Sunday, March 16, 2014

Write Hard and Clear About What Hurts

I'd like to tell you all about my dog Moko.

After Aaron and I got married, way back in 2005 when we were still living in Spokane, we decided to adopt a puppy.  We went to the SPCA and went to the puppy room and we spotted this cute little puppy that looked like a baby rottweiler.  She was in a kennel with three of her sisters; she was mostly black with two little tan dots above her eyes and a white belly.  We asked to interact with her and they put her into a separate kennel, where she cried and howled for her sisters.  They all responded to her cries, by howling back at her.  It brought tears to my eyes and I told Aaron that we couldn't break up their little family unit.  He said, "Nobody adopts four puppies at a time.  If we don't break up their family, somebody else will."  I realized he was right.  We put in the papers and got approved and just a couple weeks later, she was riding home from the SPCA with me.  She sat in a little crate in my backseat, howling and crying the whole way.  I kept one hand stuck back there, fingers poking through the crate, so she could smell me and know that I was there and that she would be okay.

Boy did we adore that puppy.  At the time I was working from home so I kept her close by me during the day.  I potty trained her, fed her, she snuggled in my lap.  Having her around was so sweet and so easy.  My cats - Zeke (Buddy) and Zeneka (Squirt) - weren't fans.  But Moko was plenty interested in them.  She really just wanted to play.  But the cats were like, oh hell no.

They never really got to be snuggle buddies.

Moko grew into a long-legged, floppy-eared, jumpy, hyper, crazy, sweet dog.  When we moved back to Pennsylvania, we put her into some dog training classes.  She was ridiculously smart.  She learned commands very quickly and had so much energy that we started her with agility classes.  She did really well, jumping through hoops and walking on planks and zig-zagging in and out of obstacles.

Then we bought a house in the city, where we were pretty far away from the training school, so we stopped going.  But that didn't matter - we lived a stone's throw away from Pennypack Park and we had a little spot of a yard of our own now.  We owned our own little piece of the world.  Me, my husband, my doggie dog, and my two cats.

Within about a year, Moko got sick.  She started scratching all the time.  She started chewing on her paws, licking herself incessantly, licking so much that she would lick bare spots into her coat.  We took her to the vet, who diagnosed her with food allergies.  I remember standing in the vet's office and he recommended that we start her on a limited-ingredient diet - "You know, like rabbit and potato" - and I started having visions in my head of buying rabbit meat somewhere and having to butcher it up and feed it to her with cooked potato.  When he brought out the bag of dried food (rabbit & potato dried food), I breathed a huge sigh of relief and thought, thank goodness.  How big of a deal can this be?  So she has to eat special food.  No big.

Except after a few months, she built up a tolerance to rabbit & potato.  So the vet switched her to something else.  Then something else.  And something else.  And finally we decided to get another opinion.  The new vet recommended allergy testing.  Four hundred dollars later, they were able to tell us that she was allergic to something, but they didn't know what.  So we decided to tackle her allergies from another angle.  We tried steroid shots every few months and those worked for a while.  But gradually, Moko even built up a tolerance to that.

For the past few years, we have been at a loss of how to treat her.  When her allergies got real bad we'd take her in for a steroid shot.  We tried to manage it with food.  We kept her as clean as possible (understand that she would get so dirty that a bath every few days probably wouldn't have done the trick).  I bought organic cotton blankets for her crate and for her to lay on elsewhere in the house.  We stopped feeding her human food/treats.  We would give her Benadryl if things seemed especially bad.

It's hard to think of anything else we possibly could have done for her.

Then earlier this year, when I decided to go Paleo, I had the brilliant idea for Moko to go Paleo with me.  The idea was, if Paleo can "cure" humans of diseases and ailments, perhaps it could also work for dogs.  So I researched how to go about switching her to a raw diet, and what else I could supplement her diet with.  I started with raw, bone-in chicken.  It took a few weeks to get the proportions right, but she sure loved the food.  I don't think I've ever seen a dog so excited to eat in my life.

Everything I read about a raw diet helping with skin allergies said that it would take several weeks - up to at least 6 weeks and as long as 12 weeks - to notice any kind of change in the condition.  Around the 4 week mark, I decided to take her to the vet for a checkup.  A friend had recommended her vet to me and she felt that he would probably be open to a raw diet (many vets are not) so I decided to take her in and see what he said.

