Thursday, June 24, 2010

Goodbye For Now, Sweet Cody Bear

Warning: this is a long post, a detailed one...and a very sad one.

cody's smile
(my cody bear)
To do two things at once is to do neither. -Shunryu Suzuki

Honestly, that's been my approach to life for the last year or so, but it has never been more true than recently. 

Our sweet Cody Bear - who I can truly say has become my best friend over the years, has left us for now. And as hard as it was to say goodbye to our Ruger baby - this was immeasurably harder... because Cody and I had bonded even more through that recent awful loss (never thought that was possible!). The day we put Ruger to sleep, Cody had come with us and had slung his head over our sweet shepherd's back as the injection was administered, causing even the vet tech to crumble into sobs.That night, Cody slept in bed with us - something he never did, since there was no room for all of us to sleep comfortably in our own space - tucking his muzzle right under my chin for a perfect fit, snuggling into my neck and face and slept the whole night that way. A treat never repeated, I know he really needed us that night just as much as we needed him. 

Since then, the bond has cemented further as Mike has been working so much and the kids have grown older and have been taking so much more of me as cranky/ energetic/ mouthy/ imaginative/ demonstrative 3 year olds! He has been my refuge, my rest from the day-to-day grind, usually at that day's end I looked forward to spending time with him - as comforting to me as a big bowl of homemade mac & cheese in winter, he would cuddle with me at night as I read a book, walked the yard with me on a beautiful day, followed me around the house as I did my chores, only settling if he knew I would be there for a while. He was there with me, always - a true companion. Never judging, always listening, always happy, always seeking affection and giving me tons in return. 

I am a stay-at-home-mom...with very little socialization; I am here And him being here with me and the kids has been one of the biggest blessings of my life; I can honestly say that he was the one that made it all bearable, enjoyable actually. I am an animal person, through and through - many people close to me would say that I enjoy being with animals and relate better to them than I do people - and they would be right. :) Cody and I were a perfect fit as a dog and owner - I loved to dole out affection, and he loved to receive it. Yin/Yang if I ever saw it. :) Reading a book called "For Every Dog an Angel" (thanks, Lisa - again!) I have discovered that Cody could be termed my "Forever Dog" and that I was his "Forever Person". In essence, it's like we knew each other before, kinda like soul mates for dogs and their owners. If you get a chance to read it, it is very cute - and who knows what waits for us after we die? I would love to think that I will see everyone I have lost again someday - the idea of Heaven as portrayed in the movie "What Dreams May Come" with Robin Williams - the gorgeous painting-like scenery, in a beautiful house overlooking Lake Como in Italy and fields and hills of grassy meadows to run through with the dogs and picnicking with the people you have treasured and lost...certainly sounds like the perfect ideal to me. I miss him so much, that I do hope I get to see him again someday - otherwise loss of any kind would just seem too unbearable to get through. It's like a thread of hope to cling to - to be able to see your lost loved ones once again, to rejoice with no suffering or pain of any kind - or daily life to get in the way. Just pure time to spend when time no longer means a thing.

Anyway, that is a whole philosophical digression that I will not get into here, just simply say that I hope. And hope is what will get me through.

A few months ago, we started noticing an odd limp on his right side - it was right around the triplets' 3rd birthday party, so we watched carefully until the chaos was over and then took him in to our regular vet. I hadn't been back to this vet since we had received our devastating diagnosis for Ruger - then lost him 2 days later. Being in the same room - only for the diagnosis mind you, not even the euthanasia - It was enough to choke me up almost 2 years later. A few minutes later, our nonchalant and thus now former vet thought there were a few possible problems that could be causing his symptoms, one of which was a brain tumor. It was all I could do to stifle the angry scream I wanted to let out. I kept thinking that this was so unfair. To him and to us. Why now? Why this early?? But honestly...what is fair? Life is life, and it is what is is. You have to make the best of it while you have it - like we have all heard so many times. But, often you never really heed it until the end is staring you in the face.

