• Kathie Scalf

The Hardest Dog Days of Summer


To say the last 3 weeks have been tough would be a gross understatement. It’s been, in fact, probably top 2 hardest times in my life. After being blessed with 17 beautiful, healthy, and love-filled years with my dogs, 1 of them has suddenly dipped over to that critical stage of life where things are going wrong and his little body is getting tired. And I have another one of the same age who isn’t far behind him. This process can’t be easy for anyone, but being the sole captain of this ship and trying to battle the storm alone has been nothing short of agonizing.

For those who don’t know, I have 3 dogs named Mousey, Skeletor and Sherman. Mousey and Skeletor (or Skelly) are Chihuahuas, Sherman is a Pomeranian and they’re all rescues, who actually rescued me. Mousey came along first, when I got my first apartment during my first year of college in 2005. I was volunteering at the animal shelter for college credits, when one day I came in and this tiny angel was sitting all alone in a big concrete cell, shivering and petrified. I called an ex boyfriend and asked him to loan me the $100 or so that it took to adopt him and took him home where his little presence fit perfect into my 400 sq ft apartment.

After about a year and a half, I realized he was pretty lonely between all the time I was spending at school full-time and working 2 part-time jobs during the day. I made the decision he needed a friend, and after a long time following Small Breed Rescue of East Tennessee on Facebook, one day in 2007 I found him. Skelly, or ‘Wizard’ as they had him named on the website, just jumped out of the page at me as soon as I saw him. He was around the same size, was the same age and with his silky white coat and big pink ears, I fell in love instantly. After a home inspection, some paper work and the adoption fee, his foster mom brought him home to me and they were the dynamic duo all the way up to 2015 when the Sherman monster crashed into our home and made our two-some a triple threat.

Shermy is the best bad boy in all the land. He terrorized his way into all our hearts when he was 6 months old, with his adorable under-bite and a puppy mentality that now at the age of 7 seems to just be staying forever. For a stodgy old couple of almost 10 years, it was a breath of fresh air for Mousey and Skeletor, much to Mousey’s chagrin.

With all that being said, the last 3 weeks have been an unexpected nightmare because quite frankly I always expected Mousey to be the first to go- since 2 years ago a vet issued him a 6-month death sentence- but instead Skelly has been the one to take a nosedive. I came home Saturday the 6th and he was unable to put his back right paw down. He didn’t seem to be in pain, so I waited til first thing Monday morning to take him to the vet. He has been healthy as a horse and refuses to use his doggy stairs, so I just assumed he jumped off the couch and maybe hurt his hip. Following an x-ray where they unintentionally discovered a large mass on his kidney and a misdiagnosis of sprain that turned out to be a torn ACL, his diagnosis is worst case scenario. I was given 2 options by a vet- attempt a risky surgery to repair the ACL, which at his age and the kidney disease he would never survive, or administer high powered pain medications daily to “keep him comfortable” which will slowly poison his little body and basically keep him sedated until his only working kidney fails and he dies. No thanks.

The level of callous and emotionless veterinary “care” I’ve received over the last 3 weeks has been a slap in the face. Beyond not being able to put weight on his back leg and becoming a snob about his dog food, Skeletor is otherwise still fine. He’s got an appetite, he’s alert, inquisitive, loving, skipping around on his 3 good legs and drinking water. This is not a dog who is ready to be put down, but that was the only option I was given. Basically “he’s 17 and not going to recover. Let’s just take him back behind the woodshed like Old Yeller and do the humane thing.” There was no offer for water therapy, no options for gentle exercises, or being told how to jazz up his dog food. When I told them he really enjoyed the boiled chicken and rice with carrots I was making him but was concerned he might be lacking crucial nutrients that dog food provided, they just said it didn’t matter what I fed him, served an outrageous bill for services rendered and prescriptions for codine and morphine.

I’m choosing to go with my heart. I’m not providing him with “end of life care,” I’m going to give him EXTRA life care for as long as he has left. Extra yummy food, extra love and paying extra close attention to the signs he’s giving me. When he’s ready to pass through to the next phase of this journey, he will let me know. Until then, I’m feeding him steak, chicken, burgers and rice, potatoes, peas and if he seems uncomfortable, supplementing with small doses of pain medications. I am not knocking this dog out so he can just be in a medical coma until it’s time to go, as was prescribed. That seems like the most inhumane thing to do.

No one prepared me for how hard this was going to be. I’m single with no children and no plans for any; these dogs truly are my kids. For half my life they’ve experienced everything with me, from moves, job changes, marriages, divorce, heartbreak, college graduations, birthdays…through it all they’ve been there with a wagging tail, a cuddle and unconditional love. They trust me implicitly and now I have to return all that love, trust and bravery and get them through this the best way I know how. It might be the hardest thing I’ll ever do.

Love your pets extra today. We don’t deserve them.