Thursday, February 23, 2012

Remembering Olly

Anniversaries are usually cause to celebrate…but today’s isn’t.  Today marks the one-year anniversary of me having my two-year-old Doberman, Olly, put to sleep.  No one knows this.  My husband does not remember the significance of this date.  Only I do.  Just me.  I remember everything…

Four years ago, my husband and I drove from our home in Wisconsin to Michigan to pick Olly up from a rescue.  Olly was just a seven-week-old puppy at the time.  We were concerned that Olly might be too young to come home with us, but the rescue assured us he was old enough. 

It seemed a little strange, but, then again, the whole situation was a bit awkward.  As I recall, a breeder donated a litter of Doberman puppies to the rescue so the group could make money from the sale of the pups.  I sensed there was more to that story, but I’ll never know for sure.

The first thing I noticed when I saw Olly was his size.  He was so tiny!  He was much smaller than I had expected him to be, but I didn’t care.  He was ours.  I knew he was special from that moment I first laid my eyes on him.

Olly was quiet even as a puppy.  He slept a lot.  He behaved very well during his vet appointments.  And, he was sitting on command by the time we celebrated his 10-week birthday!  He was amazing!
As the weeks went by, my suspicions that Olly was not a typical high-energy Doberman puppy were confirmed.  Instead of wreaking havoc in my home, Olly usually laid quietly by my side during the day.  I had no idea what we were in for when Olly started limping when he was only 11-weeks-old.

I raced Olly to his vet, Dr. Hauser, when I saw him limp the first time.  Olly’s vet said she thought my dog had Pano, a condition that affects fast-growing dogs as I understood it.  The pain medicine she prescribed seemed to help Olly as it worked its way through his system.  But, his limp would return when the medicine ran its course.

Olly submitted to having his blood drawn and posing for x-rays.  Even though his x-rays revealed certain abnormalities, no definitive diagnosis could be drawn from them because of Olly’s youth.  No one knew what was wrong with our dog.

Over the next several months, Olly chose to spend a lot of time in his kennel.  In fact, it was a struggle for us to convince him to come out on a few occasions.  Even though we were barely making enough to pay our mortgage every month, my husband and I decided to take Olly to a specialist.  The specialist told us we had the option of consenting to more tests, very expensive tests, to determine what was wrong with Olly.
I was torn between keeping a roof over my family’s collective head and agreeing to these tests which, according to the specialist, might reveal nothing.  I was mad, too.  I was furious that my husband and I had to make such a difficult decision.  Above all, though, I was just sorry, so very sorry for Olly.

As time went by, Olly went from being on one medication to being on another to being on another.  We had meds to treat his nausea.  We had meds to deal with his occasional diarrhea.  And so on and so on.  We made Dr. Hauser’s most frequent visitors list because Olly went to see her so often.

I spent too many nights to count lying awake trying to comfort Olly.  I stayed awake just as often wondering what I could do to help my dog, wondering if I was being fair to Olly.  The side effects of his medicine had significantly decreased his quality of life.  Olly was even more miserable than I was…and I was in bad shape.

More than once I turned to Dr. Hauser for advice because she knew Olly and me.  She was intimately familiar with Olly’s obvious pain and my personal torment…which was equally obvious.  After I watched Olly continue to suffer for months, I stopped asking Dr. Hauser about what I could do.  And, I began to ask myself some difficult questions.

I thought about why I was allowing Olly to suffer in this life.  Was I doing it because I loved him and wanted him to be with me?  Was it because I simply was not able to let him go?  Were these the same questions?  Even though I commanded myself to answer these questions, to be honest with myself, I couldn’t.  I was confused.  I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my innermost thoughts, so my emotional turmoil just continued…until I had an epiphany.

I finally resolved that I was being selfish, that I was putting my desire to be with Olly ahead of his need to be free of pain.  The hurt I felt when I realized this was indescribable.  I began to talk, literally talk, to Olly about our current situation – him being in pain and me being an emotional mess.  Every so often I asked him if he wanted his pain to end.

The only hint of a response I got from him was that sad look in his eye, the look that made him look much older than just two years.  He barely walked anymore.  It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but I took Olly to his vet one last time and asked that he be put to sleep.
My husband and I held Olly as his vet gave him a shot to relax him.  We were still clinging to him when she administered the last, lethal injection.
The whole process was horrifying, but the thoughts running through my mind were tortuous.  What had I done?  I killed my dog.  I killed Olly.  I remember thinking that I was a truly horrible person as I looked at Olly’s lifeless body.  Why had I done this?  How could I leave him lying on that cold floor?

