Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A Long Short Ride To Goodbye

(Photo taken last September, after his sister "Feather" passed away)
This summer has been a time of hospice care for our oldest pup, Flounder. At 14+ years, he was slowly winding down. His vision and hearing went over a year ago, but he managed by smell during that time. Often I would see him retracing the track Bear and I had taken on a morning walk, nose down, yet blindly walking our exact path.
Sometimes, if we had doubled back, he would walk right by us following our scent. Eventually, he would follow it back to the porch. The porch had become his favorite spot over the past few years, and most days, he only got off of it to do his doggy business, or maybe a roll in sun warmed grass.
In 2010, his hind legs became weaker and weaker. So weak that a back rub would cause him to collapse to the floor. At some point this spring, he mostly quit going down the porch steps even to "do his business".
That was, as you can imagine, a little unpleasant for us. We adapted with a spray hose ready on the porch and "poop patrols".
Living out here with almost no visitors made it survivable, but there were some embarrassing moments and I'm sure the Fedex and UPS folks learned to watch for "mines" even up on the porch ... which must have been a new experience for them.
We discussed Flounder's future during this time. Was it time for a final vet visit?
The big question, the deciding factor, was simply... "Is he still having fun?"
If so, then a period of constant porch cleaning could be tolerated. My thoughts on the matter were summed up in this statement:
"As long as he can stand up, eats, and can still wag his tail, he stays."
That was my doggy quality of life rule.
About a week ago, Flounder's legs gave out.
And I broke my rule.
He was still eating after all and his tail still thumped against the porch boards as soon as he picked up your scent.
The past week was filled with Flounder care ... hand feeding him bits of food and constantly cleaning his sleeping pad. We gave him water by using a bowl and a sponge, and just dribbling it in to his mouth.
He became essentially immobile ... except for that tail. Scratch his back, rub his ears, or stand quietly nearby until he smelled you and ... THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.
When he first went down, I knew he would never get up again, so I wasn't in total denial. His body was riddled with growths and tumors and his once muscular legs had shrunk to skin and bones.
I thought we only had a few days and that he was going in his sleep like his sister Feather did.
More than once, I told everyone to be sure and talk to Flounder, because I think today is the day.
But Flounder's strong heart carried on, even though you had to stop and stare a bit to see if he was breathing.
He seemed to be shrinking before our eyes and rarely wanted anything to eat.
Still, that tail wagged and I put off calling the vet.
During these days of hospice care, he did not seem to be in any pain ... that would have made the decision easy.
Friday, his respirations slowed and he had a rough night Sunday. That night, every few hours, a weak yelp would raise me out of bed to sponge him water and rub his head.
Sometime after 3:00 am that night, I drifted off to sleep knowing it was time ... probably had been time for days, but love and selfishness was making me a coward.
Early the next morning, I checked to see if he was still with us.
Yes, I was hoping he had gone in his sleep, sparing me from what I had to do. I rounded the corner and stared at his chest ... was he gone?
The only part of him that could still move thumped loudly twice, as I approached to see if he was still breathing.
His breathing was very, very shallow and he seemed more listless than the day before.
It was time.
I called the vet and told them we would be in for a final visit in a little while.
Then I gently washed Flounder with Coconut scented doggy shampoo so he would smell good for his last ride. With his immobility, I knelt down and washed one side, and then rolled him over to wash the other. He seemed to enjoy the cool water and rubbing ... I got a couple of tail wags during the bath.
While he dried on the porch, I went to the kitchen and shaved off some small bites of BBQ rib meat from a plate of leftovers in the fridge. I took these out to the porch.
Even though he had refused to eat anything the day before, he ate every piece of the rib meat.
If you have to go, you might as well go out smelling like Coconut shampoo with BBQ on your breath.
Now, with the bath finished, and a pad in the bed of the truck, there really was no more excuse for waiting.
I tried to think of something believe me.
I checked the pad one more time to make sure his towel was "just so", and walked back to the porch.
Emma was standing next to Flounder.
"Are you taking him?"
I had really done a good job of holding it together until that moment ... dang it.
We hugged each other, had a good cry, and then it was time.
I picked up Flounder and gently carried him out to his pad in the bed of the truck.
The vet is not too far away ... about 15 minutes if you turn right and go the fast way, on the highway.
Just a short ride.
Flounder and I turned left.
To the left were country roads that turned and twisted through farm fields and pastures with good smells for a doggy nose ... roads that made you stop at stop sign after stop sign. If we were really lucky, we might get behind one of those tractors pulling a peanut cart ... top speed about 10 miles per hour.
I stretched that ride out as much as I could.
When we did finally arrive at the vet, I went in to register and was told the vet would be out as soon as possible.
"No rush" I replied and went out to be with Flounder. I had about 15 minutes to rub his head and talk to him before the vet and her assistant walked out to the bed of the truck.
She hugged me.
"This will be easier on him than you. He will not fill any pain."
She found a vein in his forearm and inserted the needle.
"Just hold his head and talk to him ... are you ready?"
I nodded yes, ... not trusting myself to speak.
She depressed the syringe and with the slightest gasp, Flounder was gone.
Another hug from the vet and I was driving home.
This time I took the highway.
At the house, I grabbed a shovel and walked through the woods to the dog cemetery. It's in the far Southwest corner of PFHQ beneath some longleaf pines. Next to Feather's grave, I dug Flounder's resting spot beneath the shade of a wild persimmon tree. Then I trudged back to the truck to retrieve his body.
I cradled his body in my arms with his head in the crook of my left arm and his hindquarters in the crook of my right.
It's about a 50 yard walk from where I had parked to the grave site. As I walked, the motion of my steps caused Flounder's tail to wag back and forth the entire distance.
Crazy dog.
For the first time that morning I smiled.


