Mark Twain wrote: “The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s.”
Most people have had a dog at one point in their life. They know the joys of watching your puppy discover its tail for the first time, snuggle with you on the couch, or react as if they had just won the lottery when you walk through the door at night. The frustrations of finding a warm surprise on your rug, your favorite pair of shoes reduced to shreds, or learning that a raw steak on the counter top is just too tempting. And if they haven’t already, will know the sorrow of loss when man…or in this case, woman’s best friend, goes off to Mark Twain’s doggie heaven.
Nine days ago I lost my baby boy Hektor to cancer. He was two months shy of turning 10 years old, and yet, I genuinely believed I had more time with him…but it wasn’t to be. Many people are now going through the same thing I just experienced, many people will at one point, and I hope that this helps you in some way.
Hektor was diagnosed with cancer in March. I opted for radiation and was told Hektor had about 85% chance of full recovery. He went through 16 radiation treatments during the month of April in California where he was with my parents. Once the weather was well enough for animals to fly, my parent’s flew out to New York with Hektor and my other beagle Ella. He seemed like a happy healthy unaffected dog and I let myself believe that he was in fact cancer free and he would be with me for years to come.
When he went in for his check up with the oncologist the beginning of August they found modules in his liver and spleen and I knew his cancer was indeed still there. There was nothing more I could do. Of course the oncologist wanted to discuss chemotherapy and such, but after radiation failed, I didn’t think it was fair to put him through further treatments and decided to let him live out his life as the active happy dog that he was.
It was only two weeks later he started getting sick. Within 72 hours, Hektor passed. I was shocked at how quickly it went. He never seemed sick or to not feel well. Looking back at it I realize he very well could have been feeling ill for a while and I never would have known it. I remember driving home from Phoenix when Ella was still a puppy and stopping about an hour from my parent’s to let the dogs go to the bathroom. Hektor took off smelling everything in site. We weren’t out of the car more than a few moments when Ella started screaming like she was being torn apart. I picked her up and found she had stepped on a sticker. We have these little oval stickers at home that are no bigger than the tip of your pinkie finger but have spikes all around it like a teeny tiny porcupine. It occurred to me when I pulled the sticker out of Ella’s foot that Hektor had been in the same area so I hunted him down, picked him up and examined his feet. He had more than 20 stickers in all four of his feet!! He hadn’t made a sound. Pain wasn’t something Hektor paid much attention to. He was far more interested in smelling and exploring things that something silly like pain!
If Hektor had been feeling any pain caused by his cancer, I would never had known it. Thursday, after not being able to keep any food down I knew he wasn’t well. By Saturday afternoon, I noticed Hektor’s eyes were turning yellow as well as the skin on his belly and I knew that his liver was failing. Despite trying to be optomisitc that his recent sickness was possibly a stomach virus, I knew there was only one more thing I could do for Hektor; a dog that had done more for me than I ever could have known the day I picked out the cute puppy with the floppy ears at the pet store in Phoenix.
I took Hektor into the vet and she examined him and hesitated when she said, “Well, we can do our best to make him comfortable” because I knew she didn’t want to tell me there was nothing more we could do for Hektor. I told her I knew what I had to do. She explained the process to me and said she would take him in the back to put the catheter in his leg and bring him back into the exam room.
They put down a blue and white flowered quilt on the floor and laid him down. They left me with him for a while. I laid on the quilt with Hektor and held him and talked to him. I told him how much he was loved and what a good boy he was and had always been. I scratched his chest, which was his favorite thing in the world. (He would jump up on the couch, take his paw and pull your hand to his chest! When you stopped, he would pull it back. Then after what seemed like an eternity later, he would collapse and fall asleep but would fight it as long as he could just to have his chest rubbed.) I laid there for several minutes with him, kissing his head where he would always push back for more kisses.
When the vet came in, I stayed there, laying on the floor with him, holding him, while she gave him the injections. They first give a shot that makes them go to sleep before they give them the shot that will stop their heart. When she gave him the shot to put him to sleep, he yawned big and fell right to sleep. I talked to him and stroked him the entire time. I remained there with him alone for a while afterwards.
It was by far the most difficult thing I have been through in my life. I walked out of the vet that day and just kept walking. There was no where for me to be so I just kept walking. My legs were numb and my mind and heart was heavy. And sadly, what was running through my mind is that I don’t have the strength to go trough this two more times.
I grew up on a ranch with tons of animals and pets. This wasn’t my first pet to pass away. However, it is a whole different beast when it is YOUR pet and not a family pet. Before I took Hektor to the vet that day, I called my dad and asked what I should do. I knew his liver was failing and told my dad and he burst into tears right along with me on the phone. My 9 year old niece, when she found out later that day said to her mom, “Well mommy, now he is in heaven with Joe and I bet Joe said to him when he got there, ‘Well, it’s about time, I’ve been waiting for you!'” She had lost her boxer Joe a few months earlier and was certain he was waiting for Hektor in doggie heaven.
I wish I still had her innocence to look at Hektor’s death that way.
But, I know now, days later and countless tears cried, Hektor gave me far more happiness and joy than I ever bargained for. And I am blessed, because as I write this I have two sleeping puppies on the couch next to me and know there is a lot more doggie happiness and joy to come my way; I know there is also more sorrow to come, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.