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canine cognitive dysfunction

Giving my Dog the Good Death

I knew Rosie wouldn’t make it to the end of the summer this year. Probably starting in June, I could see that her arthritis and canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) aka doggy dementia were slowing her down. She didn’t want to walk as much, and she didn’t want to go to the office with me. She slept so much that many times I watched her to see if she was still breathing. Each time I went to the grocery store to get her more chicken, I wondered if this was going to be the last time I’d cooked chicken for her.

I told her that if she was done, it was ok to let go. There were many nights I’d look at her laying on her bed and pray, “God, please take her in her sleep.”

Making the Decision

Dogs communicate in their own ways, but the message isn’t always crystal clear. When she started stumbling when she walked, I seriously started questioning her quality of life. About a week before she died, I invited Rosie’s godfather over to see her, knowing it was probably the last chance he’d see her alive. A dog owner himself, I knew he’d give me an honest opinion about how she was doing.

In her youth, Rosie used to bolt around the house and bark like crazy when he’d visit. This visit, she wagged her tail weakly with recognition, but it was obvious her energy wasn’t there. When I asked him what he though, he said, “She’s struggling.”

Looking for confirmation that I was making the right decision, I search online for quality of life assessments. One of my challenges was she was still eating all her meals and finishing mine too. I also called our vet to have the quality of life discussion. As painful as it was, I knew it was time. On Wednesday night, I exchanged texts with a mobile vet and made the appointment for Friday morning at 10 a.m. to send her over the Rainbow Bridge.

Good-Byes with Dog and Human Friends

Rosie and I were lucky to have an amazing group of dog and human friends. I messaged some of them to let them know that Rosie would be passing on Friday and invited them to visit one last time. On Thursday night, Rosie’s Aunt Des and Uncle Mike came over with their dog Phoenix as did Aunt Sarah and Uncle Thomas with their dog Brodie. We let the dogs roam on the grass, Rosie mostly doing her own thing, sniffing around.

When Rosie was done being outside, we went back in the house. The humans sat in the living room while Rosie opted to lay by herself in the hallway. I gave Des a lot of Rosie’s treats for Phoenix since we wouldn’t need them anymore. (They were too big for Brodie’s little mouth.) I don’t remember what anybody said, but it was so glad that everyone got to love on Rosie one more time.

Dying at Home

Friday morning was surreal. I didn’t know what to do while I waited for our appointment time with the mobile vet. I sat on the floor next to her in the hallway, petting her while watching YouTube on my phone. I sang her “You Are My Sunshine” which was the first song I sang to her during our meet-and-greet before her adoption – well, I managed to say the words on the song with tears in my eyes. I told her I loved her.

There was a knock at the door at 10 a.m. Tears were streaming down my face as I turned the doorknob to see Dr. Katherine Campabadal. I invited her in and coaxed Rosie into her bed. She talked me through everything she was doing. She had me give Rosie treats as she injected her with the medicine that would make her fall asleep. Dr. Campabadal said it would take 10-15 minutes for the medication to take effect and warned me that it would make Rosie’s tongue stick out.

She stepped out while the medicine kicked in. I scratched Rosie’s head as I sat on the floor next to her and watched as she fell asleep, her pink tongue poking out of her month. I checked my watch. It had only been 4 minutes.  When Dr. Campabadal came back in and asked how long it took for Rosie to fall asleep, she said the fact that Rosie went out so fast was a sign that her internal organs weren’t very strong. That validated that I was doing the right thing. She also said something like it was sad that our dogs went before us, I responded that it meant we could love more of them.

The final shot had to be administered directly into a vein. As Dr. Campabadal injected Rosie, I had the panicked thought, “What have I done?” even though I knew I was doing the right thing. I reached up to her chest, but it had stopped moving. My Rosie was gone.

Time with Rosie

Usually the mobile vet takes the pet after they’ve passed at home, but I opted to keep Rosie’s body home for a few hours. I’m a fan of mortician Caitlin Doughty, who encourages people to spend time with their loved one’s dead body. One thing I learned from her was when someone passes away, it’s not an emergency. You can take the time you need. I found her video about how she gave her cat “the good death” particularly helpful as Rosie was getting older.

Dr. Campabadal slid a puppy pad under Rosie’s butt and showed herself out. I continued to scratch Rosie’s head as I cried. I hoped she knew I gave her the best life I could. I laid down next to her on the floor, petting her soft fur, watching her pink tongue turn a lavender gray. I sat and laid with her for about 90 minutes, and during that time, there was a shift where my brain understood that she was really gone. I think something about having this extra time with her made my grieving process easier.

