Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Angel - September 17, 2003 - June 25, 2014

We got Angel as a cuddly little puppy on Dec. 21, 2003. She was 3 months old.  She was lively, energetic, and as smart as a whip.  She did very well in puppy school except she loved to jump up on people to say hello.  I guess we weren't as vigilant as we could have been because she continued to enthusiastically greet people right up until the day she died.

As a young dog, we were told Angel would settle down by the time she was 2.  When she reached 2 years old, they said she'd settle down by the time she was 4. By 10 years old, we were still waiting.

Angel was 2 1/2 when Gabe (and Erik) came to live with us.  Gabe was a 4 year old male Chocolate Lab but Angel was definitely "Alpha" in our household.  Even though they were both neutered, Angel would often "hump" Gabe as soon as they went outside.  It was both hilarious and embarrassing.   But the two dogs instantly became fast friends and always slept close to one another, often with some body part touching.  With her so blond and him so dark, I often thought they looked like Yin and Yang.

Angel LOVED to stand guard and patrol. She was always asking to go out so she could ensure all was well.  If there were people outside next door, or heaven forbid another dog, she would run along the fence, or crawl on her belly trying to catch a glimpse or a sniff.  During the day, she spent her time alone stretched out behind the blinds at the sliding glass door, or at the front door, so she could keep track of all the comings and goings.

That dog cost us a lot of money and lost sleep over the years because of her love of food.  For years, we couldn't keep any food on the kitchen counter because as soon as we were out of sight, she would jump up and grab it. Many was the time that we came home from work to a torn bread bag and a few crumbs lying on the floor.  Once she ate the remains of an entire supermarket BBQ chicken, bones and all, without leaving a trace.  She threw up a couple of times over the next few days but suffered no other ill effects.

Then one year, on Christmas Eve, she gulped down an entire 6" wooden skewer of chicken.  We were distraught that this sharp object was inside her belly.  On Christmas Day we contacted the emergency vet and over the next 4 days she spent several nights at the pet hospital and a lot of money on tests, special food, and medication.  All the while she seemed to be fairly normal although she did throw up some bloody food once.  In the end, she passed the entire skewer, intact, on New Year's Day.  We were ecstatic, if $1000 poorer. Another lesson learned. For us of course.

With two big dogs, our house was always full of dog hair - tufts of Gabe's straight brown hair, and billows of Angel's fluffy white fur covering everything in the house, even moments after we vacuumed.  Woe was the person who wore black pants to our home.

Angel never really slowed down much until a few days before she died.  In the last year, she was much less interested in going for walks more than around the block and much preferred to wander around the back yard, but she was healthy and happy up until the end.  In the last week of her life, she seemed to sleep a little more, and sometimes came up to me and just looked at me as if she was trying to tell me something.

Then on June 23, she just didn't seem to be hungry for her breakfast, which was extremely unusual for a golden retriever.  She was quiet, and rather lethargic, and as the day wore on, she seemed to be quite thirsty, and drooling a lot.  Later that afternoon, we got worried that perhaps she had gotten into some weed killer we had put on the garden earlier in the week so we took her to the vet for a quick check.  Of course, I fully expected it to be another expensive trip to find out she had eaten something dumb again.

The vet felt her all over and soon told us the worst news.  Her lymph nodes were very swollen and she undoubtably had Lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymph glands).  He explained that it's fairly common with retrievers and he knew what it was without doing a bunch of tests.  He said she'd probably had it for about a month and was only now showing some symptoms as the lymph nodes in her belly began to affect her appetite.  She might live a few more weeks, but not more than a month. He did briefly discuss chemotherapy which would cause her more pain and only extend her life another 6-8 months.  We left in tears, and went home to make a tough decision.

We were devastated.  We had been preparing ourselves for the inevitable loss of Gabe who is 18 months older and looking much more "senior", but we had always believed that we'd have Angel for at least a few more years. Finding out we were going to lose her so suddenly was terrible.

We knew the only option was to put her down before we left on our trip to Europe in 10 days because the vet said she would likely die while we were away. We tried to decide what day would be the best and had settled for either Friday or Monday.  I told my son the bad news, and called the girls and my mom.  Everyone was shocked and deeply saddened.

