Guest Author – Mandy Jackson, RVT
I put a dog to sleep yesterday. He was my foster dog. He came to me quite ill, and with a disease I knew I couldn’t cure. Gord had megaesophagus. What that meant for him was that his esophagus, the “tube” that carries food from your mouth to your stomach, was stretched out like a balloon that has been blown up and deflated dozens of times. The muscular contractions, called peristalsis, that help move your and waste through your body did not occur in his esophagus. I described it as though he had something like a pelican pouch in his throat. When he ate, much of his food and water would collect in this “pouch”, rather than being digested in his stomach and intestines. He regurgitated a lot of what he was fed. He came to me emaciated, needing to gain about 35% of his body weight, a daunting task for both of us. How do you get a dog who can’t maintain his weight to gain 20 pounds?
Megaesophagus is an awful disease. To have a beautiful, kind and gentle soul in your home, starving despite your best attempts to feed him is heartbreaking for you, but unquestionably worse for him. We tried several different textures and consistencies and with the help of a friend who also cared for Gord in her home while I was unavailable, we learned that “meatballs” worked best for him. I’d roll his food into golf ball sized nuggets and toss them to him one by one, hold him sitting in the begging position and then go for a short walk. Water was more difficult, but I taught him to drink from a huge rabbit bottle mounted so he had to hold his head up to drink. After 3 weeks of trial and error I finally felt like we were on the right path. That maybe, just maybe, he could be managed. That he could potentially live a “normal” life. For almost 5 days he gained weight and strength. He was producing more urine, and it was becoming paler in colour, showing that he was better hydrated than before. He walked faster on our short travels, not rude enough to pull me, but enthusiastic enough that I could feel a difference in him. I was so very proud of him.
And then, on Thursday, I went to check on him in his run at work. To give him his dinner and spend my lunch break walking him. He had vomited 3 puddles of blood in his kennel. My heart sank into my feet. I will not go into more detail here, but it’s most likely that 2 years of poorly managed megaesophagus left his mind and spirit willing to recover, but his body just too damaged, the last 18 hours of his life caused a shocking transformation in his body and spirit.
Deciding to end the life of a foster is a uniquely horrible experience. He wasn’t really “my” dog, but I had taken responsibility for his life and his care. He was mine in trust, on loan, my temporary dog. I was only supposed to be a resting place, a bump in his road. But there he was, getting sicker in front of me and waiting for me to make it better. Not able to tell me how he felt, what he wanted. I sat on my couch with his big, blocky, black velvet head in my lap and promised him that I would make it stop. My beautiful Gord was not Gord anymore. For the first time since I met him, he was in pain and that was not part of the deal I made with him. I took him to work, one last sad car ride. Carried him into the treatment room and gave his care over to 2 of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. At the end of his life I wasn’t his nurse or his foster mom anymore. I was just his person, finally. Gord of No Fixed Address (the horrible nickname I gave him, a joke that started when a friend suggested I adopt him) was at home in my heart. I climbed up on the table and wrapped myself around him, buried my face in that perfect spot behind every retriever’s ears and held him close. He went quietly, left this world in the arms of someone who loved him enough to make that call.
Mandy Jackson is a registered veterinary technician at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Mandy shares her home with her 2 dogs, Auden and Olivia, and her cat, Floyd Pepper. When she’s not at work, she co-runs Friends of Willow Rescue (an all-breed rescue), is a busy foster-mom, avid reader and a recent convert to the joys of crocheting.