I kept thinking that both dogs didn't get to live to a fair ripe old age - were both going to be taken away early - and that with the arrival of the triplets, they had both taken a back seat to our time and affection because we could not possibly give any more. We kept thinking, let's just get through these first few years and we can all be relaxed and happy, a family together! But, it was never meant to be. Just as we were able to give them more of ourselves, they both had to go. And that makes us feel so guilty that their last years were full of "Not now, babe" "We can play later, pup" "You have to get out of the way, pupster" - not the playing and loving and relaxing we dished out before the kids, what they deserved to get. I was happy to have been able to spend a small amount of that with Cody - I have fewer regrets with him because I was so painfully aware that time was short. But he was still taken away early, and that made me angry, sad and helpless.

I realize that dogs are our wonderful dogs because they do not hold on to this emotional baggage - they are present in their lives and deal with things as they come and let go as they go. They are not afraid to die, they have no regrets - they live and live and live, squeezing the good out of life and then when it is their time, they do not wish for more - they just go on to their next adventure. This is just simply how it has to be. It is me that has the anguish, and I know that I need to take more pointers from them. :) 

So, lamenting will get me nowhere - but I do miss him every day. I miss his presence, like a hole in my life where he was and now he isn't. And that is hard. The places he used to lay on the floor or on his couch or my bed, looking ridiculously comfortable - the food bowl that no longer holds any food. The half empty food bin that none of our dogs will ever need anymore. Not having to take a dog out at night to pee for the first time in our married lives. Seeing them running through the woods with glee, seeing them do anything with glee - which was pretty much everything. Hearing the bark when I came home, the barely contained whine of excitement, the wagging tail of happiness, the inevitable sloppy kisses. The snoring while he slept next to me while I read in bed, the twitchy doggie dreams of far away chases and soft barks through his slumber. The slobber soaked tennis ball and frisbee that came back to us time and time again - a breed living up to his name. :) The kittens that we would swear were his own as he had to go check on them every time he went out, gently licking their fur and doting on them. The cute little chuffing noises he made and that sweet sigh of contentment whenever he got situated in his comfy spots. Ah, I know from experience that this will all get better, but for now I know that the only way to get through the grief is to plow right through, not avoid it. The fastest way through, yes - but the hardest.

We had Cody to help guide us through or grief last time - another dog to keep using the toys and food and treats - another dog that loved and knew and missed Ruger like we did. A buffer of sorts. But now, it is the end of an era for us - these two dogs were our first children - they were wedding presents to each other - Ruger to Mike and Cody to me. And with them both gone and no other dog to buffer us, it is a sorrowful time at our house and in our marriage.

I had a hard time accepting that his diagnosis was a brain tumor, so I pored the internet for information regarding the options of what he just might have. Yes, brain tumor was high on the list, but it seemed too cruel of God to dish this out after a swift Hemangiosarcoma (the top killer of all cancers) took our other boy in what seemed to us a matter of days. After a few x-rays and bloodwork to determine what might be wrong (both of which were clear and perfect), I decided that our vet was just not compassionate enough to continue the care of our family members (don't get me wrong - he was good, but not nearly caring enough for us). He stuck by the brain stem tumor diagnosis and unless we wanted to do a $3500 CT scan on his brain, we would never know for sure and he told us he could no longer help us unless we wanted a referral to a specialist. He was not eating at the time, and our vet gave him about 3 days to live if he did not eat. (Thanks! Any chance you might want to help me get him to eat?? Grrr.) With clear bloodwork and x-rays, I was not going to give up that easily!

