My Elly died yesterday. I don’t know which of her many physical problems killed her. I’d love to be able to say she was cheerful and full of her characteristic joie de vivre right to the last, but in fact, she wasn’t. Yesterday morning, she woke up vomiting, everything she’d eaten the day before, completely undigested. Her gums were raw and bloody again, and she stood and looked despairingly at her food when I offered her some. When she lay down, she hunched into herself in pain. And we were out of drugs to give her. The prednisone worked for a few days, but when I got to the vet, despite the healthy appetite she’d had on the pred, she’d lost another pound and a half.
None of the possibilities were good, and we made the decision to euthanize her. She’d survived so much, and always so cheerfully, but the dog I saw yesterday was not the dog she’d been. I didn’t struggle with the decision at all, and Paige completely agreed with me.
I first met Elly in the kitchen of her breeder, Kim Koopman (Moonstone Poodles), where she came over and snuggled and chewed on my hands, and wagged her tail, and in general was about the most lovable cream-colored poodle puppy you’ve ever met. I fell for her hard, immediately.
She came home with me a month later, at age 5 months (the delay caused by a long-planned trip), and immediately starting making life both excellent and impossible. She loved to snuggle and it took her only a week to persuade Jay that she belonged on the bed, stretched out next to him, her head on his shoulder. But she chewed everything, she wouldn’t listen, she was distracted by everything. (It didn’t help that I had no real clue how to train a puppy.)
If I didn’t keep her mind active, she made up mischief. I took training class after training class with her, all offered at the Bellevue Humane Society and using the latest idea in training: clicker training/reward-based training. Elly adored clicker training. She loved the challenge of trying to figure out what I wanted. I found I loved training that way. By July, when Jay left to bicycle across the country, being gone for 28 days, I was desperately looking for more things to teach her.
We tried agility. I was lucky enough to stumble into private lessons with Pritamo Kentala, and she gave Elly and me an excellent introduction to agility. Elly loved it, and finally she had enough to keep her brain busy and focused. I loved that there was always something new to train.
Interspersed with training for agility, there were problems. She had a sore shoulder; she developed inflammatory bowel disease (and spent two visits at the vet in intensive care recovering from her episodes before we got it under control). I controlled the IBD with diet, mostly, and the occasional metronidazole prescription. We did x-rays after a particularly bad patch of limping; she had hip dysplasia, and oh-by-the-way, that mole that was biopsied at the same time was a slow-growing skin hemangiosarcoma.
She was four and a half then. The stats say that a dog with skin hemangiosarcoma has about a 50-to-70 percent chance of surviving a year.
At seven, she had an episode of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. I went to the vet sure she’d never come home. There was blood everywhere and she was so sick. In fact, she came home the next day, happy and cheerful. (In fact, she was cheerful when she arrived at the vet that day, sick as she was. She greeted everyone at the vet as if they were her best friend, usually. Not yesterday. Yesterday she just lay on the couch and thumped her tail gently.)
We were not particularly successful with agility. Her injuries (caused by her poor structure) and her illnesses meant that we took long breaks for healing. In the end, she had her Open titles in AKC (OJP, OAP, OFP), her Novice Versatility and her Regular Elite in NADAC, and her CL-1 and Level 2 Standard in CPE. She retired herself from agility about a year ago, taking the first obstacle and then walking tiredly to her leash. She went to a few trials after that, where she greeted her human friends happily and enthusiastically, and persuaded them all to massage her shoulders. (She could persuade perfect strangers to massage her shoulders. I timed her once: less than ten seconds for a guy she met out at the Delta.)
Elly made me love agility. When she was focused, she was so much fun to run! We Q’d and took first on our very first run in our very first trial. She was just two. It was months before she Q’d again; Elly was a master of intermittent rewards. Later, when I fell and hurt my knee and it just wasn’t healing, the agility community encouraged me to see a sports medicine specialist, who took my pain seriously (after years of being told “some arthritis is normal at your age”). It was chondrosarcoma, and it was caught early enough that the surgery to remove the bone cancer was completely successful.
Elly may have saved my life; sadly, I couldn’t save hers. I will miss her deeply.