It’s with a heavy heart that I write this post, made even more so because my last post was also about loss. Today we had to say goodbye to our adorable silver haired ball of fur named Fritz. He came into our lives as Alvin back in November of 2014, just two months after we had moved into our apartment. By the time he came home with us, we changed his name from Alvin to Fritz (officially) and then we just called him “Little Boy” (or “Lil’ Boy”) at home. He was a Miniature Schnauzer (mostly) and weighed all of about thirteen pounds, and although he had distinctly non-dog like behaviors, his presence turned Yoav and myself into instant “Doggy Daddies”. From day one, we doted and fawned over him. We stocked up on all of the toys we envisioned our new family member would play with. We researched the dozens upon dozens of different kinds of dog food to ensure he got the best we could comfortably afford. Most of all, we did everything we could to make a nice home for him.
Fritz was a rescue dog adopted through Posh Pets Rescue. We have no backstory on him beyond the notes taken at the time he was dropped off at Animal Control which stated: Stray, found at 112th and Park Avenue. He was believed to be about seven years old, and his estimated time out (on the mean streets of East Harlem) as a stray was about a month. It was noted that he walks calmly on a leash, he was fearful, and not interested in toys or rawhide. Upon rescue by Posh Pets, he was taken upstate to a foster family for a few weeks to see how he interacted with other dogs (quite well for the most part), given a basic check up by a vet, and the day before we picked him up he was neutered and had a tooth extracted. That’s pretty much all we had to go on.
Being new at this (Fritz was Yoav’s first dog, and my first dog in a very long time), we felt we were making the right choice in him, and it never occurred to us that there could be the many challenges we were to face in the next 20 months. Although extremely quiet and somewhat fearful, we both felt love for him and were so excited to bring him into our lives. Little did we know what we were in for.
Initially he kept to himself but after about a month, I think be began to realize we loved him and that every time we would leave the apartment, we would come back (which meant we weren’t going anywhere). He warmed up to us, he began to show more distinctive dog behaviors, and we began looking forward to his feeble attempts to climb up on the sofa (which he never was able to achieve). We would often see him in a sort of depressed state, sitting with his head hung low staring off into nothing, but then he would snap out of it, and those bouts of staring into the abyss became less frequent.
We applied for pet insurance within a few weeks of his arrival which involved us finding a vet who gave us a more thorough examination of his health. The first thing to come up was that he had a level 4 heart murmur. Immediately, that ruled out insurance as, unlike Obama Care, pre-existing conditions preclude qualification for coverage. Thus began our journey into the world of getting to know our veterinarian better than our neighbors.
As time went on, it became very clear that at some point in his past, he was very well trained and cared for. He was quite well behaved, walked on a leash without any issues, and was completely house broken. He knew basic commands, and although we could never get him to come when called, he was none the less a model citizen of a pup. Then within a few months various health issues began to surface. By the spring of last year, we discovered he had Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism) which caused him to drink huge volumes of water, and subsequently need to pee every couple of hours (both indoors and out). We were able to ultimately bring that under control with treatments and drugs. We also discovered that Fritz had all sorts of other ailments and that he was much older than the seven years of age estimated by animal control (our best estimate was that he was eleven or twelve). He had skin issues, loss of fur (from the Cushing’s), a multitude of blackheads on his belly. This past December, he underwent major dental surgery which improved his general health greatly for a while. Then there was the food…. He had a very sensitive stomach and many food allergies. Eventually we found that the only food which didn’t upset him was venison, which meant out went the pork snacks… Out went the beef snacks and the chicken snacks… No more beef bones, cow rawhide, and most of all his favorite snack, pineapple.
But we adapted, he adapted, and for a while things seemed to get better early this year. But a few months ago, I began to notice a shift in his demeanor once again, only this time it seemed he was slowing down. He stopped wagging his tail in the apartment. We didn’t notice it at first, but then we both recognized this as a sign of something going on. We had to stop walking him around the block each day because it just became too far for him to go. He began to squat to pee instead of lifting his leg. It started out as an occasional thing, but it reached the point that he only lifted his leg on occasion. Then he struggled to get up the three single steps into our apartment building. Each time he would wander back and forth along the edge of the step as though he was searching for a shorter section.
