Missing Joy

Happy Birthday Joy!

“And even though I cry like crazy
Even though it hurts so bad
I’m thankful for the time God gave me
Even though we couldn’t make it last
I’m learning how to live without you
Even though I don’t want to
And even with you gone
Love lives on….”

Mallary Hope — Love Lives On

It has been a week now since Joy the Labrador died in my arms and I still have tears well up in my eyes when I think about her. Even though she only lived with me for six months, she managed to wrap herself around my heart pretty thoroughly.

I didn’t get to tell everyone what happened. I had been traveling last week and had been gone for five days. I was looking forward to seeing all of my animals when I walked in the door — especially Joy. When I walked into the house, Libby and Jordan greeted me as usual, but Joy wasn’t there. The last time that had happened, I found Joy near death with a really bad case of pneumonia. I called her name and was relieved to see her come into the entryway of the house, but that relief lasted only a moment when I saw how she came into the room. She was staggering around. She looked confused. She walked into one of the other dogs and then staggered over in front of me. She immediately collapsed onto the floor and started panting. She was soaking wet and smelled like urine. My heart sank. I knew something was really wrong. I went into the living room to look at her dog bed and found it soaked in dog urine. She had peed in the bed and then laid in it. That is why she was wet. I immediately picked up the phone and called our vet’s office and told them I was bringing Joy in and that something was really wrong with her. I picked her up and put her in my minivan and made mad dash for the vet. On my way over I called Kathy, Joy’s previous owner, and told her that something was really wrong with Joy and that she should come over too.

When we got to the vet, Joy surprised me by wanting to get up and try to walk into the vet’s office. She could barely walk though. She couldn’t walk in a straight line and was really unsteady on her feet. The moment we got into the vet’s office, she layed down again panting. Dr. Hanson quickly came into the room and immediately started examining Joy, and I could see by the look on her face that Joy was in trouble. She finally said, “She’s in shock. Her body temperature is several degrees lower than normal. Her gums and tongue are completely gray. She is disoriented. She is exhausted. If I had to guess, I’d say she is bleeding internally either into her belly or her brain. This is really bad. You need to brace yourself. We might not be able to save her. She is dying.”

They drew blood. They did x-rays of her chest and belly. She continued to decline. Her body temperature kept dropping. When the tests came back, it seemed pretty clear that she was bleeding into her belly. Because she was perfectly healthy just a few hours before and there were no signs of trauma, the explanation was not a good one. It was almost certainly a form of cancer called Hemangiosarcoma. This is a cancer that forms blood filled tumors, usually on the spleen and/or liver. You often don’t even know that the tumor is there until it ruptures and the dog starts bleeding internally. Once that happens, there isn’t much you can do except say goodbye to them.

At that point, Kathy arrived. I heard her voice in the hallway. So did Joy. Despite how she felt, when Joy heard her voice, she lifted her head and started wagging the tip of her tail. She knew Kathy was near. I explained to Kathy what the situation was and then gave her a minute to talk to the vet as well. She had brought her new service dog with her. That dog’s name is Claire. Kathy and Claire had just graduated from training earlier that day.

After Kathy had a chance to talk to the vet and see Joy for a bit we talked as a group about what to do next. It was a short conversation. There really wasn’t any decent options. Joy was in pain and she was dying. We needed to let her go with peace and dignity. We needed to euthanize her so she wouldn’t suffer.

We told Dr. Hanson that we needed a few minutes to say goodbye to Joy and she slipped out of the room so we could be alone. Kathy and I sat and talked with Joy. We petted her. We rubbed her ears. We played with her paws. After a few minutes, Joy began to get better. She lifted her head. She reached over and licked my face. She licked Kathy’s face too. She started wagging her tail. She seemed to be getting better. We gave her some dog food. She ate it with gusto, as she always did. I got her up, and she unsteadily walked outside with me. I brought her back inside a few minutes later and she met, Claire, Kathy’s new service dog. Joy loved other dogs, and Claire was no exception. She wagged her tail and happily licked Claire’s face. After letting them interact for a few minutes, I lifted her back on to the exam table again so she could lay down. She rested comfortably for a few minutes and then started to get restless again. She was in pain again. It was time.

Dr Hanson brought in the euthanasia medication and injected it into Joy’s back leg while Kathy and I held her, both of us sobbing uncontrollably. Within a minute, I felt Joy quietly slip away. The tears wouldn’t stop. I just held her and cried. I looked through the tears at her face. She looked peaceful. She looked free of pain.

I miss so many things about her. I miss her kisses. I miss her soft snoring. I miss the way she walked around with her stuffed hedgehog toy in her mouth when she was happy or excited. I miss the way she would steal food from us when she thought we weren’t looking. I miss the way she would invite herself onto my bed and sleep with her head on my pillow. She was one of a kind.

I would be honored if you would consider giving a donation to Helping Paws in her memory. You can do it online by visiting http://www.helpingpaws.org