At this point in the story, Mary who had rescued Tai, was living in North Carolina where she moved in with her new beau. The puppies and I hung in there for as long as we could in LA, but we eventually made it back to the mountains of Pennsylvania as I document in the book. Both the dogs and I were now in the loving care of family members after a tough ten-year struggle versus the Hollywood Machine.
As Tai approached the ripe old age of 18 she was showing signs of her senior status but on certain days you would think she was still a puppy. Whenever she came in from the outside she would run from room to room and then suddenly squat down on the floor. When I’d approach her she’d take off running again. She’d do this for a good ten minutes or so until she got angry at my other rescue dog Charlie (an Australian Cattle Dog) for getting in the way and the game would abruptly end with Tai reprimanding Charlie. Tai wore the pants in the family and if Charlie wanted to get past Tai he would have to bark so that Tai thought someone was outside. When Tai would start barking at the alleged intruder, Charlie would go cleverly scooting by her. A few years prior, Charlie would have never gotten away with this trick, but Tai was slowly getting senile. My response to Tai every time she fell for this was “You don’t even know what you’re barking at.” Tai would also go to the edge of the yard and just stare into space, sometimes for a very long time. And she was having a harder and harder time doing steps or climbing into my car whenever I took her swimming. She seemed to have problems with her hips because she would stagger around and sometimes lose her balance especially if she just woke up from a nap. Or she would spin in a circle multiple times until she’d just collapse on the floor while attempting to lie down. But after swimming she’d walk further and more vibrantly. I assumed wading through the water was helping her.
The only irregular thing that showed on Tai’s test results during her previous visit to the vet were slightly high kidney readings. I bought her a lower protein dog food that was hopefully taking the strain off of these organs. I knew old age was setting in and I made a committment to see her live a happy and healthy life all the way until the end. Even though the walks had to be tough on her, Tai would gallop like a show dog while trying to keep up with Charlie who would have my other arm outstretched in the opposite direction. Walking these two at the same time made me feel like a puppeteer and I would frequently get their lines crossed. I swear they did it on purpose. When it came to swimming though Tai was the fearless one. She would swim out to me and then around me like I was a buoy while Charlie would sit at the edge of the water on the cement boat ramp that we used to enter and exit the lake. If I called Charlie, he would swim out to me and around me but then would quickly return to safety. Tai would swim near me the whole time as if to say look daddy I’m a good swimmer. I kept Tai on her leash during these sessions because she tended to ignore instructions like “Come here” “Let’s go” and “No.” I also got the feeling that if I left her off her leash she would swim to the middle of the lake never to be seen again. This would make sense a little later on.
With the summer of 2011 heating up, even being inside our well ventilated and fan cooled house was a little strenuous on the dogs. It had been a few days since I had done anything with Tai and I really felt like I needed to keep her moving to prevent old age from setting in. There were many days when Tai resisted going places but she always seemed to be grateful afterwords. On this one particular day, her actions should have spoken volumes to me. She was making it very hard to put her leash on and at one point stuck her head under a table when I tried to lasso her. My uncle even made the comment that she didn’t want to go. I thought she was being stubborn. Once the leash was successfully around her neck she did her usual trot and seemed happy to be going with daddy and Charlie.
Intuitively I guess I knew her condition was deteriorating. Every time I took her somewhere I could easily pick her up and move her. A year or two ago this would have never happened. Of course, she would still snap and bark at me but she just didn’t have the zest to stop me. And one time, a few weeks prior, putting her in the car caused her teeth to rattle. I monitored her situation and it stopped once the stress of travelling subsided. She also seemed to shake a little after swimming but I just assumed she was a little cold from the water.
On this particular day, when we arrived at the lake Charlie jumped out of the car excited to be at his new destination. Tai, was a little less enthusiastic. I did my usual routine of taking off my socks, sneakers and shirt while the puppies snurfed around the giant rocks that lined the entrance to the boat ramp. Charlie was always off his leash by this point but I kept Tai in my control at all times. It just wasn’t worth the fuss to try and rein her in again.
Today it was Tai who stood at the edge of the water as Charlie swam around like a fish. I let Tai go at her own pace which seemed to take her a little longer than normal. In hindsight this was probably another sign that something just wasn’t right. Tai, being the little stubborn shit that she was, didn’t want Charlie getting all of the attention so she eventually came swimming out to me. Other times at the lake Tai would dip her head under for a second or two and then come back up for air as she doggie paddled around. Today when she did that she was in shallow water and she kept going under. I immediately ran over to her and pulled her out of the water as she gasped for air. I rushed her to land where I set her down and pushed on her belly. She began coughing up water and was breathing but when she attempted to walk she collapsed on the cement. WHAT WAS HAPPENING!!???? I was talking to her and encouraging her until she could finally get up on her feet again. I didn’t know what I was looking for but when Tai rose back up she was breathing somewhat normally so I convinced myself that she had just taken in some water. But a man who was walking down the ramp to his fishing boat asked if Tai was okay because her tail was tucked in between her legs which he said was a sign of distress. I disconcertingly stated “I don’t know” as my guilt level and sense of urgency shot through the roof. I helped Tai into the car and we made a beeline for the house.
On our way home I had already decided that I would never take Tai swimming again. Around twenty minutes later Tai was spinning in circles in the yard with drool flying out of the side of her mouth. I sat with her and tried to calm her, which helped a little bit, but she was fighting something and I had no idea what. I called our family vet who was now closed. I then tried to reach all of the 24 hour animal hospitals listed on their answering machine but the closest one was roughly an hour away. A horrible feeling swept over me. A couple of moments later my aunt suggested that we take Tai to a local vet who worked out of his home and had a reputation of getting along better with animals than people. And he only lived five minutes away. He was perfect
When my aunt knocked on the door, Billy didn’t immediately answer. I was sitting in the car with Tai cradling her to keep her calm. I am sure, for Tai, this was reminiscent of her being rescued as a puppy. Billy finally answered his door and gave my aunt permission to bring Tai into the house. We walked through his office slash living room and into the area that was probably once a kitchen but now resembled an operating room. I gently set Tai on the silver medical table for Billy to examine her. Billy’s first question was “Are we putting her to sleep tonight?” The words “Not if we don’t have too” came shooting out of my mouth before I could even think about it. Tai was just such a tough cookie that I wasn’t going to give up on her if she wasn’t ready to quit. “Maybe she just had some fluid in her lungs that needed to be drained” I thought to myself. Tai resisted being placed on the table but I held her firmly and lovingly in place as Billy listened to her heart and checked her breathing. “Her heart beat is very faint,” he said. “She most likely had a heart attack. Or there could be swelling around her heart and lungs making it hard to detect her heart beat.” Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I held the makeshift oxygen mask over Tai’s snout. “I am going to give her a sedative to calm her down and something to make her pass the water from her lungs. Can you leave her overnight?” “Can you help her?” I inquired. “We’ll see” Billy said. A couple of minutes after the shot, Tai calmed down which seemed to alleviate her symptoms. “I have to go to the hospital tomorrow to take some x-rays. I’ll also take her blood work. I’ll have some answers for you in the morning.” It now had to be well after nine at night yet Billy graciously allowed us to spend time with Tai as she wound down. I didn’t want to leave her alone but since she was already groggy from the medicine I figured she wouldn’t really realize we were gone anyway. We finally left close to eleven.
I hadn’t received any calls that morning and by the time twelve noon hit I was chomping at the bit. I had to find out what was going on. I called a few times and finally went over to Billy’s house around 4pm. When I got to his house, Billy didn’t answer until after quite a few knocks but then graciously invited me in. They hadn’t made it to the hospital yet. Tai was crammed inside a little cage where she had pooped and pee’d on herself. It didn’t matter, I opened the cage and embraced her anyway. She was still a little out of it but had passed a lot of water throughout the night and even ate a small amount of soft food. Billy was just preparing to leave when I got there so I said my goodbyes to Tai as Billy loaded her into his van along with a Golden Retriever that had been hit by a car. They pulled out of the driveway.
I was supposed to work that night but I was too much of a mess to go in. I was also talking to Mary in North Carolina for feedback on how to handle the situation. We were both very concerned and Mary was great at calming me down and assuring me that it wasn’t my fault even though I couldn’t stop blaming myself. Mary also made the comment that Tai was probably really scared staying in a strange place, by herself, overnight. That stuck with me. When I returned that night, Billy had told me Tai did have a heart attack but seemed to be doing alright. He now had her on heart medicine. He felt that eventually she would be able to come home but wanted to keep her one more night as he was testing her for Cushing’s Disease http://www.kateconnick.com/library/cushingsdisease.html. He felt this was at the root of her problems.
