I've been lurking on this site for almost 2 1/2 months, trying to prepare myself for the worst. It has given me some peace reading the stories of so many amazing creatures and how loved they were by so many amazing pet parents. I'm not sure if this post or topic is even allowed here, and if not, I apologize. I realize that probably almost everyone else here is going through the grief of actually losing their loved one and I don't want to be disrespectful or interrupt the process for anyone. So, if this needs to be deleted I will understand.
My reason for posting today is my little boy Herky. Herk is an all white mini schnauzer but he's larger than a normal mini. I got Herk in October of 2009 from a local rescue organization. He had been a puppy mill dog in another state and been transported to my area. I had been wanting a dog for some time and had been searching the rescue sites for a few months looking for the right dog. Then I came across a picture of Herk on my computer screen. I took one look at him and made the call. Herk was at my house 4 days later. I brought him home in tears as I knew there was something different about him. And boy, did I turn out to be right.
Herk had a rough time adjusting to life outside the puppy mill. He had fear of everything, had several health issues, severely underweight and terrible teeth. During his first vet visit the Dr. told me he needed his teeth cleaned and maybe removed. It had only been a few days, but I was totally in love with the guy already and wanted him to be as healthy as possible. He ended up having all but 5 teeth removed. I felt awful after. I felt so bad that my new little guy would have to go the rest of his life without most of his teeth. He really didn't seem to mind though. He would even still gum on bones! Honestly though, the most important part of that initial trip to the vet was something the vet said, not did. He asked me if I knew his age. The paper work I received from the rescue was a vet form from the state he came from and it said his age was 3, and that his birthday was 9/18/06. I told the vet this and showed him the paperwork, however he told me that the vet who filled that out may have not known and that was probably an estimate. By the condition of his teeth and his appearance he said he thought he was probably closer to 6. At the time I totally blew it off. I didn't' believe him, or at least I didn't want to believe him. I wanted my little guy to be as young as possible so I choose to believe the paper work. More on this later.
Herk quickly became the center of the universe for me. It makes me chuckle when I say that because it’s really an understatement. My wife and I don't treat him like the most important thing in our lives, we treat him like he's the only important thing in our lives. My wife has known Herk almost as long as I have. I met her about a month after I got him. We started out as coworkers, then friends, and then a couple. She loves him just as dearly as I do. We call ourselves Daddog, Maw Maw dog, and Herkydog. We've been having pretty close to a perfect life. Herk was even the best man in our wedding.
About a month after I got him, Herk got real sick. Diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive shaking. I had been feeding him unhealthy scraps and it caught up with him. I had never seen a dog that sick. I rushed him to the vet and they gave him medication, including an injection in his stomach. He came home and recovered great. As for me, I didn't recover so great. I was riddled with guilt and anger at myself. As I look back I realize that moment changed me. I was super protective of my Herk since then. I have long suffered from severe anxiety, so I channeled that anxiety into protection and worry about him, not me. Herk's health issues have been sporadic, yet consistent. He goes about 5-6 months before he gets sick and has to be taken to the Dr. He always recovers, although being a pessimist I've always prepared myself for the worst. But in the back of my mind I thought he was going to be OK. It's like there was this voice that would argue with me when I would worry about losing him, and it was always right. Over the years he's had to have the final 5 teeth removed which now causes his tongue to just hang out the side of his mouth, surgery twice to remove growths on his eye lids, many skin issues, and several more stomach related issues. But nothing that he didn't bounce right back from. To be honest, most of the time he was a pretty healthy doggy. He’s always eaten high quality food, always got the proper medical care and check ups and gets groomed every 4 weeks.
