We lost a very important member of our family on Sunday evening.
I’ve been Manny’s “mom” for almost three years. I first met him on the same night that I met Tommy, when a mutual friend took me to a party at Tommy’s home. When I went into the house to use the washroom, I saw the sweetest little guy, sitting alone in the living room. He looked over at me and I felt compelled to say hello, so I sat down on the carpet next to him and Manny immediately climbed onto my lap and looked into my eyes. I thought he was the kindest, gentlest soul. As my relationship with Tommy progressed, I got to know Manny even better. He would often come with Tommy to sleep over at my apartment. As soon as he’d walk in, he’d check the perimeter of my kitchen floor for any stray crumbs to eat and then he’d find his spot, a soft, colorful afghan I put in the corner of my bedroom for him. I realized how important this little guy was to me a couple of years ago, when we returned from our Mexico trip. When I held out my arms to greet him he looked at me and made a point to turn around, walk away and sit in his bed, giving me the “eye”. Then after a minute or so, he walked over, climbed into my arms and promptly fell asleep. When I felt how relieved he was to see me I realized we were a family that day.
Once I moved into their house, I became Manny’s daily caretaker. He was a constant with me in the kitchen, waiting for me to drop things for him to eat. Manny also made the funniest noises, particularly once he knew I was home for the day and he would be let out of his kennel. Often I would hit the lock button for my car and I’d hear him screeching all the way from the street. The neighbors probably thought we had a torture chamber in our house. He thrived on his routine, being let out of the kennel and having supper. He also wouldn’t fall asleep without a cushy comforter on top of his dog bed and a milk bone for bedtime snack. What is funny about Manny is that he didn’t have many dog-like mannerisms. He always wanted to be with people and do whatever they were doing. He couldn’t understand why he had to sleep in a dog bed, or why he couldn’t eat dinner with us at the table.
Manny was a great road tripper and as Tommy and I road trip often, there were few trips when he wasn’t in his spot in the back seat to accompany us. He was also incredibly sensitive. If I was upset or crying, Manny would come over to be with me and wouldn’t leave my side. Wherever I went in the house, Manny was my shadow, my protector.
This past Friday evening right before bed, Manny had the runs. We put him to bed, thinking he would be fine the next day, but I went to check on him an hour or so later and he wouldn’t even eat a milk bone. I should have known right then how sick he was. By the next day, Manny was very tired and throwing up. We thought maybe he just ate something bad and we’d give him a day to rest. By Sunday morning, Manny was much worse and he was taken to the vet. They got him an IV for fluids and we were hopeful he was just dehydrated and that would do the trick. By supper time, the vet called and told us that Manny was not improving, but getting worse.
We headed down and when they brought Manny in to us, tethered to an IV, he looked normal to me, for the most part. In the back of my mind, on the way there, I’d started to worry if we would have to put him down, but he looked fine at first glance and I was relieved. Upon closer inspection though, Manny’s mouth and paws were covered in vomit. He could barely keep his eyes open and his belly was very swollen and protruding. The vet told us that was the most alert he had seen him and he was still so lethargic. He also said there was now blood in Manny’s vomit and stool. He essentially told us that because all of the treatments he had been trying all day weren’t working, he had ruled out minor issues. He said that without further testing he could narrow it down to about 15 ailments and none of them was curable.
Manny was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder about 4 years ago. For him this meant that his skin would get so itchy he would scrape it until it was raw. He has been on a high dose of prednisone each day to combat that but we have always known it would shorten his life span. When we mentioned his condition and dose to the doctor, he sadly closed his eyes and nodded his head. He said that eventually the prednisone wasn’t enough and that likely the autoimmune disorder had now started to target Manny’s organs. He told us that his goal was quality of life versus quantity of life and he just didn’t feel that we could prolong Manny’s life without him suffering. He told us he would give us some time to think and left the room.
We held Manny. We cried. We told him how much we loved him. We comforted him.
Tommy asked Manny the hard questions:
“What should we do, Buddy?”
“Should we keep going?”
“Tell us what you want and we’ll do it.”
Manny turned his head to the side, thoughtfully and waited a few moments.
Then he looked Tommy in the eye, sighed heavily, and laid down.
He was ready to go.
Regretfully, we told the doctor our decision, and Tommy held Manny in his arms while he was euthanized. Right after he passed and his muscles relaxed, a large amount of blood poured out of him. The doctor saw this and affirmed our decision, confirming how severe his condition was. I try to use this information to tell myself that we did the right thing for Manny, but the responsibility of choosing to end the life of someone you love is a heavy burden to bear, regardless of the circumstances.
The entire instance was very fast and still feels like a blur. We left our Manny there and we drove home with an empty back seat. Our house is full of empty spots too. The empty spot in our bedroom where Manny slept. The empty spot where Manny’s kennel was. The empty spot where the treats were in the pantry. The empty spot beside me in the kitchen. The empty spot beside us when we go for walk.
I have all kinds of guilt. I have guilt that we initially brushed off his illness as something minor. I have guilt that we were out and about while he was sleeping. I have guilt because maybe, had we went through testing we could have helped him. Maybe we gave up too easy. Maybe we sold him short. We’ll never know.
We’ve racked our brains with what if’s, and we’ve gone over the facts in our heads a million times in the last couple of days. Manny was 8 and a half years old with a shortened life expectancy due to the prednisone and his condition. The doctor told us he was terminally ill. He was suffering. Somehow these facts don’t feel like comfort. We still had to make an awful choice.
The bottom line is, I know when I come home after work now, there is no Manny shrieking with excitement to see me. No matter how grouchy I might have been that morning, Manny was just as excited to see me when I got home. Is there any unconditional love in the world that rivals that of a dog?
I know that I don’t get to hug him anymore or play with him or have my protector beside me at all times. Even if he is there in a way, it’s not the same.
Wherever Manny is, I hope he is so happy. I hope he gets lots of play time and cuddles; lots of milk bones and McDonald’s fries (his favorite). I hope he knows how LOVED he was, and still is. I hope he knows our home is empty without him and we’d give anything to have him back. I hope he knows how special he is and how proud of him we are. He was the best dog we could ask for and the dog we measure all other dogs by.
We love you Manny and we miss you so, so much.