It’s been almost 4 days since Whitby has been gone. I think I should tell the story, as much as I know, now and be done with it. I am having a very difficult time of it this week, accepting what has happened. There are some who will say “it was only a dog!” but she meant everything to us. She was our joy and the light of our lives. She was our “dog of a lifetime.”
It all started last Friday morning. Nothing had appeared to be wrong with her except that when I came downstairs, after Paul had left to go lobstering, I found her morning bowl of kibble on the kitchen counter, not eaten. That is not like Whitby. She loved food. In all the 8 years she was our collie-girl, she never once refused food.
I questioned Paul about it and he just said she must just not be feeling her old self, that’s all. We all have those days, some good ‘uns, some not-so-good ‘uns. She’s entitled to an off day now and then. I accepted that. But I still didn’t like it. She seemed fine otherwise. That night she didn’t want to eat her dinner, but I coaxed her and eventually she did eat most of it.
Around 3 a.m. I was awake and heard Whitby being restless, so I got up and took her downstairs and out the front door to do a pee. When we came back upstairs to go back to sleep, I heard that she was breathing/panting rather loudly for a long time.
Then on Saturday morning, the first day of my one week vacation, when I came downstairs I found another morning bowl of kibble up on the counter, uneaten. It was Whitby’s bowl. Something inside me said that this was not a good sign. Of course, it was the dreaded weekend, when most vets are either closed or severely short-staffed. It always seems that dog-related illnesses fall on the weekends, too.
I put the kettle on to make my cuppa, and opened up the front door to let the dogs go out for their second pee of the day. They both went out. Whitby came back on the porch steps where I was sitting waiting for them, and she sat down beside me. She has always done most of her normal breathing with her mouth open and tongue out, unlike Emmalee who breathes totally with her mouth closed shut. I looked over at my beautiful girl and hugged her and kissed her face, and then I saw it – her gum areas were yellow – not pink! A very pale yellow, but not normal looking at all! I knew something had to be wrong.
Before I could even make my first cuppa, I called our vet and told them that Whitby may be ill – she was panting heavily all night and her gums were pale yellow…not pink. They told me to get her down there immediately.
My whole body began to shake. I am not one of those strong women who can handle a medical emergency well. I fall apart. And when it involved my beloved girl, as this did, it was much worse. Even sitting here, retelling the tale, I am shaking all over again and fighting to hold in the tears.
She was hard to bundle up into my car. I have a small SUV and she needed to go into the back seat. She could not jump up by herself, so I had to lift her up which, for a person with a very bad back, was a tricky matter. But I finally got her in. She seemed very weak and could not even sit up. We drove the 1 mile to the vet’s and I brought her in. She had trouble going up their few steps. I was shaking like a leaf by this point. They had me weigh her first and then showed us the way into the exam room right away. She would not sit down or stay still for me. She looked a bit ditzy, and just kept walking slowly back and forth.
I hadn’t even washed my face or brushed my hair yet, and I just threw on an old sweatshirt and dashed out earlier. By this time, since it was warm in the vet’s office, I was sweating like mad. And still shaking all over. Then my throat clenched up and I couldn’t hold back tears anymore.
Dr. F. took one look at her gums and things started to move fast. They got some needles into her for some blood samples, took her temperature which was 106! He said he didn’t have the staff or the facilities to do what had to be done for her there, and that I would have to drive her to the Mass. Veterinary Referral Hospital – either the one in Woburn or another emergency place in No. Andover. Both towns are at least 30-45 mins. away by car. I had no idea how to get to either of them. They said the Woburn one was the best, and it was “easy to get to.” But I had to drive on Route 128 which is really Route 95, and I don’t really “do” highway driving if I can help it. I was a physical and emotional wreck by this time.
He said I had to do it. I said I couldn’t do it alone. Where was Paul? He said he wasn’t going lobstering, so maybe he just went down to Gloucester to get bait and is home by now. I called him on my cellphone, no answer. I tried calling some friends but no one was home over in Marblehead. So I finally called my friends, Mary and Ed (how can I EVER thank you, guys!) and after a rather emotional plea for help, they said they’d be over to pick us up as quickly as possible and drive us to Woburn.
They live about 12 miles away so I waited about a half hour there in the middle of the waiting room, on the floor, next to my Whitby, who wasn’t sitting but lying down. She normally is hyper in the vet’s office and wanting to visit with every animal that comes in, but not that day. She just lay there, looking up at me with those big beautiful brown collie-eyes, wondering what was happening to her? And I had no idea what to tell her!
Finally, Mary and Ed arrived and we strugged to get her into their SUV with me in the back seat with Whit. She didn’t make a peep all the way, and we found this Hospital without a problem about 30-45 mins. later. We couldn’t get her out of the car on her own, so we needed two attendants and a stretcher to get her in.
As you can imagine, I was beside myself.