In the summer of 2015 things changed. At the time I was working nights and my wife was working days. I had the night off and I liked to stay on my normal schedule so I woke up and showered and came back to find the two of them snuggling and sleeping on the couch. I got them up and got them tucked into bed, said my normal "love you, night" and closed the door. Not wanting to wake them with my nocturnal activities I went down to our basement and started watching TV. About an hour later things got intense. I heard screaming from my wife and I bolted upstairs, not knowing what was happening. I entered the bedroom to find my wife holding Herk and crying. She was saying Herk was acting like he's drunk and he can't hold his head up and can't walk. I grabbed him and thought "It's probably nothing, he's probably just light headed from something, I'll take him to vet to get it checked on in the morning" and took him downstairs with me. But after about an hour it was clear that it wasn't nothing. Something was seriously wrong. My anxiety reared it's ugly head and I started to unravel. As per usual with Herk, his health issue came in the middle of the night. We still joke about how Herk always gets sick on the weekends or overnight. It was a long night. By the time I had rushed him to the vet the next morning I had pessimistically come to the assumption that the worst had happened and we'd be saying goodbye. Even then the voice in my head was telling me it would be OK. When I got to the vet they had me drop him off so they could observe him. It was a rough few hours waiting for the phone call. When the vet called he told us Herk had "Idiopathic vestibular disease". Also called "Old Dog Syndrome". Most dogs bounce back from it in a couple weeks. My wife researched it relentlessly. We came to find out that some dogs bounce right back to normal, some bounce back but have lingering effects, and some don't bounce back at all. We weren’t lucky enough to make it into the first group, but lucky enough to make it into the middle group. Herk did bounce back but not all the way. His head still hangs off to one side and he has problems sometimes with mobility and coordination. Looking back we're also pretty sure it messed with his little brain a little. But we didn't care. We were just extremely happy to have him still with us.
I was blown away when Herk got "Old Dog Syndrome". I mean he wasn't even 9 yet. His breed can easily live to be 12-15. He's had his health issues, but as I mentioned, he's really been a healthy guy. Walking was our passion. We would walk 3-6 miles a day. He was exercised plenty. I've always fed him high quality dog food. But looking back, I realize how much I've been in denial. Whenever Herk would get sick and my mind would go to the worst I always thought of it as a situational problem. Meaning we had to just make it through this and then we'd keep going forever. Whenever people would start to refer to him as old, or even when I myself would call him old, I always thought the end was still so far down the road that I don't even have to worry about it. It's strange really, with as protective of him as I am, age never really entered my mind as a concern. I guess I was subconsciously hoping he would be one of those miracle dogs I read about in the news that live to be 20 or even 25 years. My little guy was only 9 in my mind so I had plenty of time left. Losing him to age related issues was not a concern.
Over the next few years Herk would routinely get sick every 5-6 months and he'd get medication and get better. Mostly just stomach stuff. He would always bounce right back and we kept on going, forever I thought. During those few years a lot of great times happened. Herk was the best man in our wedding, I started a pet service business so I could stay at home with him, but Herk also kept getting older. He started to have these little endings that were taking place. He couldn't go up the stairs any more, or he couldn't run around the couch like he used to. He couldn't make the jump up to the couch or bed anymore, and his vision and hearing showed signs of going. I have been in such denial about his age that I would kind of "sweep things under the rug" in my mind as we would lose them. Just moving right past them without properly processing them as they happened. Remember, I thought he would live to be 20 easy. I know that's irrational, but I think it was really a subconscious defense mechanism. A way to ease my mind thinking the end would be so far away.
In the almost 9 years I've had Herk the longest I had ever been away from him was 5 days in 2016. Before that, we had never been apart more than a day. My wife and I attended a wedding in Jamaica and it was the first time I'd ever had to board him. I decided to have him boarded at my vets office. I hated the fact he was in a cage, but I also wanted him close to medical professionals. He did fine and was excited to see us. It was rough on me being away from him for those 5 days. We all survived though and kept on going, forever.
