Saying Good-bye to my First Girl

Isolda Vom Lawson

I need to start by apologizing.  I sometimes forget that there are some of you that followed me over from my other blog and we don’t actually know each other in real life so my last post might have been confusing.  We said good-bye to Izzy in May.  She had been sick for awhile and I finally made the decision to let her go.

It was not an easy decision to make and one I had been dreading since before I even brought her room.  I remember a few days after getting the news that she had been born thinking about the life we’d have together and realizing that as a dog she would not out live me and I would have to eventually say good-bye.  The thought depressed me.  She actually lived longer than I expected.  I was told her life expectancy would be somewhere between 10 to 12 years.  She died just two months shy of 13.

She had been sick for awhile, probably longer than I realized.   I began to notice a decline right about the time we moved and initially I blamed it on that.  I thought the stress was having an effect on her and while it probably was I now realize she was probably sick before we moved but I just hadn’t noticed yet.  As soon as we got to Michigan I took her in to a local vet for a check up and to establish a relationship with them.  One of the first obvious indicators that something was wrong was that she was having accidents, not incontinence but she couldn’t hold her bowel movements.  And she had several horrible bouts of diarrhea.  Her digestive system has always been sensitive to change and she can get sick easily so at first I blamed the nervousness of the move.  But it didn’t improve and she began loosing weight.  Before getting sick she weighted around 55 lbs.  She dropped to 38 lbs within a few months of being in Michigan.

Last summer she also developed a tremor in her hind leg.  It grew increasingly worse and I began to notice that sometimes her back legs would drag and she wouldn’t jump anymore.  Her ability to use her hind legs rapidly decreased.  At a vet appointment in December reflex tests suggested significant nervous system damage and an ultrasound found a mass in her bladder.  We could surmise that she had cancer but without further testing we would not know for sure.  I could have taken her to MSU had her put under, opened up, and then put her through chemo. But she was an old dog and I didn’t know how many good years, if any, it would add to her life.  And I didn’t have the finances for that.  I decided to treat the pain, and keep her as comfortable as possible for as long as I could.  We would watch the mass in her bladder because if it grew to the point she couldn’t pass urine she would only have about 24 hours and she would be in a lot of pain.  When we went away in February I was afraid something would happen while I was gone and I wouldn’t be able to get back to her in time.

There were several times between December and May when I thought it was time and I was going to have to make the decision to have her put to sleep only to have her rebound after a couple of days.  Izzy was very stoic so it was hard to tell how much pain she was in.  She would still run to meet me whenever I came home and would gallop through the house because she was excited.  She would still play fetch as long as I was willing to throw the ball.  It was hard to think that she was sick enough for me to be considering putting her down.

But the bad days started to be more frequent.  And the bad days got worse.  There were times when I’d have to carry her up and down the stairs to our bedroom.  She wasn’t able to get up on the bed anymore and so I brought Annelise’s old crib mattress up and put it next to my bed.  On nights I wasn’t home my parents said she would often just stay on the main level and not attempt to go up to my room.  My mom also commented that when I’m not there she would just lay in her bed, that the excitement and galloping through the house was for me.  She was probably in a lot more pain that she was showing.

At the end of April she started to have a hard time moving around.  I was having to carry her up the stairs more frequently.  In the last few days I had put a gate across the stairs so that she wouldn’t attempt to follow me every time I went up or down.  And then one afternoon she fell trying to go up the stairs.  She had lost almost all use of her back legs.  She couldn’t even pull herself up from a sitting position.  In the weeks before this I could tell she was getting very near the end.  I just wasn’t ready to say good-bye yet.  I was at the end of a very stressful semester where I had been too busy to do anything other than work and study.  I wanted more time with her.  I didn’t want to try to squeeze saying good-bye in between class and work.  But the day she fell on the stairs I knew that might be it.  There are two steps that she needs to make in order to get in and out of the house.  Even when she couldn’t make the entire flight of stairs up to the second level she could still take those two steps and now she couldn’t.  I needed to carry her in and out of the house.  Due to her issues with bladder and bowel control she was going out almost every hour (and was having more accidents in the house).  My mother wasn’t going to be able to lift her and I couldn’t always be there.  If she couldn’t get in and out of the house on her own, I knew that it was time.  When I went to bed that night I prayed that in the morning she’d rebound and I could put it off a few more weeks.  But she didn’t and I knew it was time.