We took him to a different, highly rated vet in the area - and I was so glad we did. I asked for a second opinion and the doc thought the diagnosis was still very probable but wanted to help me keep him eating and comfortable and try to get to the bottom of the puzzle. I felt like we were finally doing something for him. I was successfully getting him to eat by mixing some wet food with dry and all seemed well - his appetite was great! I was encouraged. The vet also thought it might be an abscess in the brain instead of a tumor, something that might be fixable with a strong antibiotic. We were willing to give it a try, of course...but unfortunately to no avail. He kept going downhill slowly but steadily - starting to veer to the left, like a car that needed an alignment... another symptom of a tumor rearing its ugly head. He was starting to walk into things and each new digression of symptoms made me bawl in the dark as I waited for him to do his business before bed each night. I was losing my baby little by little. 

After the antibiotic round, he seemed to be getting better - his symptoms abated a bit, he started wanting to play again - we wondered if maybe the abscess diagnosis was accurate! He was running across the lawn again! And then a week later, we woke to him suffering an acute vomiting/diarrhea attack in the early morning...he could not seem to stop. I had to take him in for fluids and an anti-vomiting drug. It turns out the excitement over him eating his food was short lived as what I was feeding him was way too rich for his poor tummy. I did that to him. :( 

A few days later, we woke again to a different problem - he did not want to get up at all - he was fine the night before and then he wasn't the next day - such a dramatic difference in him. Since it was a Sunday, we knew we would have to call and take him in for the last appointment in the morning. Unbelievably, the next day he was better.... We had no idea what was going on. 

He seemed to have these occasional "episodes" - he had been having them from the beginning, and we though they might be tiny seizures. After this weird change in energy in 1 day, we found out that they were possible mini-strokes. Basically, the brain tumor was quickly building blood vessels that were unstable and the larger the tumor got, the larger the unstable vessels that were built. They would collapse and cause a CVA or basically a mini-stroke. He would suffer the attack and then recover. Apparently, dogs recover from this kind of brain bleed much more quickly than people do. So, he could have one, take a few hours to get better, be good for a while and then have another...cycle, cycle repeat. Some were worse than others and would take more time for healing - the one that morning must have been a doozy. But he recovered

I was able to be there with him for some of the strokes, I would hold him in my arms until it passed and waited with him until he could stand up and move again, sometimes carrying him inside if they happened in the driveway or on the lawn. He was declared anemic from all the red blood cell loss, but he kept recovering. I started to imagine we might actually go through that emotional roller coaster for a few months. He was not suffering, as bad as this description makes it sound - when he recovered, he was almost as good as new. But, toward the end, they kept coming faster than he could heal from them - and his other symptoms got the best of him. 

I kept thinking that if I gave him more energy in the form of better food - I could help him heal faster, stay ahead of the cycle and we could give him a few more weeks. It worked for a while - scouring the internet yet again, I found all the foods that give dogs energy, stop diarrhea, are extremely good for them as well as palatable, full of iron and the vitamins that help absorb iron. He never seemed to eat the same thing from meal to meal, he would become disinterested and not eat, so I had to change it up every meal. I discovered that boiled sweet potatoes are not only great at stopping diarrhea, but they also are very rich in protein (for energy!), iron (yay!), Vitamin A and Vitamin C - which are both needed for proper iron absorption. It seemed like the perfect food for him. But would he eat it? One of my biggest "regrets" is not realizing just how much he would relish the. sweet. potato. Holy Cow! If he was having a bad day and wanted nothing else, he would gobble up sweet potato like it was candy. Who knew? I fed him stonybrook yogurt, that had the specific probiotic needed to keep his stomach happy and broccoli (loved that too), certain bland and nutritious canned foods (Hills ID) and sometimes eggs or tuna, cottage cheese and egg noodles and beef liver. They were all great for him, but the only thing he would consistently eat were the potatoes. :)

Many of his meals had to be hand fed to him because one symptom of the strokes was something called tortocullis - which meant his body was curling in on itself - his muscles kind of stuck that way for a few hours. He literally could not straighten himself out to find the dish of food until his body healed again. So, I would sit on the floor with him and hand feed him until he wanted no more. 

