When I posted pictures of Mindy on National Dog Biscuit Day in February 2011, I had no idea we would lose her to cancer just eight months later. She would have been thirteen years old in January 2012, though we used her adoption date, July 13, as her birthday.
About the same time, my doctor said I needed a dog to help with some of my health issues. One look at Mindy's photo on the HSCC website and it was love at first sight, so we made an appointment to see her in person. David, whose previous experiences with dogs had been negative ones, knew I had grown up with dogs and trusted my judgment. But when he first saw her, his only thought was, "Oh, my gosh, she's HUGE!" At 100 pounds, this gorgeous Australian Shepherd-Collie mix was certainly no lap dog! But she was gentle, sweet, and very intelligent. As we filled out the adoption papers, another family came in to see her. Had we been just five minutes later, we might have missed out.
Mindy was a dream to train. She quickly learned both the obedience commands and service behaviors I needed her to perform, occasionally modifying one or two to make the easier for both of us. And, if she saw a need, she filled it without being trained or told to do so. She loved people, bonded with our cats and with us, and feared nothing but thunder. She even picked up after herself!
Because she was an older dog, it wasn't surprising that she had some health issues. She had been shot in the foot as a puppy, the paw had healed crooked, and she still had several pellets in her forearm which predisposed her to arthritis. By the time she turned twelve, it impossible for her to go up and down the stairs, or hop into the car. So, I began sleeping downstairs so she wouldn't be lonely, we bought her an orthopedic dog bed, and a dog ramp for the car.
Shortly before Christmas 2011, Mindy had a brief stomach illness, but appeared to quickly recover. Then, when David took her out one morning, she collapsed on the deck and couldn't get up. With both of us helping and coaxing, we got her into the house. After a brief rest, she stood up and walked into the living room, but we decided the vet should check her over. Our regular vet wasn't in, but the one who examined her thought she might have a urinary tract infection, and that perhaps the collapse was due to increased arthritis pain. She said if Mindy threw up overnight, to bring her back the next day. Not only was Mindy sick, but the next morning she collapsed again. We took her in and our vet ran tests and took x-rays. Mindy was dehydrated, so we had to leave her there to receive IV fluids.
We returned home to await the test results. Two hours later the phone rang, and the vet said, "Mindy's in serious trouble." An abdominal fluid aspiration showed cells from an aggressive cancer in her abdomen, and her kidneys were shutting down. She said they could do an ultrasound, but it would only tell us the specific kind of cancer that was killing her, and wouldn't change the prognosis. We rushed back to the vet's office, and they brought Mindy in on a gurney. As David, our daughter Sarah, and I gathered around her, it was obvious that Mindy was suffering. It was time to let her go. We spent time with her, assuring her of our love; and when the end came, it was very peaceful-- for her; but for us, the shock and pain of her sudden loss was devastating.
[see Filling in the Gap, part 2: Saying Hello...]