Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Good-bye Plum Pudding

Last night we had to put our dog to sleep. She got bloat. When she was a puppy I was warned about bloat, that German Shepherds are susceptible to it. I was told not to let her eat after exercise, and that small meals, twice a day was better than one big meal. We followed the rule about not letting her eat after exercise, but we fed her one meal in the evening.

Last evening, after eating, she wanted to vomit so my husband took her outside. It is not uncommon, if she has eaten really fast, to throw up her whole meal. But my husband said that what she threw up was white and milky. And when he took her into the house she was moaning and whining and looking terrible, head hung low, tail dragging. At first we thought, "throw it all up baby, that will be the best" and my husband put an old blanket down for her to stand on and throw up on. He said, "touch her side" and I did and it was very hard. Her stomach was hard too. She threw some more of the white stuff up and I said, this is really wrong, I've never seen anything like this, I'm calling the vet. Our vet had an emergency clinic's number on the answering machine since I was calling at 7pm. The emergency clinic told me it was probably bloat and to bring her right in right away. I said, "will she die in the car?" and they just repeated, bring her in. The clinic was 40 minutes away, but they said that they were closest to us.

The night people wanted to weigh her, then take an ex-ray and put in a catheter. We said yes. It all happened very quickly. Then the vet came out and said that she had bloat, and that her stomach was twisted and they might need to remove her spleen as well. The twisted stomach could cut off blood supply, but we had moved fast and gotten her to the vet fast so there might not be much tissue damage. Once the stomach was untwisted they would staple it to her side, and she could never get bloat again. The bottom price for the operation was $2,500. Without the operation there was a 100% chance that she would die.

In the car driving to the vet my husband asked me what our price was for the dog's life. What the ceiling we said we would spend or put her down. She is almost 9 years old and she already has arthritis, which we are treating successfully. In the past I have said that we would not spend more than $1,000 but in the car last evening I said, $2,000. My husband agreed.

When the vet faced us and said the cost would be $2,500 I could not let Plum die. It was just 500 more than what we had agreed upon in the car, so I figured, it is only money and I want my baby to live.

The vet went away and then a nurse came out with the paper work. But the prices were different on paper then what the vet had quoted. What they wanted me to sign was that I agreed to be held responsible for all fees. All the medical procedures were listed, some that were necessary, and some that would take place in case of an emergency. Now the sum for the operation and recovery was a bottom price of $3,500 and a top price of $5,500. This could wipe out our savings account. And I said, finally defeated, we will have to euthanize her.

The nurse went away and a second nurse came out. This one said that they could do away with some of the medical procedures, take a little more risk, for instance do less bloodwork, and lower the price. But my husband and I still couldn't pay the amount they asked. They talked about payment plans, but if you don't pay everything in a year there is huge interest fees. And I just knew how my husband felt. He was thinking what new medical problem would appear because Plum was moving into old age? The vet had said that bloat was more likely in Plum at her age because internal ligaments loosen. If I had known this I would have switched to feeding her twice a day in smaller amounts. But I swear, I was never told bloat was fatal, and I was never told that it wasn't somehow connected to exercise. And we did not take Plum for a walk last night since it was raining. Nothing, I mean nothing was different from routine.

There are simply some things in life we know we can't have because we don't have the money. We live like this, every day, weighing the costs and benefits, and choosing usually what is cheapest. I would like an eternity band made out of diamonds to go with my wedding band. Can't have it. I would like to buy my husband a precision watch that is Swiss made and high quality, keeping perfect time, since the watch a man wears is sometimes the cause of much envy among men. But I settled for Christmas to buy him a new watch that was Swiss made and cheap. I will probably never own a winter coat that is new. And I will probably never buy a sofa that is new either.

We buy our groceries in two places, trying to save money. What we need at Wal-Mart, and what they have, we buy first because this is rock bottom prices for food. After Wal-Mart we go to the regular grocery store. And we almost never buy name brands, and we always compare prices to what is on sale and buy the cheapest. Then there are the foods that are quality, and that are good for you to eat, like ketchup that doesn't have high fructose corn syrup additive, or peanut butter that is simply 100% peanuts. If we can avoid high fructose corn syrup or trans fatty acids we do.

Two nights ago my husband said, "I am tired of leftover turkey and manicotti, can we go out to dinner at the Chelsa Royal?" I said, "I just did the bills for rent, electricity, the phone and internet, and now there is about $40 in our checking account for emergencies, but no money to eat out. I'm so sorry because you so rarely ask for anything for yourself. We can go to Taco Bell and spend $10 on Tacos." But my husband was sick of Tacos, and he wanted the sit down home cooked meal that they serve at the Chelsa Royal and probably too the micro-brewery beer he would have gotten with the meal. So he smiled really nice and said that he would try to find something at home to eat.

