Saying Goodbye to Mae-Mae
Monday, we took our oldest dog, a 12-year old mastiff named Mae, to the vet she had most recently seen. Mae had been incontinent in the house multiple times per day for over a year now, she was drinking a ton of water constantly, and she was falling a lot because of arthritic back legs/hips. We were taking her to the vet to have the hard discussion about her quality of life because she was now unhappy, isolating, unable to go on walks or play, occasionally snappy or territorial about her food or treats, and we hadn’t seen her wag her tail in about two weeks.
The vet, a young guy with what seemed like very little time to really talk to us, took a quick look at her and told us she needed surgery for a benign mole and a broken tooth and ordered blood work. When I cautiously mentioned her quality of life and her age (Tibetan mastiffs live to between 13 and 15 years old), he quickly dismissed me and said to wait on the tests. Despite no test results, the receptionist tried to make me schedule the surgery for the mole and broken tooth and gave me a disapproving look when I asked to wait.
The results showed an almost non-detectable thyroid level, a malfunctioning adrenal gland, no insulin-type diabetes (my guess) but indication that Mae might have diabetes insipitus (sp?), something that is very costly to treat on its own, let alone the other issues. Still unwilling to discuss euthanizing her, the vet ordered us to deprive her of water for over half a day to confirm the water diabetes (as it’s sometimes called), something we were already voicing concern about paying for, and I can’t even express what it was like to leave the house the morning we took the water bowl away. Mae’s urine was still too diluted after 15 hours with no water (pretty much confirming), but the vet wanted us to do it again, this time with no water for 17 hours.
Jim and I have spent this entire week having some really tough discussions about the fact that our dog is so unhappy, so old, and so unhealthy, and I had a lot of trouble with the fact that our vet wouldn’t give the green light on allowing us to end her suffering. My instincts said it was time, Jim admitted he’d been thinking about it for a while, Mae wasn’t interacting with any of us, and none of the treatments for the thyroid, adrenal disease, or the water diabetes were likely to resolve her incontinence, and Makai had built a strong bond with our new rescue, Baxter, so he had a new sibling to ease the loss. Mae didn’t even smell right, had several nasty falls over the course of the week, and after the request to deprive her (and by necessity, the other three animals in the house) of water for even longer, I finally snapped, and we decided to take Mae to the vet we’d originally used before she grew too sick to be seen at a basic wellness center.
I called ahead and explained the situation (crying several times on the phone), and the vet agreed to see Mae on Friday and if she reviewed the test results and history and felt comfortable, the clinic could put her down at the appointment that day. Even over the phone, I could sense that this clinic would be more supportive of our stance and would really hear our concerns, which was a huge relief. We spent extra time with Mae over the course of those last two days, and I came home early yesterday to spend the afternoon with her before we went.
The walk to the vet (located two blocks from our house, so I thought Mae would be able to make it) was torturous. I’m pretty sure I cried openly in front of at least a half dozen of our neighbors, and Mae walked so slowly that I thought I was going to have to call Jim to pick us up in the car he was driving to the clinic. She had to stop to pee approximately 12 times along the way (full-on peeing too, a symptom of this water diabetes) and was not once excited about being out for a walk. Jim parked the car and walked part of the way with us.
The waiting room was awful. We were scheduled as the last appointment of the day, but there were two other appointments in the waiting room, and both openly exclaimed about how beautiful our dog was (common occurrence since Mae and Makai are such strikingly pretty dogs) and how well-behaved. I did my best to smile and thank them, but eventually I was openly crying in the waiting room with Jim holding my hand. The man sitting next to me with a crated kitten was very sweet.
We went into the exam room and I was bracing myself for another vet to tell me that we were moving too fast and that Mae wasn’t ready, but this appointment was different from our Monday appointment in a million ways. The vet and her tech asked us some questions about what had been determined so far, and one of the first questions after having the full picture was, “what is her quality of life?” When I responded that it was very poor, the vet instantly said “okay,” and then she explained what she could tell just by looking at Mae. Mae’s belly was distended and her eyes looked wrong and her back leg muscles had clearly atrophied and the vet tech actually said, “Do you smell her? You can even smell that she’s riddled with cancer.”
The vet explained the prognosis even if we had tried to treat her various ailments and confirmed that it was poor. She helped us to understand why this was definitely the right time to make this decision, then she said they would do the procedure right away, explained every part of the procedure, and giving us some time with Mae to get ourselves ready before giving her the first injection to sedate her. The sedation process was different than I expected (she was a big dog, took a while to be sedated and she hallucinated for a while before calming, which was really hard on me), but the staff were wonderful and reassuring, and I held Mae’s head in my lap as I sat with her on the floor for the final injection. I had my hand on her chest when her heart stopped and, despite the life changes I’ve had in the past couple years, and really despite anything I’ve been through, that might be the hardest I’ve ever cried in my life.
Despite Friday afternoon being one of the saddest afternoons I’ve possibly ever had, I want to thank the Universe for wonderful, WONDERFUL people who made it easier for me. People on Facebook (some of whom I don’t even know well at all) sent love and support, coworkers and friends listened and supported and at times let me cry throughout the week, my amazing husband who was on the same page with me throughout the discussion and supported me when that first vet gave me such incredible guilt, and finally the wonderful vet tech who sat on that floor with me and cried with me as my dog died… she will have a place in my heart for the rest of my life.
That clinic walked us through every moment with support and love and the education we needed, and I’m so glad that I felt led back to them for this last moment with Mae. We’ve buried her in the yard and I’m taking some time to decide what to plant over her. Makai (her brother, who’s never been without her) is taking it better than I expected. I think he’d known for quite some time that she was sick and animals just understand these things differently. Baxter actually spent more time with her when we brought her back home, but he’s been fine too.
I had had a lot of guilt about whether we were rushing this process or giving up on our dog along the way, but as Jim and I stood in the yard and talked a bit while burying her, I realized that many of my favorite things about her had disappeared long before the past few weeks. She hadn’t been able to or wanted to play with Makai in a long time. She didn’t meet us at the door with her bushy, wagging tail, and she hadn’t in months. Her last successful walk was over six months ago, and even though she was always a very aloof dog, she hadn’t discretely snuck up to me for petting and our own special nuzzling ritual in at least two months. She had already been preparing to go, and realizing that, even after we’d put her down, was a huge wave of relief.
You will be so terribly missed, Mae-Mae. I loved you as a part of our little family, and there will never be another you.