Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The end of the girl with the golden heart

This post was hard for me to write and may be hard for you to read, not just because of the subject. It's long, it's somewhat graphic, and if you're one of the first to read it, it may be full of typos. I picked out the images earlier today, but I've written the text "stream-of-consciousness" style, and it went so far in a direction I didn't intend it to go that I had to change the original title. I can't make myself go back over it right now to check for errors, but I promise to edit it properly tomorrow. The point of this first paragraph is to let you know that I'll understand if you don't want to read all this, but please, please scroll through it and look at the pictures of my best girl, Kadi. She was so very beautiful, inside and out.


Calendar note on August 22, 1997: "Troy gave Kelli a 10-wk-old yellow lab." That's right. Kadi was not my dog in the beginning.

Kelli is my daughter and Troy was later to become her husband.

Kelli and I had bought this property together earlier that year. She and her kids lived in the house in front of the carport, and I lived in the one behind it, where I still live today. We had talked about getting a dog, but the fence needed work first.

I wasn't working when Troy gave Kadi to Kelli, so it seemed logical that I would babysit her while her mom worked, just for a few days until the fence work was completed. Those few days were all it took for me to fall in love with her.

When the fence was finished around the backyard Kelli and I shared, Kelli wanted Kadi to be an outside dog. Kadi had other ideas. As soon as Kelli let her out in the morning, Kadi headed to my back door. As hard as I resisted it, I usually caved in and let her spend most of the day in my house. She wanted to be there, and I loved having her. I missed her when she went home in the afternoon.

Kadi at six months old - December 1997

In 1998 Kelli called from work and asked how I'd feel about her bringing another dog home. A friend of hers had found a plump, young puppy (too young to have been away from his mother) that had probably been dumped near her home. Calendar note on April 30, 1998:  "Janice M. gave Kelli a new puppy -- 6 wks old male -- we named him Jack. Kadi is so excited, thinks it's her dog." Three days later Jack's name was changed to Butch, who, as you now know, also wasn't my dog in the beginning. But he was Kadi's. (After Butch, Kadi showed the ropes to Kim's dogs, Frankie, Winston, Lucy, and Oliver. She was working hard on Levi.)

Kadi in fine form in 1998

By the time Kelli and Troy married in 2000 and were getting ready to move into the new home they'd built to accommodate their combined five children, I think Kelli knew how attached I'd become to Kadi and Butch. Or maybe she didn't like the idea of leaving me alone. Or possibly she was just tired of trying to convince me not to let her dogs spend so much time in my house. Whatever the reason, she told me she was giving them to me. That made me feel guilty about all the times I'd sneaked them inside, but I decided I could live with the guilt and accepted her offer gratefully. That's how Kadi and Butch became my dogs. Inside dogs.

Kadi - June 10, 2006

There are stories about Kadi all through this blog, so I won't repeat them here. I'll just add  that Kadi became more special to me with each passing year. Some people think of their dogs as children, which is sort of the way I've always thought about Butch, but when Kadi grew out of puppyhood, she no longer seemed like a child to me.

Kadi - April 3, 2008 - a beautiful, happy, mature lady

Kadi was a grown-up through and through, with her own set of standards for behavior -- hers and everybody else's -- and the facial expressions to tell you what she thought about anything that was happening at a given moment. She was more than a wonderful friend to me. If she could have talked in words (she did talk with her eyes), she probably would have told you that she and I were partners in the running of the house. She behaved like a loyal administrative assistant, alerting me to anything she had identified as a problem, then fully expecting me to take care of the matter post haste.

Kadi had a heart of gold. She loved her people, her canine friends, and life itself. The Sister-Mary-Katherine part of her might let us know if we'd somehow fallen short of her expectations, but she didn't hold a grudge. More than once she would head-butt a naughty puppy, then turn right around and look us in the eyes and smile, as if to let us know she wasn't really angry, she was just doing her job.

Kadi - July 3, 2009 - In charge of the house

In September of 2009 I took Kadi to the vet for her annual physical exam and shots. She was given a clean bill of health. She weighed a hair under 62 pounds.

