Rest in peace my furry, four-legged friend

I’m still in a bit of shock so I’m not sure how to write this. My dog, my beloved Joschka, my pooch-pie, my best friend and 8-year old ‘baby’ ridgeback has died. This morning, at 6.25am. I still can’t believe it happened so fast.

Yesterday evening she was a bit sick. Or rather: she ate her supper and instead of our usual walk I thought I’d do some gardening while we cooled off before our daily walk. I was watering the plants and she came towards me and I played as if to wet her with the hose. I know she hates water so it was a bit of a cruel thing to do but that’s fairly normal playing between dog-owner and dog. But perhaps not after a meal.

So about 15 minutes later I noticed that she had regurgitated her food. I figured that perhaps she was a little agitated and I was a bit worried but not overly. More distressing were the heaving motions she was doing five minutes later as if she wanted to expel every last morsel of food from her stomach.
After that she had some drool coming out of her mouth and I worried that she might have tick-bite fever. I checked the whites of her eyes but they were fine. Her nose was a bit dry but still no major cause for alarm.

She was clearly in no mood for a walk and made to lie down on her outside bed. So I decided to go to the gym for a 30-min session and to check on her when I got home.

When I came back she was lying in a bush near the gate and looking in some little distress. I comforted her and apologised for scaring her earlier and tried to get her to eat a little egg mixed with milk and biscuit. She didn’t even look at it. So I started fixing my supper and spoke to her soothingly and tried to gauge what might be wrong. I checked her body for any signs of illness and noticed that her stomach was a bit hard. I didn’t know what this could mean since it was nothing I was familiar with. Had she eaten a stick? Impossible.

I thought of calling my parents but thought I should try and deal with this on my own. I also checked the internet for stomach complaints for dogs but there was nothing that seemed to fit. If she had some kind of gastrointestinal disorder then the sites recommended no food or water for 24 hours and then to introduce bland foods (such as rice and chicken) for the next day or so.

Perhaps she would feel better in the morning, I thought, also remembering how expensive it is to pay emergency rates for plumbers and doctors and vets. “What a fool!” I think now. Of course I should have called. But to me her symptoms didn’t spell emergency. She had a bit too much drool and she didn’t want to sleep in her bed. A few times in the night she simpered in pain. I was worried and went to sit with her for a while, holding my hand on her chest and trying to tell her that she would be OK.

Early in the morning there was a scrabbling at my door and I let in a distressed dog whose eyes were dilated and who was breathing uneasily. She went to sit in the corner of the room almost under my chair with the clothes on it. Now I was worried. I looked up the number for the emergency vet and called it. No response. I was still working out what to do about work. Should I go, excuse myself and come back, bringing the numbers of my patients to call and cancel? What to do?

When I got back to the bedroom from putting in my contact lenses and cleaning up her drool, she was on the bed and was now really in distress. In fact she looked unconscious and I panicked when I couldn’t see any breathing. I held my hand in front of her nose and couldn’t feel any air coming out. Her eyes were looking glassy and her tongue was lolling out of the side of her mouth. At that moment I felt such shock that it was probably a belated awareness that my dog was actually dying right there in front of me.

… Sorry, I’ll spare you the rest. Basically, I called my dad and together we rushed her to the vet but it was already too late. The vet explained that ridgebacks often get what’s called “twisted gut” and he showed me a picture in a little book. If you catch it in time then they can do what he calls “heroic surgery” but even still there’s no guarantee that she would have lived.

The vet said he would keep her and arrange for the cremation.
I went to work and made the necessary arrangements. Back to my parents. Then my sister and dad and I went to say goodbye properly at the vet’s and I sat with her body for a while. They had her in a big red bag around the back with a black tie-thing along with the other pets that hadn’t made it that day. But when I arrived they laid her head on a blanket and made her look a lot more dignified. I’ll get the ashes in a few days and then I can take them to Betty’s Bay where she can join the other faithful departed: Dougal, Taki, Jessie and the cats.

Since then I’ve been crying a lot and feeling really, really wretched. I know I failed her by not calling the emergency vet last night. I also know that everyone I’ve spoken to is being very supportive and telling me not beat myself up about this.

We had a good six years and I loved her very much. Of course she was highly strung and difficult at times and she’d had a difficult early life before I got her at the age of two. But she was also my gorgeous dog and she was full of life and, although a bit arthritic towards the end and possibly even a little depressed and lonely, she lived a good life and gave me so many good memories. Running in circles on the beach. Nuzzling her head against mine. Climbing on to my bed in the middle of a thunderstorm. Thanking me religiously after every meal. Looking so pleased to see me when I got home every day.

The last few years were not so easy. We moved around a lot — from Joburg to Newlands to Somerset-West to Edgemead and back to Newlands and now Claremont. But she was settling into our new home.

When I saw her lying under the tree at the vet’s I told her I was sorry for failing her and thanked her for the love that she’d given me.

Here are some pics. Oh man, I still can’t believe she’s not here anymore.

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22 Responses to Rest in peace my furry, four-legged friend

  1. Dorothy W. says:

    Oh, Pete, I’m so, so sorry. Reading your post brought tears to my eyes. You did the best you could, and I know your dog knew it and knew how much you cared about her. You gave her a good life, and I know she appreciated it. I hope you are okay.