They took her on the stretcher-on-wheels down the hall, but I ran after them and stopped and wanted to give her kisses and hugs “in case I never see my dog again…”
Then I had to go out to fill out forms, wait around, and finally after about 45 minutes, we were taken to a little room to talk with a doctor. She ran thru the possibilities – cancer, a tick-borne virus or illness, or the dreaded AIHA (autoimmune hemolytic anemia). She explained about how they know very little about how to cure that. It’s a mysterious thing where the immune system attacks the red blood cells for some unknown reason. I just told her to do whatever she had to do to save my girl. She said it may cost $3,000 to start, but she would go write up an estimate now and when she was done, we could go.
The estimate was $3,300. I signed off on it, gave them my credit card info, and then we went back to see Whit one more time for hugs and kisses.
She was in a floor level cage, just sitting there, watching the goings-on in the huge treatment room. I felt that it was new and modern and up-to-date enough that whatever Whitby had, they could deal with it. I was hopeful.
I came home and tried to find Paul all day but he’d gone out lobstering and could not be reached. A friend left a note on his truck saying I’d been looking for him, that Whitby was in the hospital and was ill.
He came home around 5:30 and we just sat around worrying about her. They had told me the doctor would call between 4 and 7 with an update. She did, as promised, call and said they had done an ultrasound on her abdomen, no cancers were seen. They’d done a chest x-ray and didn’t see anything abnormal there. Her temperature was high still (the reason for the panting) at about 105+. The anemia was severe (it measured 20 in the original vet’s office). They had given her a blood transfusion already, and the blood count had gone up to about 28. (I think around 40 is normal). I was hopeful.
We planned to visit her the following day (visiting hours on weekends are 1-5) and were there at 1 p.m. sharp. They kept us waiting a very long time before letting us in to see her. After about 45 minutes we went back. She’d been moved to a much taller cage way back in the treatment room, and when we got there and saw her – lying on a hammock-type bed, with tubes coming out, her tail taped up with tape – we couldn’t believe our eyes. She couldn’t even move. Her eyes were open but it didn’t seem like she could see us. I tried to get her to blink by putting my finger close to her eye but she didn’t. There was no recognition of us at all. She looked horrible. Her gums were bright orange – fluorescent orange it seemed. I got down on the floor next to her and hugged her and loved her and talked to her, but it was all useless. There was not much of a response. I asked Paul to find the doctor, and finally she came. She looked very serious. She said Whitby was one very very sick dog. She did not give us much to hold onto, but said it had only been 24 hours and to give the drugs (prednisone and doxycycline) a chance to work for her.
We decided to go and come back in the morning. We both broke down in the truck outside. How could this have happened? We had no answers.
As we drove down the highway, Paul asked if I wanted to turn around and go back and have her put down.
I was uncontrollably sobbing by this point and I said can’t we just let the medications do their job til tomorrow? And he accepted that, and we went home. We sat all day together, worrying. We weren’t sure if the doctor would call us for the evening update, since we’d just been there at 1 o’clock. So by 6:45 we needed to know how she was, and Paul called and finally talked to the doctor on that shift (the 3rd doctor so far). She told Paul that Whitby was the sickest patient she had. She also said that she was just getting ready to call us. Whitby appeared to have had an embolic stroke and had neurological deficits now – probably brain damage. Poor Paul, he looked positively heartbroken. He told the doctor that we were leaving now and would be there within the hour to have her put down.
We were there in about 45 minutes. They made us wait forever. We were inconsolable. Finally, after asking what was the hold-up, twice, they ushered us into a little anteroom off the waiting room that had a sofa, a rocking chair, and a table, like an exam table. She said Whitby would be brought in to us.
We waited in that room for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably 30 minutes, but it was torture. Paul went out and asked what the hold-up was. They said to wait another few minutes.
I was a wreck.
Finally, two attendants rolled Whitby in the back door on a rolling stretcher. She looked so much worse than when we saw her last. She wasn’t responding to us at all. She was still that horrid orange color (her mouth/gums) and even the whites of her eyes were bright orange. She’d been shaved for the ulstrasound and I patted her tummy and hugged her, cried over her, held her head in my hands, and kissed her, trying to make contact with her dear soul. Finally her eyes closed. She was breathing, but that was all.
The two attendants left her there with us and said the doctor would be in shortly.
We waited there with Whitby up on that stretcher for what seemed like another eternity. Paul finally got fed up and went out to the waiting room and told the woman there “I want that doctor in that room and I want her now!”
Another 10 minutes passed and a 3rd doctor came in. She kept talking to us and all we wanted was for her to do her deed and put Whitby out of whatever horribleness she was going thru as soon as possible. We just about had to plead with her to stop talking and just do it!
She died there in our arms at around 9 p.m. on Sunday night. Her 8th birthday.
There. I’ve told the story. I can’t type any more now. I can’t see thru the tears, and I need to go have a good cry for a few minutes, again.
Living without Whitby this week has been so painful for all three of us. It just happened so fast, with no warning. And we still have no answers.
The vet sent us a condolence card, as did some friends. But nothing will fill this huge hole in our hearts. At least not for a long time.