Saturday, August 2, 2014

Oh, Archie

Six days. I only knew him for six days. I'll never know what his real name was, or how he became stray at the age of ten. What I do know is that the worst feeling in the world is leaving a veterinary clinic clutching an empty collar in your hand. The people in the waiting room see your tear-streaked face and the collar and they murmur to themselves and exchange knowing looks. They know the score and they part to let you through so that you can escape.

He was a sweet old guy, a fawn male with cropped ears. We don't see cropped ears much these days. My friend Sarah was fostering him at first, but we quickly learned that he had bad knees and since I live in a ranch-style house and she has lots of stairs, it made more sense for me to foster him. So, she transferred the grey-muzzled fellow to me. I was supposed to keep him for about a week and then transfer him to a long-term foster home once that volunteer returned from vacation.

Sarah named him Archie. Archie had all sorts of problems. He was very thin. He had an abscessed tooth. He had lumps and bumps on his body, including a prominent one on his schnoz. He was stone deaf as far as we could tell.  However, none of that stuff really deterred us - they weren't dealbreakers. Our rescue recently placed a twelve-year-old. I figured, well, the worst case scenario was that Archie would spend the rest of his life in rescue. And really, that's not a bad gig. Our volunteers care for their foster dogs just as the same as they care for their own dogs.

As a rescue volunteer, I am in the business of delivering happy endings. It's the only reason to keep on keeping on, you know?  I let Archie down. I did not deliver.  On Friday evening, my husband came home from work to find that Archie had lost control of his bowels and his bladder. He had vomited and was panting rapidly. Now, strewn across the kitchen tile, Archie could not stand. When I got home, I knelt down to take a closer look at him. It was almost like he couldn't see me.  His eyes were shifting back and forth involuntarily (nystagmus).  When he tried to stand, he stumbled and fell over. After fourteen years as a rescue volunteer, sometimes I feel like I know more than I want to. I frowned. I knew.

"It's neurological," I told my husband.

When the emergency vet clinic opened at 6:00 (we were temporarily caught in a no-man's-land where the regular vet clinic closes at 5 and the emergency one opens an hour later), I loaded Archie into my van and took him to the clinic. My friend (and fellow volunteer) Kris joined me for moral support.

The veterinarian was very nice and seemed competent. I think her first inclination was to try to give me some hope. When she realized that I'm a rescue volunteer and that I've been at it for a while, she seemed to shift gears a little and became a little more pragmatic. Her best guess was "idiopathic vestibular syndrome."  She also mentioned the possibility of a brain tumor. Since cancer runs rampant in Boxers, it was more than a remote possibility.  She gave me some anti-nausea meds for Archie and sent us home with instructions to keep an eye on him.

Honestly, part of me was hoping for some sort of miracle even though I knew it was unlikely. Whatever was wrong, it was in the brain.  Archie did not want to eat or drink, but I smeared the meds (he was also on an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory) in a wad of peanut butter, deposited it in his mouth, and basically required him to swallow it. An hour later, I found the anti-nausea pill on the carpet. Archie 1, Claudia 0.

I grabbed a bunch of old bedding and created a cushion-y bed in front of the fireplace in our living room. I laid Archie on it. My husband took him outside to potty periodically, using an old towel as a sling to support Archie's weight.  I decided to sleep on the couch next to him so that I could keep an eye on him last night. Twice during the night, Archie stood up and then fell over. It was heartbreaking to watch.  Each time, I held him for a while just to assure him that I was there. He couldn't hear me and I'm not sure how well he could see, but he knew I was there.

This morning, I tried to get Archie outside to pee, but it was too late - he had already peed on the blankets.  I pulled them off and gave him some new ones.  I tried to entice him with cheese and turkey and water. He would not eat or drink. I got a syringe and squirted a bit of water down his throat. I just felt like I should get at least a little bit of water into him.

I had to leave to volunteer at a pet expo this morning, so P stayed behind to keep an eye on Archie. Archie mostly slept.  When P brought the kid to the expo later in the day, he told me what I already knew: Archie couldn't go on like this. When I got home, I found Archie lying in the same spot. He wouldn't even lift his head. He would not eat. I pulled him into a standing position just to see if there had been any improvement. I guess I just had to make sure.  His head tilted to the side, his eyes darted back and forth rapidly, and he stumbled and fell.  I caught him on the way down and helped him settle back into a comfortable position. I knew what had to be done. I could see that Archie had already checked out. He wouldn't lift his head and there seemed to be no spark left in those dark eyes.

With a heavy heart, I asked my husband to load Archie into my van so that I could take him back to the emergency clinic. This time, Archie would not be coming back with me.

Before too long, I was escorted into a darkened room where they had laid Archie on a blanket.  They had inserted a catheter into his right rear leg. A veterinarian came in and quietly injected Archie. Because of Archie's age and poor health, his heart stopped within seconds. After Archie died, I buried my head in his brown fur. Sarah had given him a bath after he came out of the shelter, so his fur was soft. "I love you, Archie," I said. "I'm so sorry." He was deaf, but I needed him to know.

If there's one thing about rescue that never gets any easier, it's euthanasia. And really, it shouldn't ever get any easier.  If I'm making a decision about ending the life of a living creature, it had better be hard as hell or there is something wrong with me. I sort of wish Archie had been a jerk (some dogs are, I can assure you). Maybe it would have hurt a little less.  I don't know what his life was like before he came into rescue, but he was as sweet as the day is long. He had a bit of a foot fetish and would lick any human foot he could find. He loved to have his head rubbed and his ears scratched. He was a good, good, good boy.

Special thanks to my friends Candi, Sarah, and Kris for seeing me through this difficult time. And thank you to all of my friends and fellow volunteers for your words of support. This rescue stuff threatens to tear my heart right out of me sometimes, but soon there will be a new dog who needs help and somehow I will hear myself saying, "Sure, I'll take him."


Sam said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. The poor guy. I'm glad you were there for him. What a purpose you served in his life.

Midask9 said...

So sorry for your pain, so happy for Archie to be loved in his final days. Is never easy, but the last gift is to take their pain and make it your own. I hope he is romping with so many bridge dogs and chasing butterflies.

Midask9 said...
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The Lovely One said...


I don't think it will ever get easier, but like you said, it shouldn't. If it's easy, then it's not your calling.

Feel better soon, my friend.

Cindy Steinle said...

He died knowing love. As trite as it sounds you and I both know it is true and perhaps better than I would have been had he been left as a stray in a shelter