots on and walked around the corner of the house.

My eyes scanned the side yard. She wasn't there, either.

My heart dropped.

I knew something was wrong.

 I still needed to check the other side yard, though, so I started to turn around to do that, hoping she was over there,

As I turned though, I saw something in window well.

It was Harley. Sitting there at the bottom. Quivering.  Staring off into space.

She had fallen a good 4 feet, or so. I could tell she was scared, but she wasn't whimpering or trying to get out and she wasn't moving around. She was eerily silent. I screamed and ran back into the house down into the basement, calling Mitch again. I'm not even sure if he understood me at first, but eventually I choked out the words as I ran to get the ramp we had been using to get her in and out of the car. I was sobbing as I carried it downstairs, knowing that I had absolutely no chance of getting her out on my own seeing as how I outweigh her by about 15 pounds (and I'm a self-proclaimed wussy). I opened the window and tried to comfort her. I could tell she was trying to see me, but her eyes were blood red and "vacant". Mitch said he would leave work as soon as he could and we hung up. I called my dad, hoping he was at home, but he was clear across town and it would take him too long. He said to try my neighbors and to try to calm down. He tried to comfort me some more, but I was so panicked, I think I hung up on him.

"Fuck!" I yelled out loud, realizing that the only neighbors I knew had just moved out of the neighborhood and I was pretty sure the husband was working. Everyone else I knew  lived too far, or they were at work.

If there were ever a time I wished I was a Mormon, or not a social recluse, it was now...

I turned my attention back to Harley, stroking her cheek and trying to tell her I was going to get her through this. I  tried again to get her to walk down the ramp a few more times. Fat fucking chance. She wasn't going anywhere. Sobbing, I just stroked the side of her check, telling her that I wasn't going to leave her and that dad would be home, soon (I hoped).

My sister called me just then. I guess my dad had called her. Luckily, my brother-in-law (a firefighter) was home and came right over to help me lift her out. I must say, he was definitely my rock in that moment and I will never forget how calm he was. Harley was so nervous by the time that he got there  that she dug her heels into the gravel, refusing to come through the window for either of us. Instead we had to go to plan B,which was for both of us to jump into the window well and get her out that way. It was nerve wracking, but we were each able to grab an end and lift her out of the well. After we got her inside Aaron stayed with us for a few more minutes. I don't remember what we talked about but I know it helped me calm down a little. I can definitely see why he is so good at his job...As he was leaving, Diva came home and I knew that she was unprepared for what met her.

 She was already having a hard time watching Harley the last few months with her arthritis, panicking whenever she seemed in pain and she probably noticed before we did that things weren't going well. The two are soul mates in a way, and I knew this was going to send her into a panic. I wasn't prepared to tell her what we had just been though and for a second, I even contemplated not telling her. However, Destructo, who didn't quite understand the seriousness of the situation couldn't wait to tell her. After he, not so delicately, shared the news, I tried to explain what was going on more calmly, but being 12, she knew exactly what I was saying. The time with her beloved companion was most likely nearing its end and iIt didn't help that Harley (as if on cue) walked smack into the kitchen wall again as I was trying to explain the situation.

It broke my heart to see Diva's reaction to this before she ran from the room in tears. After giving her a couple of minutes, I found her curled up in my bed, sobbing. Shaking. Unable to move. She told me she needed Emily (her best friend) and we called my friend Jenn (Emily's mom). Her voice mail picked up and as I started to leave a message, my voice cracked, so I had to hang up. Jenn called shortly after and Diva grabbed the phone, asking for Jenn to come get her. She didn't want to stay and watch what was going on. It was too painful.

My heart broke for her and it hurt even more that I had nothing to say to make her feel better. She was too old for me to try to minimize the situation.

Mitch got home shortly after that in order to take her to the vet. I made sure to get some quick pictures before they had to leave...just in case

 (Later, I was pissed when I realized that I hadn't thought to get any pictures of me with her.):

Destructo decided she needed a blanket at this point. He  had been chasing her with blankets for the past few days telling me that she needed them because she wasn't feeling well.

