I fell in love with a dying dog
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Today is the first anniversary of Dusty’s death. I adopted him at age 14, and he was my dog for 84 days. I knew it would prove challenging to adopt a third dog — a hospice dog — already having two young dogs at home, but my rational mind lost this battle. This fragile creature had only three teeth, his front tooth protruding out of his mouth like a dagger and a tongue that wouldn’t stay in his mouth because he had no teeth to support it. As a kid, I always chose the damaged stuffed animals, worrying they would never find a home and live in the department store until they died. He was my type. I carefully lifted his limp body into my car and held his fragile life in my arms.
I was unprepared for how exhausting it is to be a caretaker for a dying dog. Exhausting, yet beautiful.
IV fluids every 12 hours. Changing diapers 10 times a day and cleaning up messes in between. Trying to get him to eat (anything). Monitoring his stage four congestive heart failure, waking at the sound of any cough to check on him. Administering pills while wrapping him up like a burrito as I held him down.
The rewards overshadowed my caregiver fatigue. Dusty had an unbreakable spirit and had the time of his life at the end. He loved dog beds, lying on our screened-in porch, and walking (no matter how slow) while breathing in the fresh air and sniffing every blade of grass. It was more like a prance: wobbly gait, tail held high, and a smile across his face. He loved to snuggle as much as I loved holding his frail body. I’ll never forget how his soft hair felt against my legs as he melted into my arms.
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He was a fighter until the end, and when it was time, we peacefully let him go. The vet sat beside us while he took his last breath in my arms; on the porch he loved so much.
“We went back and forth with what to put on the nameplate of his ashes, but we decided on “DUSTY WEINER.” Although it is pornstar-esque — and always made us chuckle when checking him in to the vet or calling his prescriptions into the pharmacy — he was a Weiner at the end, and we wanted to display that proudly.” —
Above is the essay I wrote the day after he died last year, one year ago today. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, others eons ago. My words honestly document both the struggles and rewards of caring for a dying dog. It’s a different experience caring for a hospice dog that you don’t have a baseline for. When it’s your long-time dog, you see the decline. You recognize they don’t sleep on their dog bed anymore, but rather the cold floor to ease their sore muscles. We do the best with where we start from, even if the start of the relationship is at the end of life.
Relationships can be formed at any age. Consider welcoming a senior dog into your life — it is an experience like no other to give a dog the best days of their life, no matter little time it may be.
Written by Elizabeth Weiner