In January of 2010 I took her back to the vet. She had begun to have trouble with her back legs slipping out from under her, and she was falling a lot. She also seemed to be choking on her food once or twice a day. The vet examined her thoroughly. He pressed on her backbone just above her tail, and her hind legs crumpled. He said he believed that her leg problem was caused by a degenerative condition of her spine. His recommendation was to give her Rimadyl (an NSAID pain reliever) and see if that might help, though he acknowledged that it might not. As for the choking, he said sometimes a dog's trachea will flatten out with age and that I should begin moistening Kadi's kibble and/or giving her soft food. That January checkup also turned up something I hadn't noticed: Kadi had lost almost eight pounds in four months.

The softer food stopped the choking problem almost immediately. The Rimadyl (50 mg daily) didn't seem to make much of a difference in Kadi's mobility, so I stopped it after a few weeks. The falling got quite a bit better because Kadi gradually began to walk with her hind legs stiffened into an upside-down V-shape, which gave her a more solid footing. When she had trouble getting up from a lying-down position, she'd scoot to the nearest rug or carpet to get some traction.

In August of 2010 it was time to renew her prescription for thyroid medication, and she needed to have her thyroid levels checked to see if that prescription was still appropriate. Back we went to the vet. She got the full senior dog exam, which included a number of blood tests that later proved to be in normal ranges (except for the thyroid, which hadn't changed). The alarming news was that she had lost another six pounds.

The vet told me that day that he believed Kadi's weight loss was "her body's way of preparing for the end of her life." She had turned 13 two months earlier. The vet said (I'm paraphrasing here), "Dogs' bodies, like people's, lose mass as they get older. That's why you never see really fat people in nursing homes; most of the patients are small and thin." That day was the first time I'd had to face the fact that there was a limit to the time I had left to spend with Kadi.

Kadi - October 16, 2010 - Her dramatic weight
 loss didn't affect her doggy smile.

We rocked along for the next five months without any new problems. I had started spoon feeding Kadi and Butch, bite for bite, after Kadi's last visit to the vet, just to make sure she was eating an adequate amount. She continued to lose weight on the same amount of food that made Butch gain a few pounds, but she didn't seem to feel sick or to be in a lot of pain. Her skin was beginning to hang on her bony frame, and her fur looked like moths had been in it. I think now that her sweet nature and her joy and interest in life masked her discomfort, but maybe I was just in denial.

In December of 2010 Butch developed another in his lifelong series of ear infections, and I took him to a new vet -- at least new to this area. She and another veterinarian had relocated to this area after Hurricane Katrina forced them out of New Orleans, and in the early fall of 2010 they opened a brand new animal hospital about five minutes from my home. In addition to his ears, Butch seemed to have been experiencing some pain from the fissures on his behind and the arthritis in his knees. I told the vet that I'd been giving Butch Kadi's leftover 50 mg Rimadyl tablets for the last week to try to alleviate some of his pain but that it didn't seem to be helping. In that context, I told her about Kadi's back and leg problems, and she told me she thought both dogs might benefit from a stronger dose of Rimadyl. I took some 100 mg Rimadyl home and started them on it.

Butch and Kadi both seemed to feel better on the larger dose of Rimadyl. Kadi seemed more confident and sure-footed, and I was encouraged. A month later, in the last week of January 2011, Kadi got sick with a case of diarrhea so severe that it weakened her in every way possible. She weighed only 42 pounds when the new vet checked her out, but despite her thinness, we still had to withhold all food for 24 hours. In the meantime I was to give her medication to slow down the diarrhea, and after that 24-hour-period I could begin giving her very small amounts of chicken and rice at regular intervals.

The diarrhea lasted six days, and poor Kadi lay on the cold floor (her choice) like a thick shag rug for most of that time. When she finally felt better, the spark returned to her eyes. Her disposition told me she was my sweet, happy girl again, but her body sagged, and I could see that she was worse for the wear.

Kadi - January 31, 2011 - I was happy that she finally
 felt like rolling in the yard, but not particularly 
pleased about the muddy spot where she chose to do it.

