I had to put my dog Maude to sleep this morning. She had advanced kidney failure, and she deteriorated suddenly and severely. The downturn started Sunday, when she stopped eating and drinking, and four days later, she was gone.
My time with Maude was devastatingly short. She was put down four months, to the day, after I brought her home from the rescue. But it was such an immensely rewarding, love-filled, jubilant time.
We were still getting to know each other, in many ways, although we had a strong bond from the get-go. I was still experimenting with different kind of treats, and engaging her in different kinds of play. But the love was there. She was the first thing I thought of when I woke up, and the reason I started sleeping on my couch one or two nights every week (it’s lower than my bed, so it was easier to pet and connect with her).
Maude wasn’t the most expressive with her affection. She wasn’t a licker, and her standard greeting, when I walked in the door, was to look up from her bed, wag her tail, and go back to her nap. I never doubted for a second that she loved me, though. She liked to nudge my hand, then smile when I started petting her, and loved lying on my chest as I lied on the couch.
Her love for me become more evident when other people were around. The more people present, the more she stuck to me. I only had two houseguests during our time together, my sister and niece, and sometimes during that weekend Maude wouldn’t even take treats from my niece – only from her daddy.
While her decline was rapid, I’ve known something was up for a while. During the past three weeks, she’s vomited about six times, once every 3-4 days. She’d sleep for hours, and then abruptly wake up and start heaving until her last meal came up. Afterwards, she’d return to normal – she’d respond to treats, get excited for a walk, and eat later in the day. Because of this, I didn’t think too much of it – I thought maybe she had a bug where you feel better once you vomit, or maybe she ate something off the sidewalk that I didn’t notice.
She spent Friday night at the kennel while I was in San Diego for a race, and when I picked her up on Saturday, she was tired, moving slower. I thought it was because she ran around with other dogs all day.
She barely ate anything Sunday morning, and by Sunday night she was refusing everything, including her favorite treats. On Monday morning, she only ate a few pieces of chicken jerky and had a sad, defeated look in her eyes that I’ve never seen before. She was incredibly weak and unsteady on her feet. She could barely make it down the hall in my building, and stumbled stepping off a curb.
I called the vet, who was able to see her that hour. I had to lift her into the back seat – she couldn’t climb into the car. The news at the vet wasn’t good. She’s lost a quarter of her weight since we were there in March – 60 pounds down to 45. I knew she had lost weight, but didn’t think it was that much. I thought her body was responding to the increase in exercise I was giving her, compared to life at the rescue.
The vet was blunt: “She’s very sick. This really doesn’t look good. It’s like she’s aged 10 years since I saw her in March. It looks like she’s given up.” He did an x-ray on the spot, which came up normal – meaning no large tumors or signs of cancer. He took blood and urine, and sent it to a lab for testing.
I called for the test results on Tuesday, and her kidney numbers were sky high. The vet had warned me the day before that she may only have a few weeks, but with the lab results in his hand, that went down to a few days. Maude, meanwhile, was getting worse – she still wasn’t eating, was vomiting up the water she drank within a few minutes, and could barely walk. I had to start carrying her down the block to the closest patch of grass, and would carry her back home after she relieved herself.
I had been planning a road trip for me and Maude. We were supposed to leave next week. We were going to Michigan, where Maude was going to meet over a dozen members of the family, and friends, too. She was going to run around in my parents’ big yard. My father was going to spoil her silly. Now I’m going to make the trip alone. It will be great to see everyone, but it’s awful thinking about how many loved ones never got to meet my sweet girl. It will be hard to shake the thoughts of what the trip could have been.
The outpouring of love and support from my family and friends has been overwhelming. I shared the lab report with three experts in my life (one vet-in-training and two physicians – turns out dog kidneys function just like human kidneys), and all gave medical insight. So many people, including many who have put pets down, cried along with me. My friend Jen took a sick day to be with me and Maude during Maude’s final breaths.
I knew Maude was older when I adopted her. Her exact age was unknown, but it was clear she was in the second half of her life. And while it’s easy to think I got robbed, only having her in my life for such a short time, I’d prefer to think that I was incredibly lucky to have met and cared for such a sweet, gentle soul at all.
Maude’s complete history isn’t known. I couldn’t count the times I looked into those brown eyes and wondered about the things they’ve seen, or the stories that could tell. I do know she spent years in the rescue system. It’s quite possible I gave her the only home she ever had, and more likely that I gave her the only good home. And what a privilege it’s been, giving this gorgeous lady a wonderful, loving, safe place to live out her final days. My sister’s boyfriend put it much more elegantly:
I hope you will take comfort knowing that you did something for Maude that no person had ever done. You committed to her. You gave her unconditional love and care and stability of “place.” These are the greatest gifts she could have ever received. Gifts she had never fully enjoyed.
This is the final picture of Maude and me, taken last night.
And her final picture, from this morning, 122 days after she walked into my home, becoming my daughter, the companion at my side, and the reason my life became immeasurably and infinitely richer and fuller.
Good night, Maude. You will always be my main girl.