 After I was done taking pictures, I helped Mitch put her in the back of the SUV. While I hugged her and kissed her goodbye, I made him promise to bring her home for at least one more night, but I wasn't sure if that was a promise he would be able to keep. That scene where Jennifer Aniston has to say Goodbye to Marley in the movie Marley and Me came to my mind and I vowed for the 20th time to throw that damn movie away.

After they left,  I tried to keep myself busy. I wanted to break down. Curl up on my bed. Cry hysterically. However I knew I couldn't do that, yet. Not in front of the kids,anyway. So, I did something else instead. Something that comes naturally to me. I decided to do some research. I wanted to know what type of news we were in for and I was hoping it was something that could be fixed.

As I began my research, Jenn (who is truly an angel that I can never repay) and Emily came and got Diva for me to spend the night over at their house, which helped a little. I knew her best friend of 8 years or so could help her feel at least a little better and possibly get her mind off of what was going on, which seemed to be what she needed. However, my heart also broke because I knew Harley, if she did come home, would go looking for her, confused that "her girl" wasn't home to snuggle with her. I wanted to tell her to stay, to not run away. I didn't want her to regret not being home when Harley came home (and I had made up my mind that she was),

It was difficult to let her go, but I knew I needed to let her make her own decision. I truly think it's better that we, as parents, try not to take control of these types of situations and determine for our children how they should grieve. Everyone grieves in their own way and taking a time out was Diva's way. I was going to give her that respect.

I will never forget Emily's face as I opened the door though. Emily is almost like my own daughter and watching her face was just as heartbreaking. She was so quiet and I could tell she was very upset. Harley was just like one of her dogs and I could tell that  Emily, who is one of the biggest animal lovers I know, knew the seriousness of the situation.

After they left, Destructo got onto the computer to play some games and I continued to do my research on my laptop. I wanted it to be some type of kidney infection, something she ate, Diabetes, Canine Addison's Disease...ANYTHING that could be cured or treated...

Instead, fucking cancer kept showing up in my search results.

While I was trying my best to diagnose my dog on my own with a disease far less serious than cancer, Mitch would occasionally text me while they were waiting for the vet. One said she seemed to be moving a bit better while they were waiting for the vet, which gave me a little hope. There were a couple more before I stopped hearing from him. After several minutes, I texted him to see what was going on, but he never answered.

About an hour later, he sent me an eery text that said, "coming home now". I knew right then that the news wasn't good. If it were good news. He would have called. If it were bad news that could be fixed, he would have called. However, even though I knew the news was going to be bad, it didn't prepare me for what happened after he walked in the door with her hobbling right beside him. His face was all red, and his head was hung low. He looked as if he had been hit in the gut. My voice already cracking,  I asked him what the vet said and he quietly answered, "It's cancer.", his voice breaking in the middle of the short sentence.

"What does that mean?" I could feel my voice cracking even more and the pitch had gotten higher as I said it. "How does he know?", "What did he actually say?"

(I tend to use accusatory questioning when I hear news that I do not want to hear.)

Mitch explained what had happened. I tried really  hard to listen, but I know I blocked some of it out. He told me the vet bent down and felt her lymph nodes in her neck, then under her arm pits, hers spleen and by her hind legs. After doing so, he looked up at Mitch and said, "You have a very sick dog." He explained that it was Lymphoma, but that we would need to take her to an oncologist to confirm the diagnosis. Because they would run their own blood work, it was pointless for him to do the same, but he said he was confident that it was Lymphoma.

He went on further and explained that her sudden blindness and disorientation was being caused by the cancer that was attacking the blood vessels leading to her eyes, which explained the trip down the window well and the greetings she was exchanging with the walls and chairs..or really, anything that got in her way. He told him that it probably happened during the night, that blindness can be really sudden with cancer. Yesterday she could see. Today she couldn't. The cancer was also the reason why her back legs were failing her so suddenly. He explained that symptoms can appear suddenly, which is why when they examined her a month before for her ears, they didn't feel anything unusual.