There were other signs of him slowing down. He was never a big fan of playing with toys, but he would frequently drag a toy out of his basket, play with it for 30 seconds, and abandon it for the rest of the day. But that too stopped happening this past several months. It was little things which independent of themselves, may not have amounted to much, but as a whole, these various behaviors began to paint the picture that he wasn’t happy and that he was becoming less and less comfortable, no matter how much we provided for him.
This past week, things took a major shift in the wrong direction. Monday evening while watching the Olympics, I heard him collapse on the floor across the room from me. He was trying his hardest to stand up, but had lost his motor skills. I of course was a bit freaked out and rushed to his aid only to find him laying in a pool of pee. My first thought was that I was a bad parent and had ignored is sign letting me know he needed to go out, but, I then realized, he had lost control of his bladder at the time he collapsed and was helpless. I bathed him (because… Pee) and he seemed to perk up a bit. Then on Tuesday morning, when Yoav went to get him up to take him out, he wasn’t in his crate (he sleeps in his crate with the door open), which is very odd. We looked around for him only to find him in an odd corner on my side of the bed. When Yoav picked him up, he was wet with pee again. Turns out, he pee’d his bed (which dogs NEVER do) and climbed out to get comfortable.
A trip to the vet in the morning, followed by a trip to the veterinary neurologist later in the day determined he had Intervertebral Disc Disease (slipped disc) in the neck area and the doctor gave us Codeine and Gabapentin and prescribed four weeks of bed rest. This explained the gradual decline of his motor skills, his difficulty with climbing a single step, or lifting his leg up to pee. Intervertebral Disc Disease is a degenerative disease, but can be treated, and although there is no permanent recovery, there can be relief. We brought him home, tried to give him his medications, but he wouldn’t eat or drink. Giving him his meds became a major task as he wouldn’t eat anything, and we couldn’t force it down because it would only further injure his neck. We finally had to resort to feeding him his meds ground into liverwurst, the only food he is guaranteed to eat, even though it isn’t good for him. Then overnight on Thursday into Friday, the watery (and bloody) diarrhea began. Over the course of eight hours, he had five accidents requiring us to clean him and the hardwood floor up. [To his credit, he knew not to go on the rug, and would always walk the extra few feet to the hardwood floor to relieve himself as if he knew it was easier for us to clean up.]
He spent the day sleeping yesterday (because… Codeine), but the diarrhea began again in the evening, this time every hour or two, and it was clear that there was blood in it. We lost track of how many times it happened, and I have no idea how many rolls of paper goods we have gone through this past 48 hours. As all of this was happening, both of us being so very like minded came to the same place in our feelings. It became very clear that his quality of life was no longer very good, and the prognosis for recovery was slim to nil… Certainly not back to a state of comfort he had only a few months ago. We reached out of a dog loving friend who came over last night and helped talk us through things (during which he poo’d blood onto the floor) and shed some insight on things we hadn’t really considered. After careful consideration and thought, we both arrived at the same conclusion. Perhaps it was time to let him go.
All night long (between cleaning up messes on the floor) we napped, cried, held each other, held him, petted him, and comforted him as much as we possibly could. This morning we went to the veterinarians office. After looking over his medical history and especially after hearing about the dark almost black bloody stool, agreed that things were not looking good. We could try to make him comfortable, but with this quality of life greatly reduced and the fact that he was not likely to ever really get better, we agreed that letting him go was in his best interest. There was a small amount of paperwork, an IV tube put into his leg, and a few injections later, he was suffering no longer. I held him during his last moments experiencing his going limp in my arms. I can comfortably say he really had no suffering in the procedure. The veterinarian left Yoav and I in the room to spend some final moments with him. We petted him, kissed him, said goodbye, and walked the 20 blocks home.
Now we are two again… Lil’ Boy was with us almost from the beginning of living here, so not having him here today has felt odd, although we are confident there will be another bundle of fur in our future. The sense of loss invokes bouts of tears and likely will for a while. He was a sweet lil guy who clearly once had a very good life, went through a rough period (on 112th and Park Ave), and was once again given a life of comfort and leisure. We have been honored to have been able to provide that for him.
Goodbye Lil’ Boy, goodbye.[Post Script: Kitchen renovation will resume soon, and I am working on plans for the bedroom and bathroom. Hopefully, no more doom and gloom posts for a while.]