She nuzzled her still cold but boney nose up to my dangling hand, looking for yet another affirmation she was our best friend. I stroked her soft fur on the poll of her head, realizing her facial muscles had atrophied quickly. She moaned with pleasure as to the simple need to be petted was satisfied one last time.
She deserved many more if her last days would allow. Yet at that moment, Jessie's only desire was to receive the ultimate in a dog's reward.
A few nights earlier as we ruminated on a great farm-cooked meal, Ol' Jessie was making the rounds under the table. Her quest, as it had in years past, was a few morsels from fallen from the table as in our household it is forbidden to feed a dog from the table. But we let them win the five-second rule, especially Jessie. She was a 15-year-old Shetland sheepdog, or Shelties. She's been around a few years, long enough to see one of our kids grow up and head off to college. She had been an ever-faithful and fearless watchdog, who would get the package delivery driver in van unless she was called down. Choosing to live mostly outside, she's seen many seasons change.
Now as she slows down with her sight and hearing fading fast, I have added respect for her. Even as an animal doctor capable of sustaining life, Jessie has outlived all other dogs I've had.
Lately, however, her heart has begun to fail. My wife, more attuned than I am to such things, brought my attention to a troubling development. "Jessie's coughing Matt," she said, "We need to take her into the vet. Think he can help her?" I answered that it wouldn't hurt because he was a real big-city vet with an X-ray machine, but knowing her sarcasm was meant to alert me to our friend's health.
One didn't have to be a trained, licensed veterinarian to see Jessie was having trouble breathing as she coughed deeply or notice she had lost her old stamina for chasing the Frisbee.
After an X-ray exam, it was obvious Jessie was a generalized cardiomegaly, or enlarged heart. The coughing traced pulmonary edema, the build up of fluid in the lungs as her heart lost efficiency. The diagnosis: congestive heart failure. Like all seniors, your heart will fail if you live long enough.
We took her home with bottles filled with heart pills and diuretic. They would make her life better but not cure her. Some day, her heart would fail.
For readers who have experienced this diagnosis with their dogs, it is quite sobering. You don't know how long the pry will live. Some, with proper therapy, will live for years. Others, who don't get care or have owners who don't understand the seriousness, will have a shorter life.
Jessie gets her medication twice a day, now, and the cough is gone. But she's a lot slower and doesn't tolerate the heat of summer as well.
As Jessie made the rounds under the table from one family member to the other, kind word abound for the old saint of the canine world. We brought her kennel inside and set it up in the laundry room where it's cool. When I walk by, she either doesn't hear or notice like she used to. No longer does she give me that warning bark Shelties let out when startled. I used to get irritated with her barks, but now I wish I could take back all the harsh rebuttals. Although she isn't suffering direly and the medication has stabilized her, my wife and I are happy now to enjoy her one day at a time.
Once again, her wet little collie nose touches my hand, and I respond as I always have to all the love she's dealt out through the year. What a great little pet she's been.