And then the house and the sky fell quiet

3 Jan

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“Good morning, Zooey.”

For the past twelve years Zooey has slept in her crate next to our bed. Yesterday, like so many mornings before, I woke up, rolled over and said those three little words. In that moment, I didn’t know it would be the last time.

When I opened her crate door, I noticed right away something was wrong. Zooey was having trouble walking and the fluid had built up significantly outside her abdomen. As the cardiology vets had told us, they could drain the fluid from her abdomen a couple more times, but there was no way to remove the fluid that was building up in her skin outside her abdomen.

For weeks I’d been reading end-of-life articles and trying to find an answer to the question: When is the right time to let go? (Here’s one of the best articles I came across)

Now I knew we’d reached that time. Veronika and I talked it over, and made the incredibly painful decision to schedule Zooey’s euthanasia later in the afternoon. We made the call at 11AM and set up an appointment for 4PM.

Once the decision was made, the waiting became excruciating. Emotions and thoughts started rushing through my mind and I was constantly questioning whether or not we were doing the right thing.

We were also questioning where we should do this. With Jasper we settled on an at-home procedure, but for Zooey that just didn’t feel right. We decided returning to the University of Minnesota’s Small Animal Hospital made the most sense for us given that Zooey had become comfortable with the doctors and technicians there.

With everything in place, there was one last thing we wanted to do … take Zooey for a final walk in one of her favorite parks.

Around 3PM we drove to Battle Creek Regional Park. Dogs can run off-leash on wooded trails and across open fields in this park, so we’ve visited and hiked these paths countless times over the years.

When we arrived, the sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue and the park — covered in snow — was as beautiful as we’d ever seen it.

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But Zooey struggled to walk along trails she had once raced down. If we needed a final sign, this was it. Her time had come and there was nothing more we could do. After a short while we returned to the car and started to drive to the small animal hospital.

We arrived shortly thereafter and were taken to a private room with wood floors, comfortable chairs and soft blanket for Zooey to lay down on. We should pause here and say how thankful we were for all the people at the University of Minnesota’s Small Animal Hospital. Everyone from the front desk staff to the lead veterinarian treated us with the utmost care and respect — that day and throughout the entire past few months.

Once in the room, we were given time alone with Zooey to say final goodbyes. I can hardly describe how difficult this was. The one good thing is that Zooey was still being Zooey — sniffing around the room and sticking her nose in the garbage pail.

Once we gave the go ahead, one of the vet techs took her away for a few minutes to insert a small catheter into her leg. This helps assist with the process.

Zooey then returned and we were given more alone time. After awhile, we pushed the small buzzer on the wall and the lead veterinarian arrived.

When we were ready, she inserted the first solution into the catheter. This caused Zooey to fall asleep quickly. Then she inserted the second solution and Zooey’s heart stopped almost instantly. The whole thing seemed to happen in less than 30 seconds.

I was shocked by the suddenness of it. The doctor quickly stepped out of the room to give us privacy and Veronika and I were left with Zooey and tears streaming down our faces. I remember both us of saying how much we loved her and then I leaned over, and through the tears, whispered, “I’m so sorry Zooey. I did everything I could to save you.” Together we pet her soft fur and held her one last time.

After a few more moments, we asked for the vet technician to return. Together we lifted Zooey’s body up and then she took her away to be placed in a small casket for us to transport her to Pets Remembered Cremation.

Like so many times before, Veronika and I drove though the darkness with Zooey in the back of the car. Although this time she wasn’t bouncing around and staring out the window looking for another dog or passing squirrel to bark at. All I remember is silence.

—–

One of the hardest parts of losing a pet is coming home.

As soon as we stepped in the door, I was hit with a wave of emotion. Everywhere I look there’s something to remind me of Zooey — her water dish by the door, her blanket on the couch, her running gear and winter booties in the front closet.

And everything you’ve known for all those years changes, too. It’s habit to not leave food or tissues on the counter because Zooey will snap them up. Or to close doors so she doesn’t rummage around in a garbage can or chew on a sock. To lay out her “dog blanket” on our bed in the morning. She’s no longer there to let outside or take for a walk. And she doesn’t come running when I open the cereal box late at night. In an instance, everything changes and life is thrown upside down.

All day the lyrics from the song “Landslide” have been running through my head:

And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don’t know, oh I don’t know
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know what comes next. For the first time in fifteen years, we’re waking up without a dog in the house.