It hurts to know that if I had $25,000 in savings I would have signed the papers for Plum's operation. She could have lived. I spent literally thousands of dollars training her - this was when I was married to a millionaire. I worked with three different trainers. The food trainer, the choke chain trainer, and the electric shock police dog trainer. Each trainer was a move up in severity because Plum didn't want to be trained. She was highly dominant and did not recognize me as an authority figure at first. I had to be trained too to be in control. The trainers toughened me up as they broke her down a little. That was just the way it had to be if she was not going to bite someone and co-exist peacefully in society. At last she turned into a sweet old dog who knew her commands very well, heel, sit, down, jump up, lie down, go away, come here. I knew her personality like the back of my hand. When the phone would ring, and I didn't hear it or move to answer it Plum would make strange moaning noises to get my attention. She did the same thing when the tea kettle was whistling and I was in a different room and didn't hear that. But when someone knocked on our door (we have no doorbell) her bark was loud and urgent. The tone of the bark was unmistakable and it meant that a person was standing outside. So no need for a doorbell. And I never feared that our house would be robbed. Her bark was super scary. When I opened the door I held her collar and said to our visitor, "Let her smell you and it will be o.k" and then Plum sniffed. After the sniff she would relax. Perhaps she would pick up on the fact that I was relaxed, and I wanted this person to come into the apartment. I am certain that if I were alarmed, she would have stayed alarmed. When we would take Plum on a walk through town so many people would say, "Can I pet her?" and I would say to Plum, "Go say hello" and sometimes, "Kisses". There would be more sniffing of the person and then with the command "kisses" sometimes a lick.

A trainer once said to me, as I complained on how hard it was to civilize the wild hellion of a puppy that I had chosen, that some people would love to have the dog I had. How come? I asked in amazement. "Because she wants to be with you and she will never run away". And this was true. In the woods we could go walking and she could be off leash. When I heard distant voices approaching along the trail, or saw someone, I would call Plum and she would come to my hand. Then my hand would reach under her collar and attach a leash. It got to be that when Plum heard someone approaching she ran to me even before I gave the command. She saw a pattern of behavior and was able to anticipate what I wanted.

Plum had brown eyes but when she sometimes looked at me, and she was happy, I swear her eyes shone and I called her "bright-eyes". There is almost no describing the phenomena of an alert German Shepherd, not when they are alert with tension, but alert with life and happiness. I suppose it is their intelligence. Dumb dogs can be happy, and are sweet, but a German Shepherd feeling really good about themselves is beautiful to behold. They seem to be electric, giving off energy. Always when I looked into Plum's eyes there was somebody home there. A presence, looking back at me.

Plum was such a difficult puppy because she wanted her way. She wanted to control the humans. Her rules meant that she would pull anything off of tables or counter tops and rip it to shreds. Her rules meant that she could bite and bark and run wherever she wanted. And while she was very dominant, she was fearful as well. That meant if someone backed her physically into a corner, and she felt fearful, she might bite. Training her gave her confidence, it told her that there are rules to the way the world worked, and that as long as she was following a rule, she was safe. For instance. If she was put in a sit, or down position, she was working and would not bark or lunge at strange dogs or other humans. For Plum there was either free time, where she could get her way, or there was work time, when she was following the rules. When we were in public we tried to get her to work as much as possible, and so, have her under our thumb.

In the house Plum really liked to stick with the humans. Where the humans were she wanted to be. She would follow us from room to room in the house. We have a tiny bathroom, but when my husband was in the shower, and I was at the sink brushing my teeth, Plum wanted to be in the tiny room with us. My husband called it sticking with the pack. Plum wanted to be part of the pack at all times. It was insecurity but it was love too.

The house feels really empty. One of the cats won't come into the warm bedroom, her favorite place in the world. She sits out in the cold kitchen. She was a kitten when Plum was a puppy. She had Plum's number. She knew Plum liked to chase moving objects so around Plum she walked really slow and Plum ignored her. Sometimes when she was on the bed, and Plum was on the floor, she would touch noses with Plum. We say right now she is out in the kitchen because she is waiting for Plum to come home. She knows something is wrong.

Right before they euthenized Plum they let us have some alone time with Plum. All I could do was cry and repeat to her over and over "good girl". I thought of nothing original to say. But my husband was stoking her and telling her things, like he would meet her again in Summerland and that she was the best dog he had ever had. He's had a lot of dogs. I have nothing to compare, except the dog I had as a teenager that always was chained up on a run in the back yard. She didn't get much attention. Plum got a lot of attention everyday. I said to my husband today, after work, were you telling Plum the truth that she was the best dog you've ever had? And he told me about the different personalities of the dogs that he has loved, but in the end, he said that Plum was almost human.

All the trouble I went through with raising Plum. And I would do it all over again.

I hope, after I've had a period to grieve, to do it all over again.

You're in heaven now Plum. How I hate to be separated from you.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Karen,

    I am so sorry to hear that you had to put Plum Pudding to sleep this week. Thank you for posting photographs of you and her. I really appreciate seeing both of you together. She was a lovely dog.

    Mostly my experience is with cats, but the year I became psychotic I took in two dogs, one because she was being mistreated (starved really and kept outside in winter) and the other as company for the first dog. I didn't know what I was getting into because dogs need the loving care you would give to a child whereas cats are more independent. They were very good dogs, both female. I kept them in my heated garage and outside on good days in what was a cat pen, but I had no energy to give them the attention they deserved. Eventually I gave both of them away. You, on the other hand, gave Plum Pudding a wonderful and loving home. I think she was blessed to be with you and your husband. I know it will be hard for you for a while to be without her. It's the absence that is so disturbing and so final, this is what I found recently when I put my cat Ozzie to sleep. I do believe in an afterlife and when I said goodbye to Ozzie, I told him that I would meet him on the other side.

    I'm in the same boat as you because I cannot afford to pay to keep an ailing animal alive either. I still have to have three of my female cats spayed. I can't afford it around the holiday season so I am waiting a month or so, even though they are all going in and out of heat.

    Eventually, I hope you and your husband pick out another wonderful dog to train and love as there are so many that need good homes, but for now please take good care of yourself and give your other animals a little extra loving to help heal your heart.

    My love to you,



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