Misc: Dog Story

From: kevin@vailstar.com (Kevin Michael Vail)
Newsgroups: soc.motss
Subject: A Dog's Tale (long)
Date: Sun, 02 Feb 1997 00:13:45 -0500

Long before David and I became lovers, we were friends, and I remember a
small gray-and-white bundle of yappy fur at his apartment.  "What *is* it?"
I recoiled, as it crouched at my feet and barked ferociously at me for
having the audacity to invade its domain.  "Oh, that's Jasmine," was the
response.  "Just ignore her."  Well, it's hard to ignore something that
sounds like it wants to rip your heart out, but I tried.  She would have
had to settle for taking my knees out, being short, but I did have to
admire her willingness to defend David from friends, dinner guests, and
other perceived threats.

At that time, David and my (now ex-) lover Darrell were closer friends than
David and I were, and since Darrell was a dog person, David sometimes asked
him to run over and walk Jasmine when he couldn't get away from work long
enough.  I never went along on these errands of mercy.  I didn't *like*
dogs, thanks to some rowdy dogs in my neighborhood when I was growing up. 
I could tolerate some large, quiet dogs, but I didn't see why anyone would
want one of the small yappy kind.

Jasmine at that time was a very nervous dog.  A cockapoo, she inherited the
most high-strung traits of poodles and cocker spaniels.  Any noise in the
hall or from any of the surrounding apartments sent her into a barking
frenzy.  Strangers in the apartment caused her incredible angst, which she
displayed by barking non-stop.  Sometimes David tried to put her in the
bedroom and close the door.  This just muffled the barking slightly and
added scratching-at-door noises to the mix.  She was not an endearing
creature, at least not to my mind, but David seemed fond of her.

Later, of course, the story took a different course and Jasmine and I ended
up living together with David.  I ended up walking her and feeding her
while David was at work, and spending evenings with her alone sometimes. 
She slowly became used to my presence.  She still didn't understand why I
was there, but her pack leader accepted me so she had to as well.

She had not had an easy life.  Her first owners were not kind to her, and
had apparently beaten her with a broom.  We gathered that from her reaction
any time anyone got a broom out--she would quickly back up and then go
hide.  Granted, she must have been sheer hell to live with as a puppy, but
that's of course no excuse.  They compounded the abuse by moving away and
abandoning her.

She spent three months at the animal shelter before David brought her home. 
During that entire time, she crouched in a corner of her cage and shook. 
Luckily she was in a no-kill shelter, or she wouldn't have lasted.  David
visited her several times while going through the adoption process (the
shelter, of course, wants to make sure that when an animal leaves, it won't
be coming back.  Doubly sure in her case), and she gradually got used to
him.  Her name was Yasmeen (hence Jasmine), and her native language was

Jasmine is a striking dog.  This is not just our opinion.  There were three
or four times when I was walking her that people hollered "I love your
dog!" from car windows as they drove by.  Most cockapoos have the
proportions of a cannister-style vacuum cleaner, but in her case the
spaniel and the poodle have blended into something that's recognizably
something of both, but more attractive than either.  When her fur is long,
she looks a little like a miniature sheepdog.  When it's short, she looks a
lot more poodle-like, but her ears are always spaniel ears.  She used to be
mostly white, with a little gray, but as she's aged the gray has gotten
more pronounced and some orange has appeared (more on that later).

The day came when David took her home.  She was nervous at being out, and
slightly leery of the whole process, but when he took her into his
apartment, removed her leash, and closed the door, she suddenly realized
she was HOME.  No more cage!  She took off running around the edge of the
room, on top of the furniture, barking her head off.  She stopped running
after a while, but not barking.  David finally called the shelter about
this (the neighbors were complaining).  "That's funny, she never made a
sound here," they said.