The last week, every time he would go out, he was starting lose his balance. The last day, he would fall right over, like a tree after you yelled "timber!" and hit the ground hard. I would have to walk him to where he needed to go and steady him next to my leg. It was so sad to see him physically go downhill when mentally all he wanted to do was play! I kept saying that he was a puppy stuck in a body that didn't work anymore - that was so hard to see the desire to move, while the ability was lost.

I was looking to see a decrease in his appetite as the sign that said "let go and stop fighting for me, mom"...but he had a very good appetite until the very end. Even the day we made the decision for him, I fed him a huge meal of all his favorite things - he gobbled them up quickly, licking his chops and then I fed him a big bowl of vanilla ice cream, his last meal. We sat on the floor together and I helped him get every last little bit. Looking back now, it was so hard and stressful to have to take that extra time to make his food, figure out what he might eat and sit with him, hand feed him... and then take him out down the stairs, like helping an old man - but I miss that time doting on him, I enjoyed literally nursing him through his illness, if that was the way it had to be. It was more bonding time for us and I consider that a final gift of time spent with him, concentrating on him and what could make him more comfortable. I will always be thankful for that last 2 months of time, truly quality time. And that is what makes the opening quote so true - he was my focus, I had to - no, I wanted to - concentrate on caring for him and make that my primary task. Making him comfortable. And that's why I fell off the face of the earth for some time - he deserved my full attention, and it makes me happy that I chose to do this - he deserved to be treated this way his whole life, but I was glad I got the chance to make him feel so important to me, to show him how much he meant to me - even if only so intense for a short time. Without complaint, I would have nursed him through however long he was granted to stay on this earth.

The time had come, and we said goodbye to him the same way we did to our Ruger, lovingly holding him in our arms on the floor at the vet, bawling over the impending loss of our last baby. Stroking his super soft fur and talking to him, and soothing his and our souls over what was to come. Telling him how much we loved him, how much we were going to miss him, to say hi to Ruger for us - that it was just "goodbye for now". Thanking him for being such a good boy always, for loving us, for being one of the best dogs and companions a family could ever wish for. We both talked of the flashes we were having about him as a puppy, frolicking and loving us in better times. It was hard and sad and beautiful all at the same time, holding his body as the last of his soul left his mortal body, heading for a different place. We stayed with him for a while, letting the true impact of his loss wash over us. We said goodbye one last time and waited for him to be prepared for us to take him home, to be laid next to Ruger in the garden. 

We buried him with his frisbee that day, sobbing, remembering and already missing him so much. I have since planted a few perennial flowers over his grave - one a sunny "gold" colored perennial, Sundrops - the color, and the name both reminding me of him, how the sun loved his golden coat so. The other, an Obedient Plant, because he loved us so to be just that. A truly good, sweet and gentle dog, my full of life and goodness. I will miss him every single day of my life from this moment on... and I will just hope - hope that I am fortunate and good enough to be graced with his companionship again someday, just as I was fortunate enough to have known him here. Cody Bear, I love you so much. Thank you for making us all better people through your goodness and perpetual happiness - I hope you felt as loved as I did. xoxo, Mom.


my stay-at-home-momma drama said...

OH MY CHERYLE . . . what an emotional, tear jerking, tug-at-the-old-heart strings post that was! What moved me the most was reading about the selfless way you cared for your beloved friend in his last days. No matter what his body was feeling, you made him feel loved, taken care of, and treasured. He was lucky to have you, Cheryle!

You and your broken heart are in my prayers :)

MJ said...

Truly beautiful... Cody was just as blessed to have you, Sis. Yes, he was naturally a sweet good natured little guy, but your sincere love and dedication to him was obvious whenever you saw him.
I miss him so much, thank you for putting this story out here. I wish I could have been there with you through this, I wish I could have said "see you later" to him. So many fond and wonderful memories keep flashing through my mind, he and Ruger brought so much happiness to everyone around them...and they are with you still.
My thoughts and heart are with you through this time...I love you, Sis. *Can't wait to give you a hug*

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