So on February 1st, I brought Moko to Ark Animal Hospital in Chalfont to see Dr. Johnson.  She hadn't been looking very good.  She lost a lot of weight on the raw diet.  He was concerned about her weight and wanted me to supplement her diet with carbohydrates.  He also said that this was the worst case of skin allergies he'd ever seen in a dog.  He recommended an aggressive (and expensive) medication to treat it, something he'd seen a lot of success with.  But first he wanted to take a few weeks to calm her immune system down.  He recommended some OTC shampoos I could use that would de-grease her coat.  He also prescribed some prednisone and hydroxizine, as well as a vitamin supplement to help with the itching.

She stopped scratching the day I brought her home from that appointment.

Now that had happened before with meds, but it had been a LONG time since the meds had lasted as long as they did this time.  I was very hopeful that she was on her way out of the woods.  I started supplementing her daily serving of bone-in chicken with things like sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, and celery.  She gained weight.  Her skin improved, at least in the sense that she was not itchy at all, and was not greasy anymore either.  I was able to pet my dog without my hand turning stinky or flaky or greasy.  Three weeks after that vet appointment, I had a party at my house and my friends remarked on how healthy, happy, and energetic she looked.  How much better she looked from the last time they saw her.

Things were looking up!

But about two weeks ago, she started chewing on her tail.  She would take her tail and drag it through her teeth, shredding the fur off.  She'd end up swallowing her fur and then vomiting up gigantic hair balls, leaving her without much appetite for anything except abundant amounts of water.  This was not the first time she's done this; it's a common behavior that always indicated to us that her skin allergies were flaring up.  So I knew it was time for a follow-up visit.

I thought about when I could take her in.  The soonest would have been Monday March 10th.  But I took that day off for my birthday and didn't really want to leave the house.  I wanted to stay at home and veg all day.  So I made the appointment for Saturday the 15th.

For my birthday, we'd planned a little family road trip to West Virginia to see my favorite college basketball team, KU, play WVU.  I had off on Friday the 7th so we could leave around noon.  All morning I was home, packing, cleaning, etc.  Moko was unusually anxious.  She kept whining.  I thought she had to go potty.  So I kept letting her out but she would go down the stairs and turn around and look at me until I opened the door for her to come back in.  "What is wrong??" I was saying, frustrated.  By the time we left though, my frustration had turned to concern.  Was Moko sensing that something was going to happen to us?  Does she not want us to go because we might not come back?  I would spend the next 5 hours on the road watching Aaron's speed, keeping a close eye on Maraea at rest stops, and checking my phone for shifts in the weather.  We arrived in West Virginia around dinnertime, safely, and my concerns started to dissipate.

My sister arrived at my house that night to stay with Moko for the weekend.  She said Moko was unusually happy to see her.  I told her about how weird she was acting before we left.  Caitlin said that Moko was more excited than she normally was to see her.  My concerns returned.  What was going on?

Saturday, Caitlin told me that Moko was throwing up and not eating.  I thought this was strange; but not too strange.  When I'd prepared Moko's veggie/fruit breakfast mix for the week, I put celery in there.  The last time I gave her celery she didn't like it, but I thought maybe she'd feel different about it this time around.  But when I fed her before we left, she ate all around the celery.  So I thought, that snobby dog.  She just doesn't want to eat the celery.  I told Caitlin that the vomiting is probably fine because she's been chewing her tail, which always makes her vomit.

But Sunday, she said she'd thrown up more and still hadn't eaten anything.  Now I was getting more worried.  What if Moko wasn't eating because she was still nervous about something happening to us?  I asked Caitlin to give her a banana.  She ate it!  I felt relieved.  Good.  She's gonna be fine.

We got home safely on Sunday and I began to see for myself that Moko wasn't eating, and was throwing up.  I decided to fast her for a day.  Maybe something wasn't agreeing with her, or her stomach was upset.  Her temperament was otherwise fine.  She was drinking plenty of water so I knew she wasn't dehydrated.  She was vomiting a little here and there, leftover bits of food that were still hanging around in her stomach.

On Monday, I'd had a grooming appointment scheduled for her.  It couldn't have come at a better time either, because when I woke up, I saw that she'd thrown up in her crate.  I wrapped her blanket up in a towel, and scooped everything out of her crate.  I put the dirty linens in the laundry room to wash later, and washed her crate outside with soap and water.  This dog, I thought.  When is she gonna quit barfing?  She needs to stop chewing her tail.

On Tuesday, I tried giving her her medicine wrapped in a piece of cheese.  She turned her head away from it.  Moko?  Turn down cheese?  Huh??  So then I started thinking that something else must be going on.

