I am writing this, with a heavy heart, not only to update you but also to save me the heartbreak of telling this story over and over again.
On Thursday, July 31st, 2014, I got home from work around 6:30 pm. I found Duke sitting in the corner of my room, which was unusual. He was happy to see me but didn't move much. I jumped on the bed so I could love on him (our usual after-work ritual) but he didn't jump up after me. He attempted to but could barely lift himself. I sat on the floor with him and he sat on my lap and rubbed up against me. He just wanted to be loved. I tried running around the house but he wouldn't chase after me like he usually does. I gave him treats which he happily ate, but he wouldn't jump for them. When Stella got home, she met us outside. He did a little jog to get to her. He was so excited to see her that he jumped on her but immediately cried out in pain. We got back inside and he could barely lift himself onto the couch. He wasn't breathing normally. I pressed down on all areas of his body but there was not a specific area that seemed to bother him.
I called his vet which was closed for the day so Stella and I took him to an emergency animal clinic. Within a few minutes of seeing him, the doctor said he most likely was having pain in his back. Best case scenario, he pulled something that would heal on it's own. Worst case scenario, he would need surgery. We needed an x-ray to find out. I planned on taking Duke to his vet in the morning, where his insurance covered x-rays. So the doctor sent us home with pain medications and muscle relaxers to get him through the night. He told us to keep an eye on him all night, to severely limit his activity, and to take him back if he showed any other symptoms or signs of pain.
We made a bed for him on the floor of the living room. I laid on the floor next to him, hoping he could get some sleep. It took him a while to get comfortable but he finally did and started snoring soon after. I was too worried to sleep.
Around 1 am on August 1st, he sat up and wouldn't move. He was sitting in a strange way and couldn't seem to get comfortable. He seemed to be in pain. I called the emergency clinic and they said to bring him back right away. Since Duke would not move, I carried him to the car and into the clinic once we got there. Duke was unable to move his back legs at this point. The doctor clamped down on his toes and Duke jerked which was a good thing. He still had feeling in his legs and feet. Next, they injected him with a stronger pain medication to calm him and took him back for x-rays. They brought Duke back and showed us the x-rays. It appeared that he had slipped a disc, also known as intervertebral disc syndrome, or IVDD. The doctor told us that it was highly unlikely for Duke to survive without surgery. The other option he gave us was to euthanize. That was not an option for me. I got more pain medication for him, took the x-rays, and made arrangements to be at the neurology specialist as soon as they opened at 8 am.
I got him home and sat beside him as I did research through the rest of the night. Apparently intervertebral disk disease is very common in dogs, especially beagles. (Duke is 3/4 beagle 1/4 pug)
I woke Duke up and we hurried to the specialist clinic. I was a mess and trying to stay strong in front of him. He's always been so great at sensing my emotions. He's always kept me strong and wanting to keep a brave face. Although I was worried and scared, I was also very hopeful. The surgery was expensive but I had to get it done for my baby. I knew that he would be ok if we could just get through this surgery.
I carried Duke into the hospital while crying and visibly upset. They took him immediately. Everyone there was very helpful and kind. I filled out paperwork while they ran tests on him.
I was asked to go into a room where I was met by the neurology specialist. Her findings were not good. She confirmed that he did have IVDD, but she also found all of the symptoms of spinal cord disease. Spinal cord disease can happen to any breed at any age, the cause is unknown, and there is no definite prognosis. At this point, Duke had lost all feeling in his back legs and feet. He was not able to control his bladder or bowel movements. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Surgery for IVDD was plausible and the chances of him recovering were 50/50, but with the addition of his present paralysis, his very rapid decline (this was all happening in less than 24 hours), and his strong signs of spinal cord disease, his chances went from 50% to 2% and she had no idea if he would be able to walk again. Additionally, he would be prone to IVDD in the future. Her other concern was that since the suspect spinal cord disease had already spread so quickly (she ran a test that showed he did not feel anything along his spine until closer to his neck), that even after a successful surgery, it would only continue to spread leading to full paralysis and eventually the inability to breathe. The surgery would fix the IVDD, not the spinal disease, which there is no cure for.
