Yesterday, we drove to Long Island. Every year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we go to place Christmas blankets on my husband’s parents’ grave. This year, we placed one on his son’s grave too. It was a strange day, solemn and somber but crisp and clear with a striking winter sky. The ride is an hour and a half one way so we try to get on the road early. We never stay long, the wind is usually too bitter to stand among the gravestones for more than a few minutes. We place the blanket of pine boughs and red ribbon on the ground. We hold hands and Paul shares memories of his family. We shed some tears and then walk back to the car. This year was the first with Matthew gone. We spent a few extra moments there. It still seems like his death was a mistake.
We had to be mindful of the time. We had to get back to run errands before we had to take Gilligan to the vet again for another progress check. We had been working really hard with him the past week. I started bathing him everyday to protect his skin from urine scald. I was getting up at 5:00 am to do it before I went to work. We tried using a diaper on him but he hated it; it stressed him out and it was difficult to get his corkscrew tail through it. His wheels arrived on Tuesday and on Wednesday we tried to get him adjusted in them. He lasted about one minute before he was struggling to get out. I mentally put together a plan to ease him into them. We bought a special hammock bed with a mesh bottom that would allow the pee to drain away from his body and help keep him dry. We got him to lay on it for about half and hour. He actually feel asleep. But when he woke up, the first thing he did was try to drag himself off it. He has always been the kind of dog who would do exactly what he wanted, forget what you wanted. It’s always been a challenge to find a way to make him think things were his idea. So we put him back on the floor with towels and wee-wee pads.
He was good about letting us know when he was wet. He would wimper and I knew I needed to pick him up and clean him and put him down on clean towels. I was doing two or three loads of towels a day. When I picked him up, I would check for any new hot spots or ulcers. The big one on his right haunch was almost completely healed. I noticed there was signs of one starting on his rear left foot. That was the dead leg. I planned on asking the vet for suggestions like putting a sock on that leg to protect it. He began waking us up at night, howling when he peed. I would get up and go downstairs to clean him up and change the towels. Most nights, I would sit with him for awhile before going back to bed. I would lay on the floor with him and stroke his head and tell him what a good boy he was. He would look back at me with those black olive eyes that had grown cloudy and sigh. He had a special spot on the side of his face that I would rub and he would make a sound like a purr. He would close his eyes and drift off to sleep and I would go back upstairs and wait for the alarm to go off.
He’s always been a tough guy. When the other dogs would bark at something, he would bark and howl too, even though he had no idea what they were barking at. But his bark and howl had gotten thin and weak. When the other dogs got treats, he would pick up his head and look at me like “And where’s mine?” He was eating a full can of dog food a day and drinking a small bowl of water twice a day. He frequently tried to get up and could scoot himself across the floor to get where he wanted to be. When I picked him up to clean him, he could balance on his own for about a minute before his legs gave out and he sank back down again. And on Thanksgiving Day, he stood up by himself – four times. It was a struggle and he was only up briefly, but he got up.
On Thanksgiving night, I had a nightmare. It’s one I used to have frequently but hadn’t had in a long time. Usually, I’m standing on a beach and look up and see a huge wave headed my way. I know there is no way to escape so I just wait for it to hit. I always wake up before it does. This time, I was in the water in a small boat. I looked up and saw this wave coming at me getting bigger and higher the closer it got. Then I was inside the wave curl and the sky was replaced by water. I knew that the only chance I had to survive was to dive into the wave it self. I did and then woke up.
When we got home on Friday from the trip to the cemetary, we didn’t have a lot of time to get to the vet’s. I checked Gilligan and he had some poop stuck to his tail fur. I got the safety scissors and began to cut it out. While I was doing that, he peed all over himself. I got a bucket of warm water and a wash cloth and tried to clean him up. My husband came in and said we had to go so I wrapped Gilligan in a clean towel and carried him to the car. We had to wait a few minutes when we got there. I cradled him in my lap and kissed his nose. He looked up into my eyes and we just stared at each other.
Karen the vet tech brought us into the exam room. I explained that he had just peed on himself and we didn’t have the time to clean him up. She went to get fresh towels and some waterless dog shampoo. I laid him down on his side. She came back in and tried to get the pee off him. His underbelly was pretty matted, so she took the clippers and shaved it a bit. He was laying on the side he never lays on and I got a look at the outside of his dead leg. There were ulcers on the side of his foot and on the joint in his leg. Dr. Maizel came in and looked at Gilligan. He didn’t touch him, he didn’t examin him; he just looked. I told him we had been bathing him daily to try to keep him clean. He asked up if he was still eating. I said yes, he has a good appetite. I told him about the special bed and that he had stood up four times on Thanksgiving. Dr. Maizel said he would be back and left. Karen followed him and then came back and said he was looking up some medication. She brought us a belly band to try instead of the diaper. She said sometimes that worked better than the diaper with males. Then she went out too. It was just Paul and I alone with Gilligan. I looked at him laying there, really looked at him for the first time. The fur on him lower half, his beautiful white fur, fur like silk, like soft clouds shining in the sun, was stained brown and matted. He smelled. No matter how much I cleaned him,he smelled. Gilligan had always been part cat. He groomed himself every day and always looked like a show dog. Where his belly had been shaved, his sweet piglet pink belly, was red and irratated and would soon be breaking out in sores. And his left leg, the dead one, had ulcers down to the bone that had broken out overnight. I was seeing him the way Dr. Maizel had seen him when he walked into the room. He had said nothing but I could read the look on his face. I went to the treat container and took out some live treats. I gave them to Gillie and he gobbled them down. I asked Paul “What should we do?” “I don’t know,” he said. “But I don’t think he is going to get any better.”
Dr. Maizel came back in with some tubes of medication. He explained what they were and how to use them. He also told us that the ulcers on Gillie’s leg were serious and at his age, would be slow to heal. He was at risk for painful, deadly infection. They also indicated that the circulation in that leg was shutting down and that was not a good sign. He agreed that he was a fighter but that things were only going to get worse.
I looked at Gillie. I looked at my husband. He said nothing. We were all silent for a moment. Then I said ” I think we have to let him go. He wasn’t in pain before and he may not be in pain now but he will be and soon. And we won’t be able to do anything for him. OK, let’s do this.”
Dr. Maizel, who is one of the kindest, most compassionate men I know, shook his head yes. “I think this is the right thing”, he said. I leaned down and whispered to Gillie. I told him he was a good boy and that soon he would feel better again. He would be able to walk and run and nothing would hurt. Dr. Maizel came back with a seditive. When he injected him, Gilligan began to struggle. I stroked his head and told him to relax, he wasn’t going to fight me on this one. I put my face next to his. I rubbed that spot always made him purr. Dr. Maizel gave him the second injection and we waited. I kept telling him “That’s it. Good Boy. I love you”.
At approximately 5:00 pm, I unhooked his leash and let him run.