"Say hello to Dad for me. Until later Miss Belle."
Those were the final words I ever spoke to our sweet Tinkerbell on Wednesday as I passed her now limp body back to my wife. She was gone and while I keep reminding myself that it was for the best and that it was, realistically, the only choice to be made...somehow it just doesn't feel that way. My head understands it completely. My heart is broken in a million pieces, too hurt to even try and comprehend and keeps screaming back at me "How could you?! How could you do that to her?!"
It had started late Sunday night, about 9:00 pm. 9:00 pm was a special time for Tink and our other dog, Dobby. 9:00 pm was treat time and even though Tink was now 15 years old, she still acted like a little puppy, bouncing around and barking playfully. Lately though, she'd been content to anxiously await my return to our bedroom and let Dobby follow me out to the kitchen as was the ritual. Some days she would still partake in that ritual, but over the past few months those days were becoming less frequent. Sunday night, 9:00 pm was different though.
Dobby and I went through the usual routine, me going to the kitchen and retrieving the treats, him following along and then bouncing around when I pulled out the bag that held them. Of course, he had to have his first, something Tink never minded, so I gave him his and he dashed off to the bedroom to enjoy it. I brought Tink's back to her but she turned away from it. I tried again as I knew that her eyesight was just barely starting to fade. She turned her head away from it again. OK, no big deal, we've seen her have an upset tummy before. Even when she vomited an hour later we weren't too concerned. When she did so again shortly afterwards though, that was when we started to get concerned. Still, we'd seen her do this once or twice before over the years so at that point, it was just that: concern.
Concern became worry the next morning though. The dogs have always been sent out of the room when my wife and I go to sleep and in the morning they hear my alarm clock go off and are patiently waiting just outside our door to be let back in and say good morning to us. But Monday morning saw only Dobby waiting for us. Again, this wasn't entirely unusual over the last few months as Tink would sometimes wait for me to complete my morning routine of making my cup of coffee and getting things ready for the day before following me back into the bedroom.
Tink was an incredibly smart dog and over the last six months we'd started to notice the expected slow decline in energy of a 15 year old dog. But we'd also noticed that she just adapted to it. She did things more intelligently, saving her energy for when it was needed. She'd developed a cough during the winter, just as she did every winter for the past three years. This one was different though. It didn't go away on its own like usual. A trip to the vet, some medications and two weeks later she was back to herself again. So given the cough, the declining energy and eyesight we knew that our time with her was coming to an end. We just didn't think it would end this way. Everything had been a slow decline, but then Monday morning came and it felt like we'd gone from a slow, steady downhill pace to falling off a cliff in the span of a few hours.
You see, Tink didn't just wait for me to finish my coffee routine on Monday morning. She didn't move from her bed at all. Even after I called for her to come join us, she just sat in her bed. It was clear from the look in her eyes that she wanted to be with us, she just didn't have the energy. So I carried her and she gave me kisses when I sat her on the bed with us. Later that morning my wife called the vet. Wednesday was the soonest they could get us in.
The rest of Monday went pretty normally, actually. I came home for lunch from my work as I usually do to find her and Dobby waiting excitedly at the door for me just like always. She went out, did her business and soaked up the summer sun just like always. When it was time for me to go back to work, she came in and got a drink just like always. But that's also when I noticed something else: she hadn't eaten. Yes, we'd seen her not eat before when her stomach was bothering her but this time just felt different. My fear factor rose but there were such mixed signals. She had vomited twice, twice more on Monday morning, been too weak to follow me down the hall but seemed pretty normal now and was drinking just fine.
Tuesday morning was another mixed signal. She was waiting outside our door, just like always. Tuesday afternoon, however, was when I suspected the worst. I came home to find only Dobby waiting for me. I let him out and went back to our bedroom to find our Miss Belle. She wasn't there. I called for her. No response. I called again. Nothing. Panicked, I went to the living room, calling for her. Had she passed while my wife and I were at work? I started to berate myself when I heard the jingle of her tags.
She was so weak, she looked utterly helpless. She had vomited again and didn't even have the energy or desire to move out of it. It was the first time I cried for her. I knew this may be the end and was totally unprepared for it. All of us were unprepared for it. She had been fine, her usual though aging self just 48 hours earlier. The family spent the rest of the day, far into the night loving on her as much as she wanted. Occasionally she would go off to her own space, away from everyone as if she knew she was dying and wanted to spare us the pain by doing it somewhere alone. But after a time would give me that look like she needed us and so back to our loving arms she went, her grateful for the love and care and us grateful she let us love and care for her in her hours of need.