Thunder Dave said...

So sad, but Flounder was an awesome dog and lived a great life with a wonderful family!

Wren said...

Those good byes are so hard, even when you remember all the good times. I'm sorry for your loss. Please let your family know that others understand the pain and suffer with you, even if at a distance.

Caroline said...

We have been in that place, rest peacefully, faithful friend with the thumping tail.

Sandcastle Momma said...

Hugs to all of you.

Floridagirl said...

Aw, you made me cry.

ImagineMel said...

RIP Flounder. :(

threecollie said...

I am so sorry FC, I knew this was coming from Dani's blog, been thinking about you folks every day....it is so hard to make that decision and I think you did it right. I like your criteria...if they are still having fun then you do what you have to until they aren't any more.
We are in that same downhill mode with Gael, and since I do most of the mopping of the kitchen after the accidents, the wait goes on. She still likes to follow me outdoors although she has forgotten why. We will be thinking of you and yours....

Octohawk said...

Sitting at my desk crying..

roger said...

thanks fc. you are a fine role model of a pet caretaker. well, a fine human being actually.

kathy a. said...

thoughts for you and your family. flounder was such a good pup. you gave him such a happy life.

our senior dog is elderly and has been growing creaky and weaker. we know the time will come eventually.

The Florida Blogger said...

We've got two now. And as much as they make me mad sometimes, I'm going to miss them terribly when they're gone.

Mark said...

I can't read this sort of thing without tearing up for all the time I have been through it.

Dani said...

Rest in Peace beautiful Flounder.

robin andrea said...

I'm sitting here at the table crying for your beautiful Flounder. You did the hard part, knowing when it's time to say good-bye to a much-loved companion.

Rest in peace, Flounder.

Anonymous said...

Hi FC,

I am also crying for your family. Sometimes it is so hard to do the right thing.

Goodbye Flounder. Thanks for giving this fine family many years of happiness and tail wags.


Ericka said...

oh, darnit, you made me cry.

i'm so sorry. *hugs*

Sayre said...

I'm so sorry, FC... But you did it right for all of you - including Flounder. That little tail wag on the way to his place by Feather was probably him letting you know.

Sharon said...

Aw man, you've made me cry more than anyone I've never met. Bless him, and all of you ;)

Jen said...

Ah, I can't see through the tears to type. So sorry for your loss! It is the hardest decision we make as caregivers. I am glad you were able to give him such a good life. Hoping you find comfort in your memories.

KLS said...

I feel your pain, I've been there myself more times than I can bear to mention.

I am sorry for your loss.

Island Rider said...

Even though I knew this was coming, you still made me cry. The hardest day of a dog owner's life. I am glad he made you smile in the end.

intuitive eggplant said...

So sorry you've lost your dear Flounder. But your post is a lovely to him and his thumping tail.

edifice rex said...

Gosh darn, you always make me cry...my sympathy to you and your family.

kevin said...

I know what you're feeling, we went through the same thing last year. Sometimes I swear I still hear King at the door and without thinking I move(just a little) to let him in then relax when I remember.

myamuhnative said...

Its always so hard to say goodbye.
I know Flounder has left you with 14 years of memories and in that great doggie place in the sky,Feather and Flounder are probably telling tales of their wonderful lives with your family.
Hugs to all of you.

Deb said...

This is the post I knew was coming, but still made me cry. Enjoy the dog meadows up above with Feather, and say hi to Lady OK?

You told it well, as usual, FC. Hugs to you and your family.

Donna Mc said...

{{{{{{{Hugs for the entire family}}}} I'm so sorry, but you are a brave, honest man, and did the right thing for your friend Flounder. God bless you & give you comfort. It sounds like dear Flounder had a wonderful life, and his last days were blessed by your kindness & love.

Kimberly said...

There's ice in anyone's veins who reads this with dry eyes. You sweet, caring companion! Days like this are hard...I've been through it several times and it never gets easier. Hugs!!!

LibraryGirl62 said...