In the first week of March 2011, Kadi was back at the vet again. The diarrhea had returned. This time we saw the other new vet, who stated that diarrhea was a possible side effect of Rimadyl and said to stop giving her that immediately. We would wait a week or so and start her on prednisone, a steroid, to address her wobbly leg issues. He warned, sympathetically, "When the prednisone stops working, I'm afraid that's it." 

The vet noted that Kadi had dropped another two pounds in just over a month. When I explained her history of weight loss over the past year, he said his best guess would be that she had some type of gastrointestinal cancer. It might show up on an ultrasound test, but it might not. I declined the test because I didn't think a firm diagnosis would give us a different outcome. Kadi was three months shy of her 14th birthday. Chemotherapy couldn't possibly extend her life by more than a few short months, and I wouldn't put her through that kind of trauma for such a limited amount of time. The vet put Kadi on a diet of a special gastroenteric food and said to give her Pepcid AC twice a day to ease her stomach pain.

I remember telling the vet on that visit, "Kadi still has some good days." Near the end of the visit, he told me, "I want you to do something." He suggested that I go home and find two jars, label one jar "good days" and the other one "bad days" and put a penny in one or the other each night at bedtime. "When the 'bad-day' jar starts filling up a lot faster than the 'good-day' jar, you'll know it's time."

I didn't make those jars. When I thought about it, I realized that I'd exaggerated when I said Kadi still had good days. She didn't have any good days; she just had occasional  really good moments.

Kadi - February 18, 2011
Another sunbath, this time on dry ground.
Isn't she beautiful?

Kadi's second bout of diarrhea lasted about as long as the first one had, and the prednisone never really seemed to kick in to help her legs. She began falling more frequently and often needed human assistance to stand up. We had to pick up her back end, wait while she got her front feet positioned properly, then slowly lower her back feet to the floor and physically place each one in a position that would grant her stability. Once she got her bearings, she could hobble around the house or out into the yard, though her trips were shorter and much less frequent than usual.

At one point Kadi did stay in the yard long enough for me to grab my camera and take what I didn't know then would be the final pictures of her. Here is one of them:

Kadi - March 18, 2011
Still beautiful, but her eyes are sad.

I don't think she looks ill in that photo, but another one, taken moments later, presents a truer picture of her condition. I think seeing this might help you understand why I couldn't write about this in any detail while it was happening. My sweet girl was wasting away right in front of my eyes, and it was breaking my heart.

Kadi - March 18, 2011
Skin and bones and ragged fur, but her beautiful spirit shines through those sad eyes.

In the middle of the night after these pictures were taken, Kadi got sick again.  More diarrhea. I treated her all day Saturday and Sunday the same way I had done the other two times, the same medicine and the same small feedings. I knew if she wasn't better by Monday we'd go back to the vet for help. The diarrhea didn't go away over the weekend, but it didn't get any worse. Her little body, though, seemed to get weaker and weaker. By Monday morning she was pooping, then falling in it, and her distress made me cry. I cleaned her up and offered her food, but she wasn't interested. She lay on her side on the living room floor, her eyes staring straight in front of her, not lifting her head. For the first time in nearly 14 years, Kadi didn't seem to care what was going on around her.

I called Kim and said through sobs, "I think today may be the day." She came over immediately and agreed that Kadi appeared to be giving up. I asked her to call the veterinarian and make an appointment, and she did that for me. Kim called Kelli at work, and Kelli came, too. Kadi did look up and acknowledge each of the girls as they came in. We could tell she was glad they were there. She didn't wag her tail, but she lifted her head up a few inches and looked directly at each of them. When she lifted her head, she didn't lay it back down; it fell to the floor under its own weight.

We sat with Kadi and stroked her, telling her over and over what a good girl she was and how much we loved her. Around noon she tried to get up, so we helped her to her feet and she actually headed to the back door and went outside for a minute. She ate a few bites after that, then drank some water and lay back down. I don't know whether the food upset her stomach or the walking hurt her, but she seemed to be in a great deal of pain. Butch was with us, walking around excitedly, and we made sure he didn't accidentally step on her. We let Levi in the room for just a moment, but his fast, klutzy movements seemed to make Kadi anxious, so we kept him on the other side of the gate. Kelli had to go back to work, so Kim and I continued to stroke Kadi and soothe her while we waited until the appointed hour. When either of us couldn't hold back the tears, we tried not to let Kadi see us.