Tuesday night I came home and she was eating kibble that I'd put in her bowl the day before.  YAY!  She was feeling better!  She was also jumping around and extra excited to see me and Maraea.  Yay, my doggie was feeling better.

But on Wednesday night, I went to wash her blanket, and I noticed that she had chewed a big hole through it.  Oh, great.  Here we go again.  Her skin improves only for her to start chewing on things again.  She didn't eat on Wednesday, and now I was starting to put some pieces together...

She probably chewed that hole on Friday after we left, because she was so anxious.  She probably swallowed a wad of blanket that hung around in her stomach for a couple days, causing her to puke and not want to eat.

Even still, I wasn't too worried.  Moko had eaten pieces of towels and blankets before and had always barfed them up or pooped them out.  This had happened before, and had gone on for a few days even, where she didn't want to eat because she ate something she wasn't supposed to.  I was glad I had that vet appointment coming up on Saturday so I could mention it to Dr. Johnson.

So Saturday morning rolls around and I'm so excited to show Dr. Johnson how much her skin had improved.  I thought we probably needed to get her on another round of prednisone to curb the chewing of the tail.  And as soon as she passes this wad of blanket in her stomach, she will eat again, and gain some more weight.  But Dr. Johnson asked when the last time was that she'd pooped, and I couldn't remember.  It wasn't unusual though - Moko usually pooped when Aaron let her out at night; not when I let her out in the morning.  But come to think of it, no, actually, I don't even think I'd seen any piles on our lawn.  Hmm.

Dr. Johnson seemed concerned.  He examined her stomach and he said it didn't feel tender, but he wanted to do an x-ray to check on her intestines.

Half an hour later, he had bad news.  There was definitely some kind of obstruction in her intestines.  He could do the surgery to go in and get it, but it's not as simple as cutting open her stomach and taking it out.  This thing was in her intestines; and because of where it was, and how long it had been there, it would be a very complicated surgery that would likely include having to restructure some of her intestines entirely.

The simple, cut-her-stomach-open-and-remove-it surgery was about $3,000.

I didn't even have to ask how much the more complicated, restructuring-of-the-intestines surgery was.  I knew we wouldn't be able to afford it.

After crying and pleading with him for anything else we could do - wasn't there any medicine to get her bowels moving?  Anything we could give her to make her throw it up?  Couldn't we give it a few more days to see if she would pass it?  She's always passed this stuff before - he informed me that if we could not afford to do the surgery, the most humane thing to do would be to put her down.


No.  NO.  But her skin was finally better.  She was finally improving.  She just needed some more steroids till we could start her on the aggressive skin treatments.  THIS was not supposed to happen.  She was GETTING BETTER.

I asked if I could take her home and bring her back on Monday, so my husband could at least be there.  He said we shouldn't wait that long.  So we made an appointment for 10am the next morning.

This morning.

Maraea:  Mommy what's wrong with Moko?
Me:  Moko is really sick.  And tomorrow we have to bring her back here so she can go to sleep and go to heaven.
Maraea:  Oh (chokes up).  Ohhh.  (Hugs me.)  But I don't want Moko to go to kevin (heaven).
Me.  I don't either honey.

They gave her some fluids and some anti-nausea medication to help keep her comfortable overnight.

I cried the whole way home.

Maraea:  Mommy, are you still crying?
Me:  Yes.
Maraea:  I don't know what you're so upset about.  We can just get another dog and name her Moko.

Unfortunately kiddo, it's not that easy.

So what do you do when you know it's your dog's last day alive?  After a very long, very tear-drenched, very comforting conversation with a wonderful friend, I decided to take Moko to the park to run around and play off leash.  I suddenly had an idea though.  A while ago, I had given Moko some pieces of tripe treats and they'd given her diarrhea.  Well what if I gave her a whole bunch of them now?  Maybe she would have diarrhea and poop out this wad of blanket.

I gave her three whole tripe treats.  She gobbled them up happily.  HUNGRILY.  Good, I thought.  She's eating.

Off we went to the park.  We walked the path and I let her sniff everything she wanted to.  We weren't in any rush.  Every so often I asked if she wanted to go potty and she would just look at me.  No, duh mom.  I don't have to go.

About an hour and a half later we made our way back to the house.  I was texting another friend at this time who suggested we try giving her raw pumpkin.  It just so happened that I had a can of that in my pantry.  I spoon-fed her half of the entire can.  She gobbled that up hungrily too.  I plopped the rest in her bowl, and she sort of lost interest in it.  She went back to it several times though, lapping it up.

