We lost our Dixie girl last week. It was completely unexpected and we find ourselves utterly heartbroken by her passing.
As some of you may recall, last summer she had some balance and coordination issues while we were in Maine and she was eventually diagnosed with a bulging disc in her spine. We put her on a course of steroids to reduce the pressure on her spinal cord which seemed to resolve the problem until last week when she suddenly lost all function in her back right leg. The disc had herniated and was now compressing her spinal cord.
We were about an hour south of Tucson and took her to an emergency specialty veterinary clinic on Sunday, January 28th. They admitted her and, the following day, her treating neurologist explained the situation. The short version was: she had to pass a bunch of hurdles – no cancers, no other disorders that would make her a bad candidate for surgery, she had to be healthy enough to withstand anesthesia, she had to have a fixable problem, and her spinal cord had to be healthy enough to regain function once he removed the acute pressure – but assuming she passed all of those tests, he believed he could get her back to normal (for her). We went ahead (not that we had many options…) and Dixie passed every test with flying colors. The MRI showed she had one disc that was completely blown and 3 more mildly compressing the spine.
She underwent surgery on Monday and she did great. Every benchmark the doctors set for her, she met. We visited with her Tuesday evening and she looked good. Wednesday morning, at 10:00 a.m., the doctor called and said she was continuing to improve and he was cautiously optimistic that we might even be able to take her home on Thursday. That afternoon, as Kevin and I were in the car driving to the vet practice to see her during visiting hours, the phone rang. We assumed it was just their evening update call. But the news was nothing we could have ever imagined.
Dixie had apparently suffered some sort of catastrophic medical event – an aneurism, a stroke, a blood clot to her lungs. One minute she was fine, resting comfortably in her kennel. The next, she was unresponsive. They tried to get her back, but she was gone. Just like that.
We were 15 minutes away.
If there’s one part of this that rips our hearts out (and, let’s be honest, it ALL rips our hearts out), it is that we were so close and, yet, we weren’t there when she passed. Dixie was always an anxious, nervous dog and she always wanted to be near us. Through her entire history of seizures, whenever she would feel one coming on, she would always run toward one of us. Sometimes she made it, sometimes she didn’t – but we saw it again and again. She wanted to be near us when she wasn’t feeling well. So, knowing that she was all by herself in a unfamiliar place when whatever happened happened, is really, really tough for us to take. And the pain of losing her is compounded by the shock of it all. We had steeled ourselves for possible bad outcomes during the surgery or the possibility that the surgery might not work, but we thought she was out of the woods and on her way to a full recovery. We were not prepared at all for what happened and we are heartbroken that we never got an opportunity to say goodbye.
And we know we can’t blame ourselves, and we know we were doing the best thing for her, and and we know there was nothing we could do even if we were there…. And yet…. we still feel awful.
We adopted Dixie six years ago from the Virginia German Shepherd Rescue. The first time we went to meet her was at an adoption event. Lots of people were interested in her, but she only had eyes for Kevin.
Since adopting her, she’s embedded herself in our lives to a degree we never could have imagined and become such an integral part of our everyday existence, that her sudden absence has been crushing.
Dixie’s raison d’etre was following us around. She needed to know where each of us was at all times and wanted to be as close to us as possible. If she could have sat on top of us all day, she would have. If either of us were out of the house, she would often wait by the window or the door. At the old house…
In the RV….
If Kevin walked outside, she would immediately run to “her” window (which happened to be over the wet bay) because she expected to see him there dealing with the tanks.
If I went into the bedroom and, God forbid, closed the sliding door behind me, I often found her paws sticking under the door as she waited for me.
From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, she was our constant companion. As soon as one of us would move in the morning, Dixie would be at our bedside looking for an invite up for ‘snuggle time.’ At night, she would always fall asleep with us, before jumping down and going to sleep on her bed or by the front door.
When we were working on our computers, she liked to cram her body under the table (often bringing all her toys with her).
Driving days meant she would happily hang out in “the snuggle zone” in front of the passenger seat. She’d get lots of hugs and pets and then settle in for a snooze as we drove.
She was a GREAT travel companion, just happy to be wherever we were, doing whatever we were doing, adapting as needed to her ever changing environment. She loved it because she got to explore all kinds of new environments – from forests to lakes (she LOVED swimming) to parks (even ones she wasn’t supposed to be at), the beach, and, most recently, the desert.
Her selfie game was strong… Actually, I think she was just confused by me constantly taking pictures of her, but luckily she would humor me and put up with it.
What she wouldn’t put up with was anyone messing with our pack. She didn’t become our ‘Director of Homeland Security’ for nothing. Whenever I would consider the possibility of someone trying to break into our home, all I could think of was Mr. T’s famous phrase… “I pity the fool…”
If we were doing stuff around the house, Dixie would try to “help.” And by “help,” I mean “not help at all….” If I was vacuuming, she’d helpfully go lay wherever I was trying to vacuum. If Kevin was sitting on the ground, she’d be all up in his business.
Dixie was especially skilled at adding obstacles to Kevin’s home improvement projects. Because nothing makes fixing stuff easier than having a dog crawling all over you.
Speaking of Kevin, as much as Dixie loved me, she would have pushed me off the back of a train if it meant she could have Kevin all to herself.
Matching outfits, treat balancing challenges, squirrel monitoring sessions, costumes, and endless snuggles…they were the best of friends.
For the last several months, because of her back problems, Dixie was completely reliant on Kevin to get her in and out of the RV, to give her a lift onto the bed or couch, or to get her into the car. She was dependent on him and he was happy to take on the responsibility. Rain, cold, heat, middle of the night, side of the highway – he was there for her whenever she needed him. He knew it and she knew it. And it’s making it all that much harder on him now.
I’d love to tell you that we are quickly focusing on the good memories and moving forward, but everything is really raw right now and we’re still processing what happened. There’s a 75 pound hole in our hearts and the edges of that hole are really, really jagged. It’s going to take a while for either of us to feel normal again.
We loved our puppy girl and we know she loved us. We are heartbroken that our adventures together ended too soon. We hope she didn’t suffer and we hope she knows we would have done anything to make things right.
If there is a heaven, we know she’s up there, running and swimming, collecting balls, terrorizing squirrels, and eating all the cheese. She deserves every bit of joy, happiness, and fun possible. She was smart, loving, loyal, protective, and entirely devoted to our pack until the end, and we will be forever grateful that she was part of our lives, even if it wasn’t for as long as we’d hoped.
We love you, Dixie, and we miss you terribly. Be good. And leave the poor cats alone.