I keep thinking Zooey is still sleeping in her crate and will come running into the kitchen at any moment.

But for now, there’s only silence where there was up until recently so much activity.

Zooey came into our lives as a rescue dog with a blue blanket and not much more. She was our much beloved “trouble dog” with an abundance of positive energy and personality. Yesterday, on a gorgeous sunny day, after all these years, she was cremated with her same raggedy blue blanket wrapped around her. As we ponder how to deal with the days ahead, we take comfort in thinking somehow we came full circle.

Goodbye, dear Zooey. We’ll never forget you.

(Zooey, June 11, 2003 to January 2, 2016)

7 things you might not realize when you get a dog

2 Jan

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the things I’ve learned from our two dogs over the past 14 years. Some of this should have been obvious while other tidbits came as a surprise. So, here’s my list of 7 things you might not realize when you get a new puppy or dog.

1) Prepare to be followed. If you walk around the house, the dog is most likely to follow you. If you lay down, the dog will probably lay down. If you go outside … OK, you get the picture.

2) Get ready to pick up a lot of poop. And barf. And that half-chewed stick the dog just spit up on the living room rug. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Someday you might even miss doing it.

3) The dog is going to drive you crazy. They’ll bark to go out and then turn around and bark to come back in. They won’t come back in the house when they know you’re running late to that 9AM meeting at work. They’ll try to eat things they’re not supposed to like socks, rabbit turds, dead squirrels, etc. They’ll constantly nudge you when you’re working on the computer. But you’ll miss these moments someday, too.

4) You’re going to spend a lot of money. We’ve easily spent tens of thousands over the years on vet bills, food, crates (yes, plural for one dog), rawhide, treats, leashes, more rawhide, collars, registrations, even more rawhide … Easily the best money we’ve ever spent.

5) You’re going to love them like a member of the family. Maybe more so, if that’s possible.

6) You’re going to change your schedule to fit their schedule. You’ll leave parties early to “let the dog out.” You’ll adjust your vacations to be away from them as little as possible. You’ll flex your work schedule so they don’t have to be home alone for more than X hours (you’ll come to learn this magic number from experience).

7) Saying goodbye to them will be one of the hardest things you ever do. Ever.

Which brings me to today.

We were planning on bringing Zooey in to the vet to say goodbye tomorrow afternoon, but when we woke up today, we noticed that her condition had taken a turn for the worse. There’s more fluid build-up outside her abdomen and her breathing has become more labored. Waiting until tomorrow doesn’t seem fair to her, so we’ve made the incredibly painful decision to schedule an appointment for this afternoon.

My heart is feeling completely broken.

p.s. As I type this, Zooey is laying on the floor right next to my chair. Right up until the very end she doesn’t want to leave my side …

Counting the days

29 Dec

Well, this sucks.

I’m not going to sugarcoat tonight’s post. Right now is a pretty crappy time.

For the past three months we’ve been taking Zooey to the cardiology vets at the University of Minnesota to have fluid withdrawn from her abdomen (the fluid builds up because of the heart-based cancer tumor and presses on her lungs, thus causing difficulty breathing). The vets have been amazing, but the fluid taps are becoming more frequent and harder to do. Oh, and fluid is also starting to pool in her skin outside her abdomen causing swelling.

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So now we’re left with a decision: keep doing the taps or decide the end has come.

Based on my earlier paragraph, you might think the answer is obvious, but it isn’t.

You see, each time we do the tap, Zooey is like normal — eating her food, going for long hikes in the woods, chewing her rawhide bone, etc. The old saying — “You’ll now it’s time when she has more bad days than good” — just doesn’t apply. She still has more good days than bad.

But there is some bad. For example, she’s still losing weight despite having a “normal” appetite. Closer to “tap days” her breathing becomes more labored. And there’s that fluid build-up outside the abdomen I just mentioned. But other than that, she’s still mentally strong and not showing signs of being in any sort of pain.

So that leaves us with the terrible decision of having to decide when to put her to sleep.

At this point we’ve decided that day is Saturday — four nights and three days from now.

We could go on, but for how much longer? Do we give up now while she’s doing well or wait for her to be miserable? Are we just postponing the inevitable for her and us if we wait?

This is one of the worst decisions I’ve ever had to make. Maybe the worst ever. With our last dog Jasper, it was obvious that the end had come. With her, it’s not obvious at all.

