Jerry and I began our dog fostering adventures in December. I got this crazy idea that since Dakota (my beloved six year old dog) is neurotic, that maybe he’d like having another dog around. We weren’t 100% certain that we wanted and/or could afford a second dog, so we decided that maybe we’d try fostering. It would be a good way to try out having another dog and help rescue dogs at the same time, something about which I am very passionate. So we put in an application to foster through a local rescue group and heard back the very next day. They had a six month old long-haired black Chihuahua mix that they wanted to pull from the shelter if we would agree to take her. We agreed, and we had Jazmine in our care for about a month before she found her forever home with a very nice family. Jazmine was a wild child, causing us lots of grief but also lots of laughs. I was both sad and relieved to see her go. We made it a point to say that we would only foster adult dogs from that point on.
Shortly after Jazmine left, we were asked if we would be willing to foster Oliver. We didn’t know much, but were told that he was sick (but not sure what with), on antibiotics, and not contagious. We were a bit reluctant, but agreed. I received a phone call the night he was picked up from the shelter. The woman wanted to warn me about his appearance, stating that he was extremely emaciated. This warning could still not prepare us for the sight of Oliver. I was in shock when I first laid eyes on him. There were bones poking out all over his body and you could count every individual rib. Not an ounce of fat was to be found. I was so scared that first night; the thought of calling and having them finding him a new home ran through my mind so many times. I didn’t feel equipped to care for a dog that literally looked like he was on death’s doorstep. We decided to keep him anyway. Every time the thought of giving him back ran through my mind, the guilt of giving up on this dog, of letting him be abandoned yet again, took over and I decided to hold on and keep trying.
He fit in with us right away. We told each other we would adopt him when he got better (because everyone thought he would). He cuddled up to us and loved lying in ours laps, but…
We knew right away something was very, very wrong. Things were worse than originally thought. No one knew he was as sick as he was. He stopped eating after a day and had constant diarrhea. He almost never got up out of his dog bed and had zero energy. After four days in our care, he went back to the vet. His white blood cell counts were through the roof and cancer was suspected, but he was given antibiotics (a stronger kind) in case of an intestinal infection instead. We were to give him this medication for a week and cross our fingers that he would heal.
I won’t lie. There were moments of hope in that week that we were to hope for the best while he took his medication. We were told to feed him boiled chicken, and man did he love it. When I was feeding him, he would snatch the chicken from my hand so aggressively and with such vigor that I felt hopeful. He also continued to love playing. The second he heard his squeaky toy, he would shove himself off his bed and stagger around trying to find it. Trying to take the toy away was a struggle involving our hands and his teeth. These were small signs of life, signs that he had will to fight and survive, that he was still living. The rest of the time, he laid curled up in his bed and blankets so tightly, trying so hard to stay warm that he would get mad when I tried to pick him up to take him out. For a couple of days, his diarrhea even decreased to only once a day, and again, I felt hopeful. But his problems never went away after his dose of antibiotics. In fact, he continued to lose weight and worsen.
To make a long story short, Oliver underwent a battery of additional tests after that first one, including more blood work, as well as an ultrasound. After his ultrasound, he was to start a round of new medication and a special diet. No one really knew what was wrong. There was still the possibility of cancer, but now there was also the possibility of Protein Losing Enteropothy, meaning his body could not absorb food and nutrients. We felt that with his new diet and medications, he might get better… but with this new possible diagnosis and continuing weight loss, I began to feel that Oliver deserved better care than Jerry and I were able to provide for him. We loved him plenty, but that isn’t always enough. I felt strongly in my heart that Oliver needed to go to a home where someone would be home more often to monitor him on a more regular basis. Jerry and I both work full time and are always on the go. When we began fostering, the idea of a dog as sick as Oliver never crossed our mind so we never saw our schedules as being a conflict, but we knew that with his increasing needs, we needed to let him go. This Monday, Oliver went to a new home and began his new meds and diet. I had made arrangements to go visit him TODAY. Last night, just two days after I last saw him, I received a message that Oliver had passed away. Even though he had played with his beloved toys that very morning, at night his breathing became labored and he was struggling to stand. He had to be put down.
