On Friday June 20, Ricky had been in the hospital for a couple of nights and Dr. Sean Yashimoto, his vet at VCA, had already indicated that his levels weren’t improving at good rate. So when I got a call that morning I was prepared for the worst. I was on a bus to the Antelope Valley with a group of colleagues from work. Dr. Sean’s news was sadly what I expected. His recommendation was that Ricky should go home but that we could talk when I was able to get there in the evening.
When I got there that night, Ricky didn’t look much better but he was able to walk out of the crate and sit on my lap. The animal care unit was not a happy place. I had met other owners there facing similar issues. We all loved our pets and struggled with being so helpless. I watched one of the other owners trying to get his dog to eat just like I had many times but to no avail. I could see the frustration and sadness in his posture. It was mirroring mine.
When Dr. Sean came by, we spoke at length about the test results and what the prognosis would be. I asked if we stopped all treatment and I just let him eat whatever he would eat, if this meant he would be in pain. He said he probably would be uncomfortable in the way you feel when you’re not feeling at your best, but that there wouldn’t be acute pain. I told him that is what we would do then.
I can’t speak highly enough of Dr. Yashimoto. He was amazingly kind and empathetic. He had an amazing bedside manner with the pets and people. I can’t imagine how hard is job is. By the time people find their way to him, it’s usually not a good sign for the pet. He must deal with incredible sadness all the time.
So they got Ricky all ready for me and he came home. That night Viki came over and hung out with us. She took some great pictures of me with Ricky and Oscar. I cancelled all my plans for the weekend. I knew that this would probably be our last.
* * *
That night he slept by my side like he had that very first night I had him. Except instead of his paw on my back it was mine on his. When I first got him, I didn’t want him to sleep in the bed. But he just seemed so scared that first night. He wouldn’t stay in the doggie bed I bought him. He just sat patiently by the side of the bed looking at me. Even when I turned the light off I could “feel” his gaze. Knowing full well that he was playing me, I got out of bed, picked him up and put him in bed with me saying, “Just this one time.” He scrambled up to the top of the bed, walked in a little circle three times, and curled up on the pillow. As I went to sleep I rolled over on my side, away from him. Then I felt one of his tiny paws on my back. It could have been reflex or a dozen other things. But I felt that he just wanted to make sure I was still there; that I wasn’t going to leave. If I hadn’t already, it was in that moment I promised him and myself that I would always be there for him—to protect him, care for him and love him. And I didn’t really know what I expected back. I know now what I wanted in return was to have him there when I came home; happy to see me and wanting to be held and have his ears and tummy rubbed. My life changed after I got him. I planned my days and weeks around taking care of him. People said, “It must be a pain in the neck to always have to go home or pick him up somewhere.” The truth is I couldn’t wait to get home to see him.
* * *
We spent the better part of the day Saturday just sleeping. Up until then, when I’d take Oscar for a walk in the morning, Ricky wouldn’t move. When we’d get back he’d be sitting in the hallway waiting for us. That morning, we came back and he was awake, but hadn’t gotten out of the bed. I took him outside to see if he would “go.” Then I brought him upstairs to the kitchen. He immediately laid down on the dining room floor. I fed Oscar, but Ricky wouldn’t take anything. I gave him a couple of the Cesar’s treats. He chewed them up but some of the pieces fell out of his mouth. He didn’t bother to pick them up.
That afternoon we went to Viki’s house. I wanted him to have the chance to play outside, unencumbered by a leash. I packed up his bed and put it in the car so he could lie down while we drove over there. Viki and her friend Anne were there to greet us. He seemed very happy to see them. We let the boys go outside and he basically went around eating the grass while Oscar went exploring. After a while we came inside and we set him up on the sofa. He took a few treats, which was encouraging. We stayed a couple of hours and then it was time to go home.
That night was spent just napping and watching movies. Joven was leaving for China that night. As he was getting ready to leave I told him that he should come and spend some time with Ricky before he left. I didn’t have the heart to put into words that Ricky wasn’t going to be here when he got back and I think Joven wanted to buoy my spirits so he didn’t want to make too big a deal about it. In a way I was glad that he was leaving. I needed the next couple of days to deal with this alone.
Oscar was up early Sunday morning. I tried to wake Ricky up but I could tell he just didn’t want to do anything. As we got back from our walk, I had hoped to see him in the hallway or sitting up in bed waiting for us. Instead he was still asleep. I cried.
I fixed Oscar’s breakfast and tried to eat something myself. We went back downstairs and I tried to give Ricky some treats; no luck. I picked him up, again, saddened by the feeling that I wasn’t picking up my Ricky but some strange dog that I didn’t know. He was so light and tiny and fragile. He collapsed in a ball in my arms. I took him outside and he walked around a little and peed. He made motions of eating grass but he really wasn’t. As I took him inside I knew that time had come.
I put him back in bed and fell asleep. Sleep seemed to be such an escape for both of us. For him, I’m sure it was exhaustion and the comfort that comes with sleep. For me it was an escape from the reality of what I know I needed to do and what the next hours would hold.
Around noon, I pulled out the information that Dr. Sean had given me on vets and mortuary services. The one group said in their literature that they would be able to handle all the arrangements; all I would have to do is call. So I did and got a recorded message. About an hour later, they called me back. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to help me. They couldn’t find a vet who could come. They made no other offers but to give me the name of some others people who could help.
I called Royal Pet and again got a voicemail. It was Sunday after all. The woman called me back almost right away. I told her the situation. I could barely get the words out. My mouth formed the words and air passed across my vocal chords, but the sound that came out of my mouth was not my voice. She was kind. I gave her all the pertinent information. She said she could probably have someone there on Tuesday morning. There was no way I could prolong this any more for him. There was too much time to change my mind or to debate my decision. She said she would see what she could do and call me back.
While we waited, I decided to give him another subcutaneous fluid injection. It had been over 18 hours since he ate or drank anything. Our regular set-up was in the kitchen sink. He used to sit patiently there but now he curled himself up and lay down. I injected as much fluid as the ticking clock would let me bear. Then I carried him back to bed.
A few minutes later she call and told me she found a doctor who could come at 11:00 a.m. the next day. I told her that would be fine. It gave us some time—a few more precious hours—but wouldn’t be an unfair burden on him. She told me to call her back at 4:30 p.m. to confirm. I guess they deal with this all the time—people who change their minds. She even said I could change my mind at the last minute if I needed. I thought that was very nice and extremely empathetic. At the appointed time I called and struggled to get the words out, “I believe it is the right time and the best thing I can do.”
I got back into bed and once again retreated into sleep, my hand on his side rising and falling with his breath.