June 05, 2008

All Dogs Go To Heaven. For Molly, It Took 18+ Years.

At 3 o'clock this afternoon, Kristine and I entered the local veterinarian's office with our 18-plus year old beagle Molly, who has been a member of our family, and a constant companion to my wife for more than a dozen years. A little over an hour later, the two of us emerged, and Molly was gone. After three bouts with cancer, the loss of a toe, innumerable odd moles and tumors here and there, not to mention thousands upon thousands of meals, walks, and snuggling time, today was the day we had to say goodbye.

Molly lived a long, pampered life. Her debut in 1990 was so long ago when you think about it. Milli Vanilli had achieved a Grammy award for best new artist. It would be another year before Bill Clinton would announce his candidacy for the presidency. Later in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, leading to the first Gulf War. As for me, I was in junior high school.

Little is known about Molly's early years. Kristine found Molly at a Beagle Rescue in San Jose in 1995, becoming her second dog, joining Digger, a thicker, older male beagle, who, according to my wife, wasn't always too fond of Molly. The two vied for attention until 2001, when Digger passed on, leaving Molly as the sole focus of Kristine's attention.

By 2002, Kristine and I were dating, and Molly took to me right away. As my wife says, the dog was more fond of me than she was at first. Molly had always liked men, and knowing herself to be more than an ordinary dog, she greatly preferred the company of humans to fellow canines.

But even back then, Molly's health was showing signs of fatigue. She was diagnosed with skin cancer and underwent radiation to stop its spread, having a nipple removed in the process, the result of too much lazy sun bathing on our deck. Yet, she recovered, and went back to being as aggressive as ever.

During the five years my wife and I have been married, Molly has been as much a part of the family as either of us. She has been there to greet us when we come home. She watches us during every meal, and was always on our bed next to us when we woke up, if we hadn't put her on the bed ourselves the night before. Being a scent hound, she was always ready to eat at a moment's notice, and every walk was full of new opportunities to sniff and find new places she hadn't smelled before.

But in 2006, she started hopping around again. Somehow, she gained an infection, due to cancer, again, this time in the nailbed which had her favoring her back right paw, at times making her fall over as she tried to avoid the pain. The vets said the right thing to do was remove the toe, and after a few days, Molly was again as good as new, running with a limp, tail wagging behind her.

As she got older and slower, we would see Molly sleeping more, running more slowly. She no longer stood up on her hind legs to ask for food, and at times wouldn't wake up even if we slammed the door shut. Later, her eyesight, hearing and sense of smell seemed to go away. While she once could find a single piece of kibble from across the room, I would have to place the kibble in front of her nose and then draw my hand back in fear of getting snapped as she couldn't exactly get her aim right.

In May of 2007, as you might remember, we suffered a scare when I came home to find Molly completely out of sorts, head bobbing to and fro, eyes, unsettled, and her not being able to find the dog door to relieve herself. It turned out she had what's known as old dog vestibular disease, which had knocked out her equilibrium, but after about 10 days of wondering if we should send her to the sanitarium, she came back, almost good as new.

In the ensuing year, we've seen odds and ends inflict this dog even as she pushed through and acted as our companion, a bridge between our first being married, and now, approaching the birth of our twins. Molly had her various ailments, including an infected eye, an infected ear, and too many moles and fatty tumors to mention. But as soon as we struck one issue down, another would come up. Most recently, Molly developed a tumor in her cheek that was again, likely cancer, and bled profusely wherever she would go. We covered our couch, our bed, and her bed with towels, only to find blood there, and on the carpet and our clothes, or wherever she had been. She was sensitive to the touch, but not in clear pain, so as her situation deteriorated, we hoped she would pull through, knowing that the time was coming for us to make a choice.

This weekend was especially hard. Molly wasn't herself, not waking up in the mornings to ask for food. We hadn't seen her tail wag in weeks, and she continued to bleed. Still coherent of us, she seemed to be as cuddly as ever, but she was communicating that it was time to be done. She was too tired, and had hung on for too long. Treatment to fix the lesion would be too invasive and too risky to try, especially on a dog the equivalent of a 100-year-old woman. While we dreamed of the five-person holiday cards this Christmas, with Molly alongside our new family of four, it wasn't going to happen, and today, we said goodbye.

Though I've been a mere add-on to the partnership she and my wife had, I loved that dog. She was the cutest, softest thing, ever. She was the best companion to sit alongside me whether I read, blogged or watched TV. She was always happy to go on a walk, even if it wasn't that far or she couldn't go that fast. She was quiet and didn't mind our silly hours, often stirring at 1 a.m. to be sure we were still up.

I wish we had the luxury of going to sleep one evening and waking up with Molly having passed quietly in the night, but with her situation getting worse by the day, it was time to take a deep breath, give her hugs and say goodbye. While we know its only weeks until we have plenty of noise here in our small condo, we've come home to quiet. Molly's left us to a place without arthritis, without lesions, where she's not at risk of cancer, and she can roam free to sniff all she wants. We'll miss her a great deal. I expect we will see some tears here now and again from those that knew her, but it was the right thing and a tough choice.

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