Heartworm Disease will kill a dog. Period. Little worms grow inside the heart and give birth to more worms that grow and the cycle is repeated over and over. These worms clog the dog’s heart and eventually, the dog will die a very painful death. I will not post those nasty pictures of such here but you can find them on the Internet if you are interested.
Buddy had stage three heartworm disease when we rescued him. When the vet gave us the news, we didn’t even have to think twice. We had to save his life. Treatment is expensive and the process is painful and potentially dangerous. The poisonous drugs enter the body and kill the worms. The trick is to inject enough poison to kill the worms without killing the dog. Hopefully, the worms will die, dissolve and pass through the system. During the process, the dog must be confined to limit movement because it’s possible for these bits of dead worms to spit off into the arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke. Buddy had a rough time throughout the treatment process. He would get horrible nose bleeds and became quite upset at the sight of blood flowing everywhere. He would moan and cry at various times. We held him and comforted him and cleaned up the mess. This went on for nine months. It was an awful time that we will never forget.
After the ordeal was over, it was noted that Buddy had an enlarged heart in addition to other anomalies. He would never be able to run like the other dogs. He had also gained weight due to the steroids that he had been given which compounded the problem with his heart. His hindquarters were unstable and would periodically just stop working. He would collapse and after a time of recovery and encouragement, he’d be up and moving again. If you touched his back end with the tip of your finger, his back end would give out and he’d go down.
One by one Buddy’s doggie friends at our house left. Soon, it was just him and Georgia, aka Mumford. We would all take walks around the front yard together. Georgia eventually succumbed to cancer and she too left. Buddy was now the only doggie in the house. Rain or shine, snow or stormy wind, several times each day we would take walks together in the yard and Buddy would do his business. He was a happy dog, all things considered. Sometimes his back legs would give out and he’d go down. We’d love him, pet him, and encourage him and eventually, he was back up and moving again. By the time Lucy arrived, it was too late for Buddy and her to become friends. They knew each other but lived separate lives. And then one day when Buddy and I were outside together, his hindquarters collapsed and this time he couldn’t get back up again. He ended up dragging his back legs across the yard to get back to the house…and my heart broke. We were now palliative caregivers for a large paraplegic dog who could no longer care for himself. There is no way we could have known that three weeks later Buddy would be dead.
Ar this point some would say, “You should have ‘put him down’ and ended his suffering.” to which we reply, Buddy wasn’t ready to go. He was happy and he needed our help. You don’t kill someone just because they can’t walk and they shit themselves. Babies do it all the time.
Buddy was a timid little boy, not a mean or even cantankerous bone in his body. Oh, he could be stubborn at times. If he decided he was not going to do something, he would not do it, and that included taking his medication. We hid his pills in his food and he’d eat the food and spit the pills out. Knowing what he needed better than he did, we ended up crushing the pills into powder, mixed them in a bit of water and then I’d squirt the lifesaving mixture into his mouth. Oh yes, he clenched his teeth so I slid the syringe to the back of his gums, tilted it inward and squirted it through his teeth. Like I said, he could be stubborn at times.
For three years, we held Buddy, we loved him, and we encouraged him, we prayed and sometimes we cried. We saved Buddy from a hideous death and we gave him three more years of love, love that he had never known. Was it enough? It is never enough and it is never easy saying goodbye to someone you love.
There is now another big hole in our hearts, a huge emptiness in the house and an overwhelming grief with Buddy gone.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
At least fifty times each and every day for the past three years, I would tell him, “You’re a good boy, Buddy.” Every time I walked by him I’d tell him and sometimes for no reason at all, I’d call across the room and say, “Buddy’s a good boy” because he was and it was important that he knew that. I catch myself wanting to say that now but there is no Buddy to say it to…and I cry. I wish three years would have been twenty but Buddy’s heart just wasn’t up to the task. He had been through too much but so much of what he went through could have easily been prevented.
The Missus and I try to take care of ourselves and secretly hope that when our bodies finally fall apart someone will be there to wipe our backside, give us our medication, clean the piddle pads and give us a bath. We will obviously be there for each other but what happens when there is only one of us left? Deep down inside we know better than to expect anyone else to do for us what we have done for others because most people just can’t and won’t. There are far too many stories of elder abuse and stories about someone who was found decomposed into their recliner after having died alone months earlier. I will not tolerate the former and thus, have resigned myself to the latter.
Buddy passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by love. He waited for us both to get up in the morning and then he let us know he would be leaving. We said our goodbyes and then he slipped away.
I think we would all like to go the way Buddy went, having fought the good fight, surrounded by love, peacefully drifting away, but do any of us really believe that we will be so fortunate?
Life is hard. Death is messy.
Be kind to one another because one day you will never get the chance to be kind to them again.
Above all, remember the good times.
Learn about Heartworm in Dogs and do something about it.