In 2003 CSB and I decided that, in order to ensure that traveling would always be complicated and that we would have no disposable income left after vet dog food bills, we would get two dogs. Two, because that way they could entertain each other when we were less than entertaining. We got lucky. We found Daisy and Bruno, litter mates from a local kennel. She was Alpha and he was, well, Beta or Omega. He was the runt, and would forever be the smaller and more submissive one. Then Bruno, at the very young age of six months, developed a lethal form of leukemia. This was not the plan. We had specifically chosen spaniels – rather than the beloved bulldogs – because spaniels were supposed to be sturdy and long-lived, unlike bulldogs who are genetically incapable of copulating or giving birth naturally, and have respiratory trouble, droopy eyelids, and hip dysplasia, for starters.
So ten years ago I spent a lot of time - hours stretching in nights - in the waiting room of the Animal Medical Center on East 68th street in Manhattan. I spent enough time there to learn the painful curvature of the plastic chairs and to get friendly with other vigilant pet-owners, and their animals. I met a small girl and her rabbit, named Whitey. Whitey had stomach cancer. A young man, who always sat at the farthest possible distance from everyone else in the waiting room, had a boa constrictor with a strep throat. I asked him how, initially, he was able to tell that his boa constrictor was unwell. I forget his exact words, but the gist was that it was obvious to him as Bruno’s discomfort was to me. In that waiting room I saw parrots, gerbils, and dogs and cats of every size and permutation. One morning a team of photographers from PEOPLE magazine showed up to do a shoot on the range of exotic animals and their equally exotic owners. Bruno, a Springer spaniel, and I did not qualify as exotic in either case.
Bruno’s prognosis was terrible, as it was for most animals at the Animal Medical Hospital, a tertiary care facility, the crème de la crème of veterinary hospitals. We despaired. But after several blood transfusions and treatment with cyclosporine, a drug so expensive and toxic that I was required to wear gloves when administering it, he got better. He got better and he stayed better.
Daisy and Bruno spent the next ten years playing together, chasing squirrels, birds, field mice, anything. If they got into trouble, we always knew that Daisy was the ringleader. In Maine Daisy leapt off the dock, making almost swan dives into the lake. Bruno, ever cautious, had to be coaxed into the water, and then only on the hottest days.
They were outdoor dogs. They got scruffy and muddy. Especially Daisy who never met a mud puddle she didn’t embrace. Much as I loved their luxuriant soft fur, two or three times a year I took Daisy and Bruno to Pretty Pets to get shorn. So last week, with summer approaching, I took them for their summer buzz cut. And without all her fur, it became clear that Daisy had not merely gained her usual avoirdupois over the winter, but she was bloated and distended. She was not right.
At the animal hospital I got the diagnosis: Daisy, the indomitable, über-energetic Daisy, has cirrhosis of the liver.
I was shocked. Of all the possible ailments, why cirrhosis? Daisy does not drink alcoholic beverages. Did not drink. Was she the innocent repository of the wages of our epicurean ways? Was there some Dorian Gray-ish phenomenon going on in the house whereby we get to drink our cocktails while Daisy’s liver suffers the effects?
There isn’t much to be done for a dog with liver failure, except try to make her as comfortable as possible. The one thing we could do was to drain some of the fluid that was surrounding her organs and causing the painful distension. That is what we did. Before leaving Daisy at the hospital to be drained, I had to sign several papers, including a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). Or rather, I had to decide whether or not we wanted extraordinary measures used to resuscitate her, in the event that she expired during the procedure. And here is the crazy part: I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sign the DNR. I have no problem signing a DNR for myself, or for an aging parent, but I couldn’t do it for my dog. Because she couldn’t do it for herself.
Draining her abdomen gave Daisy a few more days, until it didn’t. Until the very last she was valiant and cheerful. She was a great dog. Bruno, CSB and I will miss her like crazy.