Once upon a time I really didn’t even like dogs and all the ones we ever had were family pets that I didn’t have a bond with. I swore I’d never have one of my own, but then a few weeks after my cat (my only real pet that was just MINE) was put down, this weak little malnourished 7.5 month old bag of terrified fur and bones fell in my lap and I could not in good conscious NOT take her. On the ride home from her rescue, I decided on her name. I would call her Nola because my brother was moving to New Orleans and the abbreviation NOLA was in my head. Somehow it just fit her perfectly.
So I did and I spent the first 3 months regretting that decision because this furball had so many problems both physically and emotionally and I was ill-prepared for this type of caretaking. Explosive diarrhea almost every morning at 3am because she’d never had proper food (not even puppy food!) and her stomach couldn’t adjust well. Eating anything she could find (see previous sentence) and barfing it up everywhere. Not knowing what a water dish was and not knowing how to even drink the water so she’d pick a mouthful up and try to carry it somewhere only to dribble it EVERYWHERE so the floor was always wet and slippery and I slipped so many times. Not knowing what a leash was or that peeing OUTSIDE was the way to go. For a brief moment in time I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was too much work even though I worked with my dad and worked from our shared home and was with her all day every day. I even tried to re-home her, but I swear the minute I found a possible new home this little furball who’d spent 3 months cowering in the corner afraid of me suddenly licked my hand and wagged her tail and POOF! I fell in love.
The next few years we evolved and grew together and after a lot of trial and error, we found our groove. It was an imperfect groove that had a lot of flaws, but it was OUR groove and it worked. She went from sleeping in a cage to sleeping on the floor next to it to sleeping on the bed with me. She became my shadow then she became my companion. This fucking dog who challenged me and peed on everything and ate things I didn’t want her to eat had weaseled her way into my heart and my life changed.
Eventually when Nola was about 4.5 years old I brought home two kittens: Lily and Anubis. After several weeks of teaching her they were not in fact appetizers to a main course and a serious bite in my hand, she suddenly had two siblings and she became protective of them. Once in a while she’d forget they were not food, but overall they were her buddies. I had a family in those 3 furballs and my heart was finally full. When Dean came along, they all loved him and my family became complete. When we lost Anubis last year, she and Lily helped refill the hole in my heart he punched out when he died.
So here I am, 10.5 years later with a dog about to turn 11 and she’s having a health problem and my world is falling apart.
Earlier this week I took Nola to a new vet to check out this little growth under her eye. Not urgent need to remove, but could get worse later so I decided to have it removed now so they do the pre-op bloodwork and THEN give me a cost estimate. After I try not to shit my pants at the cost of anesthesia, removal, and biopsy, they tell me to take my time and think it through. I go home, think, and decide against it for now.
Yesterday, before I can call and tell them I’ll be putting the growth removal on hold until it changes, they call me back with results of her blood work and something is abnormal.
She start’s telling me that Nola’s alkaline levels are really high and a couple other things are off and tells me the exact wording but I can’t hear it. My brain shifts tracks and I suddenly remember 2 years ago going through this with the old vet and how he was kind of concerned so he ran other tests but found nothing and just said we’d monitor it. Suddenly it’s an issue because this is an otherwise very healthy dog and the levels have gone up 200 units.
It could literally be anything causing the spike – from a mass (likely benign) on her liver to her adrenals pumping overtime to Cushings Disease which I was warned is extremely expensive and not the best quality of life and a lot of people elect not to treat it so it’s essentially a death sentence… and then my head started to disconnect. I tried to stay calm, but my voice was wavering. I scheduled an ultrasound for a day when Dean will be off work next week because I know based on this conversation I can’t handle bad news if it happens and will need him there for me, and then immediately called my mom.
It wasn’t until this conversation that I realized the true depth of my love for that dog. With Lily and Anubis, they came into my life and instantly loved me. There was no struggle to get them to accept me or trust me. I’ve always been a cat person as well and these two were little cuddle bugs who loved to sit on me and be loved. Nola has never been like that and although I knew she was locked into my heart, I hadn’t fully comprehended the depths at which she was embedded until this conversation where her life was suddenly in question. She’s an airhead who eats my anniversary cards, pees on my carpet out of spite, begs for food with a high pitched whine that could break glass, sheds everywhere year round, is a TERRIBLE road companion, and is generally a needy pain in the ass, but she’s my pain in the ass and for every rough moment there are a dozen beautiful and sweet moments.
Suddenly I realized that I love her so much I can’t even describe it and THAT is when reality hit.
I get that I’m prematurely freaking out over nothing. I know there’s no way to know what’s wrong with her until they start testing. I know this could be as simple as taking a pill and she’s fine. I KNOW ALL OF THIS. Does that stop me from getting upset? Does it stop me from going down the dark path of thinking negatively and worry about cost? Does it stop me from making plans for the worst? Absolutely NOT. You know why? Because if I don’t accept the possibility of the worst case scenario now then it will destroy me if it really happens. If I get it in my head now that this could very well be the end of my dog’s life then I will be able to make the tough decisions later on. Unfortunately that means I’ve been crying a lot thinking of every bad thing I’ve ever said about her, feeling guilty over yelling at her, wanting to buy her a steak for dinner for being such a horrible parent, etc., but I HAVE to do this to myself so I can process it all. It won’t lessen my pain, but it will help the decision process and make me sure of my decisions rather than question it down the road. If I don’t prepare myself for the worst now, there’s no fucking way I’ll be able to make treatment decisions later.
Once I finish processing the worst, I’ll begin to focus on hoping for the best. I’ll feel better having put myself through this and I will let go of it. I’ll love my dog for however long I have her and just accept whatever life is shooting at me next. In the meantime, I’m gonna cry a little bit more.