We recently had to say goodbye to our 12-year-old Miniature Pinscher on May 8, 2015. It was a very difficult decision to make, but we were slightly relieved once we finally came to terms with it. Everyday is a struggle—not just because we miss her, but also because the house feels so empty without her. Even with our other four dogs, Riley’s BIG personality and charisma is sorely missed. Sometimes you have to say goodbye to the ones you love most, but throughout this journey I have come to realize that goodbye is never forever.
This picture was taken in September 2012—almost three years ago. We didn’t have Casper yet, and some of our dogs were much different then. On the far left, there’s Eddie boy, who couldn’t even stop looking out the window long enough for me to take the photo (he’s always on Grizzly Blair watch); beside him is Jack, who the vet nicknamed “father time”; Khaleesi (Lee-C) to the far right, who was sweet and precious before she turned one; and of course our dear Riley, front and center. She was always the alpha dog, until Lee-C grew up.
Riley started to decline around the time that Lee-C went from puppy-hood to a moody teenager. That’s when they began to fight relentlessly over who was going to lead this pack. We all knew that neither Lindsey nor I were in the running. And, even though Khaleesi was bigger, stronger, and a total terror, Riley always held her own.
Back then I called her “Riley of the Guylie Veriley, Riley.” Actually, I didn’t so much call her that; I sang it to her. I wish I could describe the tune of the song, but it’s pretty much a Kristina original so you’re just going to have to buy tickets like everyone else. To look back at this picture now, it really solidifies that we did the right thing yesterday.
When I met Riley she was soooo annoying. She was hard-headed, untrained, and the pushiest little dog I’d ever met. But, it wasn’t long before I fell completely in love with her. She simply stole my heart. I realized this morning when I woke up and inadvertently reached down to carry her outside that she was no longer the dog I fell in love with. That and, she wasn’t there, obviously.
I think the hardest part is being here at home and forgetting for a moment that she is no longer with us. I keep looking over to check on her, walking into the kitchen to refill her water bowl, and sometimes I even see her out of the corner of my eye. But, that’s not how I want to remember her. I don’t want to remember her as the dying Riley…the Riley who didn’t want to get up from her doggy-bed, the Riley whose eyes looked sad and confused, the Riley who was just too tired to live anymore.
It’s hard not to remember that part of her life, mostly because I was her caretaker. I usually gave her all of her medication—and there were a lot of them, believe me. To be honest, that was the only fond memory I have of her from when she was sick. Every morning I would get up and let the big dogs out. Then I would go into the kitchen and make coffee. As soon as she heard the sound of the Keurig, she would come waddling into the kitchen and look up at me with that little min pin smile, as if to say, “Where’s my pepperoni, mom!”
She took seven medications—ten in the end—and she loved to eat them one-by-one, rolled up into tiny pepperoni tacos. Once she finished eating them, she would lick my face and turn around slowly to go back to bed. As she become more and more sick, medicine time was the only time I caught a glimpse of the old Riley I knew and loved. Even so, that’s just not how I want to remember her.
This is exactly how I want to remember Riley. She was the alpha female until the very end…always refusing to back down to her bitchy, dominant sister. Riley was the dog who would eat anything you put in front of her, including cardboard (I did eventually learn to hide anything cardboard-esque). She loved to tunnel her way under the covers between us in bed and yip, growl, and yip some more when the other dogs moved around too much and kept her awake. Riley was the kind of dog who loved visitors but would chase them to the door when they left—barking and sometimes even pulling on their pant leg to make them stay just a little longer.
She was the dog who would purposely bark thereby influencing the other four dogs to bark and act crazy, merely for her own entertainment. Riley loved to go for walks and chase away all the bunnies and squirrels; she loved her mommy from the moment they met to the moment she said goodbye; she was the dog who accepted me as her other mommy almost immediately. Riley thought it was her job to protect all the new-born babies she ever met, and that includes puppies, kittens, and human babies. She was truly special: funny, rebellious, and incredibly resilient.
