On November 15, I brought home the saddest little Frenchie bitch imaginable. She was just a month and a half short of her nine birthday, she was a New Year’s baby. Her back end was nearly non-functional and she tipped over easily. She was deaf, she was blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other. She drooled out of the right side of her mouth and had difficulty eating, Her owners of an entire lifetime had given her up to be euthanized because as she got sicker, she also had become aggressive, but a compassionate veterinary technician rescued her and delivered her to the FBVillage and to me. She was scared and tired and just fed up. Her name was Charlotte, just like mine.
She spent most of the next nine days in a portable crib pulled up beside my desk in my home office, where I could keep an eye on her and put a hand out to calm her when she became agitated. For her part, she sat in her crib, amid her small cache of toys and blankets, and stared at me out of her one good eye, willing me to pet her, which I did, as often as I looked up and noticed her. I dozed through most of the nights beside her, still in my office chair, while she sat and watched me, or finally lay down and slept.
For as long as she could walk even a few steps, she liked to go outside with me and my Pug Clovis and my French Bulldog Cletus. She liked to snuffle and dig in the leaves of the yard. She walked very slowly, her head twisted at an unnatural angle, her legs wobbling from one side to the other, my own dogs trailing along behind or beside her, keeping watch. As the end came closer, even these short excursions were taken from her.
Like any Frenchie bitch, even a dying one, she wanted to be the boss. If Clovis or Cletus came too close, she ran at them, and then crashed into them, because she couldn’t stop. She would fall over and wave her legs in the air like an upturned beetle while they watched curiously. She obviously thought she was a contender, but they seemed to think of her as a highly entertaining crabby little old lady. They were very deferential, turning their heads away politely, and waiting for her to get back up and wobble off unconcerned, as though she intended to fall over. She had her dignity.
She tried hard to pick up the bones on the rug, selecting only the largest ones, but it was impossible with her paralyzed face, no matter how hard she tried. Finally, I took pity on her, and slid a Nylabone wishbone into the corner of her mouth, and she grimly clamped her jaws tight onto it, growling softly at Cletus when he came near. He could have taken it from her in an instant, but he didn’t. She fell asleep with the bone still in her mouth, and only then was I able to pry it gently from her relaxed jaws. That was the last time she was able to guard a bone.
As hard as she fought, Charlotte did not rally. She grew visibly weaker through Friday night and into Saturday. By Saturday morning, she could not walk across the grass more that two or three steps before falling, and for the rest of the day, I lifted her onto her feet with each fall, or else brought her inside and set her in her playpen beside my computer, where I could touch her when I felt her stir. She was no longer restless, just endlessly tired. Eating was a chore that exhausted her after only a tablespoon or two of food, although she still managed to drink out of her squeeze bottle. Saturday evening, her breathing had become raspy and bubbly and harsh, and by midnight, she was consumed entirely by the awful effort of drawing one breath after another, lying on her side on the bed next to me, sandwiched between Cletus and Clovis, who for once were careful to lie very still. We all lay there for two hours, waiting for a miracle I suppose, waiting for Charlotte to fall asleep and to gain back some of her strength. She didn’t.
I took her to the emergency hospital at 2 AM. She spent the rest of the night and the next morning in an oxygen tent. X-rays confirmed the onset of aspiration pneumonia. Even worse, the residents and the consulting neurologist all expressed the belief that she was in the terminal stages of a brain tumor. At noon on Sunday, the attending resident called me to say that her condition was very grave, that she was not likely to make it through another day, possibly not even another hour. She could no longer stand, her gag reflex was completely gone, making it impossible for her to swallow.
I drove back to the hospital to hold her through the euthanasia. Her breathing slowed briefly and she looked up at me with her one good eye when I unwrapped her from her blankets and held her in my arms, so I would like to think that she knew I had come back for her. She was dead in my arms before the syringe had even emptied into her leg…
Charlotte was that kind of Frenchie that I love best. She was every ounce a tiny warrior, not willing to give up a day, an hour, a minute of life without hanging on fiercely with every last bit of strength she had left in her. She fought to stay alive. She was a dog I would have loved to have owned for longer than the week I was blessed to have her.
Be at peace now, little one. My boys are waiting to take you across the bridge…