One of the obvious signs of Cushing’s Disease that I overlooked was Tai’s urinating in the house. Billy was amazing at extracting the right information from me every time I came over to visit. I, on the other hand, was gathering experiences from other pet owners regarding the dying process of their animals. One thing that kept repeating itself over and over again was that, by in large, most people’s dogs wandered off to die alone when it was their time. That was the sense I was getting from Tai during our trips to the lake. I also bounced the idea of putting Tai to sleep off of Mary. If Tai couldn’t eat or drink I didn’t want her to suffer for any selfish reasons of my own. But Mary reminded me that death is a natural part of life and there is no reason to shortcut the process. Mary, who had gone through a similar situation with her grandmother, mentioned that both humans and animals start detaching themselves from this world as they near the end and stop eating and drinking as they shut down. Mary encouraged me to bring Tai home so that she could die in a familiar setting with people and a puppy around her who loved her. And there was still the hope that maybe she would recover.
I had some big decisions to make when I got up the next day. My aunt wasn’t crazy about the idea of bringing Tai home to die because they had lost a Sheep Dog named Sherman. Watching their beloved friend die was tough enough but the strain of cleaning up his bodily fluids during the process took a heavy toll on my aunt and uncle as well. They didn’t want to experience that with Tai and thought a lot of suffering on both ends could be averted by simply putting her to sleep. When I finally caught up with Billy that day, who was getting harder to track down than a racoon with rabies, we had a heart to heart discussion. Billy brought Tai out from her kennel and placed her on the silver medical table as we talked. Tai cuddled up to me the whole time. Billy confirmed that Tai had Cushing’s Disease but acknowledged that it was too late in the game to start her on a therapy especially with her heart condition. “Maybe if we caught it a few years earlier we could have alleviated some of the symptoms,” he explained. “But it really wouldn’t do much good now.” He recommended just treating her for her heart condition as there would be a slight chance of extending her life a few more months. “Is she suffering?” I hesitantly asked. “It’s like a person who has and is being treated for lupus,” he replied. “They feel a little out of it and they know something is wrong but they are not suffering.” He went on to say ”She walked around today. She came out for some water, went to the bathroom on the floor and then went back to look at the other dogs.” “What would you do?” I asked. “I would be fine with your decision either way. If she was suffering and needed to be put down I would tell you and even insist on it. But she is not. On the other hand, because she is dying and is just coming off of a massive coronary, I wouldn’t object to it either. It’s your call.” “I would love to take her home and let her die there. But it could get a little messy and my family isn’t crazy about the idea.” I sadly responded. “You can buy her a little swimming pool at Wal-Mart for like five bucks and put her in it. That way she’s at home and you can manage the mess,” he stated. It was a brilliant idea. I called my aunt and after just a little coaxing, she agreed.
I kissed Tai on top of her little pea head and gunned it for Wally World. I purchased the first and only kiddie pool I could find and then quickly darted home to set it up. I set up some blankets in the backseat of my car and shot over to Billy’s to pick up my dying puppy. Tai was happy to see me but just transporting her alone was taking a toll on her. She didn’t have the strength to resist my carrying her nor did she want too. This was also self-evident when we walked into the house around 7pm. I sat on the floor and leaned against the wall. Tai just crawled into my lap and clung to me for at least an hour.
Before I left Billy’s he gave me instructions on how to give Tai her medicine. Tai wanted no part of it. She wouldn’t even open her mouth to eat the peanut butter or cream cheese that I covered the pill with. My aunt simply said “Let her go Jozef she doesn’t want it.” But I refused to give up on her as I lifted her lip and forced the cream cheese coated pill into the side of her mouth I put her in her kiddie pool for a bit as I did a few things that needed to be done. I encouraged Tai to drink some water which she refused. She at some point tried to stand up but fell into the water dish. I discovered her when I walked back into the room. I spent the next couple of hours sitting in the pool with her while talking to Mary by phone who was chillingly accurate about the dying process and the animals/persons refusal to eat or drink anything. Charlie, my cattle dog, was nearby watching the whole thing. He even peeked out from under the tablecloth located right next to the kiddie pool for a closer look. I put Mary on speaker phone and she started calling out nicknames (in English and Taiwanese) for Tai that she recognized. Tai’s ears perked up as soon she knew her mommy was present. Tai’s energy level also picked up dramatically when she heard Mary’s voice. Charlie recognized his mommy too and started barking. This brought my aunt into the room who started crying hysterically. This triggered me which in turn set off Mary. I couldn’t pet and comfort Tai enough. After a good hour or so on the phone, Mary said her goodbyes.
I had a few work things to do on my computer and needed a shower. Tai seemed to be doing alright and wasn’t making a mess. Sometime during the phone call she finally swallowed her pill which also seemed to help her. She was eager to go through her nightly routine. I even let her out in the yard to go to the bathroom which she did. She became a little dazed and confused while out there and eventually had to be led back in. On the other hand, I was beginning to think that maybe she could make a comeback. I eased up on my concern for her and decided to finish a few short emails on my computer while she snurfed around the room. That’s when I was hit with a sudden “Yelp!” Tai fell to the floor and was shaking. Was she having another heart attack or did she just get scared because she was getting weaker? Charlie came running into the room barking which woke up my aunt. It was now around 1am. I immediately rushed over to Tai while petting Charlie to calm him down. Out of concern my aunt, who was having a hard time sleeping anyway, quickly arrived in the room to find out what was going on. The situation brought us to tears again. I comforted Tai and laid with her for hours, petting and kissing her and telling her it was going to be okay. I decided I was going to sleep with her that night in case she needed me. I considered taking her upstairs but didn’t want to stress her out anymore than she already was. Tai always slept in the downstairs and that’s where I would set up shop to comfort her as much as possible. When I came back with my pillow and blanket Tai had made it out to the front living room where Charlie was sleeping. It was now around 5am.
I laid next to her but we were both feeding off each others energy and had a hard time sleeping. When we both finally started drifting off around 7am Tai jumped up and let out another “Yelp!” I immediately woke up. She then tried to stand but her legs were wobbling underneath her and she could barely stand. She staggered about 15 feet and ended up under the dining room table. I still don’t know if she got up to go the bathroom or was trying to wander off to die alone but she stood under the table for a good couple of minutes. I helped her out from under the table and got her to lay on her pillow in front of her favorite giant stuffed Gorilla, Chet. That’s when she pooped herself. I cleaned it up and again spooned her to provide her with some solace. As she laid on her side I could see her breathing getting weaker. I looked into her eyes for quite some time and when we were fully connected I received a little wink and a smile. It was incredible and deep down I knew what that meant. I petted her and kissed her a few more times and knew that if I didn’t go upstairs for at least a couple of hours I wouldn’t get any sleep before work and would never make it through the shift. At some point after falling asleep (within the first hour I believe) I heard a howl from Charlie. About three hours later, this happened again when my uncle returned home. Then the knock on my door came. “Jozef, Tai’s dead. She’s laying downstairs on the floor,” my uncle informed me. When I went down she was in the same spot I had left her and she appeared to have been dead a couple of hours. I didn’t want to believe it at first and hoped she would snarl or snap at me when I pushed on her to see if she was alive. But she was indeed, lifeless. She was so stubborn and tough that I just didn’t think she would ever die.
Once reality set in, I had to figure out what I was going to do with her. At first I put Tai in a box, but then my uncle thought a plastic bag would be better. He gave me some suggestions as to where I could bury her but none of the places felt right once I got there. I called Mary and we both agreed that cremating Tai would be a better option. We both cringed at the thought of another animal digging up Tai’s remains and didn’t want her to go out like that. I made a couple of quick phone calls. When I found the closest and most reasonably priced pet center to provide the service I drove to its location in the next town over and went in to make the arrangements. I was able to keep my composure as I paid the attendant working the front desk, but when I went out to my car to pick up Tai one last time I couldn’t stop the onslaught of tears. It took everything I had to hand Tai over to the worker who met me at the side door. That night at work was a roller coaster of emotions that stemmed from the deep sorrow in my heart. At one point I had to leave the restaurant and sit in the adjacent room as I teared up and then gracefully tried to pull myself back together again.
My friends, family and Mary were very supportive and honestly letting Tai die at home was the best decision I could have made. My last 12 hours with Tai bonded us in a way that I will never forget. It was the most gratifying thing I could have done for Tai, myself and everybody else who loved her. Tai passed away on July 15, 2011 somewhere between 8-9am and although she is gone from this world she will never be forgotten. RIP Tai puppy!!!!