I need to preface this post by saying that if you hadn’t set out to read something sad today, you’ll probably want to stop reading. I would hate to make anyone sad and honestly, this post is more of a selfish one. It’s one I needed to write to help me heal; it’s just my way of dealing with things.
I’ll backtrack to approximately 10 years ago. I was living in Moose Jaw and met this incredible guy. I fell for him immediately, and hard. We discussed moving in together mere weeks after we started dating and less than three months into our relationship we were sharing a home and two dogs. Penny, was one of those dogs. We adopted Penny a few weeks before we moved in together, so I really haven’t known this home, or mine and Aaron’s relationship for that matter, without Penny being part of the equation.
I always told Aaron I wanted a dog who would protect me. It often brought me to tears even thinking about it, but she made it quite clear she would lay down her life if it meant she would be keeping her people safe.
From the very beginning she loved us, almost to a fault. She had one of the biggest hearts I have ever had the privilege of witnessing in a living being. She hugged with a fierceness that ensured you knew she meant it with everything she had. If Penny loved you, you felt it, and she made sure you felt it as often as possible.
Fast forward to a few months ago… As we do every year, we took the girls in for their annual checkups. The vet and tech both commented how healthy Penny was for her age and how well she was doing. She was a big dog and at 11 years old, she was hardly showing her age. Which, for me, was always a relief. Penny was SO full of life that I often admitted how much it was going to break my heart to see her slow down with age. I joked that she would be the one who would die running because that was just the type of personality she had. I always knew she would hate the process of getting old and would have been frustrated and unable to understand why she couldn’t keep up anymore. There’s a part of me that’s grateful she never had to experience that.
Just two and a half short weeks ago, we had a big BBQ at the house with my family. They all came out to enjoy our renovated yard and one of the last warm evenings of the summer. Aaron and I watched Penny as she wandered between everyone who was there, coming in for belly rubs, hugs, and cuddles. She had the biggest smile on her face the entire night. We hadn’t seen her that happy in ages and it brought me to tears seeing her so in love with everyone being there in her yard, giving her love. I am SO happy she had that night. It’s almost as though she knew she was saying goodbye to everyone.
On the morning of Sunday August 19th Aaron and I packed up and headed out to Edmonton. We had planned a little trip to spend some time together before I started back to school and just get away for a few days. My Dad arrived at our house shortly after we left to fulfilling his duties as Grandpaw and house sitter. When he arrived, Penny was running around the backyard with her sister, acting like her normal goofy self. By supper time though, it was evident something was wrong and she wouldn’t eat her supper. We were concerned but figured she would be ok by the morning. Early the next morning she still refused to eat and after my Dad Facetimed us, I knew we needed to go back home immediately because there was something very wrong.
While on the road, we frantically called our local vet to try to get her in. They assured us she was probably just sad we weren’t home and not to worry about it. I know my dog though and insisted that she needed an appointment that day. After a cancellation (THANKFREAKINGGOODNESS!) they called us back and my Dad rushed her in. After x-rays and an exam we were told she would need to be rushed from Lumsden to Saskatoon for emergency services. We were racing toward my Dad who had Penny, while he raced toward us. We met in a small town, quickly traded vehicles and were heading back in the direction of a team of doctors in Saskatoon.
She could barely breath, her heart was racing, but every time I said her name she gave me a little tail wag. I could tell she was in pain but I couldn’t help her and that left me hollow. We were sure we were doing everything we could for her and if she was just able to stay with us until Saskatoon, we knew she would make it. Neither of us even considered that we might be driving home with an empty back seat.
We ran through the doors of the emergency animal hospital at the University of Saskatchewan. They checked her vitals in the waiting room and after reading how fast her heart was racing, they ran away with her. We were shuffled into a small office. The ones with diagrams of internal organs displayed on the walls; the ones where bad news is shared, and hearts are broken.
We were told Penny’s body had gone into shock and after three and a half hours of fighting, the team of doctors were unable to stabilize her. They took us in to see her and again, as soon as I cried her name, she wagged her tail. They assured me she wasn’t feeling pain, but watching her pant and struggle to breathe was more than my heart could handle. We were told that her chances of making it through the night, even with a team of doctors working on her was extremely slim and even if she did, that she would need to spend weeks, if not months in recovery at the hospital and likely on a ventilator too.
My body was numb. I just couldn’t understand how a dog who was so full of life, less than 24 hours earlier was now struggling to breathe. It didn’t make sense. In that moment though, we knew we needed to do what was right for Penny and honor what we thought her last wishes would have been.
She has always hated going to the vet. There is nothing in life she hated more than going to the vet. And if nothing else, we knew we couldn’t let her die in a hospital as that would have been that last thing she would have ever wanted. It was midnight, but we asked them if we could take her outside to say goodbye. The staff there was so amazing and kind to all of us during this awful night. They unhooked her from all the machines, wrapped her up in a blanket and wheeled her hospital bed outside. When we met up with her outside, I called her name, and again, she gave me a tail wag. It’s that tail wag that just crushes me. This sweet dog, who was fighting to live, and clearly in a world of pain, still put all of that aside to show me that sign of love. I’ll never forget that tail wag and I don’t think there will ever be time in my life that I’ll be able to talk about it without sobbing.
We had brought along her favorite blanket so we laid it in the grass and cuddled outside with her under the moonlight. We told her how much we loved her and how good she was. We told her to say ‘hi’ to Scotia, Gert, Rokx, and Sam for us and give everyone a hug. We told her she was the best dog in the world and that we were going to miss her more she would ever know. She closed her eyes and with both of us, hugging her this time, we all said our last goodbye.
Because this entire experience was completely unexpected, sudden, and traumatic, we opted to have an autopsy done. A few days ago the amazing doctor who was treating Penny called to discuss the results. She was diagnosed with chronic heart disease but did not exhibit any telling symptoms until mere hours before she died. They discovered that her mitral valve failed causing the right side of her heart to stop working. We were informed this can be extremely hard to diagnose in dogs, especially when the damage happens on the right side. While we’re still waiting for a bit more information, it doesn’t sound like there’s anything we could have done to prevent it, unfortunately. I just hope she’s continuing to live her best life, wherever she is, and that there are creatures around who love hugs, because loving is what she’s best at.