January 22, 2011.
If you’ve been following along then you have read that our 15 year old Miniature Schnauzer Molly recently passed away. I thought we should expound on the circumstances of Molly’s passing. Hopefully, it might help someone else.
The first thing I have to say is the situation we found ourselves in was entirely of our own making. We should have thought far enough ahead to make sure that we were prepared for the worst, since we were taking an elderly dog to the edge of nowhere. Although she was old, she was never sick a day in her life and was very healthy and active. It gave us a false sense of security.
We woke on Tuesday and found that Molly wasn’t herself. She was alert but her body was unable to respond to her desires. She could barely stand and was unable to walk without staggering and tumbling over. It was as if she had lost her sense of balance and her head was cocked to the side in an unnatural position. We figured she had suffered some type of stroke so we spent the morning babying her and making her as comfortable as possible. By noon she had rebounded and was able to walk although a little stiffly. We had high hopes for a recovery, until just after dark.
I carried her to the bow to take care of her business and she fell down several times on her way back to the cockpit. Within an hour she was unable to sit up without suddenly falling over. We gave her a Benadryl which initially relaxed her. We spent the night in the cockpit taking turns holding and comforting her and crying. By dawn we knew that she was not going to recover. Her body no longer worked, but her mind was still there, she was frantic. We would have to put her down. But how?
We heard through the grapevine that there was a sailing vessel that might still have some medication for an elderly cat that had since passed away. They were about 10 miles away at Hog Cay so we started up the engine and headed that way. We successfully contacted them on the VHF and when apprised of our situation they said that we were welcome to the meds and they’d search the fridge to see if they still had them.
It would have been too good to be true but unfortunately after emptying the fridge (no easy task on a cruising boat) the meds were no where to be found. By now several other boats were aware of our predicament. One woman was able to contact a retired veterinarian who lives on his sailboat via her SSB radio. We were looking for suggestions as to how we could humanely overdose our small dog with prescription drugs to ease her passing. His basic thoughts were that dogs and people were so different that we probably wouldn’t gain anything by trying to use human prescription medications to try and do the job. There might even be an adverse reaction that might make matters worse and bring pain, rather than relieve it.
There’s a nurse that lives on Ragged Island and Christy thought to call her for advice. We thought that since the people there owned dogs maybe she had the appropriate meds around for euthanizing animals. She was unable to help but supplied us with the telephone number for the veterinarian in Georgetown. He suggested we bring Molly in but after explaining that we were 3 to 4 days away by sailboat…in good weather….time was not on our side, so he was no help.
There is a small plane that flies from Georgetown to Ragged Island once a week. Unfortunately, it was that day, and we had missed the flight. But if we called and hired a cab to come pick up the meds the vet would send them down on the following week’s flight. At this point Molly was not eating or drinking on her own so a week’s wait wasn’t a viable option.
At the same time another friend was on her cell phone calling back to the states looking for advice for us from a veterinarian friend of hers. With knowledge of what we had available to us he suggested that we use Percocet to help her “go to sleep”. His advice was for 1 Percocet for every five pounds of dog. Molly only weighed in at about 12 pounds.
So through a veil of tears Christy crushed 3 Percocets and mixed the powder into a small bowl of water. She poured our hope for humane euthanization into an epoxy syringe. At 1330 hours on Wednesday we bade tearful goodbyes and fed this mixture to Molly.
In 15 minute her breathing grew rapid and gasping. She was literally taking 40 breathes a minute. At about the 45 minute mark her vital signs were returning to normal and we knew that she was going to survive. Christy quickly made another mixture with 2 more Percocets which we gave her.
We spent the next several hours watching Molly’s body battle the drugs. Her breathing was shallow and slow at times followed by intervals of hyper quick short gasps for breath. There were several times that we thought she’d expelled her last breath and we watched for 10, 15, 20 seconds before there would be a mighty heave of her chest as she grabbed in another lungful of life sustaining air.
Usually when a pet is in distress you pray for their recovery. We found ourselves in the unenviable position of asking that this breath be her last. Please, do not let her chest rise again. It’s her time, her body is gone, please let her heart stop. Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to cover it. We had basically doubled the dosage but after 8 hours of fighting it was obvious she was going to beat it. She did not want to go.
We spent a second night in the cockpit holding her and comforting her as she slept fitfully. It was bad enough that she was going to die, we couldn’t let her wait alone.
By Thursday morning we were both emotionally and physically exhausted. One of our cruising friends is a doctor and he had been keeping tabs on our situation. We explained how close she seemed to passing so many times only to grab that one extra gulp of air that kept her going. He did point out that there hadn’t been any adverse reaction to the Percocet so we should stay the course, up the dosage and try again.
At 0930 on Thursday morning we gave her a liquid mixture of 8 Percocets plus a muscle relaxer. But just like the day before, after the initial shock hit her, it looked like she might be able to once again fight the narcotics off.
Her eyes were open but unseeing. She seemed to be unconscious but her body fought on. She kept trying to sit up but couldn’t. She would occasionally lift her head to try to look around. She was whimpering, crying and then moaning. Every single breath was a fight and yet she fought on. It was obvious that she was pain. We were all suffering helplessly. Finally, in the early afternoon the fight was gone and mercifully, Molly slipped away from us. She died in my arms.
We took her body to shore and into the interior of Hog Cay. We left the popular walking trails and climbed a very steep ridge off the beaten path. The footing was treacherous but just before the ridgeline we found the spot we were looking for.
Molly was interred on a shelf with a commanding view of the sunrise over the cobalt blue waters to the east and an equally impressive view of the sunsets over the light blue waters of the banks.
What we learned from this:
We were completely unprepared for an event such as this. I don’t even know if there is a kit for euthanizing your pet at home but we should have looked into it. Duncan Town is the only settlement for a hundred miles and the doctor only comes to town once a month, pets here aren’t even considered. We weren’t prepared to be on our own in this situation. Molly suffered unnecessarily and it broke our hearts.
Dogs are extremely intuitive. Tucker spent the 3 days mostly lying in his bed facing the bulkhead with his back to us. At times he lay beside Molly with his head pitifully between his paws. And during extreme moments he sat out on the Mother-in-Law seat under the broiling sun wishing he was anywhere but here. He misses his sister.
I can’t say enough about the support we received from our fellow cruisers. There were offers of medication, phone calls made on our behalf, information gathered on the SSB, suggestions, guidance and support. Anything that anyone within radio range had that they thought would help, they were ready to give.
During our time of Molly’s distress several people came over but we waved them away as we were just too emotional. It was just too personal a situation and we never knew which breath was to be her last. One couple came by, dropped something on the sidedeck and just kept going. It was homemade pizza and a box of Kleenex. We’d been crying for days and every time I see that box of tissues my eyes well up again…..