That’s how I want to remember her. She was always the first one at the door waiting to greet me when I came home from work. She lived to eat and to torture Lee-C, as sisters sometimes do. But, God forbid another dog tried to start a fight with Lee-C. Riley came to the rescue every time. Lee-C and Riley developed a very confusing love-hate relationship. And, as time went by, I began to notice that their bond became more and more loving and less combative.
What can I say about this dog? She was honestly something special. I love herding dogs. I’m not much of a small dog person. Or, at least I wasn’t until Riley and Jack came into my life and taught me that all dogs are equally wonderful. She had the biggest personality I’ve ever known. That’s probably because her birthday is three days after mine—which made us both loud, annoying Leo’s. Sometimes it’s hard to put her back together in my heart and mind—to remember her the way she was before her body became bent and broken. But, I’m going back through all the memories I have of her since the day we first met, and I truly can’t believe we didn’t see the warning signs sooner.
I just want to remember Riley as the dog who would never chew a brand new bone. Instead, she would bark and bark and bark and bark and bark until I took Lee-C’s pre-chewed, slobbery bone and gave it to her (don’t worry, Lee-C always got a fresh bone in return). Most of all, I want to remember Riley as the dog who liked to lie across my feet when I was sad or anxious…the dog who barked at us frantically when we argued, as if to say, “Hey you! Crazy ladies! Would you cut that shit out? This is ridiculous.” (And, she was right; it was ridiculous).
I will always remember Riley’s trips to the ice cream store on Prince Street where the staff treated her to a small vanilla frozen yogurt and a bowl of water. I will always remember the long trips she took with us to our parent’s house in Maryland, and the annoying way she would pry her little head over the middle console and force herself into the driver’s lap—over and over and over. I’m telling you, this dog had the determination of Helen Keller and the infuriating audacity of Tom Cotton.
It’s true; she is a dog. But, she wasn’t JUST a dog. She inspired me on a daily basis. And, I swear I’m not just saying that because she’s gone now. I’ve never met a dog that was as funny, resilient, unwavering, persistent, and strong-willed as Riley-Girl. She had the tenacity of Jack Black, and the determination of Joan of Arc…the bark of Rick Santorum (no body’s perfect), and the bite of Margaret Thatcher (that kind of makes up for it though). She overcame more adversity over the past four years than any dog I’ve ever known and even most people! She went blind in one eye after a fight with Lee-C—and then chased her around the house with the dogged determination of Nelson Mandela.
She survived the daily pain of sciatica, a collapsed plate in her lower back, and nerve damage that led to a “ghost leg” (meaning that she didn’t know her front right leg was there anymore). That’s what ultimately led to her demise. We had to give her Prednisone twice a day, along with Tramadol, Xanax, and in the end, a slew of other medications to make her more comfortable. I know it sounds like we kept her alive for much too long.
But, if you knew Riley at all, you know that she was a warrior; her spirit was unwavering. She refused to give up. But, eventually the prednisone took its toll on her body and she started to become less and less interested in the things that defined her personality. The prednisone was slowly poisoning her. Her liver was enormous. Her pancreas was literally digesting itself. And, then her kidneys began to fail. In the end, she was surviving with only one-third of a functioning kidney and she could no longer process her own bodily fluids. That’s when we knew it was her time to go—when she finally decided to give in to her illness and slip away into a sad slumber for hours and hours at a time.
It’s really hard to lose a dog. And, I knew it would be. But, the worst part for me now is walking around the house and having to remember over and over again that she’s no longer here. There are remnants of her everywhere. We tried to remove some of her things to make it easier: we donated her billion prescriptions to the SPCA. We bought a new rug; we moved her doggy blanket so the other dogs wouldn’t taint the smell. But, we’ve not yet removed her favorite dog bed. It’s the one thing Lindsey asked me to keep—for now. It’s sitting exactly where she would be sitting if she were here now. And, sometimes, I see her there for just a moment—out of the corner of my eye.
