On June 7th, 2016 around 7:45 p.m.--just last Tuesday--my little Walter passed away.
I still can't believe I'm writing those words. He was, and always will be, my very first Dachshund. Many of you know, or have at least heard of my childhood dog--Gus, who is still going strong at almost 16 years. I love Gus dearly, but for me, there was a big difference between the dog I grew up with and the dog I adopted on my own and came home to each day in my very first apartment, after my first job out of college. Lots of firsts. And frankly, Gus is my Mom's dog. Despite the fact that I begged for Gus when I was 8 years old, promised to walk him and feed him, and loved every minute I spent with him, it was my Mom who was up with him first thing in the morning while I was putting on my cheerleading uniform and applying too much eyeliner. It was my Mom who got up with him in the middle of the night for him to go outside and
It was different with Walter. It's not a secret that I have had a genuine love (and even obsession) for the Dachshund breed for as long as I can remember. The first year I went to Dachtober Fest (think: adoptable Dachshunds, dressed-up Dachshunds competing in contests like bobbing for weenies, craft beer, and of course, hot dogs--Google it if you don't believe me), I was still living in my Mom's basement. It definitely wasn't the time for me to get a dog. Not yet. I still went to plenty of the Dachshund meet-and-greets to satiate myself in the meantime, though.
The next year I went to Dachtober Fest, in September of 2015, it was a different story. When my Mom and I got to the event, we were both excited, but neither of us ever expected it to be the day we would meet Walter. My mom saw him first. She said, "Look at the cute little red male over there." I rushed over to him and snatched him out of the pen he was in with all the other adoptable weenies pouncing and tripping over each other. He was incredibly calm and so cute, and I wanted him. There was one other Dachshund there who had my attention for a second, probably because he was missing an eye and Fetty would have been a nice name for him. That Doxie was cute, too. But it was Walt who looked right into my eyes and warmed my heart.
I kept myself busy in the week that I waited for Walter by preparing. I made a list of things I wanted to ask the vet about, and decided which vet I'd like to take him to for his first check-up. I purchased him a bowtie, leash, name tag, a little powder blue kennel, a kennel pad, a little dog bed, some doggy shampoo, a bag of food, treats, toys, poo bags, a brush, and of course cute containers to store and organize everything in. I was so excited. It sounds ridiculous, but it felt like a longtime dream was actually coming to fruition.
When the day had finally come for me to pick him up, my mom and I rushed over to the PetSmart location where his foster mom had planned to meet us. His tiny, quiet, sweet foster mom--Dee--came walking around the corner of the building with him, gave him her final hugs and kisses, and handed him over. We chatted for a few minutes, and soon after I signed the adoption papers, and left with a warm little Walty in my arms.
Later that day, we took him over to my church, St. Thomas More, for the Blessing of the Animals, I introduced Walter to all of the neighbors in my parents' neighborhood, and soon it was just the two of us on the way home to my apartment. When we arrived, I opened the door to see Shelby and Lauren passed out on the couch, with half-eaten bowls of Chipotle on the floor. Walter dashed over to the Chipotle before I could do anything and inhaled what was left of their meals. That was just his first mischievous act. I then decided to sit down on the couch, and grab the Whole Foods wrap I had purchased (well, the one Pam purchased) earlier. I got it all prepared on a plate with a napkin, sat down on the couch, and in a blink, Walter had jumped on to the chair, shot behind my back, swiped the wrap that was resting on the arm of my chair, and swallowed it whole. We all just sat there stunned. It was sort of hilarious, somewhat impressive, and a little sad because I wondered how hungry he must have been?
As with anyone who has lost an owner or parents, been to several different homes, was traumatized, and is adjusting, Walter did have behavioral issues. About two months in, he began nipping people, piddling in the house, and expressed a new, sassy demeanor (my boyfriend, Charlie, would call him a "vicious attacker", but you know how boys can be dramatic). And if you know the Dachshund breed, as well as some of the tendencies of adopted dogs, this behavior was a little concerning but not really surprising. The two of us enrolled in dog classes at the Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, and worked with an awesome trainer named Eric Gillaspy. He was patient, kind, experienced, honest, passionate about his work, and had faith in Walter, just like I did. Walter was far from an easy companion to care for, but I was committed to him and loved him dearly.
The second trainer Walter and I worked with was Rita, who was recommended by my good friend Rachel. Rachel is also a true dog-lover, and has a dog who had very similar behavior to Walt, so I figured this would be the ultimate solution. Rita is a character, to say the least, and she would come over to my apartment on Sunday mornings to work with Walter and I, while Shelby and Lauren sat back on the couch with mimosas and cackled at the scene in front of them. If you want to know more about Rita, Google "bad dogs welcome". Or just ask Charlie.
After several training sessions, a few months going by, and little improvement, I remembered something that Eric Gillaspy had told me. He said that working with trainers can be wonderful, but that it's a good idea to also have a vet look at the dog to ensure there isn't a health issue that could be causing certain behaviors. To be honest, it was frustrating, eye-opening, sad, discouraging, and exhausting watching my new little dog act out on a daily basis despite any efforts, and I wondered if it maybe was because he didn't feel well. I know I'm certainly not the most pleasant when I'm hungry or feeling sick. So, we made an appointment to get him checked out, and because they had requested a urine sample, I spent a better part of one morning chasing Walter around the courtyard in my robe trying to stick a little tupperware bowl under him. I did eventually collect some pee, and felt rather accomplished.
