Despite the fact that I’ve been a tried and true dog sitter for over seven years, I am no Caesar Milan. In fact, I am apparently the exact opposite. I’m no dog whisperer, I’m a dog murderer. (Don’t worry loyal readership, Jackson is fine) When I started watching Shirley Drake’s dachshunds there were nine of them: Willie, Machen, Matilde, Gus, Frieda, Marlena, Heiseche (or Hi), Gertie, and Lily. When I started my current stint a week and a half ago, there were three: Gertie, Lily, and Hi. Now there are only two.
After arriving home from work yesterday, I opened up the garage door to let the three hounds out to do their business and to feed them. They spend pretty much all day inside their crates, and usually they fire out of them like a speeding bullet as soon as I open the door. When I opened Hi’s door, he seemed like he was struggling to get up and out. I reached in and helped him, but could tell something was not right. He was shaking like a paint can on the mixer and his back legs appeared to be completely limp, unable to support any weight. I also noticed that he hadn’t eaten any of his food from that morning. Come to think of it, I thought, he hasn’t eaten much at all the past day or so. Hi had done something similar to this once before a couple of months prior when I was watching him, where he appeared to have difficulty walking, but he was fine later that day. I figured his back legs had just fallen asleep. But it was different this time. I kept my eye on him as I tended to the other two dogs and once they were taken care of I took Hi inside the house to try to warm him up. I tried to wrap a blanket around him and put his food and water within reach, but he just kept pulling himself around in a circle with his forelegs, looking disoriented and weak. Even when healthy his tongue hangs out of the side of his mouth, so in his present state he made quite a pathetic sight. I called Jen and told her he needed to go to see a vet right away.
When she came home, she wrapped him in one of Jackson’s blankets and held him in her lap as we drove to the pet hospital. The shaking would stop when he was held, but as soon as he was on the floor it would start right up again. The poor little guy’s breathing sounded more and more labored and but his eyes were still open. He just seemed very tired. The nurse at the pet hospital took his temperature and it didn’t even register, which means it was below 90 degrees. Apparently normal for a dog is around 100.5. She said he needed to go on heat support right away. I had been hoping that the problem would be relatively easy to diagnose, not needing a lot of tests, as Shirley is in Budapest, Hungary. I didn’t want to call her if I didn’t have to as it was about 5 AM there at the time. But the nurse said that I should call and get permission to do blood tests or any other diagnostic procedures. So I called Budapest at 5 AM to ask permission to do diagnostic procedures on a dachshund. Sounds almost like an SNL skit.
[Woman’s voice] “Hello.”
“Hi, is Shirley there?”
“Uh, yes she is, but it’s the middle of the night here.”
“I know. I’m the dog sitter and it’s kind of an emergency.”
[Slight pause] “OK.”
“Thanks. I’m really sorry.”
It was a little odd. I felt bad about waking up the Budapest household, but I wasn’t about to make a life and death decision about someone else’s dog. I knew Shirley would want to know what was happening. I explained the situation and she said that she was prepared for such an event since Hi is very old, 16 years old in fact, twice what I told the hospital. At that advanced age, she was hesitant to authorize a lot of expensive tests when all they might reveal is that he would probably die anyway. She told me that if the doctor recommended he be put down then that was probably the best choice, but if I could try to get him home and then take him to his regular vet the next day. I told her I would keep her posted and went back inside to talk to the nurse. She told me that if we took him home he probably wouldn’t last the night. He was in bad shape. They could run some tests to try to find out what was wrong, but we decided that the best and most humane thing to do was to put Hi to sleep. I signed a paper and it was done.
They brought Hi out to us wrapped in a sheet and I carried him out to the car, as the hospital staff looked on in solemn silence. A young man at the hospital door held the door open for us. It was a pretty sad moment. I imagined being in the young man’s shoes, and how bad I would feel on seeing someone carrying their beloved pet wrapped up in a sheet. We took Hi back to Shirley’s house and put him in the freezer in the garage so she can bury him when she gets home. Shirley called our house later that night and I gave her the sad news. I could tell from our conversation that she was a little concerned that maybe we, she and I, had decided a little too quickly to put him down, but I assured her that it was in his best interest. He was a very sick dog.
Considering I’ve been watching her dogs for seven years and they are all pretty old, I’m surprised this scenario had not happened before. I always dreaded that it would. I never wanted to have to mar a nice trip by giving her this kind of news mid-way through. Hopefully, I acted in a way that I would want someone to act if they were watching my dog. I know non-dog owners have a hard time understanding how people get so attached to their dogs, and all I can say to them is how do you live with yourselves you heartless monsters. OK, maybe that was a little strong. But, in all seriousness, it is amazing how attached you can get to something that makes loud obnoxious noises, steals your dirty underwear, and smells generally bad a good deal of the time. Unless you own one, it’s not something you can really explain. A dog, or most any pet I suppose, is obviously less intrinsically valuable than another human being, hopefully, but more so than any inanimate possession a person will ever have.