Last Car Ride

Since I didn’t let the mobile vet take Rosie, I was responsible for getting her to the pet crematory. I’d picked out who our provider was going to be and given them a call the day before, so they knew we were coming.

In life, I made sure I was always strong enough to lift Rosie, but I knew I needed help getting her to the car. I called my neighbor Sarah (Rosie’s Aunt Sarah) to help. I learned the meaning of “dead weight” that day. It’s a completely different experience to lift your dog when she can’t hold herself up. Sarah helped me load Rosie against my shoulder and handled the opening and locking of doors between my bedroom and the car.

As I carried Rosie to the car with her paws flopping against my back with each step, I thought, “I hope none of my neighbors see me carrying my dead dog.” Thankfully, no one popped their head out at that moment. Sarah opened my back seat and help me gently lay Rosie across it. She was on her back with all her paws in the air.

Final Disposition

As I pulled into the pet crematory, I noticed there was a children’s playground directly across the street. Oh, the juxtaposition. The crematory operator was expecting me and rolled a cart to the car so we could easily transport Rosie inside.

I opted for what I call the “buddy cremation” where they put two animals in the machine at the same time. The fire is the same size every time they run the machine and doing two together is more energy efficient. Plus, as the operator said, it’s like they have a buddy in there. Each body is kept separate, so each family gets their own pet back.

The operator showed me what size Rosie’s urn would be. It seemed so small, but if humans are 60% water, then dogs probably are too.

I asked the operator when they’d cremate Rosie, and she said, “Probably today.” I thought, “So soon?!” but then my rational mind kicked in. This is what they do. There’s no reason to keep her in a refrigerator.

I got the call two days later that Rosie was ready to be picked up. The back of her urn has a sticker that says, “Rose Louise ‘Rosie’ belonging to the Carter family, Cremated on 08/07/2020.” For now, she sits on my dresser, but the plan is to sprinkle her at the beach when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

RIP Rose Louise Carter

October 21, 2007 – August 7, 2020

My sweet Rosie went over the Rainbow Bridge on August 7, 2020. This sweet basset hound came into my life in the spring of 2012 courtesy of the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue. When I first laid eyes on her and trotted up my front walkway, I knew she was my dog.

Rosie was such a smart dog. In Carter Law Firm’s infancy, I worked out of the house and had a mailbox at the UPS Store. When Rosie and I would pick up my mail, she’d walk around the counter and sit for a dog treat. Then she’d help herself to another one from the box. There was one time when Mom was visiting, and she made a cheesecake which she left on the dining room table. A little while later, we noticed a bite taken out of the cake and Rosie was quietly laying on her bed smacking her lips. Even at nearly five-feet long and 60 pounds, Rosie could be stealthy when she wanted.

Basset hounds are notorious for being stubborn, and Rosie was no exception. She regularly went “flat basset” while we were crossing the street. When she was on a scent, nothing could pull her off it. On more than one occasion, she got soaked at the park because she followed a scent right into the sprinklers. Speaking of the park, it was so much fun to watch her run with a group of dogs – well, the other dogs would be running as a group, and she’d be chasing after them, fast as her little lets could carry her.

Everyone loved Rosie. She had the best set of human friends and dog friends, and we had puppy playdates nearly every day. I loved when her godfather would come over because of how much she would bark with joy.

Rosie went nearly everywhere with me. I even registered her as an emotional support animal. Whenever we’d go out for a meal, I’d always order something for her along with a meal for myself. When the partners at my current firm announced that they wanted me to join, I responded, “Great. I come with a dog.” We had to have a third interview where I brought her in so they could see she was going to be a non-issue, particularly with a baby gate across my door. Technically, she was only supposed to come in once a week, but no one batted an eye when I brought her in more often.

There were a handful of times I had to go out of town without her, and I had to leave her at the kennel, aka “Camp.” While she was there, I ordered extra bedding and playtime for her. I’d call and check on her each day, even though the report was always, “She’s fine. Everyone adores her. She sleeps a lot.” The best part of taking her to Camp was when I got to pick her up again. She barked like crazy coming through the lobby door, said a quick hello to me, before pulling me towards the exit.