I had a dream on Monday night that my dead grandmother, Mom-mom, was standing in our kitchen calling my name. It was an unusual dream because the house looked exactly the same. Everything was exactly in its place—just as we had left it before we climbed into bed. Only one thing was different: the black bookshelf that used to sit against the brick wall in the dining room.
Last year, we replaced that bookshelf with a sentimental piece of furniture given to us by Lindsey’s stepfather, Rob. In my dream, the old bookshelf stood in its place. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and Mom-mom looked at me for a moment. She said nothing. She reached down and picked Riley up from the rug. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t move. I just watched it happen, like watching a movie. Then, she turned around and walked out the door.
When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t tell if it was a dream or not. It seemed so real. And, maybe I’m reaching for signs, hoping for someone or something to tell me she’s OK now. But, perhaps the dream wasn’t just a coincidence or something I created in my mind. Maybe it was Mom-mom visiting me in my dreams, letting me know that it was Riley’s time to go to her real “furever” home. Eddie and Casper took turns keeping vigil over her all night, and that alone showed me that even they knew it was time for her to go.
You see, Monday we took Riley to the vet because we noticed she wouldn’t eat her regular food. We had to hand feed her turkey and hotdogs, stuff like that. I had a feeling it was her kidneys because my mom was a dialysis nurse for many years, and I know that prednisone tends to impact major organs like kidneys. When we arrived at Dr. Greenberg’s office, it was clear that no matter the diagnosis, Lindsey was not leaving that building without her dog. It was too soon. It happened too fast.
Dr. Greenberg has known Lindsey for years, and they’ve developed a close relationship. He’s also the only vet who has ever been able to treat Riley—every time Lindsey took her to a different vet, Riley would panic. Most of all, she hated having her nails clipped. She broke three different noses and was banned from two groomers and one vet. That’s when Lindsey found Dr. Greenberg.
I’ve personally never met a better veterinarian. He loves all of our dogs…each of them separately, problems and all. He remembers their medical issues without ever looking at that stupid clipboard, and not one of our animals has ever been afraid of him. Every treatment he has ever recommended has worked for Riley (and all of our other dogs, for that matter). Medically, he is an expert in his field, but he also has an uncanny ability to understand and work with his patients, behaviorally. I’ve honestly never met a more caring, kind, experienced, honest, and fair veterinarian in all of my dog-owning years. And, his entire staff of vet techs and receptionists are just as amazing.
When he suggested that we try one last treatment, he was very honest with us. I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t sure it would work. He told us her kidneys were failing and said that if we really wanted to we could try giving her weekly fluids to help her kidneys process the toxins in her body more effectively.
That day, he gave her the first treatment of IV fluids and sent us home with a slew of new medications. Just before we left, he reminded us that it was a long shot, but that he had seen it work before. He also said that if she wasn’t better by Wednesday, there was nothing more we could do for her. I think we should have put her to sleep that day. But, Riley went home with us—gladly—and it was perhaps the best thing we could have done. Lindsey needed to know that she tried everything. And, I can tell you without a doubt that we have tried EVERYTHING. Dr. Greenberg knew we needed that peace of mind, and I am so grateful to him and his staff for for everything they did to make our decision to euthanize as easy as possible.
It was that same night that I had the dream. I didn’t tell Lindsey because I didn’t want her to think I was trying to push her to make the decision to put Riley down. She needed to make that choice on her own. On Wednesday, she hadn’t improved at all—in fact, she had declined. But, it was so hard for Lindsey because we would see momentary glimpses of the old Riley, and that gave us false hope. Thursday, we argued about it. She wasn’t ready to let go, and how could she be? She’s been with that dog for nearly 13 years. It was her first dog, and she’d seen her through some of her happiest and most difficult times.
I texted my mom for advice, and then my dad called me. He sounded so patient and understanding. And, this is what he told me: Kris, I know it’s hard. But, you can’t fight over this. This is when Lindsey needs you the most. You have to remember that no matter how much you love Riley, she was Lindsey’s dog first. She has to be the one to make the choice. All you can do is support that choice. And, in the meantime, rest easy knowing that you married a wonderful woman who will, inevitably, make the right choice. You just need to have a little faith.