  2. Pete I’m so sorry. Sending you thoughts of peace and ease for the heartache.

  3. Oh Pete — what a horrible shock for you. I know it’s probably no help to say this, but gastric/intestinal torsion (which happens in several species of animal) is nearly impossible to correct even when it is identified the moment it happens … the surgery is so invasive, and necrosis happens so incredibly quickly. Your sweet girl was well-loved during the six years that she was fortunate enough to have you. I’m sorry you lost her with so little warning.

  4. seachanges says:

    Pete – so sorry about this. Wishing you well.

  5. Harriet says:

    I’m so sorry Pete. She sounds like a wonderful dog who was well loved and a great companion. You didn’t fail her, I have heard about this emergency disorder and there is very little that can be done. Try not to feel badly about letting her down, it wasn’t your fault.

  6. Pete says:

    Dorothy, Lilian, David, seachanges, Harriet – Thanks so much for the support. It’s still hard to accept that I didn’t react in time. What if this was my child? But I also just have to accept this and move on. I’ll print out a whole lot of pics of her this afternoon and treasure the good times we had together.

    • David says:

      I know it’s hard to accept — but remember, too, that there’s a communication barrier with animals that does not exist in the same way with a child. A badly hurting or seriously ill child will cry, and let you know it needs immediate and urgent attention. An animal that senses something badly wrong will often retreat and compensate so effectively that its owner has no idea there is anything going on — just as it would do in the wild to avoid becoming a vulnerable target for other predators or (in the case of a dog, particularly) to avoid being identified as weak and therefore a threat to the pack.

      One of the joys of loving an animal is seeing the ways species cross-communicate. But we anthropomorphize too far in ways that are not helpful to dealing with the illnesses and deaths of animals, in particular. Your sweet girl was wired by years of evolution to protect herself by seeming less ill than she was. It is tragic, but not your fault, and absolutely no indicator of your level of empathy or responsibility toward something or someone that depends upon you.

      • Pete says:

        Thanks David for this. You are so right and it does make it a little easier to bear. It’s so hard to switch off that voice in my head that says “bad parent!” but there’s a whole other dimension I hadn’t thought of.

  7. litlove says:

    What a traumatic ending for you to have to deal with. You couldn’t have foreseen it and it’s evident from what the others say that you couldn’t have prevented it. I can’t tell you how different children are from animals. But the point is to recognise that your dog felt like a bit of your child, and that’s what you’re going to mourn now. You’ll be fine – you can say goodbye with all the love you shared.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks LL. It has taken a lot of the joy out of Christmas. Before this tragedy I was thinking of a post along the lines of “A dog called Jesus” since that’s what her name means in Hebrew. We were going to be staying in the ‘stable’ (ie. the garage) at Christmas and so on. This mourning business sucks! But now I know what other people go through.

  8. Pete, I am so sorry. She sounds like she was a wonderful friend. Big hugs.

  9. natalian says:

    Oh Pete! Our four legged friends play such a big part in our lives and we, as their owners, can only try our best. You gave her love Pete and that is more than many four legged friends get in their lifetimes. I know that this is not an easy time and words will provide little comfort but allow yourself this time. She really was beautiful.

  10. doctordi says:

    Oh, Pete, how thoroughly awful. And seeing her beautiful coat and keen eyes made me cry – she looks to have been a very fine companion. And six years? It’s a really significant length of time. No wonder you’re heartbroken. I am so sorry. But I also think David is absolutely right, and I hope that additional perspective makes it a little easier to say goodbye.

  11. Pete says:

    Natalian – Since this horrible thing happened, I’ve heard quite a few stories of this happening to other large dogs. One woman said her ridgeback has had it four times and every time involves a big operation. Of course I would pay almost whatever it took to have saved her but it wasn’t to be. Thanks for your support.

    Di – Yes, that was a few years ago but she was still such a beautiful dog. On our last or second-to-last walk a neighbour stopped me to comment on how gorgeous she was. It’s tough dealing with this but the support of my friends definitely helps. Thanks for yours.

  12. verbivore says:

    Pete, I am so sad for you. What a sad event to have to go through. Sending you warm thoughts.

  13. adevotedreader says:

    I.m very soory for your loss Pete.

  14. I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my most beloved parrot a few months ago and while I know I did everything “right,” I still feel guilty and wonder what more I could have done or was there something I did I shouldn’t have . . . in other words, even if you’d rushed her to vet the second you noticed her distress you’d still be asking yourself why you didn’t notice sooner, why didn’t you do X, you shouldn’t have done Z. All that grief and guilt stuff us humans are burdened with. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Focus on the love.

  15. Pete says:

    Verbivore – Thanks for your kind thoughts.

    Devoted reader – Thanks, Sarah.

    Beloved Parrot – Thanks for your sympathy. I’m sorry you had to go through a similar experience. By the way, loved the pics of parrots on your site.

  16. smithereens says:

    Hi Pete, I’m so sorry for your loss. I catch up on your blog with these very sad news, I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. I hope you will focus on the good times. Don’t be hard on yourself. She had an excellent master up to the end.

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