Tuesday, February 3, 2015

On the Homefront: Remembering Gia (2003-2015)

A few years ago, I read a guest post by Mark Spearman on The Pioneer Woman website entitled "The Dog Who Struggled to Be Good."  Patchie, the dog described in the post, was so much like my Gia that I had to comment.  This is what I wrote:

"Thank you for this story. We have a dog like Patchie right now. She is an almost totally deaf Dalmatian — the sweetest dog in the world, and quite beautiful, but who lives in her own little world which primarily consists of food! We got her when she was four years old and although someone trained her beautifully, she only minds when she is on a leash. I am sure her deafness is at least partially responsible for her problems, since she can barely hear you unless you are quite close. I have tried to get her to focus more on me, but she is too set in her ways, so I must maintain a constant vigilance over her or she will wander off to do her own thing and disappear for hours. She also detests strange dogs and will do her utmost to lunge at them when they walk by. I took her to an obedience class and was told by the instructor that she was hopeless!

As frustrating as she can be sometimes, though, when she is good she is very, very good — quite tolerant of her terrier mix “sister”, best friends with the Dalmatian mix we lost in December [2012] as well as the old cat we lost two years ago, and good-natured with all people. She is ten now and starting to show her age, but she will never change and I have decided that is all right — we can love her for what she is, not what we wanted her to be."

I was wrong about one thing -- Gia did change as she got older, in that she no longer felt the need to go after other dogs.  This may have been due to the fact that she developed arthritis, which limited her mobility and slowed her down a bit.  Even so, she loved her walks, and was ever "the explorer" that my husband dubbed her.  Whenever she got the chance, she would still try to escape the yard and wander the neighborhood, and when she could not, she patrolled the perimeter of our property relentlessly, presumably seeking a way out.  She was not trying to run away, because if we caught her in the act of escaping and got close enough to get her attention, she happily rejoined us.  No, our Gia just liked adventure, and roaming free to explore was in her nature.

Her arthritis gradually worsened and her walks became shorter, but she soldiered on and her love of life never diminished.  She lived for food, and enjoyed every bite, even though I had to hold her back end up while she ate her meals.  Then, on the last day of September, Gia began to have numerous relatively mild but inexplicable seizure-like episodes.  The University of Georgia vet hospital ran numerous tests and tried every seizure medication, but they could not figure out what was going on and none of the medications helped.  Thankfully, the seizures began to abate almost as quickly as they started a few weeks later.  I discovered that if we did not stress her with things like long car rides or being left alone for too long, the seizures could be controlled with a tiny dose of Tramadol (a mild opiate drug) at bedtime.  During all of this time Gia still had a voracious appetite, and would even stop seizing if offered food (she never lost consciousness during any of her episodes and was always aware of her surroundings).

Life seemed to return to normal for our Gia until the day before Christmas.  I went into town for a couple of hours to do some last minute shopping, and while my husband had the dogs out in the yard, the mail truck came down the driveway to deliver a package.  As he backed his truck up to leave, the mailman knocked our poor sweet girl down.  When I got back home I rushed her to the vet hospital, where they discovered that she had a pelvic fracture and possible internal injuries.  Over the next few days they found that she had a small urinary tract rupture, and she developed pneumonia as well, so she ended up staying in the ICU for a little over three weeks to give her time to heal.

Once again our strong, beautiful girl fought to recover.  The rupture healed and the pneumonia responded quickly to antibiotics.  Her caregivers at the vet hospital began to walk her carefully and she was soon walking again with almost no assistance.  She seemed well enough to come home, although they were concerned that her appetite was not as good as it had been.  We assumed that some of her medications were upsetting her digestive tract, and that as soon as we got her off of them she would resume eating well.  Unfortunately, we were wrong.

The day she came home, Gia was alert and had eaten well that morning.  She seemed delighted to be home, and with the assistance of a sling she got to explore her yard again.  She ate everything we fed her and drank a lot of water.  She even began to lose the sunken look she had developed while at the vet hospital.  That night I noticed that her stomach seemed to be a little upset, but I gave her some food and that seemed to help.  The next afternoon, however, her appetite diminished.  I tried taking her off of some of her medications, which she no longer needed, but although she rallied temporarily, it did not last.  More worrisome was the fact that she would not drink, and that her seizures started up again.  Even subcutaneous fluids did not help, and a week after she came home I ended up rushing her back to the vet hospital.  Gia was dehydrated, so she was given IV fluids, and the next day tests were done to try to figure out what was wrong.

That evening, I got a call from the vet with devastating news.  Gia had cancer.  Her x-rays had been clear just a month before, and her blood work was perfect the day she left the vet hospital, but now there were nodules on her liver and spleen and the blood values for her liver were sky high.  We made the heartbreaking decision to let her go.  Our girl was no quitter, but I could tell that she had nothing left to fight with.  She had lost so much weight, and she had no energy.  Her last morning was peaceful, and she rallied briefly when the student who cared for her all those weeks after her accident came in, just long enough to let him say goodbye.  Then she was gone, quiet and uncomplaining to the end.

My Gia -- beautiful, stubborn, sweet, headstrong, gentle, and willful, always determined to get her way, but quick to give kisses to anyone who wanted them.  She loved people, and all of the staff at the vet hospital came to love her.  I believe she was happy and comfortable up to the very end, and I am grateful for that.  My girl deserved every chance she got for the longest life possible, and when the time came to let her go she left us peacefully.  I know you are in a happy place once more, my wonderful Gia, with all of our other girls.  Run free, beautiful girl, and I know I will see you again.


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