Wednesday morning finally came. By now our sweet girl had stopped eating and drinking. We knew her kidney's were in danger now. We arrived at the vets office and the doctor knew immediately her condition was serious. She didn't want to make any diagnosis before running some tests, blood work and an ultrasound of Tink's stomach, which we completely understood. The results would take about an hour. And so, we waited. We waited and prayed that it was something treatable. The truth is though, we knew. We knew that it would take a miracle to save her. She'd let us know in the last 24 hours by her behavior, the looks she gave us, her inability and lack of desire to do even the small things like sit up. She knew this was her end. But we hoped and prayed anyway.
The results came back and they were worse, way worse than we ever could have imagined. The blood work showed that every single thing they tested was high. Not just a little high, no, we're talking through the roof and in one case completely off the scale high. Some of the numbers also strongly pointed towards cancer being involved. Her liver and kidney's had either completely failed or would do so, likely within hours. The vet said the ultrasound was so bad that she couldn't be sure if Tink's gallbladder had ruptured or was massively enlarged. Either way, her body was filled with bile.
My wife burst out in tears. Tink had been her sweet baby girl since she first came to us. She'd been there for my wife as she battled in her darkest days with Fibromyalgia and all the pain, depression and uncertainty that came with it. She'd celebrated birthday's with us, graduations, Thanksgivings, Christmas'. She'd comforted us on bad days, grieved with us when we lost my dad and then my mom six months later. She'd also celebrated with my wife when after years of different doctors and medications we'd finally found a mix that allowed her to function and more importantly, after years of doubt, found the courage to accept a job opportunity a friend had offered her. Even though Tink somehow knew this would mean less time spent with her human companion, she gave my wife kisses all over he face while she explained the new job.
But Tink had two other furry companions to help soften that blow and pass the time, Dobby, our other dog and our cat Major. Oh how she shined when it came to Dobby. We got him as a rescue when he was still very young. He was wild, rambunctious and mischievous in many ways. Unsure of him the first day, he quickly won her over and how. She showed him the rules of the house without us even needing to do much. She kept him in line but also loved play fighting with him, grooming him and curling up for naps with him. Tink had been fixed when she was a puppy so she would never have pups of her own but Dobby was her child in every way and she was his Mamma as far as he was concerned as well.
Me? I refused to cry. "Not yet", I told myself. "She's always been there for us and I don't want her last visions of us to be sad ones. There will be plenty of time for tears after she's gone". I couldn't deny though that all the grief and memories associated with my father's passing came flooding back. Like Tinkerbell, his passing had come suddenly when the signs of pancreatic cancer didn't make themselves known until he had less than a week to live.
The vet went on to explain that even if we had rushed her to an emergency veterinary hospital on Sunday night, that it likely would have made little difference. She told us they could do the surgery to remove her gallbladder and stop that problem, but as weak as she was it was doubtful that she would survive the surgery and even if she did, Tink would be looking at a lifetime filled with potential complications, medications and therapies never mind the question of was there a chance her liver and kidneys would start to function again. Was a there a decision to be made? Yeah, but not really. We could have tried for the surgery, but what would awake from that operating table wouldn't really be our Tinkerbell. She wouldn't be the Tinkerbell that bounced with a puppy's exuberance at treat time, wouldn't be the Tinkerbell that played tug of war with you over her squeaky squirrel toy, wouldn't be the Mamma to Dobby she wanted to be.
My wife made the not-really-much of-a-decision-decision. We would help ease our sweet Miss Belle onto the Rainbow Bridge before we ever left the office. To delay it, even a day, even a few hours, would be to subject her to more pain and suffering than she ever deserved. She'd seen already been subjected to enough pain and suffering earlier in life.
Tink's original owner abused her. Her tail was broken in multiple spots and so instead of it having a curl to it, it stuck straight out. She also suffered from a collapsing trachea from repeated hard yanks on a choker collar. She'd come to my wife's grandmother as a rescue dog when she was four or five years old. She was meant to be a companion, someone to keep her grandma company. But grandma's health began declining about a year after Tink arrived there and she passed away when Tink was seven. My wife attended the funeral and spoke with her aunt, whom Grandma had been living with. Her aunt had multiple large dogs and had done her best to help Tink but they would often take advantage of her smaller size by eating her food or shoving her out of the way when they decided she was in their way and since she had been Grandma's primary caretaker in her final months, she couldn't always be there to stop then. I don't blame my wife's aunt or grandmother in any way. They did the best they could for her under the circumstances life was throwing at them.
