Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Losing Luci {Her Story}

It has taken me much longer than I anticipated to get this post written.  It has been on my mind for several days, but my heart is having a hard time composing exactly what and how much to write.  So I’ll start typing and we’ll see where things go.
And as a heads up: this post isn’t written for you, but it is for me and my family, for our future selves and for the sake of remembering as we move forward without our girl, Luci.
So here is her story; jumbled and here-and-there as my mind doesn’t seem to focus like it used to.
We made the decision many years ago that we were not going to put forth any kind of extraneous measures or money, when the time came, to lengthen Luci’s life or to “save” her from whatever ailment would befall her.  What neither one of us knew, obviously, was exactly when we’d have to stand by that decision.  One month ago, when Luci turned 10, we knew that we’d have, at best a couple more years with her.  There were no signs that, in fact, all we would have was just a couple more weeks.
Rewinding a bit first, though… We adopted Luci in July of 2004, when she was just eight weeks old.  I don’t remember all the details and exactly how it came to be that we would bring Luci home, but what I do remember is that I wanted a dog, and somehow Brad agreed.  We weren’t ready yet to start our family, but I was aching a bit for something small to take care of.  I was in love with beagles - so cute! - and after doing a bit of research about them and learning they were great family dogs, I think we were both sold.  Not long thereafter we learned of a breeder in a northern suburb of the Twin Cities that had beagle pups for sale.  
We arrived at their house with the understanding that we were just there “to look” — well, we know how that worked out.  Luci was the only female left, and she was ours.
About her name: I liked “Lucy” and Brad agreed to it but wanted to spell it “Luci” after his childhood dog “Laci”.  Compromise at it’s best.
I remember bringing her home that day, and she whimpered and whined and was crazy loud on the hour-long drive back to our house.  {And because we were going to see the pups just “to look” we had absolutely no dog supplies ready.  A quick stop at the store to pick up the essentials, and we finally made it back home.}  I’m fairly certain we had had her for two or three days, and Brad was ready to send her back.  A puppy is, very much, like a newborn.  Housebreaking and kennel training and no sleep at night.  Brad wasn’t a fan.  {For the record, not once has he mentioned sending any of our kids back!}  
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But look at that face?!?!  I couldn’t break up with her, so she stayed.
So she was the beginning of our little family, our first born, if you will, and she was a part of us for these past 10 years.
She wasn’t perfect.  She could be a nuisance and a bother and a pain in the neck more times than I care to remember.  She would pee in the house (and the older she got it seemed she would do it out of convenience instead of emergency).  She would sneak a toy or a sock just far enough under the bed that I couldn’t reach her to get it back.  She suffered from a sensitive stomach, and when she needed to vomit she was great at finding a hidden, carpeted corner to do it in.  She could be aggressive when it came to snatching food from the table or out of the boys’ hands (she never hurt the boys, but as she aged she got less careful as to how she got their food).  She was an anxious dog; enough so that shortly after we moved to Michigan, she tried to claw herself out of her kennel while we were gone one afternoon.  She clawed and bit enough to make herself bleed, and we decided she couldn’t be left locked up in that thing anymore.  On more than one occasion, I semi-joked with my parents about maybe just keeping Luci at their house.  I’m glad they never agreed.
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She wasn’t a hero.  She never saved the kids from danger or warned us of any kind of impending doom.  She barked plenty at people walking on the sidewalk, but all she really did was just make a lot of noise.  In recent months, Drew requested that she sleep on his bed - I think she made him less afraid of any potential nightmares.  She was a presence.  She somehow brought peace.  She comforted and somehow reassured that when the house was quiet or still or when Brad was gone, that we weren’t alone.  
And when we began to have babies, and one by one by one we brought them home, she welcomed them.  But she also became quieter.  She slowly and willingly took second, third, and finally, fourth place to our three children.  She watched and waited and was patient with her needs.  She sniffed and loved and played with the kids.  She was, very much, a huge and incredibly important part of our family.
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The process of losing her lasted nine days, although it wasn’t until day eight that we both knew that this was the case.  She declined quickly throughout that week, and everyday I questioned whether it was time to take her in to the vet.  But what would they do?  She still had life in her, and, as difficult as it was, both Brad and I were sticking with our decision to not do anything to “save” her.  And there wasn’t any very obvious sign that it was “time”.  How would we know?  What do we do?  In the end, Luci let us know.
Here’s how it unfolded.  
On Sunday (May 11th) I noticed that her rate of breathing was increased.  She wasn’t panting or expressing any signs of distress, but her chest was rising and falling noticeably faster than normal.
It took her from Sunday until Wednesday to finish one cup of dog food (she normally ate two cups each day).  
On Thursday, Brad finally said “Just give her some peanut butter or crackers.”  So smart, that man.  I did, in a super small amount as to not upset her stomach, and she ate it up.  Good!  Small victory!  She ended up eating another cup of food sometime between Thursday and Friday, and I gave her small amounts of Cheerios and crackers as well.  
The scariest moment for me was when, on Thursday afternoon, Reed, Ruby and I had gone to the basement to play, and not wanting to be left alone (which previously never really was the case), Luci came to the top of the stairs to come down.  She managed the first couple steps before falling the rest of the way down.  She hobbled up, but didn’t appear to be injured, so I cozied up with her, and talked to her, like a Mama does, to comfort her.  She was shaken, and she looked at me with these eyes…these eyes that just knew something wasn’t right.
Aside from this incident and her appetite, it seemed like her behavior was pretty normal.  She would usually sleep about 90% of the day, and that stayed the same, and she made her way to the door to be let outside when she needed.
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Everything changed on the following Sunday morning (the 18th).  We were in the middle of our normal getting-ready-for-church routine, and Brad was about to head out the door when I asked him to check on Luci (as she hadn’t been up and out the door yet) and I was still working on getting the rest of us ready to go.  He found her underneath our bed (not unusual), but she wouldn’t come out.  She couldn’t come out.  {She was laying in some dried vomit and she couldn’t move herself to not be laying in it.}  When I saw that Brad was having trouble with her, I came over to see.  We were able to pull her out from under the bed, and I helped her to her feet, but she was so unsteady.  Unsteady and wobbly and she had this really odd glazed-over look in her eye.  She took a few scary steps before I picked her up and took her out.  Her energy level was non-existant (no need to hook her up to the chain) and as she squatted, her entire hind quarters very slowly lowered to the ground.  Her front half then laid down and she looked up at me like, “this is all I’ve got, Mama.”  I carried her back in and made her comfortable in the kitchen while we left for church.
Our Sunday was a busy one, with our usual church schedule in the morning, a graduation party early afternoon, and then our small group gathering that evening.  We stopped home late afternoon to check on her, and when we took her outside to potty, she couldn’t stand to do so.  And I cried.  And cried and cried and cried.
And by that night, when I foolishly tried one more time to take her out, she ended up peeing as she laid on the kitchen floor.  She wasn’t able to bear any weight at all.  
Message received, sweet girl.
Before going to bed that night, I had tried to make her as comfortable as I could on the bathroom floor.  I sat with her a bit, and prayed.  I knew where we were - I knew we wouldn’t have any more days together - but I so did not want to make that call in the morning.  I did not want to put her down.  Oh how I wished and hoped and prayed she would go in the night.  Peacefully and quickly, she would just stop breathing.  I remember waking in the night at least a couple times - I’ve become a pretty light sleeper so I hear almost everything as I sleep - and I heard her stir, struggling to adjust her position or whimpering when she couldn’t do it on her own.
She made it to the morning, and continuing the conversations we’d started to have with the boys the night before, we reminded them that Luci would be leaving that morning, and wouldn’t be coming back.  While I had shielded them pretty well from seeing Luci struggle on Sunday, we explained to them how she wasn’t well and that there wasn’t anything we could do to make her her old self again.  She continued to lay on the bathroom floor as we got ready for the day.  Drew would stop in to sit with her every few minutes.  He wasn’t emotional, but he was quiet and sad.  He talked to her and petted her.  I’m glad he felt okay doing so.
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I got Drew to school that morning, and made arrangements for a friend to watch Reed and Ruby while Brad and I took Luci in.  We were able to take her in right at 9:15, which I was extremely grateful for.  I couldn’t bear the day if we would have had to watch her lay there, hopelessly, on the bathroom floor.
The drive to the clinic was the worst.  The worst.  The tension and anxiety and the reality of the moment is just too much.  It was horrible.
We arrived and were escorted right to an exam room.  The vet came in, so sweet and sympathetic and just spot on for the severity of the situation, and after giving Luci a super brief examination and hearing about her last few days, the vet diagnosed her with heart failure.  She told us that Luci’s extremities (her paws) were cool, as well as a few other tell tale symptoms, and while there were a couple options for us to try (medications), she assured us that we were making the right decision in letting her go.  We signed some papers, decided what we’d like to do with her remains, and the procedure began.
The vet shaved a small area on her forearm, inserted a needle, and less than 30 seconds later she was gone.  I was surprised by the quickness of it (not that I wanted it to take a long time) but even more surprised by the beauty in it.  Weird, I know.  But being able to experience that moment with her, together with Brad… I’m not sure how to describe it except to say there was something special about all of it.
The vet left the room, giving us a few moments to be alone with her.  And I cried over her and kissed her and thanked her.  And for as many times as I’ve declared “she’s just a dog!” — oh, she wasn’t.  That girl, in the way she added so much to our lives and to our family, in her death, caused Brad to cry.  In 14 years, that’s the first time I’ve seen my husband cry.  
So our Luci…  she wasn’t “just a dog.”  
She was something special.
Prior to Luci’s passing, before we had signed the papers authorizing the procedure, our vet let us know what our options were for Luci’s remains.  There were three: 1) Cremation.  We’d pay a nominal fee and Luci would be cremated with other animals and we, obviously, wouldn’t get any of her ashes back.  While we had absolutely no desire to have her ashes (we have moved four times in her lifetime, there was no one home or one special place for her for us to spread her ashes, and I wasn’t looking to display them in an urn on our bookshelf) the idea of her being tossed in with a bunch of other animals seemed a bit rough and impersonal for me.  She deserved better, I felt.  2) Private cremation, costing roughly $250.  (If I had strong positive feelings about cremation, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye at the cost (although Brad would have!) and gone through with it, but considering how I felt about not wanting her ashes back, that was a no.)  3) Bury her in our yard.  Much to our surprise, the city of Midland allows the burying of household pets on personal property.  Prior to taking Luci in, Brad and I had briefly discussed what we’d do with her, and burying her here was our preference but we didn’t know if it would even be an option.  The vet said it was perfectly acceptable, and we decided that it was the best choice for us.
After saying our good-byes, the vet took Luci to the back, where they imprinted her paw on a piece of clay, then wrapped her up in a cotton/felt-like bag for us to take her home in.
I found peace in bringing her home.  I know it’s ridiculous, but it feels better knowing she’s here, close to us.  Where else would she be?  Brad dug a hole, close and snug to the side of the house, under a tree, nice and deep to be protected from prey and the elements.  Still in her bag, we wrapped her in her blanket, the one she slept with, and Brad lowered her into place. 
When we planted our spring flowers, we planted a few extra pots to place on her grave.  We visit her often…I was compelled in the first several days to do so to make sure she was okay.  Again, ridiculous, I know.  I just really love her a lot, ya know?
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So, good-bye, Sweet Luci.  Thank you for all that you were and all that you allowed us to be.  We miss you deeply. 

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