This has been a bad year for Levi. In hindsight there were clues that his health was deteriorating beyond old age vision problems. Over the last year he has been lashing out at the three younger dogs for no apparent reason. I made excuses that his unusual, aggressive behavior was a result of living with three young, exuberant dogs filled with vigor and not much common sense. But was there a demon living inside him that was growing and waiting to come out? We cannot foresee the future of our animals, we can only read gradual changes in behavior; clues that something is not right. Animals speak in a language we cannot fathom. We can only pick up a sense of something wrong or off as we go along our daily path together.
Earlier this year Levi had a bout of Clostridium, a nasty poopy-butt mess that often attacks young and old dogs with weakened immune systems. The vet gave me some pills for Levi, but cautioned that should he start throwing up I was to return Levi immediately. For twenty-four hours Levi was a new dog. I could almost hear him sighing with relief. But within forty-eight hours he was throwing up clear liquid. Again I took him to the vet and returned with more medicine. It was at this time that I wrote my first eulogy draft as I believed my dog was clearly at death’s door. But he recovered. I felt happy and stored away the final words I’d written about him.
Levi had been limping on his left leg and there was some swelling at one joint. After he recovered from his near death poopy-butt episode I took him back to the vet. An x-ray showed Levi has osteoarthritis, no doubt from years of running, jumping and herding imaginary sheep in the back yard. Again I left the vet’s office with medicine. Levi was a sweetie about pill time. I could gently insert the pills into the back of his mouth and kiss his muzzle as I rubbed his throat. He’d wag his tail and walk away. I felt blessed to have such a sweet loving animal. We are in this journey together, I wrote in my notebook. I will keep him healthy and by my side forever. A well noted author of books about dogs, donkeys and life, Jon Katz, introduced me to the word hubris, which means over-confidence, pride, egotism. Hubris soon came forward and slapped me in the face.
In May, Levi was blissfully running in the fenced back yard with the other dogs while I trimmed the long line of bushes in the front yard. After an hour I gathered up the panting dogs and they all dutifully followed me into the cool house. As I got ready to leave to treat myself to lunch at a nearby restaurant, I called Levi to join the others in one last potty run outside. Levi was curled up under the kitchen table in an odd position, alive, panting but not moving. I got down to his level and called him to me. He was panicking. His body wasn’t responding to his brain’s commands. Shocked, I realized he was paralyzed and needed to go to the vet immediately. There is a lot of shade in the back yard and a big bucket of water. It didn’t appear that he was having a heat stroke. This was not something I could fix on my own. My voice shaking, I called the vet and said I was coming in with Levi immediately. The lady on the phone hesitated. This particular clinic is always very busy but I left no chance for her to deny my dog. I pushed my wooden table aside easily on the tile floor to get closer to Levi. The other dogs strangely stayed back in another room, quiet, watching. Reaching under Levi I picked up forty-nine pounds of bones and fur and walked halfway to the garage, when my back suddenly felt like it was being ripped in two. I screamed in pain. Levi and I collapsed together on the floor where I cried out in frustration. The only option left was to call my non-dog neighbor who is the same age as me and ask for help. She and a visiting friend and I managed to get Levi into the back of my car and I took off to the vet, my back still pulsing in pain.
That was the start of four days of back and forth calls to the clinic’s two vets and numerous technicians. Over the course of this period Levi regained the use of his legs. I was waiting for a definitive diagnosis. Was it an inner ear infection, a stroke or a brain tumor, exercise induced or tick related? Animal clinics rarely have the sophisticated equipment one would find in a human hospital. The vet said, had it been me, I would have had a brain scan immediately. The clinic had to use the limited equipment on hand to make a diagnosis. They hooked Levi up to an IV, give him anti-inflammatory drugs, did a blood panel, etc.
Each day I got a call from the doctor telling me that Levi was responding slowly, that he was spinning to the right only, but it was getting better. He believes it is an inner ear infection but said although there was the possibility of permanent neurological damage Levi could over time, do well enough to survive. On Monday I went to the office to pick up my old dog. He walked by me and heard my voice but gave no indication that he knew me. I walked him to the car as he circled to the right repetitively and with my back screaming in pain, I loaded him into the front seat, his legs still going in odd directions. Within an hour I called the vet back in tears. This is not quality of life, I cried.
Have you ever read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary? I have walked down the path to the place where you send off your final tearful prayers to your long-loved pet, its cold body resting in the dark soil. In disbelief I ventured over the forbidden wall to the area where you can get your pet’s body back. But the moral of the story is that you cannot get the soul of the pet back. What remains is a shell, sometimes a vicious or at least angry being that lashes back at being torn from its last resting place. I have tried to save the Levi I knew and there is only his physical body beside me. To add even more fuel to my fiery decision, Levi has lashed out at me like he used to with the other dogs. All the training he had over the last decade is erased from his mind. Our relationship, our memories are now wiped clean from his brain. He exists: breathing, eating, pottying outside and barking at various things. But he is not the dog I wanted to save. In my haste to do the right thing he became one of the characters in a horror novel.
The vet suggested that I give Levi two weeks to heal but I’ve amended that to “up to two weeks”. I cannot live in fear that the undead stranger on my kitchen floor may turn on me. I cannot let his memories and his loving spirit which I now hold in my own mind, end in a memory of him inflicting pain, for no reason other than that he is fighting to return to a peaceful place beyond us. The next eulogy to Levi will be the real one.
POSTSCRIPT: After reading the above I called the vet back. I brought Levi in and he agreed that Levi’s temperament was becoming aggressive. We both feel Levi had a brain tumor so my beloved dog was released to Heaven to chase sheep for eternity.
Claudia’s High Anxiety BC-CDX RE GN GO VER CGC *1 UD leg