So, my wife decided that it was time for Tink to have a change of scenery and a chance at a new life. She returned from California with this wonderful, loving creature. I still remember the first time I saw her. After the plane landed and I had gotten my wife's luggage, Tink popped her head out of the carrier and let out a little whine a because she needed to pee so badly after the long flight. I instantly fell in love with her. It was utterly amazing to see this creature discover over the next few weeks the freedom to express her love and affection, to watch her personality blossom without fear of abuse or of a bigger dog taking advantage of her smaller size. She had found her home and we were overjoyed to be the ones to provide it.
I'd never had a dog before. My mom didn't like them and so they weren't allowed in the house. My dad loved most dogs though and worked for a short time in his younger years at a veterinarian's office. At the time, both to help them and us, we were living with my parents. Tink was so incredibly well behaved, not to mention house trained, that mom never made an issue of her being there, ever and even came to enjoy having her around. My dad took to her quickly and she to him. In the warmer months he would have his morning coffee out on the deck and would "accidentally" spill some near her which she would lap up instantly. It broke our hearts when a few days after he died she went to the chair he normally sat in for dinner and whined repeatedly while bumping the chair with her nose. She wanted to know where here breakfast companion was and didn't understand why he wasn't there anymore.
After the not-really-much-of-a-decision-decision was made, I put out phone calls to the kids who couldn't be there and offered to put them on speaker phone so they could speak to her one last time and let her know they loved her. Our youngest son was with us and he chose to say what he had to then as well and would then wait for us outside. He didn't want any part of being there in her final moments and that was a decision I both respected him for and thought was for the best. Losing a pet at any age is tough. Losing one when you're 15 and already dealing with the teenage struggles of life is all the more difficult.
They took her one last time to prepare her and we went to the special room they have set aside for these moments. The staff was amazing from the moment we walked in the door to the very end. They showed every bit of care and concern for Tink and for us as one could ever hope for. We were given as much time with her as we wanted and as this was a short day for them in their schedule, many stayed after closing to provide whatever assistance and support we needed.
When they brought her back to us, she was wrapped up in a nice warm blanket and an IV tube was in place for the injection. We loved on her, OH did we love on her. Cuddled her, petted her, gave her scritches behind the ears, rubbed her belly and chest gently and told her how much we loved her. We tried to encapsulate eight years worth of love into those final few minutes.
The time came when we were as ready as we were going to be, which wasn't much but it was enough because it had to be. Truth be told, I think Tinkerbell was simply waiting for us. She had been ready to go since Tuesday. But she knew. She knew we weren't there yet and had held on so we could get to that place emotionally where we could do what needed to be done.
She was given the injection while my wife gently stroked the fur on her head and whispered to her how much we loved her, that everything was OK, that soon the pain would stop. The vet placed the stethoscope to Tink's chest a few moments later and checked her pulse.
"She's gone", she said quietly.
Our beautiful Tinkerbell breathed her last and set her paws on that Rainbow Bridge at 1:15 pm, Wednesday July 10th, 2019.
My wife passed her to me. Her body was at peace and became increasingly limp as I held her. I rocked her back and forth. I told her how much she had meant to us, how much we loved her. My wife and I have a quirk between us. We never end our conversations with "Goodbye" because Goodbye is a forever thing. We always say "Until later". So while I knew her body was now dead, I knew her spirit could hear me just fine and I wanted her to know there was something to look forward to at the end of that Rainbow Bridge and that this was not Goodbye.
"Say hello to Dad for me. Until later Miss Belle."
Dobby. Poor Dobby. He misses his Mamma. He grieves right along with us and its worse for him, I think, because all he knows is that she went out the door with us and hasn't come back. Not bringing him with us for so he could be there in her final moments is the one regret I will always have over this. Still, it may have made it easier for her knowing that he wasn't there. I don't know. Just as Tink was more my wife's dog than mine, Dobby is more mine than hers. And of course none of that is to imply that they aren't both loved with all our hearts by both of us. But as we all know, its our pets that chose whom they form the strongest bonds with, not us. So now its my job to be there for him as he's been there for me. To grieve with him, to try and help him understand. I think he's slowly getting there. I hope so, anyway.
Normally I would apologize for writing something this long. I'm not going to this time. They say that writing these things out can be therapeutic. All I know is I've cried repeatedly while typing this up. Maybe I wrote it all out because I want the world to know what an incredible friend and companion she was. How loving, kind, sweet and what an incredible surrogate Mom to Dobby she was. Maybe its the part of me that wants to help my buddy, my Dobby, understand what happened. Maybe its my head trying to explain it to my heart. Honestly, I mostly I think its because my heart demands answers that I just don't have right now.