What does this feel like? I don’t even like to step on a bug and now I’m being asked to make a decision that will end my best friend’s life. Too dramatic? Sorry, but that’s what it feels like.

Fortunately Veronika and I are making this decision together. I hope that we’ll find some measure of peace and clarity before Saturday. And if that is the day to say goodbye, that we’ll do so knowing we’ve done all we can and given Zooey the best life possible.

Chasing the sun: Photos from the road with Zooey-Roo

1 Nov

Nov. 1, 2015 — As I sit here typing, Zooey is in the yard barking at squirrels. Some things never change.

We’ve actually had a couple good days. Yesterday and today she ate all her regular food plus a couple scrambled eggs. She took her pills (cheese!). And went for two walks in the woods and actually ran around a bit. The end may be soon, but it’s not quite here yet.

Times like these often lead to reflections of days gone by. Those fleeting moments lodged in the crevasses of our memory. We’ve been fortunate to share many memorable experiences with Zooey over the years, and she’s gone on quite the adventures!

I read recently that the average American adult has visited 20 states. Zooey traveled to 13. Not bad for a dog.

Veronika and I were going through photos of some of those travels — both near and far — from the past few years last night, so I wanted to share a few of our favorites here.

On the Road(trip)

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Photo: Zooey’s “cockpit” on a spur-of-the-moment road trip to the hill country of Northeast Iowa.

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Photo: The night we “tried to go camping”. You can read the rest of that story here.

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Photo: One of many trips to Northern Minnesota.

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Photo: On the shores of Lake Superior. I remember the wind was howling on this occasion.

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Photo: Devils Tower, Wyoming. This was a massive road trip — five adults, two kids and one dog in a motor-home for 10 days! By the end, Zooey had chewed threw her mesh travel crate. I think we were all going a bit stir crazy, but what an amazing experience.

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Photo: Zooey and Todd hanging out on the shore of Lake Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park. Aforementioned motor-home in the distance.

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Photo: Zooey and Veronika on the shore of Lake Yellowstone at sunset.

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Photo: Lamar Valley, Yellowstone. I think Zooey caught the scent of wolves. Or maybe bison. OK, it was probably just prairie dogs since they sound like squeaky toys!

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Photo: Sunset on the North Dakota prairie.

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Photo: On this road trip we spent two weeks driving across the desert Southwest. Here Zooey poses in the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

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Photo: A gorgeous day for hiking outside Moab, Utah.

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Photo: Dogs standing on National Park signs probably isn’t legal, but hey, the photo turned out great!

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Photo: Taking a break in St. George, Utah.

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Photo: Scanning the horizon on a hike in St. George, Utah. Overall this trip covered 4,000+ miles. The biggest challenge? Getting Zooey to pee in the sand and dirt — not a lot of grass in that part of the country. :-)

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Photo: Hiking in the foothills high above Salt Lake City, Utah. Zooey was such a great travel dog! She loved going new places and exploring countless wilderness trails.

Closer to Home

Not all of our outings were epic road trips. A lot of our adventures were a little closer to home.

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Photo: Zooey loved to run! Most of the time this meant heading out with Veronika, but on a couple occasions she and Todd competed in 5-Ks. And she was such a good “runner dog”. Always pointing straight ahead like she was leading a team of sled dogs — or in this case, us!

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Photo: Zooey loved boating. She wasn’t a water dog like Jasper, but she still enjoyed cruising the St. Croix River on Todd’s dad’s boat.

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Photo: A rare calm moment onboard.

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Photo: Enjoying the sunset over the water on a beautiful autumn evening.

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Photo: Did we mention how much Zooey loved people? Especially our nephews. She was always so happy with the boys.

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Photo: We had adventures in colder seasons, too. And as you can see, that didn’t slow down Zooey.

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Photo: Winter hiking in Southeastern Minnesota.

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Photo: A cold winter day along the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Photo: Exploring bluff country in Southeastern Minnesota late last fall.

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Photo: A quiet moment on the wooded trails high above the Mississippi River near our home.

Is there a good day to say goodbye?

29 Oct

October 29, 2015 — Wow, the last post below was from 2011. Amazing how the years pass.

For a long time now this site has sat idle. I’ve thought about taking it down, but for some reason I just let it float out across the Web. Now I know why. The story wasn’t over.

In 2010 this started out as a blog about Jasper and his cancer diagnosis. But there were always two Vizslas in our lives. There was Zooey, too.

Now over 12-years old, she is still with us, but not for much longer.