In light of what would happen soon, I no longer cared about Kadi's diet, other than not wanting to give her anything that would upset her fragile stomach and intestines. We talked about what might make her happy and settled on a spoonful of peanut butter. We took turns holding it, while Kadi, the side of her face still flat on the floor, slowly but eventually licked it clean.

It was time to take Kadi to the vet. Kim and I picked up our purses, and I picked up a leash. When Kadi saw the leash, she rallied and tried to get up. We helped her up and let her stand for a minute, then she took some wobbly steps to the front door, demonstrating  more enthusiasm than I'd seen in her for days. Five minutes later her last ride was over.

At the animal hospital I talked to the vet at length about my concern that I was "jumping the gun" in making this decision. He said his personal opinion was that I was not, that he believed Kadi was ready to go. He said that his medical opinion was that we could do the ultrasound to be sure what we were dealing with and then make a decision but that the main question to be considered was whether I was ready. Kadi was standing and shivering while we talked. I didn't think I could take her home, watch her suffer a few days more, then go through this all over again. I said I was ready.

They weighed Kadi while they put the catheter in her front leg. She had lost another three pounds in less than three weeks, down to 37 pounds from the 62 that had been her normal weight for the last few years. They brought her back to us then, and after we petted her and talked to her for a few more minutes, I gave the okay, and the doctor injected a sedative through the catheter. Kadi went out almost instantly. We held her to keep her from falling and laid her gently on soft blankets. She was still breathing, but the vet assured us she was totally unconscious. I wasn't convinced. Her eyes were open, not moving at all, but if my hand came too close to them, she blinked. 

The next injection, which the vet had explained was an overdose of a seizure medication, ended Kadi's life in a split second. I don't believe it caused her any pain. The procedure seemed so simple that I wanted to scream in the quiet of that room. How can a life be ended so easily and swiftly? How could such a beloved creature pass on without any kind of fanfare? In that moment I wanted angels for Kadi, lots of angels, some of them welcoming her with arms wide open and some of them playing trumpets. I wanted to be able to see Kadi running among frolicking puppies and fluffy kittens in green fields under brilliant blue skies.

Instead, her death was quiet and easy, and her little body just lay there on the blankets. It was too much for me, and it was not enough.

I've cried plenty of tears in the last couple of days, but the truth is the greater part of my grieving has been done in the last few months, because I've known I would lose Kadi soon. Every morning, ever since the first vet told me Kadi's body was shedding weight to prepare for the end of her life, I have opened my eyes and looked first for Kadi, to see if she was breathing. I was afraid she might die in the night and even more afraid that I'd have to choose the time of her death.

Through all of her illnesses, through all of her pain, Kadi stayed sweet and loving and interested in others, up until that last day. I made the decision for euthanasia based on what I thought was right for Kadi, but I will never know if I did the right thing. 


I am so grateful to my daughters for the love and support they gave to Kadi and me both during this stressful event, grateful to the compassionate doctors and staff at the animal hospital, and grateful, also, to those of you who have left comments here and on Facebook and sent emails offering support and understanding. I am stronger because of all of you.


  1. This was so difficult to read, since I have just written a post about Nate and his death two days ago. I miss him so much...I understand completely how you feel about Kadi. And you showed it with your heartfelt words. Kadi was a dog in a million...sweet and loving and caring.

    Take care of yourself..xoxo

  2. The Last Battle

    If it should be that I grow frail and weak
    And pain should keep me from my sleep,
    Then will you do what must be done,
    For this -- the last battle -- can't be won.
    You will be sad I understand,
    But don't let grief then stay your hand,
    For on this day, more than the rest,
    Your love and friendship must stand the test.
    We have had so many happy years,
    You wouldn't want me to suffer so.
    When the time comes, please, let me go.
    Take me to where to my needs they'll tend,
    Only, stay with me till the end
    And hold me firm and speak to me
    Until my eyes no longer see.
    I know in time you will agree
    It is a kindness you do to me.
    Although my tail its last has waved,
    From pain and suffering I have been saved.
    Don't grieve that it must be you
    Who has to decide this thing to do;
    We've been so close -- we two -- these years,
    Don't let your heart hold any tears.