That brings us to June of 2018. My wife and I were going on our honeymoon and we were going to be gone for 11 days. We had to wait a year after the wedding due to my business growing and her work schedule. I was very nervous to leave him that long. The day came to drop him off and go on our trip, so we did just that. I was emotional, heck I'm always emotional when it comes to Herk. While we were on our trip I called my vets office 3 times and each time they told me everything was fine. Right about midway though our trip I remember telling my wife "I have a weird feeling about Herk". She reassured me that the vet said he was fine. We finished our trip and I was ready to get back to my little boy. When we arrived at the vet to pick him up they brought him out and we both immediately noticed how much weight he had lost. Wow. OK, well, we thought that maybe they weren’t feeding him as much as we do and over 11 days he lost that weight. We got him in the car and I noticed he seemed.....off. I don't know what other word to describe it. After not seeing me for even a day he would normally stand on my lap with his legs on my chest. He would also make some of his famous groaning noises. It's like a purr, but in small groans. However, those things didn't happen that day. He just kind of slumped down in my lap and didn’t make any noise. I was just so happy to see him that I brushed it off. We drove home with no idea our lives were about to be changed.
As soon as we got him home that Monday evening I fed him some of his favorite canned food. Herk’s favorite things in the world are; Eating, snuggling, sleeping. In that order. I knew he would be ready for his supper. He gobbled up his food and we took him outside. At this point I noticed something odd about him. He was walking strange and just seemed…well, off. I mentioned it to my wife and she seemed to notice it also. He went poop and it was pretty runny. Not all that out of the normal for Herk. Then the next time he went it was diarrhea. Diarrhea Monday night, diarrhea all day Tuesday, and most of the day on Wednesday. I assumed it was from the food change from the vet to home so I gave it a couple days to even out. The diarrhea ended Wednesday evening and it seemed like he was OK. But he wasn’t. Thursday he threw up after eating his breakfast, lunch and supper. He seemed fine other than the vomiting. He would eat like a crazy dog, snuggled and was pooping OK. But on Friday when he threw up his breakfast and I called the vet and asked them again if anything happened while we were gone. By this point it was obvious something has been wrong since we got him back. They then told me he didn’t eat a couple days midway, right when I was having that bad feeling, and that he also had the diarrhea. We were scared and rushed him to the vet. I was confused why they didn’t tell me but I was more concerned with getting my guy to get some help. My wife had to take him in alone this time and I had a really bad feeling about this trip. I was thinking the worst as I always do, but that voice was telling me it was all going to be alright. When my wife was taking him out the door I gave him a kiss and told him if he needed to stay the night and get better, then he needed to stay the night. He had just been there for 11 days, then home for 4 nights, and now he was going back. When my wife came back home and told me the news it cut through me like a knife. Herk had Pancreatitis. I was weeping out of control. My wife once again, being my rock, researched the hell out of it and it helped a lot. It’s a common disease in Schnauzers. They kept him overnight and called us Saturday. His liver enzymes were high and he needed to stay another night. Then another. Then another. After 5 days Herk made it back home. He was skin and bones.
The vet kept saying that “at his age” he’s fighting it well. It was like a trigger went off inside me and when I got home I searched through all the paper work I had. I wanted to see that damn form again and remind myself that he’s only 11 and he’s not that old. I stared and stared and stared at that damn form. It seemed legit. Then right when I was about to put it away I noticed something odd. The date on the form. The form itself was dated 9/17/09. It had Herks birthday listed as 9/18/06. That might not seem like a big deal, but it got me thinking. And then thinking some more. He was rescued from a puppy mill that got shut down I’m assuming due to negligence. IF they had any records, how accurate could they possibly be? What are the odds that he put into the rescue system so close to his birthday? I came upon the conclusion that they had no idea how old he was when that form was filled out. I think they guessed his age at 3 and put the next day down as his birthday. When the realization that the vet was right along and he’s much older than I was holding out hope for set in, it felt like I got hit by a truck. I felt like I lost 3 years or more in the blink of an eye. The one thing I didn’t think we had to worry about was suddenly much closer than I realized. It was at that moment for the first time ever it set in that we weren’t going to keep going on, forever.
