Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Truth Is

You don't get to be a card carrying alcoholic without being really good at living in a state of denial. Deluding oneself that things haven't gotten that bad or the truth is what you believe it to be is a skill set every alcoholic develops over the years. And so it was with Jet and me and how ill he actually was. I didn't admit how serious his illness was because at first I just didn't see the obvious (in retrospect) signs. When he started getting suddenly and progressively more sick I simply refused to acknowledge what I was seeing, and like a well-trained alcoholic, I eventually managed to make myself believe it. That, and I so desperately wanted Jet to get better, and the thought that I might loose him twisted me up so much that I somehow thought that I could make him better through sheer force of will alone.

But sometime last week my house of cards started to crumble. I vividly remember taking him out to the dog run. He went along well enough, although the usual life was missing from his walk. By nature not the most social dog, now he absolutely avoided all the other dogs as well as people. He didn't sniff, he didn't bark, he just slowly walked along behind me, humoring me really, until a few minutes in when he just stopped. And I looked across the dog run as he stood all by himself looking back at me. His head was low and his ears were down. He looked at me from 20 feet away with the saddest expression I had ever seen on his face, all alone in the middle of the run. I called his name and he didn't come. His nub-tail didn't budge. He just looked at me. And I knew.

I tried anything I could think of to get him to eat. I even brought real chicken breast home from work and cut it up into his food. He ate it, and I took every half-eaten meal as a hopeful sign. Until the next day when I would roll up some medicine in a ball of cheese, normally absolutely irresistible to Jet. Now he would just turn his head away. I know enough about dogs to know that one of the worst signals they can send you is when they refuse food. They are either terrified or desperately ill. And yet I wouldn't see it for what it was. Until I felt his ribs. He had lost almost 10 pounds, seemingly in a matter of weeks. I took to petting him around the ears and neck, so I wouldn't feel those damn ribs.

And then Saturday morning I woke up and felt a wet spot in the bed. Jet had started leaking urine again, only this time when I could get the medication into him, it did nothing to stop it. There were several large wet spots in the bed, and one sickeningly green spot as well. I have no idea where it came from. I doubt he coughed it up as I sleep too lightly for that now. More then likely it just leaked from his mouth. I had no idea what it actually was, but I knew if he had just laid in bed and let it happen he was in big trouble. So I immediately called the vet next door and brought him down. After an examination that Jet simply tolerated, as there was no fight in him at all, the vet recommended I bring him right to the hospital. He was severely anemic and needed immediate treatment. I brought him right in.

They triaged Jet immediately after I explained that our vet had sent us over. We were sent back to the waiting area. After about 10 minutes we were called back in. Jet was examined again and the vet at the hospital immediately recommended Jet get a catheter with some fluids and more quick blood tests. She assured me she would speak to me in around 15 minutes. And 15 minutes later she was explaining that Jet had advanced kidney disease, that the test results from a month ago that the vet had sent along with us showed that his kidneys were barely functioning, and that the treatment would be largely ineffectual, expensive, and doomed to fail. I would probably get him home for a matter of days.

I always said that if the time ever came, I wouldn't put my dog through expensive and hopeless treatments, as that's something that the owner does for himself and not the dog. I wouldn't make him suffer just to keep him here, his quality of life was just as precious, if not more, than my own. I just didn't imagine I would have to prove I stand by my convictions for another decade at least.

I take comfort in the fact that after discussions with the hospital vet, it appears that Jet's kidney disease was chronic and destined to be fatal. It also appears he may have been older than the four years I was led to believe. I take comfort in the fact that his last two years were without a doubt his very best. I take comfort in the fact that I saved him, not only from the streets of Howard Beach eating garbage, not only from a certain death at the shelter he surely would have ended up in and not only from the dingy basement he was consigned to by his first foster family, but also quite possibly from his first "owners", who may have discovered they had a dog with a life shortening kidney disorder, and abandoned him out to the street rather than care for him. I take comfort in the fact that I loved him so very much.

Soon after we found each other, Jet would wake me up licking my face when the sun would rise and slivers of light would start to filter through the shade. The sound of the traffic on 2nd Avenue would gradually increase until he couldn't bear it anymore and lifted the shade with his head, eager to get started on another day. And every time he did it made me that much happier to start another day too. After all, how bad could a day become that started out in bed with doggie kisses?

I would have spent all the money I could find if I thought I could have saved him one more time. Once I finally faced the truth, the inevitability of it, I had no choice but to prove how much I loved him once last time. Jet died with his head cradled in my lap. The only way it could be. The only way I could thank him. The only way to say one last goodbye.

I miss Jet terribly. I am heartbroken.

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