When the calendar reminder pops up letting me know it’s time to call and schedule our dogs’ annual checkup, my anxiety starts to tick up, increasing as the day draws nearer. Not only is Sadie a barker but Scout is protective to a fault. So much so that she tries to eat the vet if I’m in eye shot. Every single appointment requires a continual string of apologizes spilling out of me from the moment we walk in the door to the moment I get dragged back to the car. Strangely, this time my litany of I’m sorrys was met with one from the vet because, well, my dog is dying.
Dr. Stanley started with the positives. Sadie’s healthy except for reoccurring ear infections for which we’d be leaving with some medicated drops. Both dogs passed their annual heart worm test and were fully vaccinated for the year; their nails were freshly trimmed. But Scout, well her exam unearthed some unfortunate new information. My cranky, obnoxious, perfect velcro dog’s heart is giving out.
Her official diagnosis is mitral valve disease in the beginning to middle stages of heart failure. He couldn’t give me a real timeline, just a rough estimate a couple months or maybe up to a year. There were questions about treatment, and answers that confirmed what I already knew. There were ways for us to lessen the symptoms but the medications that would clear the fluid from around her heart and in her lungs would have side effects of their own. Instead he offered up a list of symptoms to look for that would indicate there has been a significant progression and a few ways to measure her comfort, so we’ll know when it’s time for a long goodbye.
Looking back I’m embarrassed by my reaction. I didn’t cry but the sound of blood rushing in my ears deafened me. I asked him to start his explanation over again twice because I literally couldn’t hear him over the sound of my own internal panic. I spent the entire car ride home just trying not to crash. Stopping at every red light its own little triumph. Nearly twelve years ago, I was in a different car, peeling down a California freeway, windows down and a puppy in my lap. Since then she’s been peeing in my bed every time I leave for vacation, sleeping in front of the stove as I cook dinner nearly every night, and cleaning up the cracker crumb trails all three of my babies have left in their wake. She isn’t just a dog, she’s my dog and my dog is dying.
I want to be poised and gracious; grateful with sage wisdom and trite quotes about dogs being too good and wise for the likes of humans but mostly I’m devastated at the thought of navigating my world without my little heartbeat constantly underfoot.