Yesterday, we said goodbye to Gracie, the brains of the Great Pyrenees duo who have kept our chickens safe for the past 6 1/2 years. You can see the details in Fred’s post on Facebook, or below where I’ve cut and pasted it.
I am so so tired of this.
She was fine on Sunday. That’s what keeps going through my head. I went out to the back forty to do my chores and decided Gracie could do with a little grooming. Her coat had some mats, and a few muddy spots needed to be cleaned and broken up. That simple decision is what set everything in motion.
The first thing I noticed when I began to work on her was that she’d lost weight. Not a huge amount, but enough that I felt her hip bones right away. When the coat is that thick it’s hard to tell where fur ends and dog begins unless you’re running your hands over them. She acted fine, but a lot of things suddenly clicked into place: weight loss; mud on her bib from where she drank water and then laid in the dust; mud in the fur near her nethers where she urinated and then laid in the dust. The steroids she’d been on because of immune issues she had with her nose.
She was diabetic, I was certain. It made perfect sense.
I called the vet yesterday as soon as they opened and made an appointment and we got her up there in the afternoon. He was concerned about the loss of muscle mass, but her bloodwork showed almost everything normal except for a couple of highly elevated liver enzymes. Meaning she didn’t have diabetes. He wasn’t sure exactly what it could be, not then, and gave us two options.
One, we could take her to Nashville for an ultrasound and liver biopsy and find out if she had cancer or some other liver problem. Two, we could take her home and start controlling her caloric intake for a month to see if she would gain weight. He felt pretty confident that the elevated liver enzymes were due to the steroids she’d been on, and thought that weaning her off those would most likely get that back to normal so we could look for some other underlying problem that had caused the weight loss. The steroids were probably what caused her to drink and urinate more, too.
On the way home we stopped at the grocery store for wet food, and she happily wolfed down the two cans I gave her. When I left her she was grinning her doggy grin, enjoying the late afternoon under her favorite tree.
I went out with more food this morning around four. Gracie was lying near the coop with George, panting raggedly with mud under her snout where she’d been drooling. I put the bowl down beside her and she sniffed it once, then started to retch and gag. She was struggling to stand so I helped her, and she threw up a thin brown gruel before taking a couple of steps and flopping down again.
For the second time I called the vet when they opened, and they told me to bring her right away. When I got to the coop to put her in the carrier, I found she had crawled underneath it. She wouldn’t raise her head no matter how much I sweet talked her. I had to drag her out into the mud and rain and shit, whimpering, and set her on her feet so she could stumble two steps into the carrier, only to collapse. She was drooling and wheezing and there was thick white mucus coming out of her nose. We got her into the back of the truck and to the clinic for him to work her in between surgeries.
He called about an hour later with a diagnosis based on her current symptoms and a plethora of x-rays: megaesophagus, which develops when the esophagus stops doing its job of pushing food into the stomach and instead lets it just sit there until it’s regurgitated. People usually notice their dog is throwing up, but in a working dog you never know something like that is happening, because they’re out in a field all day keeping their flock safe. But regurgitation isn’t the only thing that happens to food trapped in the megaesophagus.
Sometimes it’s aspirated.
That’s what had happened to the two big cans of dog food she’d so happily eaten yesterday evening. They sat in her esophagus until I was gone and then she breathed them into her lungs. She was effectively drowning, either already in a condition called aspiration pneumonia or on the way to it (he said her white blood cell count had been normal yesterday, so it doesn’t sound like there was an actual infection then, but he also said that it could have changed dramatically overnight, too). He could see the fluid buildup in her lungs, slowly choking her.
I asked him what he would do if it were his Great Pyr (he has one), and he told me he would euthanize because she was so far gone. There’s not a cure for megaesophagus, only a symptom treatment that he didn’t think was feasible in a field dog. I told him to put the catheter in, and that I’d be there in a few minutes to be with her. Robyn was at a different vet right then, getting foster kittens combo-tested (all negative, thank goodness). I tried to call her to tell her what was happening, but she was in a dead zone in rural Tennessee. I knew what her response would be, of course; we’d already talked about this as a possible outcome earlier in the truck when we were taking Gracie and knew how fast she was declining.
When I arrived, he met me at the door with red eyes, and in a shaky voice he told me that Gracie had gone into agonal breathing after we hung up. He tried all our numbers but couldn’t get either of us, so he put her down because she was suffering and about to die and he knew that’s what I would want. She was in the back, lying on a steel table under a bright white light, muddy and smelly and lifeless, and I wouldn’t wish that kind of end on my worst enemy, much less a friend who lived only to please.
F*ck you, 2015.
If you’re interested in making a donation in Gracie’s memory, Big Fluffy Dog Rescue in Nashville is a wonderful rescue that specializes in the rescue of giant breed working dogs, and they are always taking on some truly heartbreaking cases. You can see them on Facebook, and see many of the big, sweet dogs they’ve rescued. Their donation page is here.
I hope y’all understand that I need to take a few days away from the internet; I’m going to take the rest of the week off from blogging. I’ll be back on Sunday with a tribute post for Gracie, and then as usual on Monday.
I’ll check in on Facebook once or twice a day, and will check my email pretty regularly. Also, if I know me, I’ll post pictures on Instagram (which will post to the L&H Facebook page and Twitter and Flickr too) pretty regularly.
2014: Then when he saw that it was just me, he gave me the blinkity-blink Eyes of Love, and went back to sleep.
2013: I don’t know what got Norbie all perturbed, but his expression is cracking me UP.
2012: No entry.
2011: “This platform is too smaaaaaall, and everyone keeps trying to cram themselves on the platform wiiiiiiith me, and I don’t liiiiiike it!”
2010: Comfy, are we, Marty?
2009: “HI lady. You got snacks for me?”
2008: No entry.
2007: No entry.
2006: No entry.
2005: We came back ten minutes later, and this is what we saw.