My best friend, Spike, died in my arms today at 2:45pm from congestive heart failure. The vet arrived 15 minutes later, just a little too late to alleviate his final suffering. He was one month shy of 18 years old.
The past two days have been a dizzying roller coaster. The vet treated Spike on Wednesday morning, and by the afternoon he appeared to be responding to the treatment: Hope! Still, there was the nagging concern that he had not eaten since the prior Saturday. So although he eventually felt well enough to come up from the basement to the ground level, and then up to the third floor when I was getting ready for bed (having not ventured that far since the previous Friday), my hope was tempered. He was very nearly his old self on Wednesday evening, snuggling and seeking attention. His sparkling personality was in evidence.
My other concern, however, was that he had not urinated in about 24 hours, but I assumed the antibiotics he had received would take care of that before long. He slept upstairs with me and around 8:30 Thursday morning I heard the sound of liquid: he was peeing on the old comforter which I folded on the floor for him to use as a bed. OK. Well, at least he was peeing, after all.
But from that point on, things slid downhill rapidly. Instead of bringing relief, voiding his bladder seemed to send him into a downward spiral. He descended back to the basement. I had to run some errands in the morning (did I mention I've had this whole week off from work?), and when I returned in the early afternoon he was clearly distressed. I tried everything I knew to encourage him to eat, since the vet had given him a long-acting appetite stimulant the previous day, but he was having none of it. At one point, in desperation, I put a little dab of baby food on his tongue. He tried to spit it out as if were poison. That's when I knew that things were not going to end well.
Towards late afternoon, I tried calling the vet, but only got their voice mail, so I left a message. It was a long night that followed. Spike was clearly distressed: weak, malnourished, breathing only with great effort, very dazed, and staggering every time he tried to walk. To my great surprise, in the early evening, he eventually made his way upstairs to the ground floor level. I think he was starting to get a little freaked out and did not want to be alone. I took advantage of the opportunity to block the stairs leading down to the basement, effectively limiting to the ground floor. Thus began a very long night, which I spent on the couch.
At times he seemed comfortable enough to rest -- even sleep -- for perhaps an hour at a time. Then he would become restless, obviously unable to find a comfortable position. Lying on his side would cause him to wheeze. His mouth hung open, his tongue dangling out. Every time he tried to move in order to find a new position his staggering gait became weaker and less sure-footed. The ground floor has a hardwood floor, so I spread a towel for him, which he began to favor. At points he would want to be close, even venturing up on the couch with me for a half hour, but then the discomfort would overwhelm him and he'd find a place to hide: behind the couch, in the dark corner of the dining room, in the bathroom. Thus it went, hour after hour. At a couple points he seemed to be trying to go outside through the sliding glass door which leads onto my deck. At another point, when he was in the bathroom, I ran upstairs to relieve myself, and heard him cry out. When I rushed back downstairs he had coughed up blood. Damn! He was having a perfectly miserable time of it, and periodically let out the most pathetic little vocalizations which could only be translated as: "Help! Please! Help me!" I counted the hours until morning, snatching sleep here and there, grateful for those periods in which his breathing stabilized and he was able to drift off. But it was clear to me that he needed to be put out of this misery. pink colored items of the cocktail to wear
Although he had a brain the size of a walnut, and a very limited vocabulary, I repeated the following message throughout the night: "I love you with all my heart, Spike. You will forever be my best friend. You've done an excellent job, and you've seen it through to the end. Now it's time for you to go home. Let go, little man. Let yourself go home. And I'll see you on the other side when I get there." But he simply wouldn't give up the ghost. Spike was tough as nails, even if he was sweet as honey.
Promptly at 8am I called the vet and explained the situation to them. I was informed that they had surgical procedures scheduled all morning but that they would come out to euthanize Spike as soon as humanly possible. I gave them my credit card info: I had made the decision. The next 7 hours were absolutely grueling and I wouldn't wish that sort of misery on any living being. There were points when he needed reassurance, and the photo above was taken when I was sitting on the floor within eyeshot of him and he crept over to collapse between my legs for about 15 minutes. It's the last picture I took of him.
Around 1pm, much to my amazement, he managed to climb up on the love seat in my living room. I imagine he was tired of the hardwood floor at that point, and who could blame him? He found a position that suited him and dozed for a good, long while, his breathing quiet, slow, and even. Around 2:25 the vet called to say that she would be leaving in 5 minutes, the drive to my house requiring about 30 minutes. My relief was enormous.
Then around 2:45, after a long rest, Spike stirred, raised his head and let out several distressed yowls. I went over to him as he turned onto his side. He seemed to be trying to push something away with his legs, and at first I though maybe his claws had become stuck in the fine fabric on the cushion, but this turned out not to be the case. He craned his head around nearly 180 degrees so that it was looking backwards, down his back and towards his tail. I gently lifted his head and returned it to the position that God had intended. His body shook with a spasm. A few seconds later, another. Then three or four more and he froze in place, on his side, eyes and mouth open. I watched as his breathing and pulse slowly declined and ceased. It took me a moment to realize that he was gone, because his breath tapered off so gradually. But he was gone. The vet arrived 15 minutes later and confirmed this. She scooped him up to be cremated, and I kissed him on his head and said goodbye. And now I sit alone at home, writing this account to whomever may be interested.
Spike did his job. He did it well, and completely. His job was to save me from my loneliness until I had a system of support in place which would preclude ever being lonely again. (My job was to care for him and make him know that he was deeply loved and valued beyond measure.) Once more: Spike did an excellent and thorough job of that. He has gone home now. He has flopped down and gone night-night. He was a good boy. And I will see him on the other side. Of that I am certain.