Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Long overdue updates from the Unfarm

I made a resolution at the beginning of this year that I would make posts more often. And I know that most resolutions get thrown by the wayside by mid January, or early February if we are very good. But despite that history, I really did have every intention of keeping this resolution. Things got a little bumpy at the beginning of the year, as you may remember, when Maia had a health scare, but after recovering from her surgery she had more energy than she's had in a long time and it looked like it would be smooth sailing from there on out. And it was. For her. 

But as I drove home from work on the evening of January 29th, I got a call from my parents that Kita was acting strangely. I rushed home long enough to call the emergency vet to give them a heads up and run out to the car with drooling, panting, unresponsive Kita. There was nothing the vet could do. He was ready to go (which was confirmed by our AMAZING animal communicator, Karen Anderson, who we LOVE) and we couldn't hold him here no matter how much I may have wanted to. The hardest part of living with animals is knowing that you will, in all likelihood, outlive them and you will have to watch them as they slip. I lay on the floor at the vet's office, with my nose resting against Kita's, trying to let him know I was there for him and would not leave his side. And then the vet gave him the injection, and he left. It was hard - incredibly hard - to lose this dog who had been part of our family for roughly 16 years. I kept expecting to see him come around the corner, or be sleeping on his dog bed on my bedroom floor, or pass his leash hanging on my wall. 

But one of the advantages of having multiple pets, for me at least, is knowing that all the other animals still need me and I can forget my loss, to some degree, by taking care of the rest of the animals. And we weren't without dogs - Maia and Buddy were still with us, although Buddy seemed to feel Kita's absence and spent the time after the loss moping around the house and showing little interest in his regular activities. About a week after Kita died I decided that Buddy needed to get out of the house and go for a walk with me and Maia, even though he didn't show his usual exuberant whippet energy. We got part of the way down the street when he stopped walking. He simply refused to go any further, despite several attempts to get him to change his mind. I finally gave in and took him back home and he went right back to bed. At about 6:50 that evening Mom noticed that his gums were pale and suggested we call the vet. They told us to bring him in right then, even though they were closing in 10 minutes. At the vet it was discovered that his red blood cell count, which should have been in the 50-60 range was down to 8, a number the vet described as "barely compatible with life." From there I rushed him to the specialist vet 40 minutes away and he was submitted and getting a blood transfusion within the hour. We were told by Buddy's internist (yes, he had his own internal medicine specialist) within the next couple of days that Buddy had IMHA. Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia. Basically, his body was destroying his own red blood cells, for reasons unknown. And more good news: it was a non responsive type, which is harder to treat. But we went all out - transfusions, regular blood counts, multiple night stays in the vet ER, special diets, and enough medications that we had to create an elaborate chart to keep track of when he needed his 13+ medications each day. I even tried alternative treatments. He went to a holistic vet, he got acupuncture, and he received reiki and shamanic healing from an amazing friend of Karen's. We spent one month fighting for Buddy, and over $10,000 to give our six year old dog every shot possible. I wish I could say that it worked, that Buddy finally began to make a turn around, that he is sleeping on the floor behind me as I write this. But I can't. In the end, Buddy became unresponsive and began panting hard one night. I rushed him to the specialist with my brother where they said he may have thrown a clot and they might be able to get him through to the morning if they intubated him, sticking a breathing tube down his throat. I decided that we had to let him go. He had told Karen a couple of weeks earlier that he was tired and ready to go but we hadn't been ready to let him go yet, and he seemed to be showing some improvement. I couldn't stand the thought of him dying there, in the hospital, with tubes down his throat and all alone. So I kissed him and hugged him and stroked his face as they gave him the injection, and then he left. Just like Kita, and only two months and two days afterward. And five short days before his seventh birthday. Driving home at 3:30 in the morning, it struck me as appropriate in some way that I had been the one to bring him into our lives, with a car ride together after picking him up at four months old from the breeder's house several hours away in Kennewick, Washington, and I was with him on his last car ride, as he left our lives that night.

Kita we had expected. We didn't like it, but we saw it coming - he had lived a long, full life with us. But Buddy. Buddy was so young, and so full of life such a short time ago. And now the house felt like a canyon - like you could scream and you would hear an echo with the emptiness of this place.

Two days after Buddy died, I checked in with him and Kita, via Karen. They were both feeling great and Buddy was raring to come back soon. He said he felt like he hadn't gotten to finish his time with us. But in the meantime, he said, he had sent us a gift. A dog at the local shelter was meant for us. So I went that very evening to get Axel, our newest addition to the Unfarm. He is a large dog - about 95 pounds, and black with brown markings, a Husky-Shepherd mix (so like Kita it's almost uncanny!) and ten years old. He probably didn't have much chance of being adopted with that triple threat: big, black, and elderly. He had, in fact, already been adopted and returned to the shelter once before. As I was filling out the paperwork for adoption I was given the highly encouraging news that Axel also had separation anxiety and should he ever be left alone he would proceed to destroy the doors, windows, couches, gates and any crate we might put him in. This gave me a great deal of trepidation, but not nearly enough to doubt Buddy's wisdom. 

We have had Axel for over a month now, and he has turned out to be THE perfect dog for us. He is gentle, calm, friendly, quiet, and he LOVES going on walks and for rides in the car. We have also discovered that he has little to no separation anxiety with us and my fears (and the ominous predictions of the adoption counselor) were largely unfounded. He certainly does not enjoy being left alone, but he tolerates it just fine. He also has loads of energy and doesn't show his age at all. And the cherry on top? He grew up around chickens and cows so he behaves perfectly around all of our various "snack sized" pets. We could not have created a better situation if we tried. Thanks, Buddy.

So the drama was over, and life on the Unfarm settled back into a comfortable, if slightly lonely, routine. Until exactly two weeks after Buddy died, when Aspen went to the vet to address his bladder leakage. I had to leave him there for the afternoon for x-rays but went back in the evening to pick him up and hear the damage (Aspen has had several bladder problems in the past and they tend to run at least $1000 each and involve at least one overnight stay at the emergency vet per occurrence.) When I got to the vet they told me to head back to the visitor's lounge. This was unusual - definitely more kidney stones. Sigh. It was not kidney stones. It was worse. He had a heart murmur. And was in kidney failure. And the cancer we suspected he had, had now spread and was filling his abdomen. He was uncomfortable and at 17 years old, even if we decided to be aggressive in our treatment, it would not buy him a lot of time. I held him, bundled up in a blanket, and kissed his little gray nose (enough times to annoy him, most likely) and whispered in his ear as the vet gave him the injection to send him sailing away from me. 

Three losses of my little ones in as many months. Can you see now why I avoided this entry? I did not want to admit that we had lost so much, so many animals that spent their days and nights with us, who kept us company and made us laugh and comforted us when we needed it. So many days I won't get back and so many experiences that were yet to come. But here it is. Written down for everyone to see. And in reading this, I hope that they might live on again, even for a short while, in you.

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