The doctor called awhile ago.
Her diagnosis was simple, direct, and right to the point: the patient had been diagnosed with incurable Lyme disease.
Incurable? What the hell...
Earlier last night my roommate and I had taken Cleo, one of our two dogs, to a local veterinary emergency center, one of the best around. She had not been able to keep food down for about 48 hours, and wasn't drinking much water. She had been running a fever in the morning, but later her nose was cool and wet, the way that it should be with a healthy dog. But she was moving slowly, though wagging her tail and looking up at us with those big brown eyes when you spoke to her.
So we took her to the vet to see what was the matter. They got her in quickly, and within minutes the vet saw her, took her temperature (which was normal), but she had noticed a few signs that she wanted to check out. So we left her with the vet and went to the waiting room.
About ten minutes later she called us back in, asked us some more detailed questions about Cleo, then asked us to wait again. About twenty minutes passed, and again we were called into the vet's diagnostic room, where she told us that she would like to keep Cleo overnight, perhaps longer, in order to do a thorough examination. We agreed, then headed home, and I made a few calls along the way to people who knew that Cleo had been a bit under the weather.
I was tired when we arrived, so I jumped into the shower, as I had a busy day ahead on Wednesday. As I stepped out of the shower, my roommate knocked on the bathroom door, telling me that the vet had just called. I quickly slipped on my clothes, stepped out and asked my roommate what the vet had said. He told me that Cleo had been diagnosed with incurable Lyme disease, and the vet had recommended that she be put down immediately so that she didn't suffer.
My roommate left for the animal hospital immediately so that he could be with her. He asked me to let him go alone, and I could understand why. He was probably crying most of the way there, as I was a right after he left, two grown men, each of us in his own private grief.
Cleo was our Chocolate Labrador Retriever, the bigger of the two dogs in the house. She really belonged to our roommate, but she and Greta, the other dog, had adopted both my son and me, so we always referred to them as our dogs. Cleo was always a happy dog, gregarious and friendly to a fault. My son would play with Cleo and Greta for hours, the classic boy and his dog(s) scenario. My son was generally the one to feed them in the evening, and had over the years taught them a few simple tricks.
And Cleo would talk to us, carrying on conversations with each of us. We understood her, and she understood us.
But Cleo had demonstrated the classic signs of canine Lyme some disease months ago. My roommate thought that it was just arthritis, which she had been diagnosed with earlier. The disease had evidently progressed further than was thought, and was now effecting her respiratory system. While at the animal hospital, the vet had noted that she had an oxygenation level in the low 80% range when it should be in the high to mid-90% range for a dog of her age, 8+ years.
It all starts from a simple tick bite, but if not discovered and treated quickly, can spread silently throughout the body. And that's what evidently happened to Cleo.
From all indications, she had probably received a fatal tick bite maybe six or more months ago. In recent weeks she showed shifting lameness where she favored one leg, then the other, and the lameness came and went. She stopped eating dog biscuits about three weeks ago. Then in the last two days, she didn't eat at all. It's possible that she was suffering from neurological damage, and also from the early signs of kidney failure.
In any case, the veterinarian advised that she be euthanized, put to sleep, and I assume by first an intravenous injection that simply puts her to sleep, then an injection, which is generally a very high dose of a barbiturate such as pentobarbital. Unconsciousness, respiratory then cardiac arrest follow rapidly, usually within 30 seconds. Most observers generally describe it as a quick and peaceful death.
But my roommate got back and he said that she had actually passed away on her own just as he arrived at the hospital. That's how far and rapidly the disease had progressed... there one minute and gone the next.
So Cleo is no longer with us, and will be missed more than I can express here.
I'm going to wait until I see my son J.R. to tell him face to face, as he's been away for the holidays visiting with family in New England. He truly loved Cleo with her always-happy face and wagging tail. You can understand this. Just a few hours ago she was looking up at me with those big, brown eyes and wagging her tail, a bit more feebly than most times, but happy for the friendship that we shared.
She wasn't really "my" or "our" dog, but this has effected me more than I might have expected. And I'm going to have a hell of a time telling my son when I see him.
I have to go now... I think that you can understand.
• Also published on Facebook on 12/30/2009