And, that’s exactly what I did. I went inside and sat beside Lindsey on the floor where she was holding Riley. I apologized and I told her everything my dad said. It broke my heart, because that’s when she revealed her true feelings. She said, “I’m just so fucking angry. I’m angry with God, and I’m angry with Riley. Why won’t she just get up and move. Why won’t she just get better?” It’s so hard to watch your wife suffer, right along with her dog. So, for once in my life I kept my damn mouth shut and just sat there with her, listening.
We spent most of the evening right there on the floor with Riley. It wasn’t until the next morning that she revealed to me that while I was talking to my dad, she was talking to her mom. My dad convinced me to let her come to terms with Riley’s demise on her own time. Her mom reminded her how sick her childhood dog had been and how peaceful it was when she was finally relieved of her pain. Somehow, our parents came together—unknowingly—and walked us through this difficult time. I guess your parents never stop being your parents. And, it’s probably a damn good thing I’m not the only one who will need to make medical decisions for them when they grow old. Because, just like Riley, I want them to stay here with me forever. But, just as my mother gently reminded me that day, nothing lasts forever.
That night we made an appointment for Friday. As I carried Riley from the car, I felt that painful feeling we all experience at some time or another: this will be the last time I carry her anywhere. It will be the last time I hold her, kiss her, and gently run my finger down the center of her nose. But, I also realized that I shouldn’t have to carry her anywhere. The fact that I had to carry her broken body inside was reason enough for us to let her go.
The experience was devastating, and yet cathartic at the same time. She went quietly—no panic, no stress, no panting, no fear, and no more pain. She left this world with peanut butter still stuck to her little nose. That’s our girl. It was one last subtle reminder that the Riley we know and love will be with us forever. And, that was that. We said goodbye to one of the most wonderful dogs I’ve ever known. And, now I know she is with Mom-mom.
Before we left that day, Lindsey told me that she was holding on to the idea that Riley would be with Mom-mom soon. For those of you who never knew my Mom-mom, there was no one in the world who loved animals more than she did.
We have never met before, but I will be making my way to heaven soon. My moms say you will be there waiting for me with Lady, Onyx, Max, and Skippy. I hope they’re ready for their new alpha dog!
My moms also say I will be back to my healthy, happy, mischievous self again…heaven sounds like a wonderful place. By the way, could you put up our Christmas tree early this year? I just love pulling off all the ornaments and knocking the entire tree over to eat the pine needles! My moms hated when I did that, but I have a feeling that you won’t mind.
My “curly” mom says that you will be the best human I’ve ever owned! But, it will be really hard to top my “red” mom. You see, she and I have been together for many years, and she is so sad to let me go. Can you ask the angels in heaven to remind her that one day we will all be together? And, then she won’t ever have to say goodbye again.
Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you soon. I like turkey, cheese, peanut butter, and frozen yogurt—just in case you’re making your grocery list right now. But, I won’t ever have to eat another pepperoni again, because moms say dogs don’t need medicine in heaven.
P.S. Curly mom wrote a song for you to sing to me like you do for Lady! I sure hope you sing it better than she does.
I’d like to end this post with a few borrowed words. I found two other bloggers who had recently endured a similar struggle. There posts were more than comforting to me; they were exactly what I needed to read at the time. It’s funny how God gives us exactly what we need when we need it—and that it takes us so long to finally realize that.
The gentleman who calls himself a “Regular Oregonian” wrote this post on his blog, “HinesSight”, about the day he had to put his beloved dog to sleep:
I was thinking about what the vet had said. Then I realized that the euthanasia I’d been resisting up to then was almost exactly like the “going to sleep and not waking up” that struck me as such a good way for our old dog to die. OK, maybe this seems obvious to you. But it wasn’t obvious to me until something clicked in my mind. I didn’t want Serena to suffer before she died. I wanted her to go out like how I and most other people want to die: suddenly, while still in pretty good health, not after a period of protracted illness and pain.
