We put Cosmo to sleep a week ago yesterday. I don’t quite know how to explain how I feel. My heart just hurts. I always said that when I agreed to get a dog when we moved to New Hampshire, that all I wanted was for it to have a long, happy life, and when the end came, for its death to be peaceful.
I got my wish, mostly. But Cossy wasn’t supposed to be the first of our dogs to go. He was the youngest, always the baby. And Heather is actually sick, and doing a great job of out-living her life expectancy at this point.
But I guess Cosmo was always fragile in a lot of ways. He was born with a bone inflammation disorder. There are a couple of different types, and we were never sure which one he had, because his symptoms didn’t fit either one entirely. His front leg joints were inflamed, so that fit HOD, but his rear leg joints were not. His jaw was somewhat inflamed, which fit CPD, but not very badly. This disorder is more common in large breed dogs, but he definitely had it. It effects them when they are babies, but they eventually grow out of it, and Cosmo did as well.
But it did affect him permanently, in several different ways. First of all we were advised to wait to have him fixed until his joints stopped growing, at about one year. This we did, and it wasn’t a problem, except for one thing. By the time he was fixed Cosmo thought he was a man, so he got into the habit of marking. And when he was anxious, which was more often than we cared to admit, he marked inside. It would get so bad, off and on, that he had to wear a belly band, especially if we were visiting at someone else’s house.
And because sometimes he was in pain when he was a little guy, his doggy mind associated many things with pain. So he was afraid to get up on the bed, and he was afraid to jump down. He disliked the stairs, and when we moved into this house where it wasn’t ever necessary for him to go upstairs, he never did unless we forced him, and then a lot of times we had to carry him. He was afraid of other dogs when we went on walks too. At first this could be a really big problem, especially before we realized that he was scared, and not being aggressive. Once we understood the cause we worked very very hard on building his confidence, and lessening his reactive behavior. He got to the point where most of the time we could walk by a dog that was barking in his yard, and Cosmo might be worried, but he didn’t lose his composure. He never got to the point where he wasn’t bothered by loose dogs running up to us when he was on a leash, but you can’t have everything!
Cosmo barked. He was a barky barky dog. When we lived in New Hampshire our house was set far back from the street, so he mostly barked at squirrels and other animals that ventured into our yard, and the occasional delivery person. But in Minnesota we are on a busy street. He barked at all the people walking, the bikers biking, our poor old next door neighbor whenever he took his dog outside, all day long, until we finally put down the shades when it got dark. We never figured out a good solution. Sometimes out of exasperation we would crate him for awhile, until he calmed down. Sometimes I would try to assume Diane’s authoritative voice, and yell QUIET! That might work for a minute or two. But mostly we lived with barking.
So far this post makes it sound like he was a terrible dog. Far from it. He was pretty wonderful. He was a handsome dude, with thick, curly hair, a beautiful smile. He loved to cuddle, but like most Westies he wasn’t a lap dog. He just wanted to be right next to you. When we sat at the kitchen island for too long he would start bugging us to move to somewhere where he could be next to us. Hey mom! Hey dad! Hey!
He was enthusiastic about almost everything. Mealtime? Yay! Walktime? Yay! Car trip? Yay! He was just a joyful dog. You couldn’t be sad for long when Cosmo was around.
The part of his death that bothers me the most is wondering and wondering if we missed something. At his annual exam in June his kidney function and other numbers were fine, but he had lost 3 pounds, which is a lot in a 20 pound dog. He always drank a lot of water, but there were a couple of times in the weeks before he got sick that I would find their water bowls empty. I always figured that I had just forgotten to fill them, but maybe not.
On the Wednesday evening before he died he woke me up at midnight, whining. I took him outside, and he peed for close to a minute. I was just staring at him in amazement. But that tells me right there that he had already started to suffer from thirst. His kidneys were probably already inflamed. When he came inside he started drinking water desperately, until I made him stop and took him back to bed. He woke Lee again at 4 and repeated the same series of events. And on Thursday, things just got worse. I tried to get an appointment with our vet but the earliest I could get was 10 AM on Friday. I started calling around to different vet hospitals, emergencies vets, and urgent care vets, and no one had an opening. About halfway through the list I had I gave up. Would he have lived if I had gotten him in somewhere on Thursday? I know in my heart that it was probably already too late, but it still bothers me.
What happened? Did he eat something he shouldn’t have, and if so what? His liver was also inflamed, so maybe a mushroom, or a toxic plant. Could it have been some kind of infection, that had already started back in June? We will never know. We decided not to do an autopsy, because the vet said it was only a 50/50 chance that it would show anything. So I have to live with the uncertainty.
When we took him to our vet on Friday his kidney numbers were very bad. Our vet was alarmed. They started calling all the emergency vets and finally found one with an opening, an hour away on the east side of St. Paul. He needed to be hospitalized and put on an IV if he was going to have any chance at all to survive.
I guess we were in denial, but although we knew it was bad, we couldn’t imagine that we were already close to the end. I drove him across town to the emergency vet, and kissed him goodbye. We would know in the next 24-48 hours if he would live.
When the emergency vet called us on Saturday morning with the bad news, at first I hesitated. Was there a chance that if we gave him another 24 hours on the IV he might turn around? The emergency vet was not encouraging, but of course it was up to us.
Above all else I didn’t want him to suffer. They sent us a picture of him that morning, and he looked so sad. I know he felt miserable, and if there wasn’t hope it was better to let him go.
His end was so peaceful. I’m very grateful for that. They put him down on the couch next to us and he just pressed his little body next to mine and closed his eyes. He was so tired of fighting it, whatever it was. I know it might sound very, very weird, but it reminded me so much of my mother, who was just too tired to fight any longer, and who also had a very peaceful death.
The bad part now is also the good part. Because I miss him so much, and I miss him because I loved him so much. There are little reminders of him everywhere, the extra bowl still on the RV, the quiet when our neighbor takes his dog outside, the belly bands we no longer need, the calming care probiotic in the pantry, the habit of taking out three treats, instead of just two.
Marley’s death was so violent and horrible that it made it very difficult to remember the good things about her. Cosmo’s death was unexpected, but very peaceful, so although I continue to doubt myself and question whether we did everything we could have done for him, I’m mostly remembering what a very very good sweet boy he was.
He was a very very good boy. That’s Cosmo’s legacy. I know it's the last thing he heard. We told him that we loved him, and that he was a very good boy. He was, oh how he was.