Then he dropped the final bomb. We were looking at less than a month,  1-3 months with Prednisone which would temporarily shrink the tumors and take away her pain, while giving her more energy and somewhat of a quality of life. He also gave him some special dog food which was supposed to boost her immune system (although, it did nothing but give her the worst diarrhea ever and make her feel miserable). He did say that depending on the stage,  we could have as long as 9-12 months with Chemo, however.

After hearing all this, I said matter of factly..."So..he isn't 100%, then?"

"Well, I guess not but he's been her vet since she was a puppy. We know him, Jen and I trust what he said."

"Doesn't matter, he can't completely confirm it, therefore I do not accept his diagnosis, especially considering he didn't run blood work."

I embraced this small nugget of denial. Without blood to confirm the diagnosis, there could definitely be a more reasonable explanation. Maybe, she figured out how to open the freezer and fridge at night while we were sleeping and was just suffering from alcoholism...Maybe, she had finally gotten one of her mortal enemies, the voles living in our rock wall, and had gotten some sort of infection...There were plenty of other logical, less life-threatening explanations, right?

Maybe this was a bad dream. A mistake.

But, as she cuddled up next to me on the floor, letting me stroke the top of her head,  I knew I was wrong. Instead of nudging my arm that it was time to scratch her neck, she just stared at me with those glazed over eyes. She still seemed so terrified and I'm sure she was. She couldn't see her people, had had a really scary fall, and obviously felt like shit. My heart ached, knowing she couldn't tell me any of this. I had never wished for the gift of Dr. Doolittle more in my life. All I could do was pet her and hug her, so that's what I did.

 I spent the rest of the weekend next to her, not leaving her side and refusing to leave the house. Mitch and I took turns sleeping on the floor next to her at night, helping her outside to go to the bathroom every few hours during the night and trying to keep her from walking into walls. We guided her to her food bowl and held it for her when we needed to. We did the best we could to keep her calm. The kids pitched in as well, making sure to be gentle with her and also giving her lots of pats and hugs.

When we realized she was getting more nervous at the new sleeping arrangements because they messed up her nightly routine of going from bedroom to bedroom to check on her people throughout the night, we decided to go back to the old sleeping arrangements, which helped her feel a little better....even though, I still didn't sleep, worried she would need out, or that she would get hurt...or that she would die and that one of the kids would find her.

I think I was up every hour, either taking her out to the bathroom, or just sitting down to spend a few minutes having a chat with her while I stroked her cheek and forehead. I told her all of the funny stories I remembered about her from the time she was a puppy and how much we all loved her. I thanked her for everything that she had done for our family and I told her how sorry I was that she was sick. I also told her I was sorry for not being the kind of "mom" she deserved, and yes, I also asked her what her opinions were on going to a faith healer....

My sister also came over that weekend to take pictures of us with our beloved puppy. It was an extremely emotional photo session with it being painfully obvious that Harley was so sick, but I wanted to make sure that we had some sort of record of our last few memories with her. We still weren't sure what was going to happen on Monday.  I'm so grateful to my sister for doing so. I can never repay her.  She took some great pictures even though she had to work with crappy lighting, an uncooperative 7 year old (Destructo), a blind and confused dog, and a lot of crying.

Here are some of my favorites. (I'll post some more pictures of our life with her from the day we brought her home until the end, soon.)

I admit, she looks a little creepy here because of the blindness.

Okay, okay...She looks a little creepy here, too...

I believe this is when I heard my sister yell, "I quit!" from behind the camera and then turned to see her bawling worse than I was!

She was Taegan's best friend Emily's puppy, too.

She was always by my side, even when I was studying.

...and now for the real tear-jerkers....

Diva and Harley had a very special bond from the day that they picked each other when Harley was just 5 weeks old and Diva was 3. I still remember Diva saying in her sweet little voice,"Mommy, I like this one. I'm naming her Harley. Let's go now." and that was that.

Continue to Part 2