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You see, back in mid-September Zooey was diagnosed with a rare heart-based cancer tumor. We first noticed she was having trouble breathing, so we took her in to see our regular veterinarian at Como Park Animal Hospital. They did a few tests and a chest scan and immediately sent us over the University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital. That’s when my heart dropped and I was transported back to 2009-10 and the ordeal we endured with Jasper’s cancer.

My wife and I know we’ve had a great life together with Zooey, but she’s always been so healthy. We thought she’d live at least another couple years, so needless to say this has been a huge shock.

The tumor itself isn’t causing Zooey pain, but what happens is it causes fluid to build up in her abdomen and press on the outside of her lungs which restricts breathing. Each time this has happened — four times now — we’ve taken her in and had the fluid pumped out. And the amount of fluid is amazing — sometimes up to 3/4 of a gallon! It’s a pretty straightforward procedure and each time when she’s done, Zooey charges out of the hospital. Afterwards she has a few good days and then a slow decline until we’re back for another procedure.

The unfortunate part is the time between chest pumps is decreasing, meaning that the end is drawing near.

With Jasper, it was easier (never “easy”) knowing it was time. He almost stopping eating completely and wouldn’t get up any more. It was clear that he was ready to say goodbye.

With Zooey I think it will be a much harder decision. Like I said, after each vet visit she slows down a little but still likes going for hikes, exploring the beach along the Mississippi River and chewing her nylabones. But she’s getting more and more tired. And food, well, that’s becoming an almost-daily challenge.

All of this is leading to a decision no pet parent wants to make: Is it time?

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During situations like this, weird thoughts cross your mind. While walking her back to the car from the vet today I was thinking, “Will it be better to say goodbye on the weekend and have quiet time to grieve a little or on a weekday after a beautiful weekend?” Strange.

Just typing those words causes tears in my eyes. I’m not ready to lose another best friend. My hiking buddy. My TV-watching companion. I can’t imagine looking in the rear view mirror and not seeing her happily panting away while we head out on our next adventure.

When Jasper passed away, we were devastated, but we came home to Zooey. Now the house will feel so painfully empty. For the first time in over 14 years we won’t be sharing our home with another creature.

I think that’s when it’s really going to hit me.

For now, I’m going to go pet Zooey while I can and hold on to the moment just a little longer.

Time after time

18 Oct

I can’t believe that a year has passed since Jasper left this world.

I saw a friend post a message today saying her four-year old dog had passed away from cancer, and all the emotions came flooding back. My heart really goes out to her and her family tonight.

I still think of Jasper quite a bit since there are reminders everywhere I go – seeing his purple toy in the basement, driving by the Minnehaha dog park, finding one of his old blankets tucked away in a drawer…

It all seems so strange still.

So, one year on, what am I surprised by? This is going to sound strange, but I’m surprised (and happy) I survived.

Jasper’s death came at the end of a really rough three years where I lost my mom and both my remaining grandparents.

If anything, I learned I can take the full frontal blow of adversity and come out standing on the other side. Sure, I have my days, but don’t we all?

I’ve also learned to really enjoy the little moments in life like taking Zooey for a walk in the woods, playing board games with my nephews or sitting quietly reading at night.

Jasper taught me so many things in the nine years he was with us. As I wrote before, for most of my life I was terrified of dogs. Jasper erased that fear and taught me to love all animals more than I thought was possible. He also taught me that sometimes best friends have four legs, a tail and a wet nose.

Over the past few months I’ve tried to go back and read a few of the entries here, but I’m not quite ready for that yet. I’m a little embarrassed by how raw the writing was, but more than that the rush of emotions and memories is still so strong.

I want to close what will probably be the last entry on this blog by saying a few things.

To V and Zooey – thank you. We went through this together, V, so you know just how tough this was. Zooey, you were always, and still are, the light of our life.

To everyone who read and commented on this blog – thank you, too! If you’re going through a similar situation now or in the future, trust that you will survive. And the memories do get happier with time.

To Jasper – I love you, buddy, and I still think of you every day. You were my best friend and the best dog any family could ever hope for. You had such a gentle soul. I loved every moment we spent together (even when you were a puppy trying your hardest to destroy the house). If there’s a heaven, then mine is a place where you and I can skip rocks and play in the water all day long.

Good-bye, dear J.

Mmm, peanut butter

28 Jan

I had a spoonful of peanut butter tonight and it made me think of you and smile, J.

Miss you.

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