Instinct, habit, loyalty, obedience – who knows which, or perhaps all of these, played a part in the heartbreaking way our 15-year-old beagle chose her final resting place?
Only a week prior to her death, after X-rays, blood tests and an ultrasound, Mollie had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver. Unfortunately, it had already spread to her lungs. Her sudden labored breathing was what had alerted us that something was wrong, that and her occasional and highly unusual refusal of her dinner.
The vet thought she had a few weeks to a month to live. Because of Mollie’s age, which was at the upper range of her breed’s life span, the vet would not consider surgery. She prescribed two liver medications that would not be curative, but might make her more comfortable. She also suggested that we change her life-long kibble diet to a special canned food that was softer and easier to digest.
We were relieved when Mollie gulped down her new food. As part of her palliative treatment, we also gave her the table food that she always wanted, but previously only had as small treats. Now small bits of chicken, steak and other goodies came her way whenever she asked for them and she drank a lot of water.
Although she was somewhat reluctant, she was a good sport about taking her medicine. One was a large tablet twice the size of an adult aspirin, wrapped in peanut butter, while the other was a liquid squirted into applesauce.
Her eagerness to eat her new food continued for a few days, as did her labored breathing. In fact, the breathing became more pronounced; we knew this was not a good sign.
Four days after her diagnosis, she did not pounce on her new canned food so eagerly, but continued to drink relatively large amounts of water. She also seemed to walk a little hesitantly but was still able to jump on her couch and clamber out her doggie door to use the backyard facilities.
On the fifth day, she refused to take her medicine. Even though I brought her new dog food over to her bed and tried to hand feed her, she turned her head away gently, signaling she didn’t want that either. For a few hours, I was able to hand feed her small spoonsful of cooked salmon left over from last night’s dinner.
By the afternoon, she was refusing that also. But she still dragged herself out of her bed and went out her doggie door after drinking water.
She stayed in her bed all evening. At 10:30 at night she hobbled over to her water bowl, drank, peed on the carpet and couldn’t get up. My husband carried her to her bed and we made the agonizing decision that we would take her to the vet the next morning to end her suffering.
When I woke up the next morning, I went into our family room, where we kept her bed, although in good times, she would stroll into our bedroom when we turned out the lights and sleep on a large cushion. I didn’t see her.
In something of a panic, I lifted up the towels we had left in her bed to keep her warm. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t on her couch and she wasn’t in her other bed in the laundry room.
As I stood there bewildered, I glanced at the window into the back yard. There she was, lying on her side at the far part of the lawn on the cold and wet grass, breathing no more. I gasped – even though she could barely walk when we put her into bed the night before, somehow she had managed to get out of bed, walk out the doggie door, and crawl to the back of the yard.
What had prompted that move? Did habit and obedience rule so she wouldn’t pee in the house? Was it instinct that prevented her from dying in her bed, her “territory” so to speak?
She had been a most wonderful companion for 14 of her 15 years. We obtained her from Animal Rescue of Fresno when she was 1 year old. She was special from the start, a dog remarkably loved by every person she met, from babies to the elderly. Her soft ears, wagging tail and big brown eyes endeared her to friends and strangers.
Her habit of tearing up plastic bags just in case they might have food in them, and taking off if we left an outside door open, were beagle traits that she exemplified to our consternation and amusement. Rest in peace, Mollie. We loved you dearly, and you returned our affection so generously.
Francine M. Farber is a retired school district administrator and a full-time community volunteer.