I asked every question that I could think of. I asked what she would do if it was her dog. She didn't give me a clear answer but everything she was saying was pointing to letting him go. I asked what his recovery would be like. Assuming he could walk, his activity would have to be extremely limited. I would have to keep him in the kennel when I left home to insure that he was not jumping or doing anything that would risk a slipped disk again. For months, he would have to only go on small walks and receive physical therapy. In the event that he could not walk, I could get him a doggy wheelchair (I didn't know those existed) but would need to assist him when using the bathroom. He would need constant care.
Selfishly, my first thoughts were, that's fine. I'll do whatever I have to do to make him better. I will figure things out and make it work. I asked for time alone with Duke. They were so sweet in saying that I could have all of the time I needed, and that the room was mine for the day. They gave Duke more pain meds to keep him comfortable even though they couldn't take all of the pain away. He was only 3 years and 8 months old.
Duke and I laid on the cold hospital floor together. I was going to stay with him as long as I could. He made attempts to stand up but couldn't. He was trying so hard. He was frustrated. I talked to him about all of the fun times we've had together. About his favorite beaches in Hawaii. I told him that he couldn't leave me yet. I asked him to be strong. I told him I still needed him. I told him that he made me stronger. He hadn't seen my new house yet, and I needed him to get his hair everywhere as usual. I hadn't started dating yet and how could I know if Duke approved or not? Who would I go on walks with? Who would greet me when I got home? Who would I snuggle with and keep warm with at night?
I was being selfish. I didn't want to let him go. But in my heart, and in the eyes of the doctor who looked at me, and in her words, and in Duke's actions, I knew he deserved better than this life that he was likely to live.
Over 3 hours passed of us laying on the floor together staring into each other's eyes. He started trembling and having spasms. He looked at me with his big brown eyes. I felt awful for waiting this long. How selfish of me. He was in pain. I held him close and called the doctor in. I told them I was ready.
A doctor and nurse came in. They gave him something to make him sleepy and calm. I held him close and stared into his eyes. I told him how handsome he looked, the doctor agreed. I told him that he saved my life. I told him that he was my best friend. Through my tears, I saw that the doctor and nurse were crying too. The doctor asked for me to let her know when I was ready for the next injection. I nodded and put my forehead against Duke's. I said "I love you Duke Taylor. I'll meet you at the beach." August 1st, 2014 around noon, he blew a breath in my face and then he was gone.
The doctor told me afterwards that she didn't want to influence my decision before but that she thinks I did the right thing. I pray that I did.
Once I receive his ashes, I am planning to take them to his favorite beach in Hawaii.
My idea of a perfect day is being on a Hawaiian beach with Duke. That's our heaven. I know he is running in the sand and through the waves having a blast. I can't wait to meet him there.
This is a heartache that I've never felt before.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me and for lifting us up in prayer. I'm really just a mess right now and trying to get myself together, but I will be ok. I'm sorry for not answering phone calls. Talking about it leads to a lot of tears. But please know that the support and love is so appreciated. Those of you that knew him, know that he was very protective of me and hard to please at first. But once he realized you were a friend of mine, you became a best friend of his. No one ever came over without getting Duke kisses and Duke hair all over their clothes.
Duke was the best friend that I could ever ask for. I truly believed that he saved me. He came into my life at just the right time. He was around during an extremely tough time in my life. Because of him, I never felt alone. His floppy ears, soft-as-ever fur, big brown eyes, giant paws, chubby rolls, and wrinkly face made even the most awful days a million times better. He made my life better in so many ways. He made me better.
Big thanks to Duke's Tia Stella for helping me through this very hard time and being there for both Duke and I.
It makes me happy to know that Duke was so loved by so many. He was an easy guy to love and I am forever grateful for my time with him.
Lots of love from me and lots of kisses from Duke.