An ordinary Thursday morning. A smooch on the top of the head, a biscuit - and off to work. Had I only known, it would be the last I'd ever see her.
Originally, Hayseed's Hootenanny went by the call name of "Hooters". I thought that unseemly for a lady, so she became Annie, and she was beautiful. She was our second bloodhound, our first "show dog". Her first time in the ring she took a four point major, thus launching a period self-delusion of "Hey this dog show stuff is easy!" She did well in the puppy ring, though later when the gangly girl had to compete with the more mature ladies in Open, the points came slower. It's one of life's ironies that Don passed away before he could see her finish. We loved every minute of it, though.
So did Annie, by the way. She was a calm, self-assured dog - seldom stressed. She handled life well. After just a few appearances in the show ring and one Best of Breed, I retired her from the dog show circuit. Thereafter, she lived at home as wonderful pet and couch potato, only making public appearances on a few occasions as a demo dog in pet care workshops at the Champaign County Humane Society. She graciously submitted to ear cleaning, muzzling - even my inept toenail cutting - all in the name of humane education. She and our other bloodhound, Diana, lived quietly in a small house with a big yard across from a public park. The "we" became "I" and "the girls" became buddies, and by the time Di reached the age of 12, she had come to depend on Annie to forge a path through deep snow banks or tall grass and even help her find her way to the back door as her eyesight began to fail. It was wonderful to watch Annie, vigorous and bright, care for the frailer "old lady" of the pack. Only when it became an issue of wanting the comfiest on the couch would Annie exert any dominance over the household matriarch. And then she did it not with a nip, but with subtle body language and a long, hard stare. Annie had class.
At nine Annie was gorgeous. Ok, I confess I a bias of course, but I'm certain of this - she was simply gorgeous, with beautiful coat, silken skin, and graceful gait. She glowed with health, and carried her own advancing years with grace and dignity. She was to appear as a veteran in the 2000 American Bloodhound Club National Specialty in fact, if for no other reason than to share her with the rest of the fancy, though truth be told, I was absolutely certain she would win.
Of all the dogs I have owned, she the easiest keeper, both in terms of health and behavior. She was rock steady, and had the fewest vet bills, though as a nervous mom I would run her in for examination at every sign of the slightest limp or lump or reduced appetite that are normal in all dogs. But she was never ill. Never ill - until the afternoon of January 27, that is.
It had been a routine morning for us. The girls slept on the bed with me the wintry night before, had their morning outing, and ate their usual breakfast while I dressed for work. Then, the kiss on the head for both, one biscuit each and out the door for a long workday. It turned out to be not a routine day. It turned out to be a nightmare.
Annie's breeder, David de Jong also lives in the Urbana area, outside of town in the country. He would often stop by the house while in town to check on the girls when I had to work late or was worried about some real or imagined illness or other, and would take his breaks there while on duty with the Urbana Police Department. It was an arrangement that worked out well for me, enabling me to work longer hours, free from worry that the girls would be let out or fed on time. On that day, it proved to be a blessing for me.
It was dark by the time I got home, and the roads were beginning to ice up, and as I carefully made my way up the slippery walk I found a note on the door that chilled my heart. "Annie is bloating - go to the UI" I rushed in to find a house in shambles. Every single couch cushion and quilt was tossed on the floor, with poop and vomit everywhere. It was a nightmare. And sadly - tragically, most of the mess was in front of the backdoor to the yard. Annie was perfectly housebroken you see, and in her pain she was waiting for someone to let her outside so she wouldn't mess in the house. I turned and left, back to campus and the University of Illinois Vet School, to the Small Animal Clinic where I knew he had taken her. I don't remember the drive well, except telling myself to keep calm and go slow, as I am a nervous driver on winter roads.
