I discovered Hank seven weeks ago at the City of Albuquerque shelter. Frankly, it was strange how it happened: I received an email from a sender I had never seen before--or since—promoting dogs for adoption in the area. Hank was not on the list, but I thought to myself, “Well, there’s no harm in just taking a look!” I jumped on the city website, sorted by age, and saw Hank. The instant my eyes landed on him I knew I would take him home. I could see in his eyes that he was both incredibly old and incredibly sick. Hank was one of those dogs that you could tell simply by looking at that he’d had an extremely hard life. I dropped everything and went to get him.
Hank was challenging to care for. He was drinking 3 or 4 gallons of water a day due to severe Cushing’s disease. Drinking such volumes of water meant, of course, that he had to urinate often--every 60 to 90 minutes it turned out. Every time I left the house, I came home to an accident, not because he wasn’t housebroken but because his bladder simply could not hold the massive amounts of liquid he ingested.
I tried everything I could think of to address the situation. I bought extra absorbent diapers. I doubled those diapers. I stuck heavy flow menstrual pads inside those diapers. I put down newspaper. Nothing worked to contain the vast pools of urine passing through Hank’s little body. After several weeks I even put in a doggie door, but Hank wouldn’t use it—it was simply too difficult with his stiff, arthritic body.
As heavy as the caretaking was during the day, I could manage it. I could let him out every hour when I was working from home. I could clean the floors and wash him down each time I returned from being away. And, if necessary, I could call on my neighbors to let him out several times if I had to be away for a few hours to do ministry. It was hard, but doable. Barely.
But, the nights, oh, the nights. They were pure misery—for both of us. He was up all night long. Every. Single. Hour. With guidance from my vet, I tried the combination of two medications to tranquilize him through the night. The maximum dose should have knocked him out cold, but it failed. His thirst was so powerful, it roused him every two hours, and once he was up drinking, he would naturally want to urinate. So, two or three times a night I had to get up to let him out. I am embarrassed to say that out of desperation I even tried once or twice to withhold his water, but he paced incessantly. I could not handle making him suffer any more than he already was, so I gave up on that idea straight away.
After several weeks, I was beyond desperate for sleep. I tried putting him outside to sleep in my little enclosed backyard in the 70-degree Albuquerque weather, but he did not like it. He was an outdoor dog before he was surrendered, and he wanted desperately to be inside. He also did not like being separated from us. He felt dejected and I felt guilty. I would sit with him until he fell asleep, but, after a couple of weeks, neither of us could go on. So, I kept him inside at night and we did the best we could.
As heavy as the caretaking was, Hank and I grew extremely close extremely fast. He was a sweetheart, through and through. The struggles he had faced in his life had not changed his nature one bit. All he wanted to do was feel connected. He followed me around everywhere when he was awake. He snuggled with me every chance he could get. He cherished going on our walks together. We fell hard for each other, and he adored being at Old Dog Heaven.
At the same time, things were declining. I was deteriorating from lack of sleep combined with a demanding work schedule. And eventually Hank just laid next to his water bowl for hours at a time. He would nap there, and when he awoke, he would simply put his mouth into the bowl—trusting that I had filled it—and drink. At the end, he would not even stand up to drink.
It was time.
The night before I brought Hank in, I was beside myself. Why hadn’t the family who surrendered him taken responsibility and accompanied him to his death? On the form they checked that they had him “over five years.” Was it because New Mexico is so poor, and they could not afford it? Was it that they did not realize how sick he was and thought the city would give him the treatment he needed to get well? Was it because they just could not bring themselves to do it?
I paced. I knew in my heart that Hank was not quite ready to go, but I simply could not go on. It was awful to confront my own limitations. I was racked with guilt. On top of it, Hank was going to be the fifth dog I had to euthanize in the last 2 years as part of the Old Dog Heaven ministry. From a place of pure anguish that night, I prayed—or, better yet, summoned—Border, Bug, Leo, and Jilly. I said to them, “You must come to meet Hank when he crosses over to God. I need you to welcome him.” I felt them receive my prayer. Then, returning to my preoccupation with Hank, I promptly forgot about my petition.
The morning of the appointment, I cooked Hank a big breakfast of greasy hamburger and white rice. Yum! We followed it up with a two-hour snuggle-fest where I held him tightly in my arms, his head resting on my chest as he snoozed. Then, I took him to our favorite park one final time, so he could breathe the fresh air, feel the rain on his face, and enjoy the grass. I did everything I could to give him the best morning possible.
Tears streamed down my face as we walked into the vet’s office. I brought his own bed for him. We took our time making Hank comfortable. Even as time crawled, the horrifying moment finally arrived. As the vet injected the medication, I closed my eyes and pressed my face to Hank’s face, crying as I apologized over and over. Then, as Hank died, I had a vision. Suddenly, I was in Hank’s body looking out through Hank’s eyes along with Hank. I was in a meadow with lush green grass with oak and maple trees swaying in the cool breeze. It looked like a perfect Massachusetts day. “Where am I?” I felt Hank think. I looked up. Over the hill I saw four dogs rushing enthusiastically toward me. I recognized them immediately: it was Border, Bug, Leo, and Jilly. I stood still, curious and captivated. Finally, they greeted me happily and invited me to run with them. As the four dogs took off, I bounded after them with joy. As Hank began to follow them, his body pulled away from me and I was left standing in the spot where Hank first arrived. I was now myself looking out on the scene. I watched as the five of them ran off happily together through the meadow. Hank looked back smiling and said, “I will see you when you get here! Thank you for connecting us! I love you!!” I waved frantically as I watched them disappear over the hillside.
So… was this real or just my imagination? One thing I can say for sure was that I definitely did not conjure this vision. Instead, I watched enthralled as it unfolded before me. Still, maybe it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Maybe it was my childlike heart trying to assure me that everything would be okay. Maybe it really happened.
After Hank’s death, I washed his body down, like I do all my dogs. I then anointed him tenderly with a blend of beeswax balm and essential oils. As the aromatic scent filled the room, I prayed in thanksgiving for the life of this creature who I loved so dearly.
I will always remember my Hank. I look forward to the day that I, too, will be greeted with joy by all the ones who came before.