It was a few days after Sherman had passed away and Leroy was in a full IBD flare.
It had been coming on for about a week and we were doing all we could to lessen the flare but nothing we were doing was working.
Leroy had refused his breakfast and then refused to come inside after his morning potty break.
He was struggling to walk and the edema was starting to show in his rear legs.
I had come inside to get him some freshwater and a few ice cubes and when I went back out, he was laying in a puddle.
I assumed that it was urine so I went over and lifted him up with the harness.
As he struggled to gain his footing his front paws slipped in the puddle and made a big splash.
As soon as the splash hit my legs I realized that it wasn’t pee, it was watery diarrhea.
I took a breath, got him out on the patio, grabbed the hose and the shampoo and got him cleaned up.
Then I scrubbed off the patio.
He could barely stand for the bath because he was so weak so I tried to hold him up with one arm and scrub with the other.
We were both covered in poop and exhausted.
I did the fastest bath I could and then we both collapsed on the beach towel.
I laid next to Leroy sobbing for over an hour.
I knew what had to be done and it exhausted me to just think about rebuilding Leroy again.
We would have to put him back on the medication that I said I would never put him on again.
He would have to get worse before he got better.
Do we put him through that again? Do we put ourselves through that again?
I was emotionally exhausted from losing Sherman, physically exhausted from caring for Leroy and my anxiety was through the roof.
I wasn’t sleeping because I was having nightmares and in between the nightmares I was letting Leroy outside.
I stopped eating and the headaches were getting out of control.
I was tired, unmotivated, angry, sad and felt myself getting dangerously close to that depression line.
The imaginary line that I drew for myself several years ago when I use to regularly dip below it.
The line that you don’t want to dip below because you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to pull yourself above it.
In between cleaning up dog urine on the carpet because we took the desperate measure to put Leroy back on steroids, I would lie to my family that I had it all under control.
I would suck back my tears until they were off at school and work and then I would cry and hide under the covers.
I started talking to myself. Encouraging myself to just keep going.
I watched the fluid slowly come off of Leroy as the steroids took the inflammation down and also sucked away the little life that he had left in him.
Every day his ribs would start to show a little more as he lost more muscle mass. He couldn’t walk more than 10 steps without having to rest.
He would pee and fall in it.
My house wreaked of dog urine and it made me gag.
I lifted Leroy at least 30 times a day.
I worried about him 24 hours a day.
All that work we had done over the past year to get him back to functionally well was gone again.
Was I doing the right thing? Was it time to let him go?
I tried to think of a world without both Sherman and Leroy in it and I couldn’t.
I cut myself off from my social world more than I already was.
I couldn’t leave him. I was the only one who could properly care for him.
I did all this and I would do it 100 times over.
I didn’t think of it as a burden but more as my duty.
But it was a burden. It was a heavy load and it was affecting my quality of life and my ability to care for him properly.
I realized this one morning when I looked at myself in the mirror.
I looked beat up.
I had been wearing the same sweatpants for a week and hadn’t showered in 3 days.
I didn’t look healthy. I looked like the one that was chronically ill.
The last several months of caring for Sherman and Leroy had beaten me down.
I tried to hide it from everyone because I felt sort of ashamed of it.
Ashamed that I let myself get to that point.
Ashamed that I felt that much of a burden for caring for my dogs.
The word burden seems so harsh.
Nothing that I love that much should ever be a burden.
But I look at it differently now, a burden is something we all carry when caring for sick or senior pets.
It’s a lot to deal with and it’s something that many of us don’t feel comfortable talking about because I think it makes us feel guilty.
We don’t feel that we should have such heavy emotions for our pets but we should and we do.
For me, I’ve never had the burden of dealing with a human being that had a chronic illness.
Besides aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents I haven’t lost a loved one that I’ve lived with day in and day out.
I’ve felt the grief of losing those people but I haven’t felt the extremely deep loss.
Here’s the truth:
Last month I was in a bad place.
The depression that my dogs have kept me out of for so many years was lurking uncomfortably close.
