Our beloved 6 year-old greyhound mix, Zilla, died on Thursday. We loved her so much and thought we had so many more years with her.
I need to write it out. Everything that happened and everything I am feeling. Lots of memories. This will be long.
Last Friday night, we noticed what we thought was a rash in her "armpit" area. She was behaving completely normally so we made a mental note to get her an appointment at the vet's on Monday.
On Saturday, she had some vomit tinged with blood and we took her to the emergency vet. They ran some tests, couldn't find anything and sent us home to watch her carefully.
On Sunday, she had bloody diarrhea. She had decreased energy but still didn't seem critically ill. We took her to the emergency vet again and they ran more tests and kept her overnight for more tests intensive monitoring. They did an X-Ray which didn’t show anything and blood tests which revealed anemia and a very low platelet count.
When we picked her up on Monday morning, she couldn't stand. We rushed her to our regular vet who recommended we rush her to a larger veterinary practice in town that had the resources to do a blood transfusion. She got the transfusion midday on Monday and also an abdominal ultrasound to see if the cause of the bleeding or anything else could be found. When we picked her up Monday evening she had stabilized and perked up a bit. We also had a diagnosis - immune-mediated thrombocytopenia. This is a dangerously low platelet count due to her body attacking her own platelet cells. An autoimmune disorder. We still don't know what caused the initial bleeding in her GI tract but her inability to clot caused her to lose a lot of blood. She was started on a course of immunosuppressant drugs and antibiotics, in case an infection was causing the bleeding.
We decided that we wanted her to be treated with whatever the vet recommended as long as there was a real chance of recovery. She was so young and had never had any serious health problems before.
We camped out with her on the living room floor Monday night. Took her heart rate and respiration rate every couple hours and took notes on her eating, drinking, and drug administration to keep a log for the vet.
In the morning on Tuesday, we took her back to the vet's office to test her blood again. The improvement seen after the transfusion held steady, but there really wasn't any more improvement. The vet's office kept her for the day to try some other drugs and monitor her closely.
For the next two days and nights, we did the same thing. Nursed her overnight and took her back to the vet's in the morning. She started showing neurological symptoms - walking on her back knuckles, walking in circles, slow reactions, running into things. This was probably caused by bleeding in her brain that couldn’t heal because of her platelet problem. She needed help to stand but still insisted on being taken outside for potty. What we thought was a rash was actually bruising due to her inability to clot. That got worse too.
Wednesday night/Thursday morning was brutally difficult. She had two seizures and started showing a lot of distress in the early morning. She would whimper and sometimes calm down when we held her. Her breathing was fast and ragged. Up until this point she had been very lethargic but didn’t seem to be suffering. Now she was definitely in pain. I suspect her eyesight was affected by the seizures too. She would lift her head when we touched her or talked to her but couldn’t seem to “find” our faces.
Thursday morning we took her back to the vet’s office with heavy hearts. We checked her blood work again and there was no improvement. The vet suggested we leave her there for the day again for close monitoring and to try one more drug combination. But by midday, the vet called us to say that Zilla was not improving and was clearly in distress again, we should come in to see her.
When we got there, she had been sedated and was resting comfortably. She couldn’t lift her head, but opened her eyes when we spoke to her, so I like to believe she knew we were there. The vet regretfully recommended that we let her go. She had unrecoverable neurological damage at this point and her blood numbers were getting worse. She just wasn’t getting any better and had nothing but suffering in her future. I was considering trying a hail-Mary second transfusion as a last-ditch effort but after talking with the vet we realized that there was nothing more to be done.
The euthanasia was gentle. Our vet was very compassionate and we could tell she was really upset by this outcome too. I suppose vets are taught to stay detached and professional but I don't mind at all that she had tears in her eyes as she described the procedure. The fact that she was sedated and already had an IV port lets me hope that she didn’t feel a thing. She was on a comfortable padded bed with blankets that we brought for her first stay. We talked to her and pet her through the end. “I love you. You’re a good girl. I’m so sorry. We love you.” We felt her heart and breathing stop and her body go still.
We loved her so much and took such good care of her. We deserved more time with her and she deserved more time with us.
This is vanity, I know, but I am concerned that when people hear that a dog died young, they assume she must have not been well cared for. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A lot of dogs do recover from thrombocytopenia. Her case was just very severe and very sudden.
Our other dog, Jaws is much older. She’s 11, starting to get to the age where death would not be unexpected. I always thought that Jaws would die first and Zilla would be a comfort during that time. Now I don’t know how I will handle it. I’m scared. I don’t think we will get another dog while Jaws is with us. She wasn’t entirely thrilled when Zilla joined our family and she deserves to be content in her senior years. But never say never. We’ll have to play that one by ear.
Still, I have a lot to be grateful for. I am grateful we got to spend so much time with her in her last days. We spent three nights constantly petting and holding her. She knew we cared. I am grateful we had the resources to try every option to treat her. Even though it ultimately did not work, I don’t regret spending the money and time at all. She deserved the very best chance and we were able to give it to her. I am grateful for the vet and staff at the clinic who took extra special care of her. I am grateful for our friends and family who have offered their support and love.
Most of all, I am grateful of the 6.5 years of wonderful memories Zilla gave us. We adopted her as a 2 month-old puppy from the local shelter. She was part of a feral or abandoned litter of 6 that had been found in the woods on the outskirts of town. Apparently there is or was a semi-feral greyhound female that probably got pregnant by a male from a musher’s kennel. I don't know how much of that story I believe, but that’s what we were told. We had one of those DNA tests done which suggested that she was half greyhound with the other half a mix of northern breeds (Siberian, Chinook, Malemute, etc.) that you would find in a working sled dog.
