When you have to choose between your child and your dog
My daughter woke up this morning and told me she saw Flower (who has been gone for five months now). I smiled and remembered how they sat together to watch TV and Ally used to put tiaras and toys all over her while she slept.
Then, on the five-minute car ride to school, she mentioned her again,
“Is Flower better yet? I miss her so much mommy!”
The lump in my throat was hard to swallow. I was proud of her ability to sequence events and her use of language has progressed in strides, but I was heartbroken to explain to her that our dog wasn’t ever coming home. She didn’t understand why but how do you tell your toddler this?
2017 was a rough year for our family because our three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The costs of her specialists, therapies, and daycare expulsions drained our emergency funds between hiring babysitters, a leave of absence from work, and thousands in medical bills and therapy. While all of this was going on, our dog Flower was silently suffering right in front of us and we didn’t even notice.
We thought maybe she was depressed because we purchased a new home recently and she wasn’t adjusting well. While we frequently took her for short walks, she wasn’t the kind of dog who liked to be led, she was a leader herself. Much like our kids, she had a sweet, stubborn, self-directed personality. For the past seven and a half years, she was our son’s best friend. They did everything together from watching TV to playing outside, and they even took naps. He spent less time with her as he aged but she still looked for him often.
We began to notice her weight gain and lethargy towards the end of the summer when she slept all day. When I took her for annual vaccines, her vet attributed her weight gain to being an older bulldog; she offered to run blood work to check her thyroid. They found her thyroid levels required medication and we started right away.
When Flower was around two, she lost most of her hair on the sides of her belly. It turned out to be seasonal alopecia which melatonin cleared up quickly and the hair grew back. Her seasonal alopecia flared up several times throughout her life. When her hair started falling out again, we assumed it was her seasonal alopecia and put her back on the melatonin. But then we noticed scabs attached to the hair and that her skin was bleeding. Her vet suspected a skin infection and treated her with the antibiotic and it cleared up right away.
In August, we noticed she was urinating more frequently and blood on the floor when she had an accident in the house. Her vet was able to get a urine sample and found a UTI which cleared with an antibiotic. A few days later, her hair started falling out again. At that point, we had been to the vet several times with no answers. We called another practice that saw her within a week, she suspected it could be cancer. Another week went by and her blood work showed no signs of cancer but they suspected Cushing’s disease. I had never heard of that before, but it was bad.
She explained that fully diagnosing Cushing’s disease is very expensive, a lengthy process, and her treatment and recovery would cost into the thousands. She wanted to do two more blood tests, an ultrasound followed by more blood tests, and it was going to cost around $2,000 to start. We did the two blood tests first, they came back inconclusive and had to be re-done, and it wasn’t free. By then, they had enough information to determine that it was, in fact, Cushing’s disease and next they had to determine if it was adrenal or pituitary based. That was going to cost another $1,000.
After researching more about Cushing’s disease, I learned that 85–90% of all cases in dogs affect the pituitary gland, not shown in the abdomen ultrasound. If it were me, as a human, with health insurance, the company would decline this ultrasound and start me on medication. And so I convinced them to do the same for Flower because I was running out of money.
Three weeks into her Trilostane treatment (a mediation used to control Cushing’s disease), we saw little improvement. Her skin was biopsied and tested with no results. They determined it was a condition called Calcinosis Cutis, which is essentially calcium deposits all over her from the high level of steroids her body was producing from the disease. I didn’t know what to do at this point because not only was this financially stressful, but we were out of days to take off at work and her skin wasn’t healing. She needed medical baths daily and procedures that I couldn’t juggle with caring for our daughter.
We were denied Care Credit and no animal hospital would admit Flower without a credit card or proof of payment, even as we cried in desperation.
We knew Flower was going to die and couldn’t wrap our minds around why our vet refused euthanasia. I was so distraught, I considered Old Yellering her in the backyard just to end her misery. After searching, we found one vet who agreed to do it, but she also suggested local rescue organizations that could possibly help her instead. We reached out to one she had suggested. They had a veterinary technician who worked in an animal hospital and she would be treated there daily.
There was a catch. We had to surrender her into their care and we could never see her again.
After a week of emotional turmoil in our household, we decided to do it if we had any chance at her living, this was it.
We met her foster “dad” in a parking lot halfway between us and donated her XL kennel, her orthopedic bed, all of her toys, a box with her medical records and a month supply of food and refills on all of her meds. It was the hardest thing we had ever done in our entire lives.
The next morning, a woman from the organization who helped me the prior day created a fundraiser for Flower on her site. Suddenly, Flower had gotten younger, sicker, and came from neglectful owners who ignored her disease. This poor dog was all alone in the world and needed to know what love was (like the opposite of a bad 80’s song). I couldn’t believe my eyes because these people were so helpful and kind to us and while we stayed up all night figuring out how we could send donations as often as possible to help poor Flower, they turned her into a Sarah McLachlan commercial.
I never once publicly interfered with fundraising efforts for Flower but I did confront the organization because they knew her age, they had all of her medical records, all of her belongings, knew she loved my kids, and I was honest about my entire situation. They wrote a response that said to move on with my life, to never contact them again or they’d sue me. Yes, the people that were helping me help my furbaby wanted to sue me for liable when all I did was confront them privately, not publicly, which made me wonder if they even understood what liable meant.
Now, whenever I see a post filled with theatrics about a sick dog, abandoned and saved just in time by an organization that is writing their story like an episode of K9 Chicago Med, I always call bullshit. My poor Flower had been named the poster dog of neglect.
Not every family that surrenders their dog is neglectful or wanted to do it. Sometimes it is the best decision for the dog or a family. The whole story is never shown, never will be because nobody ever shares it. Not every baby is allergic to dogs and not every dog was unloved, especially not our Flower.
We are all going to die someday. Pets die and death is a part of life that is most difficult to deal with, but when your dog is sick, suffering, in pain, and is OLD, it becomes selfish to keep forcing them to live for you.
Part of me regrets not fighting harder with my vet to put her down where she could have died at home surrounded by people who love her.
Bringing me back to this morning, maybe my daughter saw a ghost or maybe it was a coincidence. But it haunted me all day how she said she saw Flower. After she was asleep, I found out via Facebook that Flower died today.
She lived out her days (which were only 5 months) with a vet technician who brought her into his home and nursed her skin back to health (I am forever in his debt for that.). Flower got to be with other dogs whom I know she loved and based on the photos he sent my husband, she looked happy. I keep thinking that if she had died in her sleep in our home, I probably would have been at work. Or she could have died with her family (us), feeling loved, five months ago but was denied that option. I wonder if she waited for us, thought about us, and missed us. Whenever I imagine her feeling neglected by us, I remember that she never knew what it was to be unloved, unwanted, or neglected. She never met a nasty dog and was never abused or hurt by anyone. I imagine she was most happy these past five months snuggling with other dogs on his couch.