I was inconsolable as Dr. Hauser told me over and over again that I had done everything possible for Olly…in life and, now, death.  She told me repeatedly that most people would not have gone to the lengths I had.
I listened to Dr. Hauser’s words at the time and replay them every so often in my head.  But, even now, I grapple with the decision I made one year ago today.  And, I’m still angry.  I don’t know if spending more money on more care would have helped Olly, but I’m angry it wasn’t an option for me and my husband.
I don’t tell Olly’s story often because it’s not easy for me to get through the tale.  I think about my Doberman a lot, though.  A picture of him hangs in the kitchen above the spot where his kennel used to be.
No, today’s anniversary is not one I’m going to celebrate.  Instead, I will simply take comfort in knowing that Olly is in heaven…and that I will see him again when I get there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Water Bowl

Frozen drinks are great, aren’t they?  Everyone enjoys a smoothie or a margarita every once in a while, right?  Well, if you live in a cold climate like Wisconsin, the feral cats in your area may be having too many frozen drinks during the winter months, meaning they may not have sufficient access to the water they need to live.
You can ensure the critters that live outside in your community have access to unfrozen water by purchasing a heated water dish online or in a local pet store.  I purchased mine from Revival and I’m glad I did.  Using the dish, I know the feral cat I care for and love always has water to drink no matter what the temperature is outside.  Of course, I have to check the water level more often than I do with a non-heated bowl because water evaporates faster when heated.

Here in Manitowoc county, there is no program in place to control the population of cats that live outdoors.  None of the county’s municipalities will pick up feral cats, either.  Whether you live in Manitowoc or not, there are probably feral cats living in your community, animals that need help to survive.
If you think about one way you can help the animals in your area this winter, think about giving them access to water.  Investing in a heated water bowl will enable the animals in your locale to have the water they need to live.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Feline Trio

What a difference time can make.  Just a month ago, I would not have thought I’d again be volunteering for Lakeshore Humane Society or that I would be trying to spread the word about all of the positive, long-overdue changes that are being made within the shelter’s walls.  But, I am a volunteer and I am spreading the word.
Three times a week, I have the absolute pleasure of visiting what I refer to as the “Petco Cats” on behalf of  Lakeshore Humane Society.  The Petco Cats are a trio of cats who, like the feline who stays at Colonial Pet, are the responsibility of  Lakeshore Humane Society.  I spend about an hour-and-a-half with this trio, beginning at 10 am, cleaning their cages and talking to them.
At the start of every visit, I take each cat out of a cage, spend some one-on-one time, and put the animal in an Xpen that has a hiding place in its center.  I take Princess, a seven year-old, long-haired cat who was surrendered by her previous owners, out of her top cubby first so she can enjoy some time stretching and lying in the Xpen.  I enjoy watching her daintily drinking water.  Her behavior makes me think she would like to sit on the back of a couch and enjoy the soothing rays of the sun coming through a window.
Then, I remove Salty from the cubby below the one that belongs to Princess.  Salty was surrendered by his former owner more recently than Princess.  Even though he is adjusting to his new environment well, I can’t help but wonder how he feels.  I wonder how it must be for him to be in a new home without the family that was once his.  I enjoyed the time I spent in the Xpen with Salty earlier today!  He enjoyed the attention I gave him as much as I liked the affection he demonstrated for me!
Finally, I put Stix in the Xpen.  Stix is the only one of this threesome that I think would be able to hold his own during playtime with my dogs – he is feisty!  Despite his youth, Stix has mastered the art of escaping his enclosure and has had me chasing him in and around the store…more than once!
Fortunately, many people come over to play with the Petco Cats as I clean their living spaces.  Chatting with these kind-hearted people allows me the chance to inform them about TNR and the importance of micro-chipping their pets.  I’m amazed by how little people in general know about either TNR or micro-chips and am grateful for these opportunities to share my knowledge and experiences.
When the cleaning is done, playtime is over, and my conversations have ended, I put the Petco Cats back in their respective cubbies.  I usually feel tugs at my heart strings as I close the doors to their cages.  I have to convince myself that these cats aren’t crying for me as I prepare to leave…and that’s hard.
The work – cleaning cages, changing litter, delivering food and water – and the time I devote to these cats are worth it, though.  I know I make a difference to this trio and everyone I meet while caring for them the same way  Lakeshore Humane Society is now making a difference in the lives of the animals it cares for.
When its new board of directors was elected a few months ago, Lakeshore Humane Society began to change – it began to evolve into the kind of facility it was meant to be in the first place.  I don’t know how the Society got so far off track from its mission years ago, but I do know that its current board is right on target with the changes it is making.
I offered to write about Lakeshore Humane Society for a local paper so that members of the public could learn about and support the changes that are ongoing at the facility, but was turned down.  It’s unfortunate because the Society needs the support of its community now more than ever as it prepares to not only fulfill its mission, but exceed the public’s expectations as well.

Yes, time can make a big difference in a lot of ways.  In addition to getting me to volunteer and be a mouthpiece for Lakeshore Humane Society, time has re-instilled my hope for all of the animals cared for by  Lakeshore Humane Society…and for the Society itself.