At 10:45 am on July 9, 2015, Phil and I guided our little sweat pea on her final journey. She was suffering from kidney failure, a condition for which there is no treatment in dogs. She’d stopped eating and most of what she drank came back up.
We could not give her a celebratory day. She barely had the strength to walk, let alone play, and, as I mentioned, she wouldn’t eat—even her favourite treats. The best we could do was to be with her and let her know she was loved until the end.
We had ten years of joy with her from the disgruntled yawp she offered us upon our first meeting, to her final, peaceful sigh.
In 2005, a little more than two years after the tragic death of our last dog, Zoe, from hemangiosarcoma, Phil and I were finally ready to look for another dependent quadruped to share our lives with. We had a cat at the time, Thufir, but we missed having a dog.
It was Phil’s sister, Stephanie, who saw the listing as she was perusing The Pennysaver (think print version of Kijiji). She brought it to my attention at break, giving me the magazine to bring home.
We called and made arrangements to see the pups. We drove down to Dill Lake Road and up to the house at the address we’d been given.
We knocked, the door opened, and we were led downstairs. The bitch and her pups were nestled in the space under the stairs in the midst of blankets and newspaper. The pups were all nursing, squirming as they do. Adorable. Kawaii even.
The owner crawled under the stairs. “Would you like to see one?” she asked.
“Do you have any girls left?” I asked. We’d been told on the phone earlier that several of the pups had already been claimed.
“We have one left,” the owner said, examining the pups. “Ummmm . . . this one.”
She grabbed the pup right off her mother’s teat and held her out to us. That’s when we received the disgruntled yawp. There she was, pudgy little belly, stubby little legs, delicate paws with tiny nails, ears folded over, and tail quivering, and she opened her mouth and cried, as if to say, “Hey! I was eating! That’s rude!”
Of course, I took the pup with an “aw, poor thing.” One sniff of that milk-laden breath, one touch of that soft butter-belly, and that was it. I wanted to take her home.
She was only three weeks old, though, and we’d have to wait.
In the meantime, we bought all the necessary puppy supplies and I finalized the arrangements for a self-funded leave. It was important to me to solidify the bond with our new pup and to ensure that I wasn’t a zombie at work because of the initial midnight feeding and outing or crying during the first nights.
For a name, we settled on Nuala. Even though the name refers to she of the white shoulders and Nu was a black dog with white bits, Phil wanted to name her one of my crazy Irish names. The world is grateful he didn’t convince me to call her Siobhan 🙂
No one could spell or pronounce Nuala correctly as it was. Our vet even included the notation (Noo-la) on her file.
We tried to crate train her. We really did, but she never felt comfortable. Remembering the time Zoe wedged her head between the bars and was stuck like that—panicking—for hours before we got home, we decided to relent. Baby gates around the kitchen would suffice.
There were the usual trials with house training, but Nuala was pretty good. Once she matured enough to control her bladder, we were golden.
When I returned to work, we generally took her over to my mom’s. She was still working then, though, and when we had to leave Nu on her own, we were pleased to discover that she was not destructive. She valued her home. We appreciated that.
Nuala also didn’t bark. Except in the rare case where she was freaked out by something, or wanted to be brought in from the back yard (a vocalization we called the bark of command) she was quiet. It was almost like she thought barking was rude.
I started walking her in the mornings, and made friends with another morning dog-walker who lived up the street from me. Stacey (human) and Daisy (canine) became our buddies, not only sharing morning walks, but also going to the Laurentian Conservation Area on the weekends to let the dogs run wild in the bush.
I even jogged with Nu for a while. I called it puff-a-lumping, and even at a trot, Nuala could stay well ahead of me.
We attended puppy classes at the local PetSmart and Nuala proved to be a submissive girl. Her routine with the more rambunctious puppies was to roll over on her back and pee.
She was just a really good dog. Cuddly and patient and incessantly licky 🙂 We really didn’t mind puppy kisses.
She never really caught on to the whole fetch thing. She preferred to play keep away, or, if playing with Daisy, she would defer to her canine playmate. She just loved to run.
Nuala learned to do all the standard things: sit, lay down, stay, come, and eventually, she shook both paws and could do high-fives with both. She wouldn’t stay still long enough to balance a biscuit on her nose. Still, we tried.
She didn’t like swimming, either. She loved the water, but her paws could not leave the lake bottom. This is one of the reasons we think she had husky in her. Huskies aren’t great swimmers. They’ll do it if they have to.
The one bad habit Nuala had was that when she could, she dashed out the door and ran across the street to the neighbour’s. They had four Persians and Nuala loved kitties. We think she missed Thufir, who died in 2008.
Nuala’s early years were fairly uneventful, health-wise.
Then I noticed that she was losing patches of hair on her chest. Turns out she had food allergies. Enter expensive prescription food after a summer of making her food (salmon and rice, or salmon and potato, plus supplements). It also explained the periodic ear infections she got, as they could be an extension of the allergies.
Treats were now replaced with carrots or apples. Nuala loved them. She was quite the veggie dog.
Our pup-friends moved away and I continued to take Nuala to the Conservation Area until my father was hospitalized. Then I went to visit him on the weekends instead. Nuala adjusted graciously.
In 2011, she cracked a tooth length-wise and had to have dental surgery. Due to the stubborn nature of her roots (the roots of all dog molars are hooked), the surgery took longer than expected. She recovered fairly quickly, though.
The next year, she started showing evidence of arthritis. We thought her hips. She went on a regular regimen of Meta-cam.
We renovated our bedroom that year and Phil sawed the legs off the bed frame so Nuala would have an easier time getting in and out of bed. Yes. She slept with us. It’s why we had a king sized bed.