By the time I arrived I had calmed considerably, especially when I heard a more detailed report. David had stopped by around 4:00 that afternoon, to find the house as I described and Annie lying on the rug, trying to vomit. As a bloodhound owner David knows bloat only too well. He grabbed a leash and was able to walk her to his car. I was encouraged to hear that she could still walk at that point, and even smiled when he told me how he broke every speed limit in town while driving her the 5 miles to the Vet School. He helped them pass a stomach tube, and was able to convince the staff that while he was not her owner, he was certain that I would want a prophylactic gastropexy done that very night. We both knew that research has shown that gastropexy was vitally important after bloat, as a dog that bloats once is very likely to bloat again within 24 hours unless it was done, or so they say. So by the time I arrived they had stabilized her, called in an anesthesiologist, and prepped her for surgery. All I had to do was sign the papers and give them a check.
By now I was calmer and fairly confident. In fact when a senior vet student wanted to explain the surgery to me, I shakily waved him off - saying "Hey, I'm a bloodhound owner. I know this stuff. Just give me the paperwork". I have enormous confidence in the University of Illinois Vet School and seen them perform miracles. Plus it sounded like it had been caught early, thanks to David. I did ask when she would be able to come home and what care she would need, and was even more encouraged to learn that if all went well it would likely be on the weekend. And I was so grateful that David's vigilance had spared me the terror of having to cope with a 110 pound dead or dying dog in agony, knowing her condition would have worsened by the time I got home, and driving across town under the road conditions that night.
Then I made a decision I will regret to the end of my days.
I decided not to see her. She had been stabilized and was ready for surgery, and I didn't want to disturb her. They said that when she first arrived her heart rate was up to 250, so I didn't want to risk stressing her further. And after all, I could visit in the morning, so I left, driving slowly and carefully again - to wait for news.
Around 8:30 that night the surgeon called to say all went well. Her stomach was still pink with no sign of necrosis, and that it looked like it had been caught early enough and that while we were not out of the woods by any means, her over all condition was good enough that we could be hopeful. And so I went to bed, wanting desperately to see my poor baby first thing in the morning.
But then the midnight call - the one that will rattle around in my brain forever. Annie had stopped breathing in the ICU. They had been trying to resuscitate her for 10 minutes but she was not responding. The vet said, carefully and slowly - "I need you to tell us what to do now. Do you want us to keep trying or do you want us to let her go"? My answer , astonishingly, took only a few seconds - "I want you to let her go". She said that she was so sorry, but she also felt that was the right thing to do. I slowly set down the receiver carefully, in shock.
Why did I say that?
I should have said "Hey! I want you to perform a another god-damned, freaking miracle and bring her back!"
In times like this there comes a rage against God and all heaven. "WHY did you take her? You cant have her! She's MY dog, not yours! Take someone else's dog - even Diana, who is old and at the end of her time. Not ANNIE. Please, please - NOT ANNIE!"
It does no good though. There's no bargaining now. Its over. I spent the rest of the night staring at the phone, even pushing the display button to check the caller ID. Maybe it was all a ghastly, horrible, terrible nightmare. Towards dawn, I called them back. "Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but did my dog really die in your ICU last night?" They said yes, she did. We talked about what I wanted to do with her. A private cremation? Yes, of course. I could pick up her ashes in a couple of weeks. Thank you. I called my own vet too, and he confirmed I had made the right choice, saying that brain damage would likely have occurred without oxygen that long. I hope he was telling the truth.
And that was it - a beautiful, glowing, healthy, loving dog gone in a few hours. God - I hate bloat. It's an evil, evil disease. We all hear about this Rainbow Bridge somewhere where we're supposed to meet up again with all the good dogs we've lost. Frankly, I don't take much comfort in that - not this time. I figure it must have been some horrible cosmic foul-up - a bookkeeping error. All I can say is when I DO get to that Rainbow Bridge myself, I'd better see Annie there - and all the beautiful dogs lost to this awful condition. Then I intend to look up whoever is in charge and ask "Why"?.
Addendum: I want to thank all the members of the Bloodhound Buddies email list and other friends who sent me such wonderful letters when I was finally able to talk about this, especially Kat Albrecht who gave me the idea for the title "Annie's Song". It will sing in my heart forever. Most of all I want to thank David, who once again stepped in to help out in a disaster. And finally, all the breeders who produced the bloodlines that led to CH. Hayseed's Hootenanny (CH. Vikings Nickson X CH. Legacy's-Branded Notorious) Owned and loved by Donald Latter and Barbara Meyer.
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