These are the final pages of the diary of this dog mom who stood in a state of shock, disbelief, and numbing silence as my Cocker Spaniel of nearly 15 years was ushered out of her body.
This is the final blog post in this 5-part series about having a dog with irritable bowel disease (IBD). I look back over pages and pages of notes. I read through the dated entries in a log book that had long since been filed away. I feel like this ink is barely dry on the pages of scribble with words like “anti-emetic” and “gelatinous” on them.
I’ve lost loved ones before. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss, the reality, the shock and the trauma that would come with my dog dying. Nothing.
I realize there are people reading this today, in weeks, months, or maybe even years from now, who have a dog who has been diagnosed with or is suspected to have IBD. The dog mom, skilled journalist, dog blogger, and woman whose heart beats dog to the core has this to say: There is hope and you can work through IBD. It cannot be cured but it can be managed.
It was the late summer of 2008. My dog, Brandy Noel, became weaker and weaker. She wasn’t Brandy anymore. I kept telling her not to leave me, not to let go, and not to give up. I told her in her ear as she slept so peacefully.
She would leave the room to rest in the office or in the bedroom and I would follow her. No way are you leaving me to die in another room. Animals, it is said, do that sometimes: They go off to die.
You hear a lot of stories and get a lot of feedback from pet parents when you are a journalist/blogger. Over the years, I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of pet parents. This much I know is true: There are dogs who live to be 18 or 19, some even longer. My dog could be one of them I would tell myself from time to time. I would tell myself that more often than not as my little girl’s red muzzle turned slightly white: She will live a long life. She isn’t textbook about anything, so that average life span around 12 to 14 years old for a Cocker Spaniel is just that: Average.
The Beginning of the End
On August 24, 2008, my spouse and I drove to visit friends in New York, Brandy by our side. She was happy, showed energy, was eating and drinking. She played in the back yard, drank water, and showed attention to her environment.
That is the last memory I have of my little girl being the merry sweetheart she was.
After eating another dog’s food on August 25th, things would never again be the same. That food was chicken and rice.
After trials of medications, food changes, dietary restrictions, x-rays, bloodwork, fecal and urine samples, our veterinarian referred us to a specialty hospital. The specialist felt our dog had either:
- Colon cancer
- Irritable Bowel Disease
- Bacterial infection
The only way to confirm what was going on was by colonoscopy and endoscopy. I will do whatever it takes to help my dog as long as it is in her best interests. Her heart was strong, her tests were coming back normal, and she had a lot of time left on this earth.
We would never know what was happening without these tests. Other than not being allowed to eat the night before, the only other prep included clearing her bowels via enema that the technician did pre-testing.
On September 8, 2008, the tests were performed. Results revealed gastritis, irritable bowel disease of the eosinophilic and plasmacytic nature, ulcer probably caused by Salmonella in the colon, and colitis with mucosal hemorrhage.
As a family, we would deal with this. It’s okay: We can get through this. We will manage the disease.
Pages of a Broken Dog Mom
Nothing we did…nothing we tried. Nothing was helping Brandy come out of this crisis and level off. I sit here reading medical words and a journal full of prescriptions and acid-reducing, gas fighting, fiber-filled pills and concoctions: Nothing was making it better.
“I never saw a case like this before, Carol,” our vet relented on a phone call in late September.
We trust our vet. He always goes above and beyond for us. We value his medical expertise.
Probiotics, antibiotics, IV infusions of lactated Ringer’s so she would not dehydrate: We did it all.
Her weight continued to decrease.
She was alert though, still eating, drinking, and receiving B12 injections, showing energy on walks, and not at all fighting to let go.
Final Holistic Attempt
It’s not cancer. I told myself this over and over. I talked to people whose dogs had IBD. It could be managed. You have to get the dog out of a crisis and they level off until the time comes they can spiral downward again and/or need some medical intervention. Dogs can remain symptom free for a long time: Days to months or longer. That is what you do as a caring dog parent: You manage.
We visited a holistic veterinarian where acupuncture was suggested.
“Be aware, if I do the acupuncture and if she is close to passing, some dogs may pass on their own during the procedure,” she told us.
We couldn’t do it.
Armed with slippery elm, Imodium, methylprednisolone, and Carafate, we headed home, a weakened little girl in our arms.
One more try to get her through this.
On Saturday, October 11, 2008, I sat with my little girl in the home office. She refused baby food; she would not show interest in water. The lactated Ringer’s, the attempts to feed baby food.
The final entry in my diary is 1:30 pm. I picked Brandy up to take her outside for a potty break. She seized in my arms. I won’t go into further details, but we urgently called our vet, who agreed to see us on a Saturday for this emergency.
Something inside me still held out hope. My wife drove the car. I sat with Brandy. Our neighbor came with us and sat in the back seat. As we neared the vet, Brandy jumped from my lap and into the back seat near our neighbor. She looked at me with her beautiful brown eyes, one last time, lay down and rested. I never saw her brown eyes again.
She passed gently from this Earth as her little snores ceased and her weakened body was at peace. I fell apart in the waiting room, while my wife stayed with her for a time after.
I remained broken for a very long time, trying to accept what happened.
I never will.
My wife gave me a locket that Christmas with the words “Love Never Ends” on it. That is how I live my life. When you love someone, their physical passing doesn’t stop the bond: In fact, it makes it even stronger. The physical presence of the loved one is what is missed the most. I will never get over her. I will carry her love with me, as I will every single dog that ever comes into my life.
I wish I knew what happened and why IBD came on like a hurricane and took this gentle dog from my life. I guess I am questioning why death has to come at all: It truly really sucks and the only thing that we as the loved ones left behind can do is cope and deal with the reality of it. I don’t want history to repeat itself and so I write, I learn, and I teach others.
You don’t stop grieving, it just becomes a part of you. That whole five stages of grief thing really is true, but acceptance, well: I can’t say I will ever get there. I can’t and won’t accept that I will never see my little girl again. I will. As you read this, you now know her and what happened, so she is alive once more.
The Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom post I penned many years ago remains a Fidose of Reality reader favorite, and you can click to read it, as well. Today in this moment, the grief suitcase is heavy, its contents large, and yet I move forward with her love safely encased inside.
Thanks for reading this series, and if you’d like to catch up on it all, here are the other four parts: