It's Hard to Say Goodbye
On Saturday, June 20th, 2020, I woke up around 4:30 am. It surprised me that I was asleep. I wasn't expecting to sleep at all. Our German Shepherd, Indi, needed to go outside. I took her to the backyard so she could relieve herself, then she went upstairs while I stepped into the family room to warm-up with my daily Jangle. It helps me wake up and has dramatically improved my flexibility. Next, I drank some water, tuned my phone radio to a "Bomfunk MCs" station, and proceeded to knock out my daily workout. That day it was 50 burpees, four 45-second plank holds, 40 squats and 40 push-ups.
After that, I brewed a cup of coffee and sipped on it for a while. When it was time, my wife, Doreen, said goodbye to Indi. Then it was my turn. Doreen knew Indi would be frantic if she rode with us, so she stayed home while I drove Indi through the light rain to the veterinary clinic a few miles away. I put on my face mask and called the office. They met me by the side door. We proceeded inside to a small room with a padded cushion on the floor. Just over 30 minutes later, she was gone. I kissed her on the forehead and headed back home, sobbing all the way.
Almost 8 years ago, my wife had a proposition for me. We already owned two dogs, a German Shepherd/German Short-haired Pointer combination named "Lizzie Girl" and a Russell Terrier mutt named "Ollie." Doreen was finally recovered from her grueling surgery that left her spine fused from T3 to sacrum and blessed her with six pounds of titanium hardware. The three simple rules for her to follow have the same acronym as a popular sandwich: BLT. No bending, no lifting, no twisting. That meant she had a lot of new constraints, including no bending down to pet the dogs.
A German Shepherd would change things. They are a larger breed and very smart. We could train it to assist her. She even found a candidate puppy that she visited with our daughter, Lizzie. The dog came with a long official name, "Miss Declaration of Independence" (she was born on July 3rd) but her "familiar" name was simply "Indi." I remember the day we went to pick her up. She was not used to wearing a collar, so our introduction time was spent standing in a yard while she continuously tried to shake off her leash.
As a puppy, we quickly learned just how smart she was. She took to potty training almost immediately. Not only did she not go in the house, but she adopted a system to alert us when she needed to go out. She would run up to the door and gently scratch it with her paw. For eight years I have slept lightly on constant alert for that sound, which came more often than not in recent years.
She also picked up on words and habits fast. I typically walk around barefoot, so when it was time to go on a walk, I go into the closet and grab a pair of socks to put on. Imagine my surprise the first time she came running up to me and dropped a pair of socks at my feet! She would routinely pick out a pair of socks for me anytime we ventured outside by grabbing them from the drawer and dropping them at my feet.
Her puppy years were spent running around the yard. We learned of a creative way to exercise her: tie a squeaky toy to the end of a whip and whip it around. We thought she loved chasing the squeaky toy, but when it was finally destroyed and I hadn't found a new one, I decided to just tie a knot on the end of the whip and use that. Indi absolutely loved chasing "Whippy" around.
She was a sociable puppy. Anytime I'd take her on a walk, cars would stop and random people would roll down their window to tell me how beautiful she was. On one occasion, we brought her with us to an ice cream shop that had special ice cream just for dogs.
Then something incredible happened. I came home from work one day, and Doreen asked me to go outside with her. She would routinely take Indi out on a leash across the small bridge in our backyard. It spanned a creek and led to a clearing in the trees that had space for Indi to run. There, we would throw sticks. Doreen had to hook her foot under the stick then lift her leg to grab it and throw it.
"Watch," she said. She threw the stick. Indi took off and fetched it. She ran back, and then did something unique. Instead of dropping the stick, she twisted her head and leaned the stick against a tree. This made it easy for my wife to grab it to throw it again. I was amazed. "How did you teach her that?" I asked. "I didn't. She figured it out."
It wasn't long after that Indi developed a limp and encountered her first challenge.
The vet was standing in front of an X-ray, pointing out the lines that shouldn't be there. Indi had severe hip dysplasia, a condition of the hips that can lead to dislocations and pain. It was major on one side and developing on the other. We had to put her on bed rest for a few months to heal.
When we were able to take her out again, she changed. Suddenly, she was extremely afraid of unusual items on the street. Someone had trash out by the curb, and she growled, trembled, and approached cautiously before deciding it wasn't a threat. She was much more defensive of our family. As a puppy, she would welcome people coming up to say, "Hello" and allow them to pet her. Now, she was having none of it. She jumped in the face of guests who came over and bared her teeth, and although she never bit anyone, we had to put her in her kennel anytime someone visited.
Inside the house, she was everyone's best friend. She loved to play with Lizzie Girl and would constantly be by her side. She would constantly mimic Lizzie Girl's poses.
She also got along just fine with our Solomon Islands Eclectus Parrot named "Pierre."
Meanwhile, Lizzie Girl was getting old. She had incontinence so it was like babysitting a puppy all over again. She was limping from what we assumed as arthritis and then one day developed a strange bulbous growth under her tail. We took her in to have it biopsied and it turned out benign. We breathed a sigh of relief. With the strange growth taken care of, we took in her to see what we could do about her arthritis.
I answered the phone call while my wife and daughter were driving to an all-day event at a college. Lizzie (my daughter, not the dog) was applying for a scholarship and would be interviewed and observed throughout the day. Lizzie Girl didn't have arthritis. She had an aggressive bone cancer that had eaten her leg bone from the inside out and spread all over. They gave her maybe a month but suggested she was in terrible pain that should be taken care of.
The girls called to check in because they had arrived on campus. "How is Lizzie Girl? Is it arthritis?" It was everything I could do to remain composed. I didn't want to tell Lizzie that her dog was about to die before such an important event, so I said, "No, it wasn't that. She's home now. I'll fill you in on the details when you get back."
My wife's radar went off immediately, but Lizzie had a great day on campus. In case you're wondering, she received the scholarship. It was hard to share the news when they came home, and there was a lot of sobbing and cuddling with Lizzie Girl. On her last day, we hung out with her on the deck, took her on her favorite walk (despite her leg damage she really seemed to enjoy it), drove her to Chick-fil-A for some hashed browns and brought her to the clinic.
Doreen and Lizzie were going to stay, but after the muscle relaxant hit and Lizzie Girl slid to the floor, they decided that was enough and left to give each other support. I got on the ground, locked eyes with her, stroked her head and nodded to administer the dose. She looked at me, took a few deep breaths, then went still. A few weeks later when I thought I had really come to terms with her being gone, we received a letter from the veterinary office. I opened it, and inside was a paw print. It was a sweet gesture and I lost it right there. We gave it to Lizzie to keep.
Ollie became extremely aggressive and cranky after Lizzie Girl passed. He and Indi did not get along. He would regularly bark at and charge Pierre's cage and stressed that poor bird out. What was worse was his behavior towards us. There were a lot of factors but we came to realize he needed a different home where he was the center of attention, so we found him a new place to live.
The Invisible Menace
Indi was only a few years older when she had to face her second major health challenge. Over a few days, we noticed she was not her usual self. She wasn't very active, was going to the bathroom more frequently and acting strange, like she was having difficulty urinating. She felt hot to the touch and I clearly remember the moment she looked up at me and just let out a long, slow moan. We took her to the vet immediately, and they asked to observe her for the day so they could run an IV for fluids and run some tests. Later that day, we called to find out when we could pick her up.
"It's not good news. She has leptospirosis. We need to continue to monitor her and give her fluids."
That evening was rough, but we knew she was in good hands. We briefly looked up the disease and the severity of its symptoms, but felt it was caught early and had not heard any serious concerns from the vet. That changed when we called on the second day to check in.
"We're sorry. She's not doing well at all. Her kidneys are failing. I'm doing my best, but right now I don't think she'll make it through the night."
Talk about a devastating turn of events! We cried and hugged each other and tried to come to terms with what was happening. I think it was even more difficult to process because we hadn't had the chance to say goodbye. We both pictured her suffering from separation anxiety, alone with strangers and fighting for her life. It was a long night waiting for "the call". I had a presentation to deliver at a conference the next day and it was very difficult to finish. A few concerned friends asked what was going on. "I'm not sure my puppy is going to survive the day."
Thankfully, she did survive. She pulled through that evening, took another day to recover, and eventually came home. Over the next several months she contracted several urinary tract infections and her kidney function never returned to 100%. You wouldn't know it by looking at her. She was a happy puppy.
Across the Nation
Lizzie was out of the house and in college. I was one year into my dream job at Microsoft. I was able to realize a decades-long dream of relocating to the Pacific Northwest. We sold our house in July and stayed in a hotel while we prepared for logistics to move, like transporting our car and arranging for temporary housing at our destination. It was a rough time with Indi because of her defensive nature.
At the start of the trip, a friend stopped over to say, "Goodbye." We left Indi in the hotel room in her kennel. We visited with him for a few moments and returned to the room. To our surprise, when we opened the door she was there, waiting with a frantic look in her eyes and panting heavily. She had completely torn the cage apart (it was a metal wire frame cage). We realized she did it mostly with her teeth. She ended up breaking two canine teeth down to the roots. That involved some expensive dental work to fix!
We then spent seven days traveling from Atlanta, GA to Redmond, WA. Our daughter came with us to help out and made this video about the journey.
Indi spent her energy defending the car from anything and everything. We made it work.
We rolled into town and drove to a farm where we planned to board Indi while we went house hunting. Everyone was nervous about whether they'd accept her. For the visit, they watched Indi interact with people. She was a little defensive but let some of the workers pat her. She was also fine with the other dogs. The owner asked me to walk into his office. He explained he normally wouldn't take her because she seemed to have separation anxiety, but that he would make an exception because he knew we needed to find a house. Then there was a loud crash and bang followed by frantic scratching. She realized she couldn't see me and tried to tear the door down to get back inside.
"Sorry, I can't keep her - she'll just escape and then it will be bad for all of us."
Fortunately, he gave us a referral to a place that has enclosures to keep her. They provide an "a la carte" service. She stayed in a large kennel that was half inside, half outside. They took her on nature walks, played with her, spent time with other dogs and even had "cuddle time." It worked out that we were able to drop her off. She loved the lodge and looked forward to it. The employees sent home daily journal notes and always described how sweet, fun, and cute she was. A few would write, "She is my favorite!"
We then went house hunting. After looking at over a dozen houses, we discovered our new home and made an offer that night. Our temporary lodging wasn't ready yet, so we stayed at a hotel for two more weeks. We had a new kennel delivered. This one had thick metal bars (not wire frames) and was able to contain her much better. It was her favorite place of refuge from that day on. We lugged it with us to the hot apartment we stayed in (during the summer with no air conditioning) until the house sale was final. We ended up spending 45 days straight in hotels!
A New Home
The new house was perfect. The old house didn't have many spots for us to just chill with Indi outside. Within weeks of moving in, we built a fence around the backyard. Indi loved the yard and was content to just lie down on the grass. Or the snow, for that matter.
Throwing the stick without a long leash was a novel concept that we all enjoyed.
Another benefit we discovered was our deck. For whatever reason, Indi was constantly restless and could never settle down on our old deck. She had no problem relaxing on our new one.
She loved rotating around the various couches in the house. She had certain spots she'd go to based on where we were at. Often, she'd run into my office and bump me with her nose to say, "Hi." She developed a cute quirk: when we walked over to see her, she'd lift a paw to invite us to scratch under her arm. One time "pet" me back by placing her paw on my head.
She even came with us on a few hikes. She was getting much better at interacting with people in public.
Things were great!
Things Fall Apart
One year ago, Indi was healthy and happy. Then she was running in the backyard and slipped. She developed a limp that would come and go. Something else was bothering her, too, although we couldn't pinpoint it. She constantly acted like she had to go to the bathroom but would just stand outside looking confused. We tried taking her on a ride and she was frantic to get back and get out of the car. We scheduled an appointment to have things checked out. They took X-Rays and called us back with results. Her hips were very bad and needed surgery. Worse, however, was a large mass that showed up on the X-Ray. They said it was where her spleen is and gave us a 50% likelihood it was a cancerous tumor. To find out, they would need to biopsy her, and at the same time would try to remove it if possible.
We arrived at the vet clinic and received some distressing news. Our vet did not have 24-hour services, and the surgery required monitoring Indi for up to 24 hours after with her on an IV. Normally, they would transport her to a nearby 24-hour animal hospital. The transportation services were halted due to COVID-19. We would have to do it ourselves and take her after surgery to make the 15-minute drive to the animal hospital for the transfer. Not something we had expected!
The surgery was delayed due to other emergencies. We finally received a call in the evening. The mass wasn't a tumor after all: she had an extremely enlarged spleen, almost 3 - 5 times the normal size. It was removed without incident and there were no noticeable tumors. They sent it for routine biopsy and gave her a good prognosis for recovery. Suddenly it made sense to use why she had so much discomfort! Relieved, we showed up and loaded her into our car. She was very alert for coming out of a 2-hour surgery. I kept her calm while Doreen drove her to the animal hospital. We were informed there was a little bit of a wait, so we knew they wouldn't be waiting at the curb to retrieve her.
Our next surprise came when we arrived. We called to let them know she was there.
"OK, there is a delay, but we'll call you when someone is on their way."
"Great, about how long?"
FIVE HOURS?! We were flabbergasted. We hadn't brought food or water and had an IV bag in the car we assumed she would need right away. Sensing that something was lost in communication, we called the vet office after-hours line. I explained the situation and was put on hold for about 30 minutes. When they picked back up, it was a new person who informed me they had no idea what was going on and I would have to start from the beginning. Just as I was about to respond, two hospital employees showed up with a gurney and opened the back hatch. Fortunately, the reason why I was on hold so long is that the first operator tracked down a doctor who then called the hospital and made it clear Indi's transfer needed to happen stat.
They took her in and called us the next day. There was no need to keep her for 24 hours as she was healing nicely and already eating. She was doing great! We would need to put a cone on her to keep her from tugging at the stitches and watch her for 10 days. We put up child gates to keep her off stairs and I slept on the couch on the ground level so that I could take her out when needed. She was healing great.
Then we received another call. This was the bomb drop. The biopsy revealed that she was afflicted with hemangiosarcoma. It is an extremely aggressive cancer of the blood and by the time it is detected has most likely spread to the entire body. She had one to three months of time left, possibly longer with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, her hip was also in incredibly bad shape and causing a lot of pain. Surgery for that was now out of the question. We noticed that as quickly as she bounced back from surgery, she began to decline again.
The main way dogs die from this cancer is when an organ ruptures and they bleed to death internally. We didn't want it to come to that, and we certainly didn't want her to have to keep trying to move around on a painful hip.
It was a tough decision. My wife was ready, but I had a hard time saying goodbye. I wanted to give it more time. I realized that the time was for me, not Indi, and that I was being selfish. I don't know how I managed to make the call to schedule her appointment, but somehow I got the words out and just broke down and hung up when they confirmed it. On the day I brought her in, she was laying on the floor. I tried to say, "Come on" but just broke down crying. She understood my intent, and jumped up eagerly to come on the ride. I wished so much I could communicate to her that we weren't going on a fun ride. She enjoyed it anyway. The fifteen minutes there felt like hours.
Indi's echoes remain and I encounter constant reminders of her throughout the day. It's the vacant space on the couch when I do my early morning routine. It's the empty corner where her bed used to be in my office. That tension when the delivery truck comes, expecting her to start barking. Or the lack of a soft touch when she used to "nose bump" me to say hello as she passed by. I woke up one morning with a sense she was in the hallway. I sat up to go see her. Then I realized she is gone.
It was harder for me to accept her cancer diagnosis than it was my own diagnosis with Parkinson's Disease. I have options, but her options disappeared. All that is left now are memories, but they are amazing memories and I wrote this post to capture them while they are still fresh. I'm thankful that Doreen also maintained an Instagram account for Indi.
We were truly blessed to have her and wouldn't change a thing if given the opportunity to do it all over again. We are even open to adopting a new dog, but not now. Probably not this year.
Indi, you brought us more joy than you can imagine. You were so loved and will be so missed.
With a broken heart,