Denial and Bargaining

“Molly doesn’t look good, Babe,” Kerry whispers to me in the kitchen. “Has she eaten at all today?”
“A little chicken, but she threw that up, but loss of appetite is a listed symptom,” I say. “She just needs some time to rest. She likes her distilled water,” I add, hopefully.
It is Thursday evening and Molly has spent most of her day lying on the corner landing of the stairs, thumping her tail for me when I come to stroke her head and offer her food or water.
I had known Molly was a gamble, but hoped that her diagnosis, Kennel Cough, was compounded by the stress of the noisy shelter and it’s concrete floors and steel bars. We’d followed orders and given meds. We let her sleep and sometimes she would follow me outside to relieve herself and take some sun. I held out hope that this was about time and my ability to sooth and encourage our sick girl.
Late Saturday night, Kerry comes down from watching football with Molly and Dylan (the 18-year-old) to press me again about Molly’s condition. “Her breathing is worse,” he tells me, “and she’s refusing water.”
I text the vet and a fellow who runs the shelter’s private non-profit to ask advice. I know I want to take her to an animal hospital, but I guess I need an authority figure to direct me. Or I’m still hoping it’s just me and not Molly – I’m not patient enough or something.
At 10:00p.m., we load Molly into the truck. Her breathing is labored and her eyes are feverishly glossy – when she has the strength to hold them open for us. The place isn’t close and seconds after pulling into a parking space, Molly retches sick all over the back seat. Poor girl is not a fan of the truck.
Kerry carries her in and I bat clean-up. Here we are, barely six days after I surprised him with three foster dogs, arriving at the point of desperation. Kerry is no stranger to ER vets. His beloved Shiloh Shepherd, Lando, had suffered from “bloat,” a painful and potentially deadly condition where the stomach twists and closes off, creating a gas bubble which leads to low blood pressure, shock and organ damage. It is the second leading cause of natural death in dogs behind cancer. Lando had barely survived an emergency surgery for his first bout with Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV).
The doc and vet tech are thoughtful, gentle with Molly. They start her on oxygen and work up both her vitals chart and an estimate, suggesting a chest x-ray. Without hesitation, Kerry agrees to the test and the $300 charge. I feel foolish, babbling, as I try to give what little information I have about Molly. She was picked up a stray, so the shelter had little to go on, either. I don’t think she is spayed. I don’t know how comprehensive her inoculations have been. I suddenly blank on the type of heartworm prevention we use (I am not crazy about prescriptive meds, but in Southeast Texas, where mozzies rule the air, land and sea throughout the year, a dog needs protection from heartworms). I don’t know that I could feel any more inept.
After a bit, the doc tells us the lungs show definite signs of pneumonia, though it won’t indicate viral vs bacterial, of course. He says it is most likely a complication of Distemper, which he’d suggested before. I’m worrying about Duke now, too, with his runny nose and a newly-exhibited cough. He’s strong and healthy besides that – romping with Bailey, eating, getting into mischief even. The doc seems optimistic for the big boy – not so for Molly.
“She could recover from this pneumonia, but I can’t promise anything and there’s a good chance this is just the pathology of the Distemper. She’ll get sick again and the neurological problems will exhibit.”
Distemper is true to its name: a nasty beast. A virus, there is no cure – only maintenance and inevitable decline.
The new estimate is around $1800 – per night. She needs constant oxygen treatment and new meds and probably IV fluids. I panic. That we do not have. But I am wondering if maybe the doctor is wrong – maybe it’s just a really bad case of pneumonia and she’ll be ok. The ocular discharge says otherwise – not a pneumonia symptom, but a Distemper symptom.
Before we left the house earlier, Lily has turned her pretty brown eyes on Kerry. “I don’t want her to have to go ‘up there,'” she’d said. Flicking her eyes skyward.
“We don’t get to decide that,” Kerry had responded. “There are some things we can’t control.”
“Could we just take her home, make her comfortable?” Kerry asked. The shelter would be open and we could ask them what they’d suggest we do, though both of us knew the protocol: euthanasia.
“If you do that, there’s a very good chance she’ll go into respiratory arrest. If you plan to take her to the shelter, I recommend you let us do that here so she doesn’t have to suffer through the night. This sort of respiratory distress is very painful.”
He was right. I knew he was sure of what he was saying, his sad brows turning up at the center of his forehead in sympathy. None of us knew the shelter’s policy for this scenario and I worried they’d take Mike and Duke. I worried that I couldn’t show my face – the kid who cleaned Molly’s ward had been so happy to see her go. I was worried about Lily – that she’d be angry with me. And, perhaps oddly, I thought of my Grandma and the decision to enter home hospice care – what it had been like in her last hours, medicated for the pain, my feeling, however ungrounded, that we were medicating her to death. I was only thinking of myself.
Think about Molly.
So, we took the Vet’s advice. A nurse came in to talk about cremation and they asked if wanted to see Molly again, to sit with her. They brought her in with a plush blanket and let us pet her as the doc injected anesthesia. She was gone in seconds, peaceful and still, warm with no heartbeat.
It doesn’t matter that I cried all the way home or that it was 3am before I found sleep or that I woke up crying. There are still dogs who need help, who need attention, who need love. I am still a foster mom until they tell me I can’t be. I will take Duke to the vet Monday.


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One response to “Denial and Bargaining

  1. Lorraine

    We have been through the struggle of having to put down a dog. Our trips were with long time family friends. Family members of long standing.

    Making that decision is so difficult. It is so easy to be selfish and try to keep Your family intact.

    I’m pleased that you and your family were strong enough to put Molly first.