It didn't help that she knew no English, not even basic words like "No!". 
She was probably about three years old at this time, a little late to be
learning a new tongue--and David hadn't expected to need to teach her one,
either.  It was apparently a harrowing process on both sides, but she
finally did learn "no" and a host of other words--"nap" and "outside" and
"freeze!" and "dinner" and "hamburger" and "get OFF of me, dammit!", as
well as two names for herself ("Jasmine" and "Jazz").  David later wondered
if it wouldn't have been faster for him to learn Ethiopian.  Later, she
learned "all gone" from me, and "enough!" from a neighbor who watched her a
couple of times and got tired of her barking.

By the time I entered the picture, she had mellowed a good bit.  She still
barked every time there was a noise in the hall or from one of the
adjoining apartments, but she did at least quiet down in the meantime.  She
did not like having anyone around who didn't belong there.  She would
eventually calm down when the visitors were women or gay men, and she
tolerated children surprisingly well, but she never became comfortable
around straight men.  She is the only dog I've ever known who has gaydar.

She had either never been spayed or it hadn't been done right, because
although the shelter's records showed that the previous owners said she had
been spayed, she still went into heat twice a year...particularly trying
times for David and his legs.  She never bothered anyone else.  He called
the vet once to find out how long this would last.  "What do you mean, 7 to
*42* days?!?"

David hadn't been able to afford to have the job done properly, but after
he and I had settled into our first jointly-chosen apartment, he took her
to the vet for a pre-op examination.

They discovered that she had a heart murmur.

"Mitral valve prolapse" is the formal term.  This isn't that serious in
humans and apparently it's not that remarkable in dogs, either, if it's
present from birth.  But developing it later is another matter.  They
assign a number from 1 to 5 for the seriousness of the condition, where 1
is mild and 5 is death.  She was diagnosed at a 4, and they said her life
expectancy was most likely another six months, two years at the absolute
maximum.  We took her to a canine cardiologist (yes, there are such
things--but not very many, we had to drive to Annapolis from Washington),
who put her on a diuretic (Lasix), Vasotec, and digitalis (Lanoxin).  This
was in February 1992.

The diuretic made keeping up with her even more important and a lot more
difficult.  Juggling her medications and our schedules and arranging that
she didn't have to wait more than seven hours or so to go outside was quite
a feat.  Basically she needed to go outside every two hours after receiving
the Lasix, and we tried to time things so that she didn't need to go out
overnight.  Besides the obvious sleep issue, we were living in a
neighborhood (17th and Q St. NW in Washington DC, for those familiar with
the area) that's not quite safe to wander in after the restaurants close
and before the joggers come out--say between 2am and 6am--so we avoided
having to do that as much as possible.

She started eating prescription dog food, which we mixed half-and-half with
rice.  She was allowed nothing with salt in it, which immediately
eliminated every brand of dog treat on the market.  But she had come to
expect a treat every night before bedtime.  She got a lot more out of it
than just the small bit of food--it gave her positive reinforcement that
she was a good dog.

Jasmine needs that more than most dogs do, due to her early history.  She
is extremely insecure and stays very close to David at all times.  She gets
very depressed when he has to leave for any reason.  Contrariwise, when he
comes home, it's like someone turned on the sun for her, and she is

We finally settled on carrots, specifically Dole peeled baby carrots, as
her general treat.  She gets at least one a day, and sometimes two.  This
is where the orange in her fur comes from.  When we cut back on the carrots
for a while, it fades again.  She loves carrots and will sometimes go the
refrigerator and sit expectantly until someone opens it and gets her one.

Between the prescription food and the medications and the rice and the
carrots, Jasmine made it past the six-month deadline with ease, but the
doctors kept warning us not to get too encouraged, as her heart was in very
bad shape and she could literally keel over at any time.  She had times
when she'd do poorly, or develop a urinary tract infection (with the
cutback in her sodium intake, her fluid balance was off) or diarrhea (NOT
fun).  It was a very definite balancing act, increasing whatever was needed
at a particular moment and being ready to compensate for that when
necessary, but we got to the point where it was almost routine.

Why did we keep it up, despite the trouble and expense?  Anyone who's ever
loved a dog wouldn't ask the question.  Anyone who's never loved a dog
wouldn't understand the answer.

