On May, 8th, I woke up relieved that my Encinitas pet sitting gig was over and that Red and I would be staying with my cousin in Ocean Beach for a few days. I was extending my trip a few days to hear when my grandmother’s funeral would be and planned on driving up to Northern California to be with my family. It had been a sad weekend, my amazing Grandmother passed away and I had been recalling my memories of her. The morning I learned of her passing I also received a message that Marc and Suzanne’s sweet dog, Milo had passed away. Milo was just a big bundle of love and I loved when I got to spend time with him and his parents. It was an emotional weekend.
When I started to move around, Red rolled closer to give me his morning kisses, we loved each other up as usual then he followed me to the edge of the bed wobbling a bit. I set him on the carpet so we could get going. He lost his balance and fell over, he crashed into the wall. I immediately tried to help, he fell over again, he couldn’t stand or walk on his own. I tried to stay calm but I couldn’t help but think that he was dying.
I know that sounds extreme but his sister, Sue, woke up like this almost exactly two years ago… she couldn’t walk, her back legs gave out. Ever since she was a puppy she had trouble with her back legs giving out when she was fatigued, but never first thing in the morning. I took her outside to help her potty, she couldn’t stand, I checked her gums and they were white, I carried her back into the house and searched frantically for an emergency vet. I quickly realized that it was too late, she was dying. I held her and told her it was okay, I told her I loved her, I tried to stay calm and comfort her as she slipped away. We were in California at the time, Red and I drove 12 hours back to Flagstaff with our sweet little Sue.
So when Red woke up wobbling around, I thought he was dying, I couldn’t help it. Luckily there was a veterinarian next door but they wouldn’t be open for another 30 minutes. I called my vet in Flagstaff and told him what was going on, he thought it sounded more like a nerve, spine thing, maybe a herniated disc, maybe a tumor related to the tumors he had removed in January. I was somewhat relieved and waited in front of the veterinarian’s office until it opened up. The vet did some tests on Red and his diagnosis matched what our veterinarian had said. He recommended I stick around and give him laser treatments for a few days. I decided to stay in Encinitas so he could receive the treatments and follow ups.
He was prescribed 6 weeks of cage rest, muscle relaxers and an anti inflammatory pain killer. I was super careful with him, I had to hold him up to potty, to eat, to drink and make sure he wouldn’t get up on his own and fall over. When he would fall over, he would roll around uncontrollably almost as if he were having a seizure, banging his head and body into the floor. It was heartbreaking to see him like this. Our friends and family were so helpful, giving Red energy healing treatments, lending us a pack n play to keep him safe when I couldn’t hold him, a baby stroller to take him outside when he was ready for more action and so much love and support.
I felt an enormous amount of guilt. Should I take him home? Did I push him too hard the past few weeks? Did he play too hard with the pups we were pet sitting? Do I really want to put him through another 9 hour drive for Grandma’s funeral, then another 12 hours back to AZ? Red has been my love for over 14 years, he is my child. I knew my family would understand if I didn’t show up.
After a few days of treatments, there was a slight improvement in the range of motion in his neck. He still couldn’t walk on his own, his muscles were tight, he seemed so dizzy, he could hardly stand, I had to start hand feeding him. I knew we had to get home, check in with our vet, see our acupuncture vet and look into a CT scan or MRI.
On Friday we drove home, he had his little head on my lap for almost the entire trip. When we got home he perked up a bit, he was so happy to see Frank and the cats. By Saturday he was having a hard time sleeping through the night, he would get up every 1-2 hours and fuss for an hour or so, we’d take him out to potty, carry him around, hold and try to soothe him. The drugs seemed to be losing their effect on him and he would toss and turn more violently, it was hard to keep hold of him and he wanted to dart off the bed and walk but he couldn’t walk on his own.
After visiting our vet on Monday we gave him Dramamine to help with the dizziness and took the information for the specialists in Phoenix where we could get the MRI. We took him in to our acupuncture vet the following day and she immediately diagnosed him with Vestibular Disease, which really made a lot of sense at the time. It didn’t change the treatment or the drugs and the MRI was still recommended to find the root of the problem, again a Brain tumor was possible but rare. She asked if we were able to provide the constant care he would need and we said yes. We decided to continue to nurse him at home, come back the next week for an acupuncture treatment and a follow up to see if he improved or if we needed to take him to Phoenix for a MRI.
He still had a voracious appetite but started wanting less water. I cook his food so I just added water to his meals and made a broth to supplement. Sometimes he would show signs of improvement, he would wag his tail when I talked to him, still kept an eye on me when he was awake, wanted cuddles, treats and massages.
On Friday, Frank and I were getting ready to take him outside in the harness Frank made to help him stand up, his little legs were strong again and he would stand with support. I had this feeling that if I helped straighten and support his head tilt, maybe he could lean into it and maybe balance more without the harness. We tried it and he was suddenly walking! No dizziness! He was wagging his tail and walking so fast I could hardly keep up. He didn’t want to stop but we knew he would wear himself out if we didn’t stop him, “he is a Jack Russell” we joked. We were so excited.