  3. Marion, I'm so sorry to read about Nate. I've just now been to your blog and read your beautiful tribute to him, and your words about Nate's journey have comforted me. I wish you were not having to share this experience with me, and yet it helps me to put my own loss in perspective. You take good care of yourself, too, and we'll heal together.

    JavaGirl, thank you so much. This poem is exactly what I needed to read right now.

  4. You poured your heart out here and I feel honored to be able to share this with you. I know we all have loss and try to make others feel better when they grieve by saying, "I know how you feel." But, truly, your grief is yours. Only you know the depth of the relationship and love you and Kadi shared. All I can say is I am so sorry for your loss and that I believe you made the right decision -- the one that was right for Kadi, even though you wanted her to stay. You're constantly in my thoughts.

  5. Oh Linda. Your words, and your experience, and your beautiful girl, have me in tears. As hard as it was for you, I have a belief that she was telling you she was ready to go. I believe was the final gift you gave her, to end her pain, without further suffering. Not all gifts given are without pain, but releasing her from your life and her pain was the most beautiful thing. I am so so sorry for your loss. The pictures, by the way, are just beautiful. Such a beautiful girl and such a great friend to you. Be gentle with yourself, and you are in my prayers.

  6. Velvet, I am so so sorry for your loss. Your golden girl was beyond special...

    When I had to make this horrible decision for my Maggie, a friend's son was a vet tech. When I mourned out loud that I would never know if my decision was right, he told of the people who don't have the heart to do it and how their dogs suffer and suffer. It helped me to understand that there was nothing in Maggie's future but suffering. And that would not do for my girl.

    Oddly, I prayed and prayed for some sign that she was OK. Three days later, I had the most magical dream and I know it was her.

    I'm crying too hard to write but know that I'm sending lots of hugs your way!

  7. Annette, when you speak to me about loss, I have to imagine myself in your shoes for just a moment, then I come back to my own reality and realize you may just be the strongest person I know. Thank you.

    Alison, thank you. I'm glad you got to meet Kadi, and I hope your own beautiful girl is healing nicely.

    Holly, I would love to dream of Kadi the way you did of Maggie. I hope it will happen. Thanks for sharing what your friend's son told you; it helps.

  8. Kadi's smile is visible in even the last pictures. I'm so sorry for the loss of your beautiful girl. I believe they tell us when it's time.

  9. Rottrover, thank you. Kadi's smile was the biggest part of her and her joy is what I'll remember most.

  10. I want to thank you for sharing Kadi with me as well as all of your readers. She will be missed by many, but not as much as her mom and furry friends will miss her. I am sorry for your pain and sadness. How blessed she was to have you.
    I will take the time to re-read your post tomorrow, what I was able to read was beautiful, but many tears got in the way.
    Sending hugs to you, Butch, and Levi.
    One more thing Linda, none of us ever know if we made the right decision, when it comes to making this decision, but in my heart of hearts, I believe you did, but it doesn't make it hurt any less. SO thankful your daughters were with you ♥

  11. you have giid memories of here and she isn't suffering.

  12. how are you doing today? I've been thinking of you...

  13. Sandy, thank you for your kind words. It's gratifying to know that readers of this blog became so well acquainted with Kadi and learned to appreciate the sweet essence of her.

    I still get a huge jolt of sadness when I first wake up and it hits me all over again that Kadi isn't here, but other than that, each day has been better than the day before. In fact, I'd say today has been a good day. It's Kim's birthday, and she, her sister Kelli and I went to brunch and a movie and enjoyed each other's company. The grieving isn't over, but it's not a raw, gaping wound like it was earlier in the week.

    Patsy, thanks. Those good memories will help her live on in my heart.

  14. Your words have deeply touched me, as someone who has lost my beloved dogs of 13 years, 11 years, and now one who is 14 years. It is so hard to make the decision of when, and so very sad to go on afterwards. But new loves, rescue dogs in my case, come to help ease the pain. Thank you for sharing.


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