Send me away with the words of a love song

At the end of 2016 everyone was complaining about what a crap year it was.  Well, I’d take 2016 back in a heartbeat right now.

Two days ago I had to put Rita to sleep.  It was one of the five worst days of my life.  The day I lost my father.  The day I lost Xica.  The day I lost Beauregard and the day I lost Rita.

My life is not the same.  She was a huge personality that permeated everything that happened at the Farm.

Nine years and one week.  That’s how long Rita was in my life.  Slightly more if you count back to when I originally met her.  She was on my first rescue transport.  I picked up two dogs in Los Gatos and drove them to Vallejo.  Everybody told me I was going to fall in love with the big goofy red boy Hoss.  Didn’t happen.  The other dog was this dark red bitch.  She got into the front seat and pressed the top of her head into my chest and didn’t move for the entire trip.  I scratched under her chin and she did a little two step thing that she did her entire life, including for the neurologists at Davis.  On Thursday, the last day of her life, they brought her in and she pressed her head against my chest and I scratcher her chin.

I dropped Rita off back in December 2007 at the appointed location and handed her over to the woman who is now my friend to drive to Red Bluff, but Rita never left my mind.  Several weeks later when the flyer came out about her I called up the rescue and said “Don’t send out those flyers, I want that dog.”

January 2008 was a stormy January, just like this one.  I had to wait for the storm to clear to go get her.

Originally, I did not crate her.  And she tore up my shit.  Once.  Then she moved to a crate.  I remember the first thing she did was beat the crap out of Beauregard.  Here is my favorite picture of them together.

I always felt like that dog was the adult around here and the rest of us just got to live here.  She spanked every boy I ever brought through here.  And beat Little Sister bloody.

Little Sister did not understand who the big bitch of the household was.

Rita ran and ran and ran.  If the sun was out, she was in the yard patrolling for varmits.  All of the time.  The sun went down and Rita would come inside and assume her position on the dog couch and go to sleep.  Occasionally she would check on me but for the most part, she just kept an eye on me from a distance.  As she got older she would come to my chair at night and want to be pet, for hours.  She just wanted me.  She’d come up to me in the kitchen in the morning and lay her head along my leg and want her ears scratched.  She’d always jump up when I moved around in the morning and follow me where ever I went.  Her cold wet nose greeting me at my bedside for years.  She killed more varmits than any other dog I have ever owned including the execution of the rat that found it’s way all the way back to my office closet.  She was Rita the Assassin.

Years ago I asked God for my decisions regarding end of life with my dogs to always be clear.  The decision with Rita was crystal clear.  She was miserable and in incredible pain.  The only reason I would have taken her home from Davis was to make myself feel better.  There was no benefit to Rita.  I let her go at Davis and donated her body to research.

This is the last photo I took of Rita before I let her go.  This picture tells me I did the right thing.

She went out with the throttle full on just like she lived every day with me.  She was my little hot rod, my pretty little girl, my cholla bitch and my heart.  She had become a little stiff moving and back in September I took her to an acupuncturist.  That helped her some.  Her knees were blown years ago and we chose not to operate so the obvious diagnosis was arthritis.  The last week in December she was hunched over as if she might be bloated.  I rushed her in only to find that she was not bloated, but in some pain.  We put her on Rimadyl.  On January 4 I took her back to Encina Veterinary clinic.  I moved the dogs the Encina after Beauregard died.  My hope was that if I needed someone to look at a sick dog I could get them in because I was a client.  As it turned out that didn’t work.  Rita was urinarily and fecally incontinent.  They thought Rita had a urinary infection and gave her antibiotics.  She continued to deteriorate.

On Monday January 9th I called Encina three times trying to get to talk to the vet.  I tried to get an appointment for her and the first time they could get her in was Friday.  The vet finally said she thought I needed neuro.  I called to make an appointment with the neurologist and the first available was January 26th.  I told them I was pretty certain that without intervention my dog would not live that long.  The squeezed her into the schedule on January 19th.  On Tuesday morning she was worse.  I called the Canine Rehabilitation Center and they got her in within 90 minutes.  That vet did a more thorough examination than any of the other vets had done to date.  She said there was something neurologically wrong and I needed to get her in ASAP.  I opted for UC Davis.  She told me how to “back door” their system.  I called to get an appointment first and the first appointment they had was in February.  They said “Have your vet call and if we believe it’s an emergency we can take her on an emergency basis”.  CRC called and set it up within an hour.  UC Davis called back and said “Can you come now?”  It was Tuesday night and it was pouring rain with no let up in sight.  But my Dad wasn’t around any more to tell me how stupid it was to drive to Davis in that rainstorm so I said “Yes” and away we went.

It was my mother’s birthday so I stopped and bought her a birthday cake, dropped it off, said happy birthday to took off.  I had to buy new windshield wipers and a tank of gas in the deluge, but I did and we took off.  She had three board certified neurosurgeons examining her and a student.  I signed off on $7000 surgery bill to save that dog.  They did a complete neuro work up and determined that yes, there was a problem around her L5-S1 sacrum area.  They would hospitalize her and do more tests in the morning.

The morning brought a full spinal XRay which revealed a 6-8 centimeter mass on her spleen and something “bothersome” at the L5 juncture.  Did I want to do an MRI or an ultrasound with a needle biopsy.  I opted wisely for the latter.  As it turns out, I saved myself around $1500 by being right the first time.  No MRI was needed.  The needle biopsy determined she had osteosarcoma and the outlook was bleak.  They said she was in pain from the days testing and they would like to keep her over night and manage her pain intravenously.  I agreed.  She had not been eating for me and as it turns out a tech spent 30 minutes trying to get her to eat 1/2 can of dog food.  The next step was clear.

The thing about UC Davis is that it’s a teaching and research hospital.  I asked Travis the young student if letting her go was the correct thing to do.  He said “It would not be wrong”.  I asked him if there would be a benefit to donating her body to science.  He said there was a program and yes.  He brought in Rita and it was clear that she was done.  She buried her head in my lap and I just stroked her head.  He brought in a blanket for her to lay on.  I helped her down but she yelped in pain.  They let me spend about 30 minutes with her.  I don’t recall every crying this much over a dog.  Even Beauregard was not as painful as this.  She was with me longer than Beau.  And with Xica I was expecting it because of her age.  Rita just never really slowed down until that last week in December.  I laid on the floor with her.  Holding her, telling her what a great dog she had been and how much I loved her.  I told her to look for Beauregard when they gave her the pink juice.  And she died in my arms.

My life will never be the same because that dog came into my life.  I am broken right now.  It will get better in time, but it’s going to take some time.

One Reply to “Send me away with the words of a love song”

  1. Our dogs hold a special place in our family and in our hearts. They help complete how we see ourselves and how we move through our world. They have a schedule, they have needs, they contribute, they have their own smell and sounds, they distract us if that’s what we need. I’m sorry that you had let Rita go. I hope healing soothes the hurt.

Leave a Reply