He was as blessed by you as you were by him. I am facing that myself in a few year and I hope I handle it as lovingly as you and your family. Thanks for sharing

cndymkr / jean said...

There are no words. I am so sorry.

Prem Subrahmanyam said...

I'm so sorry to hear that Flounder passed...may he rest in peace...and may you find comfort in his passing.

the Florida Orchid Guy

Lynn said...

I'm so sorry to hear abt Flounder. Gentle hugs to all of yours. Make sure to give Bear an extra hug tonight. I find my other furry friends help me thru these rough times.

LauraHinNJ said...

(smiling with you, sadly)


Kathy said...

Hugs to your family. I've been there, and I know y'all have too, and it just never is easy. But something we have to do for our pets at times. :( So sorry to hear this and yet I am so happy for all the wonderful times you had!

Corinne said...

God Bless that doggie. He was such a sweet soul. Hes with ranger and feather and sydney and captain now. With all 5 senses, and 4 strong legs. He will be missed. It was a beautiful post. Hugs from USF to my Uncle P and family

Miz S said...

Man, I know what that last long night is like. Sweet Flounder. And sweet FC and Emma and the whole PFHQ gang.

FC, what a lovely piece of writing about Flounder's last days. I'm a little teary over here. Sending you and your family a virtual hug. xoxo

debbie said...

Thanks for making me cry first thing in the morning. Your pets have been so fortunate to be part of your family; or is it the other way around? Losing 3 dogs in 3years is tough. My heart goes out to you and your family. Rest assured that Flounder has joined Feather & Gumbo in the great PFHQ in the sky. (loved the last observation of Flounder's wagging tail).

cuz tina said...

My eyes are still wet and my heart goes out to you and your family. Pets can be so much work and so much comfort at the same time. I bet Bear is giving you lots of hugs now.

Floridacracker said...

Thank you ALL so much for the kind and thoughtful comments.
It means a lot to me. I have read them over about 10 times now with blurry eyes.
Very nice of you folks and it is much, much appreciated.
Thank you.


LaDivaCucina said...

Wow, FC, I really choked up reading about your last hours with Flounder. How sweet for him to be buried next to his sister and someplace close to your family. What a great master and family he had! Thank you for sharing this story, painful as it is, about Flounder.

Arkansas Patti said...

Beautifully written account of your very painful process. You were so very lucky to have had each other. Nature makes few mistakes. The short life span for a dog is a glaring one.
Hugs to your family.

Jacki said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us. It brought tears to me eyes.

Good Boy, Flounder.

Anonymous said...

I read this blog often and love it. I am so sorry about Flounder he had a wonderful life. That was a beautiful story although heartbreaking. Hugs to your family.

nfmgirl said...

I meant to comment on this the other day, but I think that I got distracted by a phone call. I wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss, and that we had a similar experience with our old dog PJ (a shepherd mix).

PJ had been going downhill. It had reached the point where she could no longer make it up and down the stairs to go outside, and could no longer squat to use the bathroom, so Tommy (my mother's friend and devoted co-owner of PJ) would assist her out and support her hips while she went to the bathroom. This went on for weeks, while Mom continually told Tommy that he needed to prepare for PJs impending death and build her a coffin.

In her final days, Tommy did get her coffin built and a grave dug. The guys from work knew what he was doing, and showed up at his house to help him finish digging the grave as a show of respect for Tommy.

Mom had let me know that the time was getting close. I went over to her house the night before, and spent time with PJ, laying on the floor with her and massaging her hips as I had always done for her as she had gotten older.

The next morning Mom let me know that it was time. I showed up at the house. PJ was on her bed in the living room. One of her front legs was swollen twice its normal size, and Mom said that she suspected that PJ probably had cancer. PJ couldn't even lift her head up. I brought her one of the frozen doggy treats she always loved, and opened it up and laid it next to her. Still unable to lift her head, I found I had to tilt the frozen cup towards her and she licked it up with her head still laying on her bed. I could see in her eyes that she loved getting that treat.

We loaded PJ into the back of Mom's car. Tommy climbed in with her and sat and pet her during the ride. When we got to the vet's, the vet saw PJ's leg and agreed with Mom's assessment of cancer. He helped PJ to pass quietly, we all cried, and then we took her home.

We all stood in the driveway crying, transferring PJs body to the coffin that Tommy had made for her, and including some of her favorite toys. We closed up the coffin and moved it to Tommy's truck to relocate to his house for burial. We found out later that Mom's neighbor had watched our ritual from her window, with tears streaming down her face.

I helped Tommy bury PJ, and she still remains a favorite in our family. She was the smartest dog we ever had, and I'm so grateful for that final morning with her.

Best wishes to you and yours.

Ava said...

My boys are young ... 2 1/2 yr old beagle ... 2 yr old bassett hound ... 6 month old boxer mix. I hope to enjoy them for many years to come.

Pets are family and I feel for you all.