Remembering Polly

I attended the Raw Roundup 2015 online seminar this weekend. It was a tremendous education for me. As I sat there listening to these world renowned veterinary experts discuss nutrition, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, the evolution of dogs, the importance of fruits and vegetables, among other topics, I could not help but think back …

Saturday, March 28 marked the 10th anniversary of the passing of my sweetest Polly.

My first Pug. My little Pollita. My Pea Pod.

It also happens to be Pearl’s birthday. Born six years to the day after my heart broke into a million pieces. Of course, I still had Lulu when Polly crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and she worked hard to put me back together. But Polly was my first baby. Even at 12 weeks, she was the smallest dog I’d ever seen. She was the runt, and her eyes were so big, they bulged from the sides of her head. She was small all her life. The man at Uncle Charlie’s Flea Market, where I got her, told me they would not take her back if I had buyer’s remorse.

He needn’t have worried about that. I loved her with everything I had from the moment I first saw her until she drew her last breath in my arms.

If I had only known then what I know now about nutrition and the lack of it in commercial, processed foods! Oh, what I would have done differently.

Polly died after a brief battle with renal failure. I say it was brief because it lasted for 10 torturous weeks. In truth, she was clearly in the process of dying long before I learned of her kidney tumor.

I had taken her to the vet in January for yet another bladder infection. They took her to a back room to draw urine from her bladder with a syringe. To locate her bladder, they used an ultrasound. The tech came to get me to show me what they found: a large growth where her kidney was supposed to be.

My first reaction was to remove it. Take it out. The sooner the better.

And they did. The surgeon told me that when he got in, there was no kidney. The tumor had consumed it fully. It looked like a cauliflower. He’d never seen anything like it. He got the whole thing. She should be fine.

The problem was that she was small, and her health was already compromised, (a fact I failed to fully appreciate at the time), and within 2 weeks, I could tell she was not just not recovering; she was declining. Quickly.

Her remaining kidney was not able to carry the load because, as I later learned, her body had formed scar tissue around the sutures from the removal of kidney 1, which caused the ureter of kidney 2 to become blocked. She couldn’t eliminate the toxins from her body, and it was killing her.

I raced her to the ICU at Auburn University Small Animal Clinic. I couldn’t stay with her, both because I wasn’t allowed to, and because I had to go back to work. I had to leave her alone with strangers in a strange place for 2 weeks while they worked to try to save her. I had been practicing law about 6 months, and wasn’t making very much money. I had just bought my first house, and was carrying debt from law school. I had to pay for all of it up front, which I was not expecting. Without hesitation, I maxed out the one credit card that I had with the $3000 charge. I’d figure that part out later.

And I foolishly walked out with her blanket in my hands, instead of leaving it to comfort her.

I was in such a state, I paced in the parking lot because didn’t know whether to stay or go, or who to call, or what to do. So I returned to Birmingham.

At work, I was struggling to learn the ins and outs of the Federal Court system, Title VII, the interplay between the provisions of the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment, among many other things, and trying to avoid committing malpractice every single day. I really didn’t know what I was doing at all. I had little guidance, and loads of stress.

In the meantime, the vet students at Auburn brought Polly back from the edge of death. I kept up with her progress every day. They had to perform another surgery to remove the scar tissue. She would not eat. They called me to ask if there was anything I could think of that she might like. I gave a long list. I don’t recall now what ultimately worked.

My parents offered to go to Auburn to pick her up for me because they didn’t want me to miss work. I should have insisted. I wanted to pick up my baby myself so that I could bring her some measure of joy upon her release. But I acquiesced. I was up to my neck in litigation.

When I saw her, my heart sank. She was anorexic and extremely frail. She went from about 18 pounds to about 8 pounds in 2 weeks. She was happy to see me, but I was devastated, and I set out immediately to try to get her to eat.

Anything. Cheese toast. Baby food. Cooked ground beef. Vienna sausages. Anything.

Lulu was so loving and patient during this time. She would curl up next to Polly to try to comfort her and keep her warm. She was cold to the touch, and her little limbs stayed contracted.

I reached out to Pam Mayes at Alabama Pug Rescue & Adoption to recommend a new vet. I would never darken the door of Riverview Animal Clinic again.

Under the guidance of my new vet, I started making homemade cooked food, and performing what amounted to dialysis 4 times a day. I would come home from work at lunch to do it. I had a bag of fluids that I would hang from my ceiling fan for lack of a better place, and a needle to insert under her skin to flood her system with the saline to force her tiny body to filter. We made weekly trips to the Animal Hospital for blood work to check her BUN and creatinine levels. They were never good.

I had to get another credit card.

She lasted about 6 weeks after she came home from Auburn. Near the end, I heard her cry out in her sleep. She was in pain. I couldn’t sleep for worrying about her. I wept in my bed in the early hours of the morning, praying for guidance and relief. I was doing all I could, and I did not want to give up. But I knew that this could not go on much longer.

