The Gift

It is with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye that I have to tell you all that this past Thursday we had to say our good-bye to Millie in this world. On Thursday, March 21st, I noticed a growth on her lower gum line between her two lower canine teeth. I called the vet that day to make an appointment to have it looked at and the vet office we take them to does such a wonderful job in everything, that they were booking appointments out into the second week of April. So I took the first available and also asked to be put on the wait list for any cancellations. Over that next weekend (last weekend), the growth exploded in size, so as soon as the vet office opened up on Monday, I called to see if we could get her in that day.

They were awesome and were able to take us as a last-minute drop-in at the end of their office hours. The vet took one look at things and immediately knew what it was. She had developed an oral melanoma that was attacking her lower mandible (jaw bone) and was causing the mass to be seen on her gum.

The prognosis was not good at all. The most radical treatment would be to remove as much of the mandible as possible and then treat with radiation therapy. The vet said that Millie would still be able to eat and drink, but there is an 80-85% chance of having the cancer spread to the rest of her body, even with such a procedure. So there was no way we were going to put her through that.

I asked the vet what was best for Millie and she said she could give us an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic to help with the pain and swelling and to switch her to a canned dog food to make it easier for her to eat. We did all of that and Millie reacted to everything fine. However, buy later Tuesday, I was really in a mess mentally. I was really struggling with what was best for Millie. I really did not like having such a huge responsibility…to be the one to decide what to do for her. I just did not feel worthy of such an important responsibility and wished she would somehow let me know how she was feeling and what to do.

Wednesday morning my mental stress hit its peak. Most of you know I am a spiritual person, so I said some prayers for guidance. The first bit of help I got was the knowledge of the fact that our family are the ones that know and love Millie the most, so we are most qualified to make the decisions. Nora was out with Grace at the time and when she returned, she was in tears and said she just did not think it was fair to have Millie suffer at all. Immediately I knew I had been given my answer. Nora and I talked about things and decided it would be best to put Millie down as soon as possible, so that there would be as little suffering as possible.

The vet closed at noon on Wednesday and it was too late to try and get in for that day, but Millie was still doing pretty good and neither of us had any issues with waiting until Thursday to call. I did call first thing Thursday and they said we could bring her in that afternoon. Nora stayed back with Huck and Bleau and Gracie and I took Millie to the vet for her final visit. Nora and I did not push Grace into going, but we were hoping she would want to go, so that she could see what a peaceful thing it is when a pet is put down. Grace handled the process incredibly well.

I am so blessed to have had Millie in my life and am blessed to have such a smart and beautiful wife and smart and beautiful daughter. We supported each other and are still are. It is never an enjoyable process to have to do, but having them in my life made it as painless as it could be.

I was also grateful for the spiritual enhancement that the last week’s events gave me. From the time we found what it was that was wrong with her until her last moments in this world, we all cherished each and every minute we had with her. I don’t want to come off as bragging, but the pets in the Dee house really live a great life. There are rules and consequences, but they are fair and not overly strict and also consistent. So to say we spoiled her in her final three days might not even sound possible, but it was. Extra treats, extra belly and rump rubs, lots of hugs and kisses and most of the rules of the house were set aside for the time being.

I also was given the chance to reflect upon all the love she gave our family and the ways that I became a better person for having her in my life, all while still having her around. I spoke of all of these to her. I am not sure she fully understood, but he tail did wag and that was plenty enough of a reply for me.

I was grateful for the ability to make the final days of her life as good as they could be and to be able to make the choice to not let her suffer to any noticeable degree before we put her down. Through the course of the week, I came to realize that we were giving her the last gift we could, to go out while not in pain and with a wagging tail. We should all be so fortunate.

I have spent the past few days going through the 100’s of pictures I have of the pups. Many brought a tear of happiness or sadness to my eye, but I am so glad to have them and be able to use them to help keep the memory of her life with us alive. The first memory I have of Huck and Millie is the day we went to see them for the first time. They were just a few weeks old and of course cute as can be! Several of their brothers and sisters had already been spoken for, but it seemed like it was meant to be when Nora picked up and held Millie for the first time.

We all then went outside. It was February, so still winter. It was actually the first time the puppies had been outside and thus the first time they had ever been on snow. Millie really did not like the experience too much and Huck was not so sure either, but Huck noticed Millie was scared, so he walked over to her and gave her comfort. He has been the “protector” ever since.

Huck and Millie had the run of the house for their first 5 month home. They took to their new digs very well and once again, I was glad that we had gotten two puppies, rather than one, as they thrived with each others attention and equal desire/energy to play. Then in August a new one arrived. Here the pups were only 7 months old themselves, but they both took to their big brother and big sister roles immediately. Millie was more like a mother figure. Never leaving Grace alone and always wanting to be sure “her baby” was OK.

I have only had one other pair of siblings, but I have never seen or known a pair of sibling dogs that got along with each other and so loved each other than Millie and Huck. They never had a fight. A minor quarrel or two, but any of those never lasted more than a few seconds and they were back to being best friends.

Be it laying in the sun on a bed by the front door, or just on the floor with each other, they were seldom separate from each other. Of course when it was time to play, they were like two peas in a pod. They both loved to do the same things, played nicely and always had tails wagging. Be it on the beach with a ball, in the woods with a stick or in the snow, they were best friends.

The snow…oh how they loved the snow. I’m not sure who was more excited to see the first flakes of the season fall from the sky, me or them. Millie got over that first experience with snow very quickly and loved to play in it with her best buddy. I have never had more joy in my heart than when I would watch them both run full speed through the woods chasing each other. The amazing thing is that the worst that ever happened was Millie taking a stick to her face near her eye and getting cut. It was able to heal all on its own (with the help of some antibiotic ointment) and she did sport a small scar for the rest of her life.

Poor Huckie is taking it pretty hard. His spirits are not totally down in the dumps, but it is clear that he is mourning the loss of his best friend. It is more than understandable, as they were with each other for their entire lives. Only three brief moments when they had surgery and recovered separately. Huck is getting lots of extra attention from me, Nora, Grace and even Bleau. His tail still wags and I feel very confident that he will come around fully in time. It is very heart breaking to see him with such low energy though. I sure wish I could communicate better with dogs!

As mentioned, Millie’s last few days with us were filled with as much love and happiness as we all could give her. It even included spying some squirrels through one of the front windows and being let loose to try and chase them down. The special food was a big thing for not just her, but for all three of the pups. Huck and Bleau did not get full servings, but got enough to make them all stand with complete attention on the process.

The final hour was spent basking in the sun with her family. Millie and Huck really seemed to know what was going on and never left each others sides. Millie even gave her brother some kisses, to which he was more than happy to respond too!

Her time with us was nothing but a blessing. It goes without saying that I have probably learned more about being a good person from dogs than I have from humans, with the exception of Nora and Grace. Life is going on and we are all excited for what the future holds. Speaking of which, you will want to check back in next week, as there will be a pretty major announcement about our future.

Good-bye Millie, you were pure, unconditional love and will be missed.

Good night from the Keweenaw..