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  • Writer's pictureemitcheldoc

Losing Isabelle

Updated: May 25, 2023

Two hours before she died, Isabelle looked around, alert for the for the first time all day. Ned carried her outside where she peed for the first time in almost 24 hours and then managed to hop into the back yard on her own. She was not going to go back inside. She found a spot on the grass and lay down. I went inside and brought back the pound of ground beef I had cooked for her the day before which she had refused. I put it down in front of her. She ate the whole thing. I went back inside and got the frozen ice cream with the milk bone that I had picked up at JP Licks, waiting for an extra special occasion. She ate it.

I sat down next to her and took a picture, her head held high and proud, gazing around the yard she loved and the people she loved more. Then she put her big head on my lap and dozed. We sat like this for a long time. Rees and Kori came, and stroked her head and back, along her bony spine. Ned was there as well, fighting back his tears, and finally Scott arrived. She stirred, looked up and started to shake almost imperceptibly. I felt it, and held her close, turning her head to look at me. He placed the butterfly in her back leg and pushed in the pink drug and in seconds she was gone.

Losing Isabelle has been absolutely heartbreaking for me. It still makes me cry. She was such a love. She was as stoic as they come too. This last year was so hard for her, first losing her lifelong companion Griffin, then being saddled with a crazy puppy she did not want to befriend, probably because she had cancer that we didn’t know about. Two months after we got Archer we saw the limp, so I can only imagine how challenging it was for her to have a rambunctious puppy biting and pushing and taking all the attention. She never complained though. She lived with pain for months hobbling up the stairs to be with us at night, head on my lap, content just to be there.

I made the difficult decision to proceed with an amputation and she remained the most stoic and stubborn dog I have ever known. Even when she couldn’t walk, if Ned tried to pick her up and help her she would do everything in her power to get up those stairs herself. She hated being carried. Really hated it. She learned to walk on her three legs, hopping around with surprising agility and doing really well for a twelve and half year old golden. So we powered on to chemo hoping we could have a little more time.

And It went well for while, until it didn’t. She started to lose steam after her 2nd dose of chemo. We delayed the 3rd and she seemed better, so she got that, but then she really declined. We stopped the treatments altogether, to see if she would rebound but she didn’t. Her appetite was up and down and she lost weight. She went from a 75 lb dog to a 55 lb dog, her spine and pelvis jutting out visibly under her soft yellow fur. Several times I took her in for testing but no one could find anything wrong.

The cancer she had, Osteosarcoma, usually spreads to the lungs and when it does it’s usually terminal. I was convinced she must have lung mets, so she got a chest X-ray but it was fine. Her blood count was alright as well.

She had good days and bad. We still went for walks in the doggie stroller and she loved sitting outside in the yard, but she looked sad more and more, and I knew something wasn’t right.

We had a short vacation planned and with a lot of trepidation we left with 3 pages of instructions. The house sitter sent messages every day and there was no indication that anything was wrong so we were reassured.

And then, when we arrived home. Isabelle did not come greet us. She didn’t wag her tail. She didn’t get up. I tried to help her and she fell down. She couldn’t walk. She was unable to stand on her back right leg. Something was terribly wrong. I was devastated.

I took her to my vets office right away and she had to be carried in. I sat in the waiting room and cried. Scott came out to talk to me. He was worried as well, noting that she was really struggling. We agreed to get some X-rays of her lungs and her leg and a short time later he came back and sat down next to me. “I’m worried she has cancer in that back leg, Liz. I’d like to wait for the radiologist to look at it, but I’m pretty sure.”

If he was pretty sure then it was pretty certain. I took her home and cried all day. That evening he called and confirmed the diagnosis.

“Would you do it Scott?” I asked, knowing the only thing we could do for Isabelle now was end her suffering. I couldn’t bear the thought of finding anyone else.

“Of course.”

We made arrangements. He would come over after work the next day.

I cried all night. I would wake up, remember, cry, and then I would go back to sleep. The next day, I set up a work station next to Isabelle on the floor with my computer. I have a job reviewing hospital admissions for appropriate levels of care, and I spent the whole day, sitting beside her, working, while her head rested in my lap. She lay there without moving. She wouldn’t get up, go out, or eat. She took a few sips of water, but otherwise she lay there, her breathing rapid, her head in my lap. I thought she might die before Scott could get there.

But later that afternoon she perked up. She looked better. I think she did it for me. I think she ate that meat and that ice cream to help me. I believe she sat outside in the yard to make it better for me. She knew I was already grieving her, but she was ready, and she wanted to leave me with the memory of her communing with the earth in the yard, enjoying a good meal and loving the company of her family. She was the sweetest, most loving dog I have ever had and I miss her.

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