Written by Joel Woolfson, DVM, ACVS
After writing the essay Caregiving: a caregiver (and veterinarian) perspective, Annie and I went on with our one primary goal intact: always try to savor every moment. As winter bore down, many of Annie’s difficulties were complicated by the environment. Finding a safe, dry place to walk became one of our primary challenges. All through the night and day I battled the elements to keep Annie’s ramp and yard clear of snow and ice. We usually succeeded to beat back Mother Nature enough for Annie’s comfort to be intact.
The bright glare of the sun off the snow would hurt her eyes and cause moments of fear and confusion. Our greatest weapon against this ruthless force: Annie’s famous visors. Annie looked adorable and drew crowds wearing her visor. She loved that. But Annie knew how much security she gained by having her eyes shaded. She wagged her tail each time I put on her hat. She moved about freely on sunny days keeping her head positioned just so to have her eyes in a spot of welcome shade. She would wear her visor indoors and fall asleep wearing it. A simple thing, those hats. They made all the difference in preserving Annie’s mobility. K-9 Kool Hats, www.k9koolhats.com
As we moved through January, some of Annie’s problems slowly progressed. We adjusted our lifestyle, diet and medications. Annie fought valiantly; always ready for a happy moment whenever one arose. And we made sure happy moments were plentiful. I continued working as a veterinary surgeon on a limited schedule with Annie always by my side. Many of Annie’s friends could feel that things were getting more and more difficult. All continued to be amazed by her strength, beauty and grace.
Annie’s best human friend, Auntie Sue was of course always there to provide trips to “doggy store” and other fun adventures. Sue and Annie are soul mates of the highest order. Annie’s love for Auntie Sue knew no bounds or restraints. It was Annie’s love that fueled Sue’s life for the past ten years.
One night in February, after a particularly rough few days, Annie experienced one of her worst seizure episodes yet. As we had done before, we got through it with tons of hugging and a little medication. The next day it became apparent that Annie had significant pain somewhere in her right shoulder area. For the next few days this pain got worse despite multiple treatments. One night while Annie slept, sometime around 2 AM, deep in my soul I felt that I was no longer capable of adequately fulfilling my doctrine: that Annie’s life must not contain more pain, unhappiness or emotional strain beyond the point where I could adequately intervene. The knowledge that I had kept inside me for many years became a reality. Annie’s struggle must end now. The time was here for me to fully take the pain so that Annie may be at peace after her brave struggle. I was reluctantly willing to do that for her only because there was no longer any way I could protect her to the degree she so deserved.
For the next five hours we hugged and she slept. When the sun rose on Tuesday, February 12, 2013, just two days before Annie’s 17th birthday, I was faced with the single most difficult task of my life. With Sue and me by Annie’s side, Annie lay in her own bed in her own home while we presented her with a banquet of chicken, roast beef, carrots and Hagen Dazs vanilla ice cream – not the low fat yogurt kind. Annie ate with bliss. Without her even knowing, I slipped an intramuscular injection of a combination of sedatives into her thigh. With her belly full, her heart even fuller, with me and Sue hugging her, she went into a beautiful sleep. My dearest friend Dr. Daniel B. appeared like an angel to administer love and a final injection for our sleeping princess. Annie did not arouse from her gentle sleep. As her breaths became deeper, Sue and I inhaled each one directly into ourselves until there were no more. Annie’s soul passed gracefully from her body into ours.
Annie on her final day with us
Annie Angel Dog
The Steven Huneck Gallery
For the next seven days I wandered through this world like a zombie. I can only describe my pain this way: someone had removed every vital organ from my entire body. I was alone in a way I had never known. I will not go into more detail about my grieving; I believe that to be each person’s private domain. My pain and hopelessness, it seemed, would rule the remainder of my life. I heeded the priceless advice of Dr. Shannon Nakaya: “Keep Breathing”.
Miraculously after seven days I felt my insides gradually were becoming less empty as I slowly returned to the outside world. I am no longer empty; Annie’s soul fills me forever, bringing me strength and comfort. I am overfilled with the kind words and gestures of hundreds of Annie’s friends.
What would my life have been? What would my life ever be, had I not been blessed with the truest of friends and the essence of pure love of Annie for the past ten years? Yes, it IS worth it. I am a better person because of Annie. Thank you my Angel Annie and to all Dog Angels everywhere.