We also installed a runner beside the bed so that when she jumped down, she wouldn’t slip and end up doing the doggy splits.
It turned out, though, that she didn’t have arthritis. Her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) was slowly tearing. By December of 2012, the ACL had torn and Nu couldn’t put any weight on that leg, her right hind.
So she had surgery to replace her torn ACL with a length of cable in January of 2013. In the wake of the surgery, she developed urinary tract infections (UTIs) (yes, that was plural) and the vet discovered that she was shedding protein in her urine, a sign that her kidneys were in distress. Further blood tests revealed that her kidney enzymes were just fine.
Still, we started her on Fortekor and switched from the allergy food to kidney support diet as precautions.
Then her ears started to get bad. She gave herself a couple of aural haematomas from scratching, one in each year, and eventually, the vet diagnosed her with fibrocystic ears. Her ear canal started to produce fibrous cysts. Enter the prednisone.
We tried to wean her off the pred, because long-term use was not good for her liver or kidneys, but we had no choice but to continue. The only permanent treatment was to remove her ear canals, something we weren’t prepared to do to our dear little pup.
The following year, in the summer, Nuala developed diabetes, which was a possible consequence of prolonged prednisone use of which we were unaware. We started a regimen of insulin and low calorie prescription diet.
We tried an alternate medication to the prednisone, but it was not effective and we returned to using the pred.
With the new treatment plan, Nuala was behaving like a pup again. She was playing again. We were happy.
Over the next months, we took Nuala in for several glucose curves and adjusted her medications, eventually reaching a good balance in about March of 2015.
All seemed well.
And then, three weeks ago on Friday, Nuala stopped eating.
It started with her leaving carrots uneaten. Remember, she LOVED carrots. We tried apple. No go. She left increasing amounts of her breakfast and supper uneaten, of concern because she had to eat a certain amount to process her insulin.
We took her in to the vet on Tuesday. Urinalysis, blood tests, and x-rays revealed another UTI and the beginnings of kidney failure, liver failure, or both. She ate a full meal at the vet’s, though, and they weren’t concerned about that. We were sent home with antibiotics and a plan to revert to the kidney support diet.
The next day was Canada Day, and Nuala continued to refuse any food we gave her. Then she started to throw up.
Thursday was worse. I resorted to cooking up a batch of rice and salmon, which she did eat, and subsequently threw up. I talked to the vet that day and he told me that we were overcharged for the x-rays and that he would leave some medication and the kidney support diet for us the following morning.
Phil picked up the meds: a anti-ulcer medication and an appetite stimulant along with a case of the kidney diet and the veterinary emergency number (just in case). When he got home, he gave Nu the anti-ulcer med and she promptly went over to her food bowl and started licking it.
So he fed her more rice and salmon. Two bowls. Which she ate. For supper, she ate a can of the kidney diet and we hoped that Nuala was past the worst of her illness.
Then she threw up.
Despite the administration of the appetite stimulant, the only thing we could get her to eat for the weekend was biscuits. She continued to throw up. On Saturday night, I reviewed the instructions on the medications and the antibiotic indicated that it should be discontinued if vomiting and/or diarrhoea developed. We discontinued the antibiotic.
Monday, I was sick (legitimately) and I called the vet in the morning to tell him the latest and see what he could suggest. I ended up making an appointment to bring Nuala in Tuesday morning.
I had a huge breakdown Monday night because Nuala was doing so poorly. I was certain we were going to have to euthanize her in the morning.
Phil took Tuesday off and I went to work. When we left to take Nuala to the vet, I called my mom and asked her to meet us at the door. I wanted her to have the chance to say good bye.
When he got into the office and examined Nuala, the vet said that he wanted to try one more therapy. He wanted to put Nuala on fluids to rehydrate her and administer anti-nausea drugs. He wanted to keep her overnight. If he could flush the urea from Nuala’s system, we might gain some time and, more importantly, quality of life for her.
He did this at no charge. He knows us and knows that we would always wonder if we had done absolutely everything we could. He wanted to exhaust this last possibility.
Wednesday morning, we brought Nuala home to stay with my mom. The techs had taken additional blood samples when they discharged Nu.
Around noon, the vet called and indicated that despite 24 hours on fluids, the level of urea in Nuala’s blood was exactly the same as it had been when we brought her in on Tuesday morning. Her kidneys had failed.
I asked if Nuala might make it to the weekend. The vet told me that she might not make it through Thursday. When we got home on Wednesday evening, Nuala hadn’t eaten anything.
On Thursday morning, we knew it was time. It was heartbreaking because she would still wag her tail when she saw us. She still had light in her eyes. She wanted to be happy, but felt too ill. She wanted to eat, but couldn’t bear to. Both Phil and I stayed home from work, we called the vet to wait for an appointment, and called my mom to come over and sit with Nu and us until it was time.
We bundled Nu into the car and went for her final vet visit. Phil brought all the leftover food and meds into the vet’s office and settled up before the appointment while I took Nuala for a final walk. I let her drag me into the wild strawberries and blueberry bushes in the lot next to the vet’s office, get full of fluff from the weeds, have a good sniff, and empty herself out. Surprisingly, she still had something in her to empty.
The appointment itself was very respectful and entirely at our pace. Everything was explained and we were given time to spend with Nuala. Our dear little pup had been there so much over the last few years that the staff all knew her.
None of the potentially awful things they warned us of happened. She just sighed twice and settled under our stroking hands.
And it was done.
The rest of the day was spent in a weepy daze. Phil made lunch and invited my mom over. It was surreal.
Slowly, it dawned on me. The shape of our lives had changed.
Our lives had increasingly been structured around Nuala.
Now, we have to shift around her absence.
It’s as simple, and as goddamned hard, as that.