When we finally got Herk home his liver enzymes were still double what they were supposed to be. We have been taking SamelQ since that day. We had been continuing to take him in every couple of weeks to get tests done and his numbers have been going up and down but never really that close to the normal range. Then two weeks ago he went in for another test. The liver numbers still came back high and the vet finally wanted to schedule a biopsy. We scheduled it for the next week. However, not only did his liver numbers not come down, but now his kidney levels were high. The vet had him put on a heart medication that actually works for kidneys as well. He also had us change his diet. The vet, my wife, and myself all started to worry that now Herk has multiple organs with issues.
Then comes last Thursday 8/23.18. The day of the biopsy. I was a wreck. I was scared he wouldn’t wake up from the procedure. I was scared of what we would find. I was scared of what we might not find. They said the Ultrasound biopsy went well and they thought they got enough cells. They would call me with the results. My little guy came back home groggy and slow. He kind of laid around resting and went to sleep. The next morning my wife got up and fed him. I got up a little after and came out of the bedroom to find her upset. I asked her what was wrong and she said Herk was taking a long time to finish his food.
I wasn’t sure what she was even talking about and I responded poorly. I thought she was angry with me. I have been averaging about 4 hours of sleep a day since this all started and I wake up exhausted. I said I couldn’t do anything about it. She started crying and said she knew that but he was spilling his food all over and he finally gave up and walked away. If you knew Herk you would know that he doesn’t walk away from food. His favorite thing in the world is eating. I completely understand why she got upset. Then she said something I hadn’t heard her say before, threw her tears she said “…he’s just really old”. That cut me hard. I immediately went into a melt down mode and embraced her. I then said something else I also regret. I told her she’s supposed to be the one holding me together. She always has. But after I thought about it I realized, that wasn’t fair. She needs to feel what she feels. I need her to feel it. She loves that little guy just as much as me. She needs to feel free to do and say what she needs.
Later that day when I fed him lunch I watched him. For whatever reason Herk is now having trouble eating. Not that he is refusing food. His mouth and tongue are just having trouble getting the food down to his stomach. He has been having tongue problems since his tongue has been hanging out following the last of his teeth removed. It could be pure coincidence that it happened right after the biopsy, however I think it’s related. I don’t know why though. They told me they barely used any anesthesia and he didn’t even have a tube down his throat. That was 6 days ago and it hasn’t gotten better. He still finds it hard to eat. We’ve tried to help him. We got an elevated, smaller cone shaped bowl so he doesn’t have to chase the food around. We got him a special no slip mat to stand on. When he finally gets down to the end I still have to help him with it. Herk also has some back leg pain. He walks around good, but some days are worse than others. When he has to stand there so long trying to get that food you can see his back legs shake. I had been an emotional wreck since June but seeing him have trouble eating was the tipping point for me. Over the weekend I was up and down. Hoping he just hurt his little tongue and it would bounce right back. But it hasn’t. I don’t think it will.
We got the results back from the biopsy Monday 8/28/18. The news was bittersweet. They didn’t find cancer or disease in the liver but they also don’t know what’s causing the liver elevation. Of course though, they did find another issue. His Gallbladder is sludgy. It may or may not be causing the liver and kidney issues. Medication is the treatment. We also spoke about his legs. He put him on a omega pill. We spoke about the eating issue, he didn’t have any answers there. He has always been a shaker. When Herk gets excited, Herk shakes. But he’s been shaking more than normal and he’s been drooling. So he gave him some anti nausea medicine. He’s now taking a lot of pills and I hate it. I know he needs them, but it doesn’t change the way I feel. All these problems hit him in a span of a little over 2 months.
Since I spoke to the vet about the results, I’ve been worse than ever. I’m barely eating. Not because I don’t want to, because I feel sick to my stomach all the time. I’ve lost 10 pounds since Friday. I’m sleeping even less than before, even though I’m constantly exhausted.. I physically ache. My head always hurts. I don’t want to talk to anyone as I’m afraid I’ll start crying. It’s now painfully obvious that my little boy, the little guy who has fought through so much, is soon going to lose his fight with the one opponent none of us can defeat,…..time.
