They Just Don’t Live Long Enough

This one has actually been a long time coming.   We haven’t talked about this publicly, because it’s hard to talk about.  How can you expect someone else to understand the bond you have with your dog?  Even if they do have a dog, can they really get where you’re coming from and understand the choices you’re making?  Regardless, the time has come to share the story of what we’ve been going through with our sweet dog, Lucy.  This is not a short story.  And it does not have a happy ending.

Lucy 9

This is Lucy when we first adopted her from the Hermiston Pet Rescue.  She was a happy dog, always wanted to be wherever we were. She followed  us from room to room.  If there was a spot next to  you on the couch, just try to stop her from finding it.

Lucy 3

Oh, you’re building a dresser from IKEA?  Let me help.

Lucy 7

Oh, your husband is stuck working on Valentine’s Day?  Let’s go on a walk and have fun.

Lucy 2

Sitting outside on a summer day eating breakfast?  Can I come, too?

Lucy 1

She was a major part of our everyday lives.  She was always ecstatic to come running inside when we got home from work.  We took her with us on every possible road trip.  She LOVED the car.

Lucy 5

She loved coming to the Oregon Coast with us.

Lucy 4We even brought her with to our first anniversary photo shoot.  She was such an important part of our little family, we both agreed that she just had to be there.

Lucy 6

She’s been a part of our friends’ lives, too.  In fact, some of our friends would argue that they looked forward to seeing Lucy more than they looked forward to seeing us.  And that was really fine by us, actually.  Who could blame them?  She was a great dog.

Lucy 0

She never had any behavior problems.   She loved people, loved cats, and no problems with other dogs.  She was always so mellow.  She even got body slammed by an 18 month old child and barely noticed.  We adopted Lucy after we’d only been married for 9 months, so you could say she was our honeymoon baby.  From March of 2012 until October of 2013, she was our girl.  We rolled down the window for her to sniff all the things as we drove.  We held her quivering body on scary 4th of July’s and thunderstorms.  We brought her to dog parks, the ocean, friend’s houses, visits to the grandparents.  We bought her fun collars, dog beds, name tags, corn-free food.  Whenever we couldn’t take her with us on a trip, we spent a good deal of time thinking about how “I’m sure she’s fine, she’s just playing with my parents’ dogs.  She’s happier there.  We’ll be back soon.”  Every day for a year and a half, she was been a big part of our lives, and our marriage.

Lucy 10

In October of 2013, something started to change with Lucy.  She stopped following us from room to room.  She stopped cuddling with us on the couch, and in bed.  She would go upstairs to curl up in her bed, even if we were downstairs watching TV.  She removed herself more and more.   We didn’t know whether it was that she was getting less exercise in this house, or maybe if she was just depressed.  But it didn’t seem dramatic at first.  We noticed she was walking laps in the back yard and had very specific tracks in the grass.  There were less cuddles.   We figured she was just adjusting to the new house, maybe a little anxious or depressed.  But she still seemed herself when we took her for walks. But she just needed some time and some more exercise – she’d get better.

But she never recovered.  She not only did laps in the yard, but also around our house.  Constantly.  By mid-November, she only two states:  pacing or sleeping.  And she didn’t sleep well.  Since October, she had not cuddled with us once.  Instead of actively seeking snuggles, she actively avoided human contact.  When you reach down to pet her, she ducks away and trots off on another lap.

My mom called us while we were out of town for Veteran’s Day weekend and told us, “Lucy is not well.  Her tail is always down, she seems very lethargic and she just paces in and out of the house.  She’ll walk up to us and just whine, and we don’t know why.  I think you need to take her to a vet.”  We took her in, and she was a wreck.  She was always so great at the vet, but here she just couldn’t sit still.  I had to take her on  laps around the parking lot while Tyler waited for our name to be called, otherwise she would just whine and bark.  When the vet checked her out, he said he wanted to run some blood work to see whether or not it was something physiological going on.  If the blood work came back clean, it was either behavior or something possibly going on in her brain.  The blood work came back clean, but Tyler and I just weren’t convinced that it was just behavior.  We took her to a second vet and they said that it was very likely that she had a lesion in her brain.  The only way to diagnose that, though, was to take her to WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for an MRI, about a $2,000 cost.  If they did find a lesion, surgery would be another $3,000, minimum.

We went home and wept.  We wept over the fact that it was just so much money.  We grieved the fact that we had already lost our sweet, cuddly dog – the dog who lived in our house was a pacing, anxious, howling shell of who Lucy used to be.  Lucy was gone, and we never had the chance to say goodbye to her when she was still her.  We held each other and realized that we had no idea what to do here.   So we held each other.  And wept.

I made an appointment for WSU for a few weeks later – the soonest they could get us in.  We thought about it and talked about it a lot.  We ultimately decided to cancel the appointment.  Getting the MRI was a lose-lose situation.  If they did find a lesion, we knew we wouldn’t put her through surgery.  Lucy was so frail, we didn’t think she could withstand the anesthesia for surgery, much less the recovery from such intensive surgery.   If they didn’t find a lesion, then we were left with more questions than we would have dollars left in our bank account.