That night she seemed to be breathing fairly noisily and in the morning she seemed worse. I went to work and Erik went down to the vet to get some prednisone to see if that would help ease her symptoms.  When I got home, her breathing was very laboured and the medication did not seem to be helping at all. One side of her face was swollen and she was drooling a lot.  She would wander around a bit, and then lie on her side, panting noisily. We worried.  We were scared she might get worse during the night and wouldn't be able to get her any help.  The last thing we wanted was for her to die painfully, gasping for breath.

Finally, at about 1pm, we made the difficult decision to call the vet.  We had decided to have him come to our home to put her down so she would be less distressed.  Slowly, the family began to show up - my two daughters both left work for the afternoon, my son in law came over, my son and my mom were both there.  Each time someone arrived at the house, Angel would get up and go over to say hello.  We all sat outside on the deck for a few hours, taking turns sitting with Angel.  It was so nice to have the whole family around.

The vet arrived just after 4 pm and explained what would happen.  We had the option to leave or stay but we all chose to stay.  He gave Angel a sedative that would take about 5 minutes to take effect.  She wandered around a bit after he gave her the shot and then after about 5 minutes, she walked away from all of us and stood there looking out into the back yard as if she was taking one last look.  Then she came back over to where I was sitting and lay down.  As the sedative took effect, she closed her eyes for the first time all day.

Each family member came over to give her one last kiss, hug, and goodbye, and many tears were shed.  The vet was wonderful at giving us the privacy to say goodbye.  When we finally said we were ready, I sat next to her and held her head, whispering into her ear while he gave her the final injection.

It was a very loving end and I think we all felt at peace after it was done.  I would recommend this to anyone who has to make the terrible decision to put down a pet. Knowing she was surrounded by family and so much love made it just a tiny bit easier to bear.

Angel will be cremated and we will spread her ashes among the flowers in the back yard.

Rest in peace, my sweetheart.


Memories of Angel

* the look of her nose on her paws at the top of the stairs when I got home each day.

* the way she always had to retrieve the nearest shoe and bring it to anyone who came into the house.

* the time she ate 3/4 of a supermarket BBQ chicken and left no sign but a greasy mark on the floor.

* the way she would get so excited when another dog walked by the house that she would almost jump over the deck railing trying to get down to the road.

* her absolute stillness when she first met Zoe, the cat, for the first time.  She somehow knew the cat must be afraid and that she had to stay very still so as not to frighten her.  She just stared at Zoe out of the corner of her eye for about half an hour. It was amazing.

* they way she really learned two commands so well - the hand command for "sit", and the verbal common, "leave it"or "take it".

* the way she could "leave" a piece of food for a long, long time until I said "take it", even if it was sitting on her nose.

* the way should lie down on the air conditioning vent in my bedroom and make it stifling hot on a summer night, while she kept cool.

* the way she came over my side of the bed every morning and rested her head on the edge of the bed, looking up at me.

* the way she always walked perfectly beside me on my left so I could tie the leash around my waist and not have to hold on to it.

* the way she would sit down suddenly when she was "done" walking or running and practically cut me in half.

* the way should lie down in any mud puddle she found if we were out for a walk.

* the way she would patrol the house and yard. She would often lie down by the sliding door, or the front door, in order to stay on top of things and be able to report any action.

* the way she would lie partly behind the blinds of the sliding glass door.

* the way she always helped do the dishes by licking the plates when the dishwasher doors was open.  Erik called her and Gabe the "pre-wash cycle".

* the way she would lie close enough to Gabe so that part of their bodies were always touching, often back to back, yin and yang.

* the way she loved to be groomed and would stand stock still for ages if you brushed her.

* billows and billows and billows of fluffy, white fur. Everywhere.

* the time she grabbed a wooden skewer of chicken off the table on Christmas Eve and swallowed it in one gulp.  The following week included several costly trips to the vet and the emergency pet hospital before she finally pooped it out, in one piece, on New Year's Eve. Oh Angel....