Ginny was my last Muttville foster and my first dog adoption since sweet, shy Sage – a Shepherd mix – spent a brief 18 months in my life in 2003. Volunteering for Muttville for nearly two years, I knew what to expect when adopting a senior dog and over the four months of our foster relationship, I had the opportunity to learn her health limitations. My biggest concern in giving Ginny a forever home was whether she had any internal issues that were, at this point, invisible – cancer, kidney disease, heart problems. But her blood work was clean. Ginny had other health issues, of course. She was deaf, she limped significantly in her hind legs, but neither issue seemed to bother her much and if these relatively superficial issues didn’t bother her, they didn’t bother me either.
About six weeks after officially adopting her, Ginny’s mobility issues became more serious. It became harder for her to get up, she became exhausted more easily on her walks and she panted heavily in the night. X-rays showed that Ginny had fused vertebrae in her neck and a lesion that had formed in the area. Her shallow hip sockets accounted for her strange, limping gait. Painkillers, muscle relaxants, and later, steroids, helped to bring Ginny back to her normal self. She began playing with her ball again and she rejoined her doggy buddies in her 3-day a week afternoon walking group.
Tuesday was a good day. Ginny scarfed her breakfast and dinner, greeted me with playful excitement when I returned from work, and relished the smells on her walks. That night, Ginny was tired. She slept soundly on the living room floor until bedtime. But in the middle of the night, Ginny became restless. I let her out to do her business and when she returned, her violent shaking and rapid breathing frightened me. About 30-minutes after, she settled down in another room (unusual but not alarming) and presumably fell asleep.
When I awoke the next morning, it was with surprise. Ginny, despite her inability to hear, always knew the second my feet hit the floor and would attempt to herd me to the kitchen for breakfast. This morning, she didn’t move. When I went to wake her, I found her with her eyes open, shaking, and panting. I offered her water and she turned her head. Super food-driven dogs like Ginny will only refuse treats if they are under severe stress or in deep pain so I brought her a couple. She ate them but took no pleasure in the act. I carried her in to the kitchen to prepare her breakfast. She took a couple of bites and then dropped her head. When I carried her outside to do her business, she took the opportunity, but could hardly stand or move her back legs. Later, she vomited several times.
By the time I took Ginny to the vet, she was paraplegic – unable to move her hind legs. She had lost significant function in her front legs. The vet believed she slipped a disk in her spine but couldn’t be certain without an MRI, technology that most neighborhood veterinary offices don’t have. Given her age and mobility issues, and we had to act fast; Ginny was in severe pain. Our options were limited. The first was to put Ginny on heavy morphine and keep her immobile for 6-8 weeks (i.e., in a crate) to hope that the slipped disk would adhere to its new position with scar tissue. If the disk acted as we hoped, Ginny might be able to walk again. More likely, she would regain some function in her legs and would need to be partially carried with a sling to keep most of her weight off of her legs. But even if she regained some function, Ginny would inevitably find herself back at the vet as her spine deteriorated and her pain increased. She would take morphine daily and would move around less and less. The second option was to put Ginny to sleep now, gently, and spare her from additional pain.
I chose the later. Ginny passed away a little before 11am on July 5, 2012.
Everything about this little dog in my life took me by surprise. Ginny came to me severely underweight, missing large patches of fur, covered in scabs. At her death, Ginny was soft and fluffy, her skin was clear, and her belly was soft. Ginny didn’t know any obedience when she arrived. By the time she left me, she had learned to sit, down, roll over and shake using hand signals. She walked by my side when off-leash and came to me when I motioned to her. Her initial fear of the car had dissipated to comfort and even joy. She was playful and loved to tug on her plush ball and chase it around the living room, giving goofy growls and barks. She was a constant scavenger; I’ve never seen a dog so good at finding “food” on the street or in the park. She had a spirit of a dog half her 12 years. She adored her walks and greeting dogs at the dog park.
And I adored Ginny. I often marveled at how much love I had for this silly little dog and how quickly it had developed. I loved being with her and regularly begged off of outings with friends or left early from events to go home to be with her. For eight short months, Ginny was the light of my life.