Au revoir, Bandit

Well, we did it. Wednesday morning, the day after Christmas 2007, we took Bandit, our 11-year old mixed breed dog, to the Woodstock Animal Hospital and watched and held him as he was put down.

Bandit, around Thanksgiving, had developed problems. In June, he started destructive chewing, which he had never done before in his long and lively existence. At some point, he ate the trim in the laundry room, and the hardwood stairs to the basement. I was forced to build a cattle gate at the basement door to keep his chewing directed on something I could replace easily (a 2×6 plank). I was afraid he would eat a splinter and that would be it, but he survived that.

Thanksgiving weekend, while we were off to Montana, he was to be at Lucky-E Kennel. He loved going there; they have a big indoor play yard where he can romp with the other dogs. He would pace in his cage for hours, keeping the younger dogs next door occupied, and inducted? every new employee who ignored the “Will Escape” sign on his cage. He did. So Vanessa, the owner, and her staff, after 10 years, knew Bandit as well as we did. Maybe better.

He started to eat grass and throw up frequently. I brought him to the Vet, and we discussed intestinal problems. He got the full panel of blood tests. We tried bland food – rice and chicken – and some meds. We adjusted his thyroid meds (Soloxine). Of course, that is when we needed to leave for Montana. Vanessa accepted the task of feeding him his probiotics, goofy food (Science Diet i/d® Canine may be scientific, but no dog will eat it), and meds. I talked to her when I dropped Bandit off the day we left, and relayed the good news that the blood tests were fine.

She got this wistful look on her face. “You know, we have a lot of people with sick dogs come in here. I see them come and go. When a dog gets weird, and all the tests are good, we are not looking at the right things. Dogs are always healthy, unless something is really wrong. I may be wrong, but just be ready — don’t assume the tests are king — in a another month some dogs just get sick, and that is it.” She also warned that some folks put a lot of money into fixing a dog, thousands of dollars, for chemo, radiation, surgeries. We talked about that — not for me, the Do Not Resuscitate fan. No way I was going to put the dog through a month of hell for another 6 months — maybe.

I knew Bandit was different. He did not have the energy he once did, and even my Dad mentioned he was different when they visited. We came back from Montana and life resumed — kind of.

Bandit still had bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. I made new foods, rice and this, rice and that, and at first Bandit loved it. But then one day he ate a bunch of food, and the next day, I found it in a stream on the floor in the basement.

In more days, we found other piles by the fireplace, and more downstairs. The big red flag was his energy. He did not want to go for walks. The weather was lousy, cold and snow and ice, making walking tricky. But that never stopped him before. I would jingle the leash, and he would leap from the bed and pace until we finally dragged our shoes on and went out. If I took him, he would look back at the door for Bette, until he figured she was not coming that day. The pacing and lively looks stopped. Some days he did not even get out of bed until we had eaten breakfast, a complete reversal of the routine.

So we drove to Dixon for Christmas Eve and left him home. I called the vet on the way, and he said, well, maybe take him to the Animal Emergency Clinic. They have X-ray, ultrasound, and you can get more info. So when we got home, I found another trail of vomit, and after putting our house guests to bed, I packed Bandit into the van for a trip to Crystal Lake. He jumped in spryly and plopped in his favorite place in the van, on the blankets on the back bench seat.

At the clinic, we checked in, watched the Christmas church services on TV, and watched the family of a terrier with a bleeding nose. Pretty busy for Christmas Eve. Bandit was weighed — 43 lbs. Wow, he had dropped 7 pounds in a month. No wonder he was so skinny. We were shown to a room, and the vet came in and heard Bandit’s story. He poked him a bit and asked me what I wanted to do. “I just want to make sure we haven’t missed anything easy. Some $10 pill that would make him happy for another year, and I would regret for the rest of my life.” She shook her head. “No, there is nothing easy here. I have seen this in a lot of other dogs. He either has cancer of the bowel, or kidney problems, but whatever it is it is bad. He should not be like this.” So I could spend $500 in X-rays and blood tests, but for what? A surgery or two for $2K, and a long recovery time, and for another lousy six months — maybe? No, thanks. She gave him some IV fluid as he was very dehydrated and some pain and anti-nausea meds to make him comfortable. I paid the bill, and led the doomed dog out to the car. On the way out, he sniffed around the grass at the entrance, just like old times. I stood and watched him. Let him enjoy himself. We got home about 1AM.

On Christmas, he slept all day, pretty much. He got up several times to go out, and stood outside looking around, waving unsteadily, wobbling in the cold breeze. I tried to give him ham or chicken, foods he would have killed for months ago, he sniffed, gave it a pained look, looked up at me as if to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t eat this.” Then he limped off to his bed. I prepared two faxes, one to the vet, one to the kennel lady, announcing my decision. I though the kennel people might want to say goodbye, but they really didn’t have a chance. I just wanted Bandit to be out of his pain.

It was a long night. He rang the bell to go out 5 times. I woke up each time and let him out. He would come it and head downstairs to the water bowl and drink a lot. In the morning we would see him outside, retching with foam dripping from his mouth. After this horrible morning, I was much more at peace with the decision. He did amaze us by leaping into “his” bed with Sam, who happened to be sleeping there at the time. Sam was a sport and shared his bed that night.

The vet called, they were ready. Pile in the van, to his pile of blankets. As we waited in the waiting room, another dog came in to be boarded. Bandit was interested, and sniffed a little, but was not his old bark-o-rama self. I wonder if the other dog knew. “Dead dog walking!”

Boy, it is fast. If you have never seen a pet euthanized, it is surprising. Dave the Vet found the vein, drew out. I watched my dog’s blood go into the clear fluid in the syringe. Dave asked, “Ready?”. We nodded, and he plunged the syringe’s contents into our friend. In seconds, he kind of looked up and then stopped looking. Then he just laid there. We sat with him for twenty minutes or so and the vets came in to share memories. They also explained that he might twitch and make noises for a while. As the body shuts down, various parts lose control. His muzzle jerked, muscles in his chest fluttered. It was very weird. He also urped some brown liquid out his nose, the same color and smell that we had been seeing in our basement. Gravity is a bitch.

Our Christmas guests, all close family, remained at the house. One group started back to Minnesota, I went to work, and Bette drove the aunts home to Dixon. Christmas normal. When Sarah died, we were amazed how things stay the same after terrible events. Life does go on, however miserably.

We are having him cremated. He will be interred with his sister (our daughter) Sarah and Grandpa Joe in the tree at St. Ann’s Church in Woodstock. I don’t know if anyone else (other than the Google spider) knows this, but that is where he is headed.

You were a wonderful dog. Play with Sarah and Grandpa Joe. Good Dog.

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