A few hours later my friend, Janie checked on us. I gave her the most recent diagnosis and she recommended looking into a technique that is used on humans for vertigo, since that’s basically what we thought was going on. I tried the technique on him, he was resistant at first but it helped calm and relax him, he would go right to sleep. When he would wake up we would correct the head tilt and he would walk without side support, still wobbly but looking strong and happy.
We both had moments of crying, thinking that maybe he was dying, maybe it is a tumor but we were hopeful that it really was just idiopathic vestibular disease and he would eventually get back to normal. It can take weeks, sometimes months for dogs to come back from Vestibular disease. We were ready to keep helping him as long as he needed. I asked for a sedative to help him sleep through the night so we tried it, he slept for 3 hours, thrashed around until we gave him another. I thought even just a little more rest would help.
On Saturday his energy level was lower than usual, he still wanted to walk and would tolerate the dog version of the epley maneuver, though he started to fight it a bit more. He seemed to be pressing his head into my chest and arms more and more. He was pressing his head into the soft corners of the play pen too, we thought it helped with the dizziness, but also wondered if it was a tumor or head pain. He stopped eating food from my hands, his jaw was too tight to open much, I thought maybe it was too much walking, his jaw might be tight from the head pressing and maybe his violent fits of thrashing were taking a toll on him. He began to groan a bit at times and it just killed us. We blended his food and started feeding it to him with a syringe.
I was worried he had too much activity on Friday, too much excitement and the valium probably worked him over too. He still ate and welcomed love and attention, we took turns holding him, soothing him, walking him around in our arms, when he was tired enough to sleep, we would put him in the play pen to rest. The acupuncture vet’s office called to check up on him. I told them there were signs of improvement but that today he seemed super tired, had to eat/drink out of the syringe, etc… They said to bring him in if he seemed to get worse, otherwise we would see them on Tuesday. We gave him the same minimum dosage of valium Saturday night with the same results but I didn’t want to increase it just yet.
On Sunday I mostly had Red to myself again. He had even less energy, I tried the epley maneuver a couple of times in the morning during his spells but he groaned and by the second try, I decided to stop. It didn’t seem to help anymore and made him more stressed. He continued to press his head into me and the pen, it seemed to help calm him. He wanted to walk but his legs were tired and his balance wasn’t there like it had been on Friday. He ate a lot more than he did on Saturday, that made me feel hopeful.
I told Frank that I didn’t want to let him thrash around outside of the play pen anymore. When he thrashed in our arms or on the bed, he would get resistance from us because we didn’t want him to dive off the bed or the couch and flop around uncontrollably, he would fight with us, it was like a wrestling match and he is a strong pup. The pen was padded with pillows and blankets and gave no resistance when he wanted to turn or move around so I thought that it would be better.
We agreed we would hold him for a little while and if he relaxed then great, if he fought for too long, we would hold him/supervise him in the pen so he wouldn’t keep wearing himself out.
I had to get ready to teach yoga so Frank took over. I didn’t want to leave, I had only left Red with Frank once on Saturday and that was to teach class. I had a feeling I should stay home but there wasn’t time to ask for a sub. When I left the house Frank was on the couch, holding Red in his arms. Red was pressing his head into Frank’s arms, his eyes were covered with a blanket because it seemed to help. I left for the studio.
When yoga practice is over, we chant a closing mantra and when I chanted the line, “lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu” (which in part translates “may all beings everywhere be happy and free from suffering”), I saw my little guy and my heart ached with so much love for my baby, I wanted that for him. I wanted him to be happy and free from suffering.
When I asked everyone to lay down and take rest, I decided to play the Hanuman Chalisa for Red. I usually don’t play music in class but I thought this would be a good time, just for my baby boy. When I picked up my phone to find it, I saw that I had two missed calls and a voicemail from Frank. My heart sank. I walked out of the room and listened to Frank’s message. Red had passed away in his arms, in his sleep. Frank didn’t know he had died. He tried to resuscitate him but he had left his body. I could hardly keep it together, I asked Candace to close class for me, but then I couldn’t move, I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t want to believe it. I went to sit and decided to close the class. I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I apologized and told everyone why and after that I just remember hugs and love and driving home. On the drive I called Frank, I couldn’t understand him and I’m sure he couldn’t understand me, we were crying so hard. When I got home, he was still holding him. We cried and cried. We took turns holding him and talking to him.
I wanted to be there for Red when he passed, we were always together, always. I am so sad I wasn’t there. I told Frank that I had prayed and prayed that when it was time for Red to leave his body that at least one of us would be there holding him, soothing him, loving him. I was lucky enough to be there for Sue and for Chunks when they passed. I think Red chose to go in Frank’s arms, he died peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by love, I am thankful for that. I am so grateful that Frank was there for him, holding him, loving him. I have never felt love like the love I have shared with Red and Sue, it’s as close to unconditional love as I think I can get. My world feels so empty and quiet right now, my heart hurts. I trust that Red is now happy and free from suffering and playing with Sue and Chunks. I love you Red, thank you for being my friend, my love, my teacher, my confidant. I miss you, my handsome little guy.