In 2015, Rosie lost her eye to glaucoma, and the vet said it would only be a matter of time before she lost her other eye. Our schedule became regulated by her medication as she was put on a regimen of eye drops to try to sustain her sight as long as possible. Knowing that there was limited time, I wanted Rosie to see as much as she could for as long as she could. We took a long weekend trip to Long Beach, CA so she could experience the beach and the ocean at Rosie’s Dog Beach, an off-leash dog beach named after an English Bulldog. Not a fan of the water, she loved plodding along on the sand, and several times she plopped herself down on someone else’s blanket and looked up at them as if you say, “You shall pet me now.”

As the years progressed, Rosie began to slow down. She wasn’t interested in walking as far as arthritis began affecting her hips and knees. Sometimes she just wanted to walk two feet out the front door and lay down on the cool cement. She began sleeping more. Then, in 2018, Rosie lost her second eye to glaucoma. Her world went dark and I became her seeing eye human. Even though she couldn’t see, she would still wag her tail in happiness when she smelled a familiar person or pup.

As she continued to age, Rosie developed canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) aka doggy dementia. Sometimes she would pace or pant as if she were lost in her own home, and she developed sundowners where she’d flip night and day. She had CBD to manage her anxiety during the day, and our vet prescribed trazadone to help her sleep through the night, which was a godsend. Rosie spent most of her days laying next to me as I worked at my desk and laying next to the front door when I went out.

During the last few weeks of Rosie’s life, I knew her time was short. I arranged for Rosie to be Miss January in the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue’s 2021 calendar, even though I knew she wouldn’t live long enough to see the new year. The photographer was so sweet, following Rosie around, getting shots when she could because older blind dogs do not pose for pictures. Then she invited me to jump in for a few shots. I’m so glad she got a few final shots of me smiling with my baby girl.

Rosie died at home on Friday, August 7, 2020 with the help of a mobile vet. It was one the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I stayed at her side until she took her last breath, hoping she knew, for every moment she was my dog, that she was loved.  

Rosie’s Rules

I didn’t realize how many rules I have for the care and feeding of my 12 year-old, blind, arthritic basset hound in the early stages of doggy dementia (canine cognitive dysfunction – CCD), until I had to document them. I have to be gone overnight, and my neighbor volunteered to look after her for 30 hours.

Blind Dog Rules

Don’t leave clutter on the floor.

If you need her to get up, making the kissy sound or the clicky sound with your mouth or saying, “Up up” in a high voice is your best bet.

If Rosie’s going to walk into a wall or other stationary object and you can’t reach her in time to stop her, warn her by saying, “Bump.”

If the skin tag on her nose bleeds after she bumps into a wall, it’s not a big deal.

You can use your legs to help guide where you want her to go – acting as a bumper for her.

All pills and treats are offered from the left side of her face.

Be careful she doesn’t walk off the curb or into cars during walkies. She prefers to walk on your right side.

If you need better control over her during walks, pull directly upwards from her harness and walk her like a marionette puppet.

Sleepy Rosie and her Reflection

Arthritic Dog Rules

Arthritic bassets can’t scratch their ears, necks, or noses. You have to do it for them. Bonus if she makes happy mumble-grumble sounds.

Morning meds (3 pills) are given on a spoon with peanut butter. If the peanut butter drips, try to get to land on her paw so she can lick it up.

Her CBD tincture is squirted into the left side of her mouth. Stand just behind her shoulder blades, one foot on each side when giving her this.

Sometimes Rosie gets “stuck” temporarily in the downward dog position when trying to lay down. Resist the urge to push her butt down. She’ll do it on her own as her muscles are ready.

If Rosie picks up one of her back paws and holds it in the air, she has a cramp in that butt muscle. Give it a good scratch to relax it.

Dementia Dog Rules

If Rosie walks in the wrong direction at mealtime, slide two fingers under her collar to guide her to her bowl.

If Rosie starts pacing as if she’s lost in the house, give reassuring pets and tell her she’s a “good girl.”

If she has an accident in the house, it happens. Towels are in the kitchen. Rug cleaner is above the washing machine. Hopefully it happens on the concrete.

Before bedtime, dip the end of a treat in peanut butter, top with half of a puppy sleeping pill, and give it to her. Otherwise she could be up-and-down all night.

So many rules for a dog who sleeps 18 hours a day!

I’m also going to sleep in the same shirt for three nights and leave it behind in Rosie’s bed, so she has something that smells like her hooman.