She did not gotten better.  She now howled  most nights, for up to 45 minutes at a time.  We used to be able to pet her while she was howling, the only time that we got to touch her.  She would stop for a minute and just breathe.  After a few weeks, she wouldn’t even let us do that.  She fought through the love we try to show her, and howls – even screams – through the night.  We gave her a sedative to help her sleep, but her body still fought through it and she stumbled through her laps, pacing through the sedation.  There were a few weeks in a row where we couldn’t get a full nights sleep.  During the day she seemed alright.  She wasn’t herself, but when she was pacing her ears were up.  She seemed to be okay.  Our job at this point was to watch her, love her from a distance, and keep her as comfortable as possible.  We even took her to a professional photographer to have a Christmas portrait taken, knowing that this is our last Christmas with her.


There were so many times that I wanted to ask her what she was feeling, and what she needed from us – but with a dog, you just can’t.  We talked to some close friends who had been through a similar situation before about the fact that we didn’t know whether or not she was living a good life and if we should help end her suffering.  We just couldn’t tell how much she was hurting.  They said “If you’re not sure, then it’s not time.  Something will change, maybe a dramatic event will happen, or something will become drastically worse.  And then you’ll be sure.  And then it will be time.”  This week, something dramatic happened.

We were getting worried about our semi-annual trip up to the San Juans to spend with my extended family.  We were going to be gone for a week.  We couldn’t bring her with us – she absolutely panicked in the car, and the house doesn’t allow dogs.  So we had to leave her in my parents’ house with her dogs.  We brought her over to have a trial night-stay to see how she would do.  But in order to get her there, we had to put on her harness so we could tie her down and keep her (and us) safe in the car.  This was not a simple task.  Whenever you try to stop her from pacing, she freaked out.  At first she would flail and scratch with just her feet and nails.  But that day, she started using her teeth.  She bit me three times while we were trying to keep her safe.  Then, later this week when we tried to put her in the car again – this time only using her leash – she couldn’t even handle that.  Even holding her collar for one second made her immediately bare her teeth and lash out.  She struggled against her leash so hard that she easily slipped out of her collar.  Yesterday, when she started to slip out the door and my mom grabbed her collar to keep her safe in the house, she bit my mom.  It became clear that Lucy’s life had very little left.  She was scared all the time.  She doesn’t recognize the humans that have fed her, loved her, and walked her for the last year and a half of her life – and she attacks them.  The dramatic event we weren’t sure about had happened.

Lucy sleeping

So today, it was time for Lucy’s final vet visit.  We gave her a mild sedative so she wouldn’t hurt us when we took her to the car.  We spent about an hour and a half at home just sitting with her and crying – from a distance.  It killed me that I couldn’t hold her close in those final hours.  So we watched her fall asleep and cried.  We told her how much we loved her.  We talked about all the wonderful memories we had with her.  We apologized that there was nothing we could do to save her.  Tyler even went out to get her a burger from Zip’s for her last meal.

Lucy's final meal

When she was calm enough, we gently loaded her to the car (even on that last heavily sedated trip she tried to bite Tyler.  It reminded me that we were, in fact, doing the right thing).  The vet clinic was so wonderful to us.  The professional photographer who took her Christmas picture happened to be at the clinic today.  He recognized her and snapped a few shots of her before we went in for her appointment at no cost.  The vet tech and the doctor gave us lots of time to spend with her while she was heavily sedated so we could actually hold her close and breathe her in while she was still alive.  Then, all too soon, she was gone.  We apologized to her again that we couldn’t do more for her than bring her peace.  They will give us an ornament with her pawprint on it that they made as the piece of her that we keep forever.

Our house feels so empty now.  The dog bows, beds, doghouse in the back, all feel foreign without her here.  All I want is for my Lucy girl to come running in the room for cuddles, but the dog we said goodbye to today was not my Lucy girl – and we knew she never would be again.  Rest in peace, sweet girl.  Chase some birds in doggie heaven and think of us.  We love you so much.

2 Responses to “They Just Don’t Live Long Enough”
  1. Nancy says:

    Grieving with you both. I understand how hard it is to talk about this situation. You did a beautiful job with your writing. Lucy will always be a well loved part of your lives.

  2. Donna says:

    Oh Sarah,
    What a beautiful story you’ve shared with us. Your sweet Lucy had the best Mommy & Daddy any dog could’ve asked for. She was such a beautiful loving dog. I know this is very hard on you & Tyler, as it’s never easy to lose a loved one. What a blessing it was to see you together. And all the photos are priceless. Lucy had the best 1-1/2 years of her life spending it with you. You two were the best parents for her. It showed in everything you did together. You gave her the best home and love any dog could’ve asked for. I had to stop for awhile when reading, as it pulled at my heartstrings. So heartwarming, yet sad news to here. I’m sending hugs your way.
    <3 Donna

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