Even with all the problems that are we are starting to have, I truly believe Herk is not in need of being helped out of this life yet. I may be painting a very bleak picture but he’s still eating, pooping and cuddling. He walks around and never appears to be in pain. He seems to be, well, happy. But that could change any second. He could also go on his own any second. I asked the vet point blank how much time he thought we had left and he said it could be 2 weeks or 2 years, that would be up to Herk. I’m sad all the time and I fear that it’s putting stress on Herk and my wife. I wish I could just turn off a switch and these feelings would stop. I know he’s not gone yet. His “birthday” is in about 3 weeks. He’ll be 12. Or he could be 15 or 16. I don’t know. I’m going to keep saying 12 as that’s the only info I have, even if it is suspect.
I’ve read just about everything there is to read on Anticipatory Grief. I’ve educated myself with it, but I’m struggling terribly with it. I just lay here and watch him sleep and breathe. After living in denial about losing him I had never even considered what a future would look like without him. I can’t even comprehend it. I don’t have any idea who I am if I’m not Herks dad. That’s who I am, I’m Daddog. He’s the most important thing I’ve ever had, my greatest accomplishment. My little guy changed my life, the “who” of who I am. I talk to him constantly, or about him. I will even talk to him when I’m not around him. I always joke that he knows and can hear me.
I’ve been going through all the stages of grief multiple times a day. The worst has been guilt and bargaining. I have totally been second guessing myself with nearly every decision I’ve made along the way. I feel like I’ve taken so many days for granted over the past 8, almost 9 years. Then I beg God to make deals with me to keep my boy healthy and alive. I know that God isn’t going to make a deal with me, but I just keep begging. I’m a grown man in my early forties and I’m can barely keep it together for more than 30 minutes at a time. Then I worry what kind of stress this is putting on Herk and my wife. So I try to stop, which only makes it worse.
The bond Herk and I share is like nothing else that exists. I’m not saying our bond is better than anyone else has with a loved one, it’s just ….different. To truly understand you’d have to know us. There’s really no him or me, just us and we. We’re connected on a level I can’t explain, and I’ve never seen anyone else with the same bond. Again, not better, just different. I think that our bond was telling he had actually started getting sick from the pancreatitis while I was gone and that’s why I felt weird. That’s why he was so skinny when we picked him up. I’m also convinced he got pancreatitis from stress. The longest we’d been apart was 5 days. When he quit eating at the vet would have been right around day 6. I think he was waiting for us, and when we didn’t show up he stressed so bad he hurt his little body. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that.
I took him for a small walk this morning, walking was so much a part of our lives, and today we didn’t go real far. He was pretty slow. I got back and had a huge meltdown. I was so saddened to see how far things have deteriorated. My first thought was that maybe I shouldn’t go on the walk with him anymore, maybe my wife should take him. But, I don’t want to miss a moment of the time we have left so I will gladly take him for his walks even if it means I’m out walking on the sidewalk while I sob. I want to be with him to the end. I’ll be with him however he needs me. I spoke to the vet about any plans we would need to possibly carry out at the end. Whether he goes on his own, or if he needs help. We have our plans together. I’ll be there with him no matter what. Over the years my wife and I have jokingly said to him “Herk, what would we ever do without you?” My response was always, “Don’t worry Herk, we’ll be together forever”. The reality is I don’t have any idea what we’re going to do without him. Every night when we go to sleep I tell him to remember our “deal”. Our deal is that if he has to go in the middle of the night, or if I’m not home, he needs to just get to where he’s going, and I’ll meet him there. And each time I say it, I hurt a little more. And when I worry about him that little voice telling me it’s all going to be OK, it’s silent. It’s not telling me we’ll keep going on, forever.
I had planned on writing about all the things that make this dog so much different than any other dog I’ve ever met. But I think I’ll save that for another post on another day. He’s really such a unique guy. Plus. I’ve already written so much today. My eyes hurt from crying, my head hurts, I feel numb and I just want to pet my little guy who’s been snuggled up next to me. I’m sorry for this post being so long and I’m really sorry if this isn’t allowed, or if anyone gets upset. I’ve just been struggling so badly and at this point I’m just looking for some help. Thank you for reading.