I felt like I had been punched hard in the gut when I heard the news. I immediately started sobbing and couldn’t stop. My own breathing became staggered, and Dakota immediately cuddled up to me, sensing something was wrong. I was supposed to see Oliver today, and now I will never get to say goodbye. Couple that with the constant guilt I have felt since deciding to get him placed in a new home, and the pain is almost unbearable. And yet, I know we all did the best we could for this little dog in the three weeks he was with us. Surely he felt the love that so many had for him in his final weeks.
But I am still heartbroken. He was only five years old. He didn’t deserve this and it pained me so much just to look at him and know that he was suffering. I hated that I could do nothing to help him, to stop him from getting worse. I hated that this dog, who still had the tiniest bit of will to fight, the tiniest bit of life in him, just couldn’t live anymore.
I never asked for this and I certainly never wanted this. No one wants to take in a dog for the last weeks of his life and basically watch him die. But I always tell myself in regards to dog fostering that it isn’t about me, it’s about THEM. It’s about saving, or trying to save, lives that other people deemed unworthy… of rescuing dogs that other people abandoned, gave up on, or threw away. I don’t foster to be a hero or for the praise, I do it to save the dogs. I did my best for Oliver, but it could never have been enough; he couldn’t be cured.
It is the saddest sight in the world to watch a dog with a serious illness get increasingly sick. It is the saddest feeling to know that you can do nothing to stop the sickness from taking over his body. It is the saddest thing to imagine that this once healthy, beautiful, energetic puppy is now a five year old who is dying way too soon. It always sucks to lose an animal, even one that was only yours for a short amount of time, but you know what? The love is always worth the loss in the end.
I laid on the kitchen floor in front of his bed and cried the night I first learned he might have cancer, almost two weeks ago now. Sobs took over my body and I shouted to Oliver how sorry I was that I couldn’t save him. I stroked his head and he looked at me with his huge brown eyes and he seemed peaceful, forgiving. He was alert, something he usually wasn’t, and he seemed to be listening to my words. I think he knew that I tried and that I was sorry. He knew that he was sick and he probably mourned the days he had infinite amounts of energy. I mourned the impending loss of a dog I barely knew but already loved.
Dogs are put on this Earth for one reason only, and that is to be loved. Loving Oliver meant doing what was best for him even if it was hard, even if there are regrets and a million “what if?”questions running through my mind. Should I have had him placed in a new home or should I have kept him? No, it would have been selfish – he needed round the clock care. What if I had done this or that instead? Nothing any of us did could have cured his disease. The best thing we could do for him was to let him go and be at peace and so we did what we had to… for Oliver. I’ll miss seeing his angel face when I come home, bellowing “Olivero!” up the stairs, but I won’t miss watching him wither away. He didn’t deserve this disease, but he deserved love, and that was the one thing we COULD give him.
All I can say now is that I was lucky to be Oliver’s mom for a little bit of time. It was emotionally draining, but I am glad he didn’t live the rest of his life in that shelter where he was abandoned. I’m glad that my family and friends showered him with love and affection. I’m glad that, at the very least, the last three weeks of his life were full of love (and chicken). I do believe that everything in this world happens for a reason, and I believe that for whatever reason, we were chosen to be Oliver’s family (if only for a moment). I was chosen to be his mama, so no matter how much it hurts, I know that this was meant to be and I am trying hard to push away the guilt and regrets. The other thing I know is that no matter how hard goodbyes are, sometimes they are necessary. I know that Oliver is right where he should be. He is a happy carefree puppy again, no longer in pain. He is eating mountains of chicken and squeaking his toys in heaven. And I was privileged to be his.