I don't even remember when I first noticed it.
Laney and I had a regular morning routine ever since I started working at U of I. As soon as she heard me get up she would come into the bedroom. The first thing I had to do was let her outside for her morning bathroom break. Then she rushed inside and ran to her bowl for breakfast. Usually it was all she could do to wait for me to finish pouring her dog food before she would dive in.
Sometime in early September this started to change, but so gradually that I hardly noticed at first. One day she wasn't as enthusiastic when she ate her breakfast. Maybe a week later she hadn't even started to eat when I headed upstairs to get ready for work. A week or so later I noticed when I came back downstairs that she hadn't finished her food. The first time it probably didn't register, but finally it occurred to me that this had been going on for a while. She just didn't have her normal enthusiasm for her breakfast. This seemed pretty weird since Laney had always been a chowhound. But I figured that maybe she was just getting older.
The whole issue got very confusing in late September because Sandy didn't feel well either and lost her appetite too. She eventually attributed it to a small gas leak that was found in our stove. With the house closed up for the fall and Sandy and Laney home all day, that could have caused a problem. My theory was that Sandy caught a virus and just took a long time to get over it. Whatever the cause, Sandy slowy got better through October.
But Laney didn't get better. She wasn't eating much. She started to lose weight. She wasn't as active as usual - she was laying around a lot more during the day. We thought that maybe her tastes had changed and she just didn't care for her food anymore, maybe because of the gas leak, maybe just because. We tried getting her different dog food to see if she would like it better. One Saturday in November we went to Walmart and got her some pricey special dog food. She seemed to like it and gobbled it down, but later that night she threw it all up. After that she was very lethargic. We thought her breathing was very labored. Laney really seemed to be sick. Sandy mentioned that our friend Lee had lost her dog Romulus very suddenly when he got similar symptoms. Now I was scared. Even though it was late on Saturday night we decided to take her to the doggie emergency room - the local 24 hour vet. We were both afraid that we might lose Laney right then and there.
Laney hates riding in the car so she got a lot more animated during the trip to the vet. By the time we got there she almost seemed like herself again. We were a little embarassed but glad that she was ok. The vet examined her and didn't find anything obviously wrong. He told us to make an appointment to see our regular vet during the week.
By taking her to the vet in the middle of the night we figured that we had way overreacted, like parents with a sick child. But we still thought something was wrong. That week I had a trip to Vancouver, BC planned for a wargame convention. While I was gone Sandy took Laney to her regular vet. When they weighed her it confirmed what we were seeing. She had dropped from 75 to 60 pounds. That was 20% of her body weight. She hadn't been a fat dog! They agreed that her weight loss and lack of appetite were a concern. A blood test didn't show anything so they suggested an ultrasound. When I came back from my trip, I took an afternoon off from work to help Sandy take Laney in. The results weren't good.
Laney had a history of getting fatty growths the past two years. They tended to grow on her chest or her belly. Twice she had minor surgery to have them removed. They weren't anything serious. But the ultrasound showed growths internally, both in her lungs and on her kidneys. They looked suspicious so the vet took samples. The news was bad. The growths were malignant. Laney had cancer. It had metastasized and was at an advanced stage. The next day Sandy talked to the doggie oncologist. She said there was nothing that could be done. It was just a matter of time, and not much time at that.
This was terrible news. But I also remembered how I had felt in early November when we took Laney in to the vet in the middle of the night thinking that it might be the end. I remember how sad I was thinking that I might never take her for a walk again. So although we didn't know how long she would last, I resolved to make the most of the time that we had. From that day on, every single day, Laney and I went for a walk. When I got home from work I would take her out, even if it was cold, even if we were busy, even if I was tired after a day at work, even if we had something to do that evening. Some nights we only walked around the block. It took us eleven minutes. But every single day, no matter what, I took my dog for a walk. No matter how sick she was, she was always excited to go. Both Laney and I enjoyed every single walk. It seemed to be the only enjoyment that she still had.
