Note: part of this was begun on Monday, November 26, a day before Copper died.
He was terminal. He was not going to get better. His bone marrow was not producing red blood cells and the RBCs he had were dying. He was dying. He was not that same dog that would jump from five steps up to get to the door to go outside. He didn’t want his favorite treat. He turned his head when I tried to give him a cooked turkey liver.
It was painful; not for him but for me as I watched him waste away by the hour. He was not suffering, physically. A low RBC, at its basic level, causes a person to be tired, lethargic. That was Copper, sometimes too tired to lift his head. It was not natural. It was not Copper.
(Below was written on the 26th. I have tried not to edit it as the writing was fresh and raw)
He was ‘hospitalized’ at the vet’s office and given an IV of meds to help him get better. Many tests were done and many things were ruled out but it was hard to come up with an answer as to why he was so ill; he looked healthy. Comparing blood tests started showing that his blood was deteriorating but the vet did not know if it was a production problem or a destruction problem.
We now have answers and have to look at what is best for our dog, our family member. Copper is not producing red blood cells. And the blood cells that he has are looking very tired. Soon he will not have any red blood cells in his body.
What does this mean to a dog or a person? Well, he gets tired very easily; he is lethargic; he has lost his appetite. That is because the red blood cells move oxygen around the body. That is not happening. Copper also has low platelets. That is actually why he was initially taken to the vet, he kept bleeding from the nose and mouth. It was just odd, but that is what happens when there are not enough platelets, you bleed, or when you start, it is hard to stop.
We had plans to be away from home for Thanksgiving. We did not know how Copper was going to handle us being away so we left him with the vet and kept our Tinkerbelle at home with our niece. When I went to pick up Copper today, we had one last blood test to confirm what the vet had feared; Copper was dying and it would not be long before he was dead. Through many tears, I learned all I needed to know to be able to go home and share with the family our options.
I now await the arrival of our children to discuss the end of life plan for our dearest family member, Copper. I brought Copper home so we can share our last moments, to have closure, to say to him what we need to say, to say good-bye. It is hard to believe that soon he will no longer be physically with us.
(That is all I could write. The rest was written today and is still wrought with emotion but there have been a few days to process what has happened)
Murphy’s Law went into action. Talking to the family did not go as planned. My son did not get my text because his phone had died so he did not come home right after school. I had to pick my daughter up from school because…my son did not get my text. Conversations were done individually.
The initial discussion happened with my husband as soon as Copper and I got home from the vet’s. Through a bucket full of tears, we talked about, not what was best for us but, what was best for Copper. He needed to be allowed to be at peace. I cannot say that he needed to be without pain because I could tell that he was not in pain. You live with someone for nine and a half years, you get to know them and he was not in pain; he was sad. The life that he had in his eyes before we went away for Thanksgiving was gone. Before he had a sparkle; that was gone. He was oh so skinny. He had lost 5 pounds, more than 25% of his body weight in three weeks.
Kent and I decided that we would have a discussion with our children about ending his misery. Kent went ahead and called Dr. Johnson and made an appointment to have him put down the next day. Our thought was, we could always cancel the appointment if the kids were not on board.
NOW, let me tell you, I believe in euthanasia. I have believed in euthanasia for as long as I can remember. I wrote term papers on passive euthanasia in high school and college. I gave speeches on euthanasia. Kent and I signed Living Wills, as soon as we were married, stating that we did not want to be kept alive by artificial means if there was no hope of recovery. We had that discussion again when a friend of ours was in a bicycle accident. It is not something that we don’t talk about. It is something that we discuss with family so everyone knows how we feel.
I spoke with my daughter as I drove the 10 miles from the high school to home. She asked if she needed to take over driving as the tears ran down my cheeks. But I said no because I needed something to concentrate on, even if it was only driving a road that I have driven thousands of times. She knew what I was going to say. She had been preparing since I had sent the text 5 hours prior. She knew and she knew that Copper needed to be released. She was not fine but she was okay.
My son got home after martial arts and we had the talk. I can still hear him say, “Oh, Copper,” the way he did almost every day. I told him, as I had told my daughter, that he needed to say his goodbyes because tomorrow was the day.
Monday was a blur. And Tuesday came too quickly.
We have a dog door that goes into the garage where the dogs have a special place to get out of Nebraska weather. There are also dog houses and chairs for them to sit on outside, when the weather is nice. Needless to say, our dogs are very spoiled.
Well, we put Copper in the garage to be with Tinkerbelle and I would go out an check on him frequently. There were a few times throughout the day, I would go out and lie next to him, stroke his soft, curly hair and just talk. Talk to him about how much I loved him and how lucky we were to have him in our lives. I told him that what we were doing was to make him well in another place (I do believe that an animal’s life does not end here on Earth. I have to believe that) I also told him I was sorry because what we were doing, no matter how much I thought it was the correct decision, was a hard decision.
About 45 minutes before he was to go to the vet’s, I picked him up; he was no longer able to walk much of a distance without tripping or falling. I took him outside and told him to ‘go potty’. He stumbled around a little and then I picked him up and brought him inside. I sat holding him on the ‘dog sofa’. It was the last time I would hold him. His head lie limply on my chest. I was hoping he could hear my heart beat and know that it was more than just an organ that pushed blood throughout my body. I was hoping he knew that it was a heart that was breaking, that was so full of love, that it needed to let him go so he could be healed. I just took it all in and prayed that there really was a Rainbow Bridge that our pets crossed over to another life.