Many people know medical expenses are just that--expensive. So during the first appointment after I had described Walt's behaviors and symptoms to the vet, I wasn't necessarily ready to do any serious tests. Simply based on Walt's urine analysis and the description I provided, she let me know that he could have a UTI, and he took a round of antibiotics. He also had a round of hors de'oeuvres every afternoon when he took his antibiotic, because it required a lot of stuffing pills into cheese and salami just right, so that he couldn't fish the pill out and only swipe the food. They're always sneakier than you think.
Looking back, I should have known something was definitely wrong. Aside from his irritable demeanor, he was peeing pretty uncontrollably all the time and drinking water excessively. Sometimes it's hard to see things as they are in reality when you're an insider of a situation; I spent every day with Walter, so his behaviors just became the norm to me. In addition to that, I was heavily distracted by my grandpa passing away quite suddenly, and in between the days that he passed and the funeral, I reluctantly went on my planned trip to Vegas with my girlfriends, too. While I was in Vegas, my mom watched Walt. The things she told me of his behavior while I was away made me feel terrible, but she didn't tell me to make me feel guilty; she told me so that I was aware how unusual his behavior was. She was blunt about the fact that she knew something was wrong, and that he needed to go to the vet soon. It was off to the vet we went.
I was missing my grandpa, working at a new job, and had just started studying for my Series 6 when I got the voicemail. I sat in a little conference room at work by myself as I listened to Dr. Burstein describe that the blood and urine tests pointed to Walt's stage three kidney disease. It was just shitty. Dr. Burstein described that he could live three more months, he could be around for a year, and that sometimes dogs surprise him. Of course, I thought Walter would be the non-statistical miracle dog. To prolong his life and keep him as comfortable as possible, he started a prescription canned-food diet, took Pepcid, and there was a great compounding pharmacy in Monument, CO that was able to produce a dose of Telmisartan that was just right for his 10-pound body. I felt like things were going pretty good. His behavior had improved significantly, most of his symptoms had disappeared, and it was almost as if he didn't have kidney disease.
Before long, though, things did go south. The symptoms and things I saw when he was nearing the end of his life made me physically sick. Some of the things are unnecessary and too awful to describe, but he was no longer eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom. He couldn't keep anything down, and he didn't want to sleep in my bed with me anymore. So just about every hour throughout the night, I would wake up to crouch down and reach under my bed, and make sure his little body was still rising up and down and was warm. His breaths were shallow, but they were there, and I desperately held on to that, despite the lack of quality of life.
And then June 7th came. It's weird how it all unfolded, looking back again--your instinct is a powerful thing. I was on the phone with Charlie at 7:30 that morning, just like we were most mornings. We were talking, but I was preoccupied, and had to hang up during our conversation to call the vet. I know now that I didn't call sooner not because I was neglecting Walt, but because I didn't want to hear how truly sick he was. It's terrifying to know that someone is going to tell you the truth, and make it real, because in my heart I already knew Walt was going and going fast, but there would never be a point in time that I would be ready.
I was sick that day. Just like Walt. Be it stress or sympathy symptoms, I was sick, and had to leave work. I hated leaving work and asking for accommodations while being new to a job. But I'll never be more glad I went home. When I got home, I was sobbing and shaking. I picked Walt up, and he laid his little head and floppy ears down on my shoulder. I held him tight. In that moment, I knew that he didn't want to fight any longer. I knew he had an appointment at the vet that evening, but it was primarily Walt himself, who told me it would be his last.
We decided to make the most of the day. The pictures below capture Walt's last day on earth, and depict how I want to remember him. We took a nice, easy car ride with the windows rolled down to McDonald's where I let him order food. He enjoyed some nuggets while laying in the cool grass, we sat on the swings together, and cuddled all afternoon. Our last hours were good, they were.
That evening was terrible. My mom came to pick me up, and Lauren and Shelby kissed Walter as tears streamed down all of our faces. We all, including or maybe especially Walter, just knew. I carried him into the vet like many times before in his favorite, chewed-up blankie. But when we sat in a different area of the building than ever before, in a nice big room with comfortable furniture, boxes of tissues, dim lighting, and books about Doggy Heaven, it was all too real. The consultation was calm and straightforward. There was the option to put him in the hospital by himself for intensive care for a few days, or let go. There wasn't a decision to be made, because Walter chose.
It didn't make it any easier to see his little body go limp. You just want to sink into the ground. There was also a small sense of relief--I knew the suffering was over for him. I kissed him over and over, and gently closed his tiny eyelids with his even tinier red eyelashes. I walked out of the vet that night with my Mom, feeling emptier than ever before.
Losing a dog is so much more than that. It's gut-wrenching. He was my best friend, a teacher, a responsibility, and a fiercely loyal companion. Some people will say, "it's just a dog", but I don't want those kinds of people in my life anyway. Like most things, time does help. But Walter will never be replaceable. There could be another, but he or she won't be Walter. I know he is up there snacking on table scraps, sunning, and sitting right next to my Grandpa. That makes me smile.
I picked up his ashes today, and that was hard. It's another symbol that he is no longer on earth with us. But the sun will set tonight, and come up again tomorrow, and life will go on. For now, Walter is in my purse, and we are going to P.F. Chang's for a glass of wine, a celebratory drink to him and his life.