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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Handling the sudden death of a large breed dog

It’s 11:45 on a cold January night. The frigid air is sucked into to the bedroom by the fan that sits in front of the open window as the hum of the air conditioner also sings its nightly tune. This is the way you live when you have many Newfoundland’s as you do not want to be awakened through the night because it is too hot for them. The winter’s chill in my heated home assures me a full night’s slumber. I am snuggled atop a heated mattress pad with blankets pulled up to my ears to keep me warm in this blustery room my husband describes as “a blizzard without the snow.” My eyes peer over the blanket’s top to watch a repeat of the Atlanta Housewives, but I am really awaiting the rerun of Andy’s New Year’s Eve club house gala that is to follow. Aside from the chatter of the TV and the hum of the air conditioner, the house is quiet and still. The holidays have left me with happy memories and my boys have gone back to their prospective homes toting their Christmas gifts with them. Darkness and calm have overtaken my room except for glow of the TV screen opposite my bed and the clock that shines its time on the ceiling.

Suddenly I realize it seems too quiet, especially since my TV is still playing which would normally stir up at least one of the four male dogs that sleep around my bed, even if it’s just to switch places or roll over. I peek over my bed's edge to take a quick look.

“Bentley has not moved. Nor is the grunt like snoring I hear from the others emanating from his snout.”

Bentley who is the father to Chance, Emma, and Steeler, and who is usually the most active through the night has not repositioned his curled up body over the last couple of hours. Horrid thoughts clamor in my mind as my heart beats a little faster.

He could not have bloated again could he? No, he had already gone through bloat and his intestines were sewn in place. Can a dog bloat once the intestines are sewn in place? Who do I call to ask at this time of night?

The questions just came faster and faster! And with those thoughts, a slight panic started making its way up my spine.

Bentley, at the age of 10 years has not shown any signs of illness aside from the regular aches and pains a giant breed would show at that age. He is not deterred easily and he still has much bounce to his step when something is on his mind. ‘Crazy eyed, one track mind Benny’!  That's what we call him because when he sets his mind on something he is relentless at figuring out how to achieve it. You can see his mind working a mile a minute gathering all pertinent information.

I’ve seen him walk across the frozen cover that keeps my pool free from debris because there was something on the other side he wanted. I have seen him problem solve in many ways over the years.

Again my thoughts clamor, my heart beats a bit faster, and the sound of the Atlanta Housewives arguing in the background now seem distant to my thoughts.

Could he have died right there in that curled up position? If he did, would he be stiff? If the van doesn’t start how would I put him in Peter’s car? How would I move him? Where would I take him?

So I did, and he was fine. Turns out he was just very sleepy from being left outside during the day a little longer than he was used to. The day’s temperature had been wrapped in the warmth of the sun and had reached close to 55 degrees on this first week of January, so I kept all of the dogs out longer than normal to soak up the beautiful weather. But this nighttime event got me thinking and thinking seriously.

What would I have done had Bentley died at that moment and was stiffened in that position?
Does anyone really think about such things when they get a dog? And a dog of Newfoundland size no less?

In all my experiences with dogs, all but one was euthanized in the setting of a vet office and the one that was not, was a large shepherd mix who died of bloat in his dog house while I was at work and very much stiff as a board when I got home hours later. This stiffness had made it very hard to get him out of the wooden dog house opening! Thankfully my hubby and my brother were there to take care of it. Years later the memory of them trying to stuff this large dog into the back seat of a Toyota Corolla sticks in my mind. After all, they could not straighten him out without breaking bones which they knew would send me right over the edge!

But I digress, back to my Bentley. It’s the middle of winter here in PA and the ground is frozen so digging a hole is out! And the questions? Well they just keep a comin’!

What do people do in the middle of the night if there is no vet to call, or during holidays, or if the ground is frozen, or if the season was a muggy summer’s night? STOP! I told myself. Just email Dr.Jean in the morning!

So the next morning these questions found me sending out many emails to friends.  Apparently this is not an unusual occurrence. One  friend  told me that years ago when her Golden Retriever passed during the night hours, her vet office told her to put the dog in the freezer. This she told me was a bit difficult as the refrigerator was a side by side and could not accommodate a dog of Golden Retriever size!

So, this is definitely a question you’ll want  answered  while your dog is still alive and healthy, not at a time when you are in a panicked or upset state of mind! Although I would rather be prepared for such an event, it certainly would not diminish that lost feeling one gets when their pet passes.

Is burial legal?

In some areas it is illegal to bury your animal in your yard so you would have to know the ordinances of your city/town, although I suspect people still bury a small pet now and then, but digging a hole for a 175 lb. dog is like digging a hole for a human and something like that might be noticed!

The down and the dirty of pet death

What I am told is that most emergency vet offices have freezers to hold your dog if something should happen in the night, weekend, or a holiday. That’s assuming you have an emergency vet in your area which not all people do.

Obviously with the temperature being near freezing in the winter months you may be able to safely store the body outside until your vet opens. I did this once and the memory will never leave me.

Picture it: 1986, my son who was 5 years old at the time had a goldfish named Goldie (of course), his very own first pet ever. Well Goldie passed during a semi cold winter’s eve, but digging a hole for a goldfish is a lot different than digging one for a dog, so I wrapped her up in saran wrap, put her in a brown lunch bag and laid her out on the gas grill so we could have services for her the next day. I put my son to bed telling him I was very sorry about Goldie's passing but that we’ll give her a nice send off in the morning, and of course we can all say something that we loved about his beloved Goldie. Thirty minutes later I slid open the back door to the patio, and there’s my dog Maxie chomping away on a very frozen Goldie! It was at that time I realized that giving Goldie a Sea (aka toilet) funeral might have been easier for a 5 year old to handle! After all, going back to the sea from once you came, is better than going into a Chow/labs belly for a treat!

So, if you have a big enough freezer in the home you could store the body in there, however for me, I think if I did that I’d soon be selling the freezer because every piece of meat I took out of it would make me think I was cooking up my Newfoundland! But hey, that’s just me; others may be able to handle it just fine.

What about hot weather?

Of course I had to ask this also assuming you are not allowed to bury your pet on your property or you don’t want to be digging a hole during the middle of the night lest the neighbors think you are cuckoo!

What if it happens in the middle of summer when the night’s temperature remains in the upper 80’s?” That would get smelly real fast!

Answer: Cold but true

Slide the dog into a large Bag (lawn /leaf /construction) in case of fluid leakage overnight, then place the dog in a wheelbarrow (or maybe your kid’s little red wagon), go to the market and get bags of ice and place them around the dog, then cover the ice and dog with a tarp or large blanket to keep the cold around the dog until you can transport or bury the dog.

Um, yeah, there go those happy thoughts of pulling my sons in their little red Radio Flyer! Hmm, shopping for ice may never be the same again either!

I do not know if it is the same world wide, but in Canada it is fairly similar right down to if you are allowed to bury your pet on your property.

Well, that’s that! Death sucks, there’s no other way to put it!

But if you know your options beforehand you won’t be sitting at the computer trying  to find answers on Google or finding yourself in a panic! I'm not saying there won't be crying goin' on, but you'll be prepared. 

Actually I don’t even know how to Google this one! I tried Google and all I came up with  was a girl that was psychic and was seeing the spirit of someone’s dog walking around her house!

1 comment:

  1. If you ever have a serious question in the middle of the night regarding your pet, you can go to the blue Just Answer box on the side of this blog and talk to a vet online.