The serenity of caring for senior dogs turned to anxiety.
I didn’t know what to tell anybody.
Everyone tells you that pets can help with depression and anxiety but no one fast forwards to the end of their lives that will bring that depression up from the deep part of your body that has suppressed it.
Our pets are used as emotional support animals and therapy dogs whether they are registered or not.
They keep us active, make us laugh and give us something to look forward to day after day.
For many of us, they are the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we see at night.
We look forward to coming home to them after work and choose to spend the night in with their company instead of other people.
We seek comfort from them over people.
They make the world a better place and when they are no longer here we all sort of lose a bit of ourselves and we lose what kept us from going to that dark place that we don’t ever want to go to again.
I didn’t want to tell anybody but I’m telling you now that if you’ve ever felt that way, you’re not alone.
Losing a pet and/or caring for a chronically ill pet is hard.
It can take an emotional, physical and financial toll on any of us.
It can make you sick.
It can make you depressed and depression is serious.
Please take it seriously.
I’m in a better place now, I promise.
My family was monumental in helping me through this and so were you even though you probably didn’t know it.
It was coming on before Sherman passed because the burden had been getting heavier over the last few months.
Being able to talk about losing Sherman with you and hearing your stories of loss has helped.
My family has taken on helping to care for Leroy.
Let me rephrase that, I have allowed myself to allow my family to help more.
I have allowed them to take more of the burden.
My husband and I discussed Leroy’s quality of life and we both decided that because of Leroy’s history of somehow always pulling out of this, we had to give him a fighting chance.
We’ve accepted the fact that his body is tired and our time is more limited than we want.
I also went to a pet bereavement meeting at a local pet store.
I highly recommend this to anyone if you have access to one.
It’s not weird it’s therapeutic and it’s another reminder that you’re not alone.
If you don’t have access to one there are plenty of resources available online.
A few other ways that I’ve come out of this are by:
Taking better care of myself by making myself eat and sleep.
I ordered some new clothes for fall, went to the eye doctor and got some new glasses, colored my hair, cut my hair and of course took a shower.
I went out with my husband on a little date.
Actually, we’ve been out on more than just one the past month.
I stepped away from online and did some personal projects that I’ve been wanting to do for years.
And of course, we adopted Odin.
Getting another dog at a time like this may not be the correct move for most people but it was for me and I think my family knew it which is why they were all so on board with it.
I think my husband knew it was one way to try and keep me from dipping below that line.
I had become so involved in caring for senior dogs that I forgot the energy and joy that a young dog can breathe back into you.
Odin hasn’t taken away from me caring for Leroy and he definitely hasn’t replaced Sherman.
If anything he has improved my care for Roy and has kept me energized.
Odin is THE dog that will help me get through these loses. I knew it as soon as I looked into his coopery brown eyes.
So I’m sharing this very personal information with you not for you to judge me or for you to feel sorry for me but so that you know that if you’ve ever felt similar, you are not alone.
I don’t have any advice to give you because I’m not a therapist but I promise you that you’re not alone.
In fact, a study published in Veterinary Record took a look at caregiver burden in owners of sick pets. The results reinforced the depth and significance of the human-animal bond.
It also validated that the feelings and struggles of fellow pet owners were normal, healthy and necessary.
We take extraordinary measures these days for our pets, both in health and in sickness.
We carry the burden of determining their quality of life and when we need to end that life to prevent further suffering.
We don’t do that for humans and it’s very hard if not almost impossible for many of us to comprehend that.
Give yourself some credit. Give yourself some love.
It is about you too.
Just because we struggle with this does not make us a bad dog owner. Don’t feel guilty for having such a deep love for your dogs that living in a world without them seems unbearable.
And we’re not weak. In fact, we are very strong but even the strong will become weak at the loss of their best friend.
p.s. Leroy is doing well. He’s far from being back to normal and the older he gets the farther away he is to ever be that again. But he’s done with this flare, has no more fluid and his mobility is much better. He’s eating, drinking and his poops are getting better. His body is tired and that’s obvious but he’s not going anywhere as of yet.