Time passed.  At the beginning of April, 1993, amidst preparations for the
March on Washington, the doctor told us Jazz had probably three weeks.  It
didn't look like we were going to be able to balance things anymore.  David
called a friend of his who is a photographer and we had "family portraits"
made.  They didn't turn out too great, due to the circumstances.  (One of
them will be on our web page if I ever get it set up...the first
approximation is at .  It's not the best
picture of any of us, and Jasmine in particular isn't feeling well, but
it's the only one we have with all three of us in it.)

One night at dinner, David decided that if she only had three weeks left,
she might as well enjoy them.  We had steak that night, and he gave Jazz a
few bites of the leftovers.  That perked her up quite a bit, and from then
on, while we kept to her diet most of the time, she would occasionally get
something extra that she technically wasn't supposed to have.  We decided
that keeping her happy and comfortable for the time she had left was going
to be more important than prolonging her life, all else being equal.

Three years later, the vet told us that whatever we were doing, we should
keep it up, since she'd already beaten the two-year projection we'd been
given at the beginning and was in surprisingly good health, considering. 
She was still on prescription food (which, luckily, she loves--most dogs
hate it), but we'd given up mixing it with rice when she started picking
around the rice and leaving it.  Her medications were slightly different as
well.  As far as her heart went, she was still a 4, and no one understood
why she was still alive.  People told us she was "living on pure love", and
while that's kind of cutesy it's probably closer to the truth than anything
else.  She's still here because she's still happy.

Dogs are love and kidneys covered with fur.  Jasmine adores David, and she
loves me almost as much now--she'll even split her time between us if we're
not in the same room.  (I call her the "stepdog".)  The way Jasmine looks
at David is the way a duck looks at water, and if you've ever seen that you
know that some things were just Meant to Be.  If she was three when David
brought her home, then she's now 11, getting to a ripe old age in dog
years.  We still believe that keeping her happy is more important than
keeping her alive, and that seemed to be working well.

I ran into my ex, Darrell, on the street once, when we still lived
downtown.  He likes Jasmine (he's always been a dog person) and she likes
him, so he bent down to pet her and then said to me, "I would never have
imagined you with a dog.  At least not looking so comfortable with a dog." 
"Neither would I," I answered.

Last summer, right about the time my father went into the hospital, she
started developing a new set of symptoms.  She became listless and
lethargic, and didn't seem very interested in eating.  In fact, one day she
refused to eat her dinner at all, so we took her to the vet as an emergency

This time it was her kidneys giving her problems.  Again we adjusted her
medications, they gave her intravenous fluids, and we realized again that
she could die at any time.  We took her to Syracuse with us when I went to
see my Dad in the hospital, and ended up taking her to a vet up there
because she started throwing up at night.  (Do you have any idea how
difficult it is to clean up after a dog vomiting when all you have to work
with is hotel washclothes and toilet paper?)

This vet was wonderful.  She kept Jasmine overnight, did a blood workup on
her, and gave us a different adjustment to her medication, because it was
one of her heart medications that was causing her kidneys to fail.  We cut
that medication back to once a day.  It meant that her heart was going to
get worse (indeed, the vet in Syracuse estimated her at at 4.3 or 4.4), but
it would help her feel comfortable longer.  She perked up again in only a
couple of days, and remained that way for quite a long time.

Last fall, her back started acting up.  She already had the beginnings of
arthritis in her hips, but it couldn't be treated surgically or with
steroids because of her heart and kidneys.  The balancing act is getting
more and more difficult as time goes by, and eventually the plate is going
to fall off the stick and then what?  We went through three weeks of
lifting her on and off the furniture and carrying her up and down the
stairs, and she started taking Prednisone on top of everything else.  The
Prednisone isn't a good idea long term, because of its effect on her heart
and kidneys, but every time we tried to taper her off of it she developed
pain in her back again.  We finally talked to the vet and said look, she's
already three years past when she was supposed to die, so longevity isn't
the primary issue here.  She's happy and not in pain as long as she's on
the Prednisone.  The vet agreed and helped us come up with a reasonable
maintenance dose of it.