Here’s what Jim Hall had to say about letting go of a sick pet:
This is perhaps my most important point – as the owner of the dog it is your decision to make. It is your responsibility. Your dog, your faithful companion, your best friend is counting on you to do the right thing for him. He trusts you in this as he has trusted you in all things ever since that first day when he licked your face and stole your heart.
This means that you must dispose of the myth that your dog will “tell you when it is time.” Oh how wonderful and comforting it would be if that were true. But it isn’t true. In fact the exact opposite is true. Your dog is hardwired, genetically coded to hide this information from you. In the wild, a weak dog is a dead dog. So all dogs will do their very best to hide any weakness. The very fact that you are thinking about this topic probably tells you that your dog has already failed in this effort – which in his canine mind is a life-and-death matter.
There’s a story that most pet owners know, called the Rainbow Bridge. Basically, the story is that when a pet dies, they go to a place just this side of heaven. Nearby is a rainbow bridge that leads to heaven. Your pet is restored to his full health and vigor. He romps and plays there with other pets, waiting for the day that you arrive so that the two of you can cross the bridge together and live happily ever after. I don’t know that it fits into any sort of orthodox religion, but it has been a comfort to me – and that is good enough.
My father, wise man that he is, tells a slightly different tale, but one that has also long been a comfort to me. It is the story of an old man who finds himself walking along a country road. From out of a nearby field comes his favorite old dog, who had passed away many years ago. The dog is healthy and very pleased to see him. The two walk along the road, enjoying each other’s company – as only a man and his dog can. It is a beautiful day, and although the sun is beating down on them, the joy of walking together is overwhelming.
They soon come to a beautiful alabaster wall that surrounds a huge complex along the side of the road. Eventually, they come upon the gates to the glorious place. There is a man sitting at a desk outside of the gate. He tells the man that these are the gates to heaven, and the man is welcome to enter. Inside there will be cool water and a comfortable place to lie in the shade. The old man is thrilled. He pets his dog and says, “Come on boy, let’s go.” But the official stops him. He says that while the old man is welcome in heaven, there is no place for dogs in heaven.
The old man is really torn. Of course he wants to enter the gates of heaven, but to have to leave his dog behind is an enormous price. He decides that he’s just going to walk a while longer with his old dog. So they proceed down the road.
Eventually they come to a rickety old wooden gate. Just inside the gate is a very old man lounging along side a well. He calls to the pair and asks if they would like to come sit in the shade and enjoy some of his cool well water. The man says, “I would love to, but my dog is thirsty as well.” The well keeper says “but of course, you’ll find not only a pitcher of cool water, but a clean bowl for your dog there as well.”
The pair sit and cool off in the shade. The well water is the most amazing, refreshing water they have ever tasted. The man tells the well keeper of their travels, and the dilemma posed by the gates of heaven. The well keeper laughs and says “You have to watch out for that old trickster by the fancy gate. That’s the devil and those aren’t the gates to heaven, but the gates to hell. This here is heaven.” The man appears puzzled, but the well keeper continues “You don’t think that I would create a creature as magnificent and loving as a dog and then ask you to abandon him in order to enter my kingdom do you? That’s just a last test for you. Any man who would abandon his dog isn’t welcome in heaven.”
I hope that all of my rambling has been of some help to somebody somewhere along the way.
All I can say to you Mr. Hall is that yes, your rambling has been of great help to us. Your mission was to post a blog entry that would bring peace to some owner somewhere whose dog was sick and suffering. Mission accomplished.
If I am to believe that there is a place for dogs where they wait for their owners to take them to heaven, then I am sure that God appointed my Mom-mom to be one of the volunteers caring for them until their owners return. And, if that’s so, I am inclined to believe that Mom-mom fell in love with Riley at 3:00 pm on Friday, the very moment that they met each other for the first time.
To our beautiful baby girl: We hope you know that you have brought us so much joy and happiness. We love you more than all the trees in the forest, all the flowers in the meadow, all the fish in the sea, and all the turkey and ice cream in heaven. And, Riley-Pig, I would bet that not even ice cream melts in heaven.