To try to stop the weight loss, the vet prescribed some medicine to help her appetite. It is actually an antidepressant but has a side effect of increasing appettite. It is often given to humans with cancer, for the same reason. It helped her for a while. Sandy did everything that she could too. She would make special meals for her. She would make her scrambled eggs, or pasta noodles, or rice, anything that she seemed interested in. Usually after a few days she would lose interest again and we would have to find something else that she would eat. Even deli sliced meat wouldn't always entice her. I can just imagine Laney thinking "Great - I'm too sick to eat and now they give me all this awesome food!"
On Thanksgiving I was looking forward to sleeping in. I like my job but I hate getting up early, so sleeping late is a treat on weekends and holidays. But not this time - Sandy woke me up early. Laney was having problems. She seemed to be having trouble breathing. We were both wondering if we needed to take her in right away. But after a while she calmed down and seemed to be doing better. We decided to take her for a walk to see if she was ok. As always, this was the best medicine for Laney. She perked up and seemed to be doing fine by the time we were done.
At this point Sandy and I were really struggling. We had to make a terrible decision. We were both resolved that we did not want Laney to suffer. But a life and death decision is tough. Some people might say that Laney was just a dog, but she trusted us. We took that trust very seriously as we had to make a huge decision, when Laney's life would end. So at no point was it about anything other than what was the right decision for Laney.
After Laney's episode on Thanksgiving morning we knew that she was close to the end. Both Sandy and I agreed that we did not want her to go through choking or gasping for breath, or whatever else might be coming, things that would be very scary for her. We knew the cancer was in her lungs. We were worried that prolonging things would just mean suffering for Laney. She couldn't eat. She was losing weight, literally wasting away. Other than her walks, she just seemed to be miserable all the time.
In my entire life I have never faced a more difficult decision. I proposed that since she had revived after her walk, we should wait until the day after Thanksgiving. Then we could take her to our regular vet. Somehow that seemed better, to go to people that had taken care of her through the years.
The next day was a beautiful fall morning. The sky was bright and blue. There was no wind. It was brisk but a beautiful fall day. Sandy and I got up and took Laney for a walk. Although she hadn't eaten anything for quite a while, she perked up when she knew she was going for a walk. We were both happy and sad, knowing that this was the last walk we would ever take with our dog. It was a beautiful time and I will never forget it.
When we came home it was time to go to the vet for the last time. Shannon was home for a visit for Thanksgiving so she had a chance to see Laney one last time. After she said her goodbyes to Laney, we got in the car. As usual Laney made a fuss. This time she might have had a point.
Usually when we went to the vet we went to one of the examing rooms in the front. This time it was different, they took us to a room in the back. They told us to take our time and to tell us when we were ready. I didn't understand the instructions so I was just waiting. But when Sandy explained to me I knew that we had to tell them when we were ready. Both of us were reluctant. We both alternated between petting Laney and just getting up to stare out the window. The whole time I felt like I was on the verge of breaking down and crying. Not acceptable for males in our culture.
I finally went and told them we were ready. The tech came in to get Laney. We knew the vet tech, who had taken good care of Laney on many previous visits. He had named her the "ten year old puppy" because she was always so hyperactive at the vet's office. He looked sad too. He took her away for a few minutes to put in an IV. Then he brought her back to us. We were told to tell them when we were ready.
We petted Laney. I got up and looked out the window. I didn't want Sandy to see that I was crying. But it was time for a decision. Both Sandy and I felt that it was the right decision. But we were both so very sad. I went out and told them we were ready.
The vet came in. Sandy and I held Laney as he administered a shot to Laney through the IV. It was an overdose of a sedative. We could tell that Laney was apprehensive and was pulling away. We were both holding on to her. As he gave the shot, I could feel Laney start to relax. Without thinking I held on to her more tightly to keep her from falling to the floor. But more than that, I thought that somehow by holding on to her I could keep her from slipping away. But I couldn't. She coughed two or three times, and then she was still. I felt the life go out of her.
The vet left the room. Sandy and I stayed with Laney. She was lying on her bed that we had brought for her. I just got up and looked out the window. My best friend Laney was gone. Forever.
Laney was lying perfectly still. I bent down and sniffed her. Whenever she would snuggle with me I would notice her smell. I wanted to remember it. I kissed her head one last time. Sandy had her time with her too. I don't even know how long we spent with her saying goodbye. Finally we covered Laney up and left her lying on her bed when we left the room. As we walked out to our car, I said to Sandy that our pack would never be the same.