We had dinner plans with friends.  So we put a blanket in the kitchen and blocked Moko in there while we were gone.  I was seriously hoping hard that I'd come home and find diarrhea and a wad of blanket all over my kitchen.

No such luck.

She slept in our room last night.  I didn't sleep hardly at all.  I was listening for her to vomit or signal that she had to go to the bathroom.  But she did neither.

I woke up early and took her for a long walk.  Nothing ever got her bowels moving like a long walk.  Sometimes I'd take her on the 2.5 mile loop around the park and she would go like 4 times.  So off we went.  I was going to turn this thing around.  We were going to go to the vet and tell him that she pooped it out and look here's what it was and can you do another x-ray to see if there's anything left?

No such luck.

At the vet's office a couple hours later, it started to hit me and Aaron hard.  They had set up a room for us.  Moko seemed fine.  You'd never know there was something lodged in her intestines, slowly, painfully killing her.  Aaron was a wreck, and this clearly worried Moko.  I don't think she had ever seen him like that before in her whole life.

Aaron and I both expressed how guilty we felt for being so frustrated with her while she was sick.  Skin allergies in a dog is a terrible situation.  As a fur-parent you just want them to stoppppppp.  STOP!  Just stop scratching!  But you know they can't help it.  You just want them to be healthy.  But it's extremely frustrating knowing that no matter how much money you spend or how much effort you put forth, the allergies won't ever go away 100% and the dog will never get better.  It was a terrible situation for all of us.

We always thought that we would have to make the decision to put Moko down because her skin condition was so bad, that she had very little quality of life left.  We always thought we would decide when the time was.  It honestly never ever crossed my mind that something else could happen to her, and the decision would be out of our hands.  And, in a cruel twist of fate - that the decision would be made for us, when the very condition we thought we'd have to end her life for, finally seemed to be improving.

It was not supposed to happen like this.

We never should have left on Friday.  She was trying to tell us to stay home.  Or I should have given her something to calm her down.  I should have not been such a lazy asshole and made that vet appointment for the Monday I was off.  I should have washed her blanket the day I took it out of her crate so I could have seen the damage then.

There are so many things we could have done differently.  But all the would haves, should haves, and could haves can't change the past.

They gave her an injection to make her a little drowsy and left the room.  Within minutes she was staggering around the room and collapsed.  Her breathing slowed.  She laid between us and stared straight ahead.  Her jaw relaxed and her tongue stuck out.  She blinked a couple times.  We stroked her ears, her cheeks, her chest.

They came back in and gave her the injection that stopped her heart.  Seconds later, she was gone.

We cried over her for a while.  Stroked her fur.  Closed her eyes and kissed her goodbye.  I swear she smelled exactly like she did as a puppy.  She was soft.

I miss her.

Afterwards we went to my mom's for a little bit.  It helped to feel a little distracted.  We came home in the middle of the afternoon and... her crate was empty.  Her blankets, unoccupied.  Her food and water bowls, empty.

I was angry.  I sat on the basement floor and sobbed.  Why did she eat her blanket!  UGH she hadn't done that in so LONG!  Why now?  Why now when everything else seemed to be getting better??

I was sad.  I'm still sad.  I'm very sad.

It doesn't feel natural to play God with another living being's life.  Now I know - when people talk about putting their dogs down, and how upsetting it was - it's because they had to watch their dog die.  That's not natural.  Nobody should ever have to watch any other living thing die. ever.

This was hands-down, without a doubt, the worst weekend of my entire life.  I don't wish this on my worst enemy.  I hope this never has to happen to anyone else I know.  I had no idea how hard this would be, or how hard it would hit me.  I always knew this would be sad, but I also always thought that we would have time to come to grips with the decision.

I'm sitting here on the couch and I keep looking over at her spot next to the TV, wondering where that little black hump of her back is, the way it used to pop up out over Maraea's table from this angle.  Twice since I've been home I could have sworn I heard her grunt at me to pay attention to her.

I don't suppose that's going away anytime soon.

RIP Moko.  12/26/2004 - 3/16/2014.


I hope this doesn't sound weird, but I just want to thank those of you who talked me through my hope and my grief this weekend.  It meant a lot.  It served as a distraction and helped me keep my head on straight.  And for everyone that checked on us today - especially asking about Maraea and how she was handling it - I am honestly so thankful to have such good people around me.  I love you all and you really made a hard time for me much more bearable.  <3  Today I discovered that Moko has a soul-sister that she's probably running around in "kevin" with.  A soul-sister just like I have.  It's a truly comforting thought for me.

I have the best friends.

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