I learned during the week before her death that the lead attorney for the cases I was assigned did not want to attend depositions that were scheduled for the Monday after Easter out of town. He did not get along with opposing counsel and decided I should go instead.

Such is the life of a young associate.

My nephew had been born the previous October, and this would be his first Easter. We were to celebrate in North Alabama with my parents. I didn’t want to go. I did not want to spend time away from Polly because we were near the end and every moment was precious. I had no choice but to be away from her during the work week. Choosing to make her travel in her condition, or taking her to the vet to be away from her in order to satisfy the family Easter plans was a very painful decision. I opted for the latter. At least they could keep her comfortable at the vet.

They called me about an hour after I dropped her off to say that she was at the end and there was nothing more they could do. They said I didn’t have to come back to put her down that day; they could keep her on IV fluids and basically  just keep her alive till Monday.

I raced back to Birmingham as soon as I could get away after lunch on Sunday. I got to the clinic just after 4pm and they let me be with her while they were open for boarding pickup.

I sat in someone’s office and held her and cried. I sang to her our special song that I had made up for her years before when we were living in DC. I tried to convince myself I’d be alright without her. I told her she’d be in a better place soon and I’d see her again one day.

And that I was sorry I caused her pain.

And that I loved her.

Then the clinic had to close, and I had to leave…

…and prepare to defend depositions the next morning.

I woke early because I had to be in the neighboring county at 8am. I don’t remember much about the depositions because I had almost no clue about my role, when or whether I was supposed to object, and precious little grasp of the legal nuances. But mostly, I couldn’t take my mind off Polly.

They seemed to drag on forever, but they did end at some point in the afternoon, and I again raced home. I resented every second that I was there, because it was time I should have been spending with Polly. But when you’re a woman and a first year associate in an office full of men, you’re not allowed to cry about your dog.

I called my sister and she joined me at the vet. When they brought Polly to me, they told me they’d taken her off fluids that morning. Wrapped in her blanket (that I had remembered to leave with her this time), she was barely conscious. She had no reaction to my presence. I took her in my arms, held her close, and cried.

Dr. Rice came in to give her a shot to relax her, which worked well because she took a deep breath and emptied her bladder in my lap.

I was in a wool suit.

I didn’t notice.

I held her and cried, trying to arrest time. Steal it. Turn it back. Angry that I had left her alone over the weekend. Angry that I had had to sit in another lawyer’s office all day while he asked stupid questions of my client. Angry that I had failed in my endeavors to heal her. But most of all, despondent that I would walk away from that clinic later that day without my baby.

Then, right after 6pm, they came back for the second shot.

And I had to let her go.

— — — — — — — — —

It’s been 10 years, and the pain is still as fresh today as it was then. With tears streaming down my face as I type, this is the first time I’ve ever written about it, and it’s taken about a half a box of Kleenex to do so. Possibly more.

Few people know how to deal with the emotional pain of others. Some people want to put a stopper in it because it’s easier for them to pretend the bad thing didn’t happen. Others want to tell you what or how to feel in response to a traumatic event. Still others are compelled to fill the quiet with the sound of their own voice. In losing Polly, I learned more about what not to do by how others behaved toward me during my time of deep sorrow.

Having to say good-bye to my Pug Angels has not gotten any easier with repeated occurrence. Soon after Polly died in 2005, Princess and Percy came into my life. Princess then died in 2010, and I lost Lulu and Percy within a few months of each other in 2013. The acute pain of losing them is the price I pay for the exquisite joy, companionship, and love each of them brought to my life. They are not designed to live forever. I know whenever I bring a new dog into my heart that we will only be together in this world a short time, and I try to make the most of it.

Although I believe that none of them would still be living today even if I had fed them differently, had I been a better guardian, had I been a better advocate, had I known more about the ineffective “nutrition” in commercial foods and instead filled them with a more appropriate diet throughout the course of their lives, they might have lived longer, better, stronger lives.

The lessons from this weekend’s seminar caused me to realize a great many things, including that Polly’s kidney failure was likely due to the chronic state of dehydration she suffered due to a diet almost exclusively of kibble. Polly was extremely allergic, which was also likely caused by her high-starch, processed diet (that was purportedly nutritionally complete and balanced, of course). She had chronic bladder infections, which is why, when Pearl started down that road, I was so determined to find an alternative approach.

But it does not do to dwell on past mistakes. I am learning so much every day that I am eager to put into practice for Pearl and Truman. I can only hope that because I deeply loved Polly (and the others), she (and they) will forgive my ignorance and the shortcomings in my guardianship.

What a downer! Sorry.

I’ll share happier moments another day.

pugs & kisses,

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