It was decided that Tinkerbelle would go to the vet’s with me so she knew that Copper had died. She needed to know that Copper was not coming home. She had seen him leave over the past three weeks and he had always come home. Tinkerbelle needed to know that her friend would not be around anymore.
Dr. Johnson told me on Monday that the process would take about 20 minutes but I needed to block out an hour in case his office got busy. He wanted the process to happen without interruption so he wanted me to be prepared to not have things begin at the scheduled time. I was okay with that.
We drove to town and I continued to talk to both dogs the whole way. The tears had not started, yet. Getting out of the car I had Copper in my arms and little Tinkerbelle on a leash. Tinkerbelle was nervous because the last time she was at the vet office was to give a blood transfusion to Copper when we did not have a diagnosis.
(I am going to explain the process and my experience. If you do not want to read about it, please go down to the XXXXXX’s. You can start reading again after that).
It was 4:45. The office was not busy. It was us and the office staff. We were directed into the room where we always go; the exam room where we learned of Copper’s fate. I laid Copper on the cold, stainless steel table and continued stroking his coat. Tinkerbelle was roaming the exam room, shaking like a leaf, not sure what to expect.
The vet and his assistant came into the room and again explained the procedure that was going to occur. He had explained it Monday to make sure that we were completely informed as to what would happen. Euthanasia is derived from two Greek words which together mean ‘good death’. That is what we wanted for Copper, a good death.
It was time. I let the assistant take over controlling Copper on the table. It was really not necessary because he was lying there not moving but I moved to petting his head and hoping he felt the love. Doc Johnson leaned over and whispered something in Copper’s ear. I don’t know what was said, but I imagine it was something about everything was going to be okay, he was going to be in a better place, he was loved. It was their private moment.
At this time, I picked up Tinkerbelle and held her as Copper’s leg was shaved for the injection. A tourniquet was put around his leg and Doc tried to find the vein. “That vein is gone.” Oh wow! He explained that he needed to prep the other back leg. So he moved that leg aside and shaved his other leg and put a tourniquet on it. He told me that he was able to find that vein and started the injection.
I swear that within 30 seconds he looked at me and said, “He is gone”. I looked shocked and said, “So soon.” He looked at my tear filled eyes and said, “He was almost there. He just needed a little help.”
It was peaceful. There was no release of air from his lungs. There were no fluids leaving his body (which I knew was a possibility at death). His eyes stayed open (which I have read is natural). I think that is why I was so surprised that he was dead. It took less than a minute and his eyes were open. Oh Man! Copper was dead!
Dr. Johnson told his assistant to go get a towel so Copper could be laid on the floor for Tinkerbelle to see him. I don’t know if it was the assistant or the doctor that laid Copper on the floor. All I remember is when Copper was picked up, his head flopped back because it was not supported; the sign I needed that confirmed his death. I know that sounds weird but him laying on the table and his chest not rising, did not confirm it for me; the vet saying he was dead did not confirm it. His head flop confirmed it and I was sad.
Tinkerbelle sniffed a little but would not get close to Copper. I put her tennis ball close, but she would not go after it. I knew she knew Copper was dead because nothing would stop Tinkerbelle from going after her tennis ball.
Dr. Johnson explained, on Monday, that Tinkerbelle would go through the same grieving process that a person goes through. We were not to be surprised if she started ripping up pillows and that was okay because she needed to work through her grief. I have seen a change in Tinkerbelle. She does want to be held more. She does not rollick in the back yard like she did with Copper. She will get better. We just have to be patient. (She still likes her tennis balls though!)
It is appropriate that as I write this the vet office called and said Copper’s ashes are ready for pick up. We opted to have him cremated. We will decide at a later date whether to have has ashes stored in an urn (which my son wants to make in Advanced Pottery) or have his ashes spread in a favorite spot.
Copper is dead but he will forever live in the heart’s of those who loved him. My grief is not over. But I am better. And I know Copper is better. Two comments were made that put a smile on my face: from my sister who commented after I sent out an announcement to family and close friends, ‘I just wondered how Copper was doing. He’s doing GREAT! He and Jake are chasing butterflies beyond the Rainbow Bridge. I’ve got tears for you all and for all our wonderful nonhuman family members. You’re right, they do tell you when they’re ready to go, even if you’re not ready.’ And from my neighbor after I posted his ‘obituary’ on Facebook, ‘We all are sorry to hear about Copper. Will miss seeing him romp through the side yard!’
I am so grateful for the person who envisioned the Rainbow Bridge, a place for our beloved pets to roam after death. Whether it is true or not, whether they cross the Rainbow Bridge or head directly to ‘people’ Heaven, I have hope that Copper will be with me again, when my time comes. http://www.rainbowbridge.com/hello.htm
Blessings to all of you who have suffered the death of a pet. Copper’s death is probably one of the most devastating deaths that I have experienced. He was always true and loving and never judged me (at least I can believe that because he could not speak to me in human speak). There will never be another Copper.
In memory of Hollybriar Copper Wired Van Horn b. 5/21/03 d. 11/27/12