And things were fine for a while.  She even started insisting we walk
further when we went out, something she hadn't done in over a year.  We
still carry her up and down the stairs, but she jumps on and off the
furniture by herself.

This past week, though, she started getting listless again, and Friday she
wouldn't eat.  As before, we took her to the vet.  As before, it's her
kidneys.  This time, though, she doesn't seem to be responding to the IV
fluids, and David and I are face to face with the question of--Is this it? 
Is it time to do the last thing for her we'll ever be able to do, and put
her out of her pain forever?

David went down to talk to the administrator to question a decision a
doctor we'd never seen and who had never seen Jasmine had made about her
medication.  The administrator agreed that, in hindsight, it was a bad
decision, but that of course no one could predict everything.  David said
that we knew that, that the chance of Jasmine taking a turn for the worse
has existed for years and we were used to that (but is that something one
can ever "get used to", I wonder now), and that her sickness this time may
not have been related to the medication change, but it followed it with
great suddenness.  But we wanted them to realize that perhaps more thought
should be given to such decisions in such cases.  We trusted the
doctor--what choice do we have, after all these years--and it turns out we
would probably have been better off questioning this decision.  But how do
you know?

We asked the administrator if we could see Jasmine, because the doctor had
told us that she wasn't eating.  David thought that if we took her some
carrots, she'd eat a little bit of those at least--the last meal she had
was Thursday, and this was Saturday.  They wanted to bring her out to us,
but I spoke up and asked if it were at all possible for us to go back
instead, since if they brought her out she'd think she was getting to go
home, and our leaving would upset her that much more.  Under the
circumstances, the administrator couldn't very well refuse, so we went

Jasmine was happy to see us, of course, especially David, but she was still
so listless.  She had an IV in her paw.  We'd dropped her hamburger squeak
toy, which she uses as a security blanket, off the night before, and it was
in the cage with her.  David tried to give her some carrot, but she didn't
want anything.  He left some in her bowl and gave the rest to the doctor to
give her later, if they saw fit, and we left.

And now what?  Tomorrow they'll re-run her blood work.  If her creatinine
levels are still high and she's still not eating, what then?  Is this the
time we've dreaded for five years?  David promised her when he took her to
the vet that we would get her feeling better, "one way or another", knowing
full well what that might entail.  Jasmine trusts us to take care of her,
whatever that might mean.  We have to do whatever is right.  But oh, what a
hard decision we might have to make!  If she's in pain and it can't be
treated, then the choice is clear to us.  But if she's just uncomfortable? 
How do you tell?  Where do you draw the line?

To those who say "She's only a dog.  It's not like this is a person we're
talking about, and people are dying all around us all the time.  Get over
it,"--well, yes, you're right, of course.  She *is* only a dog.  All she's
ever wanted out of life is to love and to be loved (oh, and half a can of
dog food every day).  If it had ever been necessary, she would have without
hesitation tackled anything that threatened us, and she wouldn't have
thought twice about the odds or about saving her own skin.  She's only a
dog, but not even David lights up like she does when I come home from
work...and I'm only the number two love of her life.  She's only a dog, but
no human being has ever shown the kind of loyalty Jasmine has.  She doesn't
long for what she doesn't have, or dwell on how things could be better, but
is satisfied with the way things are--as long as she can sleep at David's

"Get over it"?  The sound of her tags jingling as she walks--and yes, her
barking at the UPS deliverer and other noises in the hall--have been a
constant reminder of her presence.  To learn to live without that--if we
have to--that will be harder, overall, than learning to live without my
father.  Even though she's--only a dog.

The saying goes that a dog is the only love you can buy, but that's not
true.  You pay a human being for the dog.  The dog loves you for free, and
Kevin Michael Vail    | I would rather have a mind opened by wonder
kevin@vailstar.com    | than one closed by belief.   -- Gerry Spence

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