Zilla was a very challenging puppy. She was a chewer and destroyed a lot of things during her first few years. Three couches. Two end tables. Five or more computer power cords. She dug up our living room carpet. She would try to escape through any open door and roam the neighborhood. There was no catching her - just had to wait until she decided to come back on her own terms. We had to build a sturdier fence in our backyard. It was frustrating at the time, but now I know that she taught us a lot of patience.
We had wanted to keep her in a crate/cage when we weren’t home until she was potty-trained, but she was having none of it. It was only for a couple hours at a time, but she would destroy everything in the crate and within a two foot radius around it and scream/howl the whole time she was in it. She HATED the crate. Finally, we gave up and decided we would invest in a carpet cleaner and probably replace the carpet after she was potty-trained reliably. She was a pretty quick study, so it wasn’t too bad.
We could almost see her grow by the day during the first few months. It was winter, and she would outgrow her puppy jacket every few weeks. I noticed she was as tall as Jaws, our full-grown catahoula mix at about 8 months old. I think she continued to grow until about 15 months or so. As she grew, it became obvious that she would look more like a greyhound than anything else. The only hint at her northern breed ancestry was her slightly thicker fur than you’d see on a pure greyhound and her habit of sticking her face in the snow. And maybe her smaller size - she looked like a slightly fuzzy giant whippet or petite greyhound.
When she was almost a year old, she (and we) discovered her greyhound speed setting. We had been playing fetch at a park when she saw some geese flying low overhead. Something in her brain gave that signal for the first time and she was *GONE*. I had never seen an animal move that fast. She had always been a quick, enthusiastic runner but this was like she shifted into another gear. She chased the geese for about a quarter mile and only stopped because they eventually flew over water. Luckily, this was not an area with traffic and we only had to worry about if she could find her way back. She did come back, and with this look of utter excitement in her eyes. She was saying, “This is what I am meant to do! Can we do it some more?” From then on, sprinting was her favorite activity. We timed her a couple times and approximated her speed at 40 mph. She learned how to fetch and would chase after the ball at full-tilt as far as we could throw it with a chuck-it. Her greyhound heritage showed when after three or four amazingly speedy runs, she was done and ready for a nap.
She didn’t seem to really connect with us until she was about two years old. She was always a nice dog, but in her early years we got the feeling that she could take or leave humans in general. But after a while it was like she flipped a switch and became very loving. She showed a lot of affection, always greeting us with kisses and excited wagging when we came home. She would come up to us to demand pets and offer kisses. She wasn’t much of a cuddler, but she would swat at you with her paw or stand on you with her front legs when she wanted attention. She wanted to be with the humans all the time. We kept a dog bed in each room of the house so she could follow us around as she wished.
She had to be encouraged to eat enough to keep some weight on, even in middle age. Most dogs of her height would weigh 55-60 pounds, she was healthy at 45. I could put my two hands around her entire “waist”. She treated most food suspiciously, even human table scraps. If she didn’t outright refuse it, she’d take it carefully, spit it out, lick it a few times, then decide whether or not it met her standards. We never refused her food, which was a tough balancing act because our other dog is the type who could easily become overweight if we aren’t careful.
After a lot of trial and error, we figured out that she was more likely to eat kibbles with very high protein content which of course means it’s the most expensive.
She was so beautiful too. Slim, sleek, with shiny brindle fur. Greyhounds are rare here and people would stop and stare when they saw her. Everything about her was long. Long legs, long ears, long nose, long tail. As a bony greyhound, she sought out all things soft and padded. She loved double-decker dog beds, pillows, soft blankets, bean bags, couches (to tear apart or to lie on, depending on her mood!), and of course human beds. One of her weird quirks was preferring to have her head and face entirely covered by a blanket when she rested or slept.
She was the gentlest dog I ever met. You never had to worry about your fingers if you hand-fed her. She loved squeaky toys and instead of tearing out stuffing and killing the squeaker like other dogs we know, she would gently nibble them or push them with her nose to hear the sound over and over.
She got along great with other dogs and had one particularly special doggie friend, my brother-in-law’s jack russell mix, Kyogin. Kyogin is a moody guy and often snarls at other dogs who come up to him, especially if he is in a comfy spot or being held by a human and doesn’t want to be disturbed. But never at Zilla, she could come right up and sniff him in the face and he loved it. They were certainly an odd couple playing together, skinny Zilla with her long legs and squat, rounded Kyogin whose chest only clears the floor by a few inches. Kyogin visited and we could tell he was looking for her. That was sad. I don’t know if he’ll understand.
We joked that she had 2 distinct personalities, “sweetie” and “monster”. Sweetie loved her humans and wanted pets and love all the time. Sweetie would ask for petting, follow you from room to room just to be near you, and let you cuddle her from time to time. Monster was more independent. Monster always had to keep an escape route open and would resist cuddles although petting was still acceptable. Monster also aired her grievances by chewing things and refusing to come when called. Over the years, we saw more of Sweetie than Monster but we knew Monster was still there, lurking in the background. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
We will miss her so much. The house just isn’t the same without her. We thought we had so much more time with her. Way too young. She knew we loved her and we knew she loved us. We gave her the best life a good dog could ask for. That is a comfort. I look forward to the time when I will smile when I think about her instead of cry. I’m not there yet, but I am starting to see the path.
Please give your pets some extra love today in her memory. Goodbye, Zilla.