I told my parents and Annelise that today would be the day and then called the vet on my way to class.  They scheduled us for the last appointment of the day.  We were some what prepared.  I had already made arrangements with my sister to have her buried on their property and Annelise and I had been having almost nightly talks about what was going to happen to Izzy so this was not a shock or surprise to her.

After I got home from class I spent the rest of the day with Izzy.  Sitting with her when she didn’t have the energy to get up or playing a very labored game of fetch.  I let her eat all the things she had not been allowed to eat before, she looked at me rather suspiciously when I gave her chocolate cake.  And then when it was time my parents and Annelise said their good byes and we headed to the vet.  I made arrangements with them to meet me outside.  I didn’t want to take her into the building because I was afraid it would make her nervous and I didn’t want her to be afraid at the end.

There was a field out behind the building where we played fetch.  Her spirit was so strong right up until the end.  Which I think made it harder for me.  I think she would have continued to fight for as long as I needed her to but it was becoming very obvious that she was in pain.  Adrenaline kept her going for a little while, but the last few times I threw the ball she brought it back using only her front legs to drag her body across the field. She’d drop it in front of me and look up as if to say “throw it again.”  The vet came out and gave her a sedative, then I threw it a few more times while the drug kicked in before we moved to van where I had set up her bed.  I held her while she fell asleep and then the vet came back and gave her the lethal dose.  I held her and could feel as her heart slowed down and then stopped.

During the day my sister, Charity, had gone out and dug a hole at the back of their property.  My dad met me out there and together we buried her.  Then I sat down and drank a beer and said good-bye.  I stayed by her grave until it started to get dark and then I headed home.

A week later Annelise and I painted rocks and took them out to Izzy’s grave with some flowers.  This was Annelise’s first experience with death.  It has been confusing for her.  She knows that Izzy had to leave our family because she was old and sick but she couldn’t understand where she was going or more accurately that she was just going to be gone.  We talked a lot about the “circle of life” (thank you Disney) and how every life has a beginning and an ending.  And that when someone dies they can’t be with us anymore (thank you Bambi and Little Foot).  When I took Annelise to the grave and told her that’s were Izzy was, she looked at me and said, “Are you sure?  Because I don’t hear her barking.”  Trying to explain that Izzy was gone and only her body was buried was a little too much for her to grasp.

We’re all adjusting to life without her.  It was another week after that when I think it really hit Annelise that she was gone.  We had been playing at the Children’s Museum and there was a stuffed dog that reminded her of Izzy.  She didn’t want to leave it behind and became inconsolable as we left.  When I got her into the car in between sobs she said, “I just have so many feelings.”  I told her feeling sad and crying about it was okay.  So she cried the entire way home.  She still lists Izzy among are family members, but will add, “but she’s not with us anymore.”

I think Kikapu is confused, because of course I can’t explain it to her.  For several days I could tell she was looking for Izzy.  Whenever I would take her outside she’d bark and wait for a reply.  She’s gotten more clingy.  She’s started following me around the way Izzy use to.  Nights were hard at first.  She couldn’t figure out where to sleep since she has always slept near Izzy.  She kept trying to get into bed with me, but I wasn’t go to fall for that.  I think she’s adjusting and in her own way attempting to fill in for Izzy.  She’s become a lot more “protective.”  She still won’t actually do anything other than make a lot of noise, but she tries.

I still feel like she should be here.  Malinois are “velcro dogs” they pick their person and stick to them like velcro.  I was her person.  She was never more than a few feet a way from me.  After being together for over a decade I’d grown accustom to moving in such away that I didn’t trip over her when I turned or changed directions.  I find myself still moving in that pattern and then realizing that she’s not there to bump into.  I still expect a nose to push open the bathroom door when I’m trying to pee or push on my elbow as I’m trying to type.  Tonight I noticed one of her tennis balls is still sitting on the patio, just waiting for her to pick it up and come drop it in front of me.  I’m often overwhelmed by a sudden panic thinking I’ve left her somewhere or she’s out there somewhere and needs me.  I’m sure that feeling will go away with time. But for now I miss her.

Our last photo together…


The last picture I took during our last game of fetch…



Some pictures of Izzy over the years…