Ugh, my heart is breaking. This is one of the hardest posts I’ve ever had to write.
On Wednesday, we had to let our sweet old man pug Harley cross the Rainbow Bridge.
We’ve had a long road with Harley lately. To start, he was twelve and a half. Never an easy age for a pug. His arthritis was bad and he was having trouble walking, dragging his back legs. Over the last two years or so, Harley had dealt with urinary issues on and off. This year, we did a senior wellness visit at our vet – which included x-ray’s, bloodwork, etc. – because his water drinking habits had me worried he had Cushing’s or diabetes. It turned out he had bladder stones, and was drinking excess water to help dilute his urine. They told us they didn’t find anything else. And so began our many treatments for his stones. Harley went on antibiotics and special food. For a month, he was better. And then he was sick again, just like that. So another month of meds. And again, it came back with a vengeance. I wasn’t happy with our vet’s “throw some meds at it without even seeing him” attitude, so I had a friend refer us to her vet.
Our new vet was great. He did a whole new plan of action- new food, new meds. At our second visit though, we received devastating news. Harley had an abdominal mass. Something no pet owner wants to hear. But worse is how they found out. He had been reviewing Harley’s records from our old vet, and found it noted in the radiologist report. Our old vet had been seeing him for months after the senior wellness check (which was when we got the x-rays, which is why we had a radiologist report.) Somehow, the vet chose not to disclose this to us. I am still furious and trying to wrap my head around their negligence. Regardless- we had to move on. Our last visit, a week before I had Effie, we discussed options to try after we finished the treatment he was on. We had high hopes, but also could see Harley wasn’t the same. Over the last year he had lost a lot of weight and seemed to be moving slower.
Since having Effie, and being home, things were busy but I had time to take the pugs out often. Still, Harley had more accidents than usual. I didn’t realize how bad it was until our nanny started, and I started to see it through her eyes. I had normalized cleaning up pee and poop every single day, but when I stepped outside of our situation I realized how truly bad it was. Harley had maybe 50% control of his bladder at best, and no bowel control. His back legs were giving out (sometimes he would fall while going #2) and he had a hard time getting up, especially after sleeping. His hearing was also horrible. Sometimes we’d call for him and, not hearing us, he would continue to sleep- we’d go to wake him up, always worrying the worst. B and I both worried a lot that he’d pass away. In fact, when I started to realize that he probably wouldn’t come back from this, I began to hope he’d go on his own, peacefully.
The vet had given us options when we discussed Harley not improving. We kept trying medications and food to treat the stones, but we knew there had to be next steps. They wanted to do more x-rays, to compare to his old ones and see what type of stones remained and how they had changed, as well as an ultrasound, to investigate the mass. This would require sedation. For the five years we had Harley, we never allowed him to be sedated. His teeth were bad and probably needed a dental- but his breathing was worse. Pugs are notoriously bad with breathing and can sometimes not react well to being sedated for surgery. Somehow we just believed that he wouldn’t survive something like that. We had been mulling it over- was it right to spend nearly $1,000 to put him under, to see what was going on? If the stones needed to be removed, or the mass needed to be removed or biopsied, would he be able to survive surgery? Would he be able to survive RECOVERY? Seeing Dixie struggle to recover from surgery at about age seven was heartbreaking. I couldn’t imagine how Harles would deal with it.
While we tried to make a decision, we waited to see if there would be any improvement. Unfortunately, in the last week of his life, Harley deteriorated. He could barely get up or walk, and had lost most of his bladder control. He would not realize he was urinating, and would walk around peeing. He was skin and bones- his back felt like a stegosaurus. It was hard though, because he was in good spirits. That was our Harley- always in good spirits with us. (Try to take his food though, and we had another story!)
On Tuesday night, I was on the phone with my mom talking about it, and Harley walked by me peeing blood, breathing heavily. I started bawling and told her what had happened. And she had to gently tell me that it may be time to say goodbye. B and I had a long talk in the morning, and then I had a long talk with our vet about what was best. They agreed that it would be the most humane thing to do, especially considering his recent decline.
When we got to the vet Wednesday evening, he was able to feel Harley’s abdominal mass. Previously he wasn’t able to feel it, just see it on the x-ray. Noting how Harley looked compared to last visit, and how the mass had grown, our vet guessed that the mass was probably cancer. We brought him in with his favorite stuffed toy, Sharky. They gave Harley a sedative to put him to sleep, and then gave us some time with him before they came in and gave him the IV, which was basically an overdose of another sedative. I sat next to him with my arms around him and we told him how much we loved him and how pain free he would be. His tongue was peeking out, something that rarely happened and made us smile. As I was petting him, I felt his breathing slow to the point where I couldn’t really detect it. They came in to give him the IV, and had to try multiple places because his BP was “so low.” They didn’t check his heart until after the IV, but I believe he was gone before the IV even was administrated. As sad as it was, it made me glad we made the decision we did. It showed me that our gut instinct was right, he was not going to do well with being sedated. If Harley had died in surgery, or during the ultrasound, I would never forgive myself for not being with him when he passed.
We had the vet keep his collar and Sharky, it was too hard for us to take them home. We cried hard, and said our goodbyes. The staff were so sweet and sensitive. When we got home, it was hard to see the other pugs. Dixie curled up to the towel we had taken Harley to the vet wrapped in. It was strange to not hear his loud breathing, or his little back legs dragging and making so much noise on the tile and laminate floor. I keep thinking I see pee on the floor when it’s really just a reflection of light. And for the first time, I showered without him sitting right next to the shower, there waiting when I got out. All these realizations hit us like a ton of bricks. They keep hitting us as we discover new ways that we miss him.
His stocking is still hanging on our wall- I couldn’t bring myself to take it down. We had to throw out his leash- it was too hard to look at. We had been living in denial for a while: denial of this not being normal, denial of how sick he was, that he wasn’t going to bounce back from this like he had bounced back from things when he was younger. On his last day with us, I spent most of the day walking around after him, cleaning up bloody pee. I felt at peace that we’d be letting him run free, healthy and whole again. My eyes had been opened- we had to stop being selfish, and let him go. At least for the five years we had him, we gave him a good and happy life.
I wanted to share some of my favorite pictures of Harles over the years with you all.
Harley on the day we adopted him in October 2008. Purple harness and all! He was so beautifully black and shiny.
Harley’s first Halloween, a week or so after we adopted him, with our friend Laura. He was one third of the Three Pugmigos! He also looks concerned about the family he was adopted into, since we dressed him up as a pugmigo.
Our Christmas photos from 2008. Again, he was dressed up (a scarf.)
One of my favorite photos of him from Mem Day 2009- he used to lay out on that couch like Superman- our friend Connie helped him fly!
Our engagement pictures in July 2009- giving Harley some love.
Handsome boy at our wedding in March 2010!
Giving Harley smooches while having wedding pictures taken. I loved him in that damn tie. He was so proper- he loved being in a tie.
Meeting my TWINNER at our major pug meetup in October 2010. He got to meet so many of my pug friends from near and far- I’m so glad so many of you got to meet him.
Rocking a hoodie in November of 2010.
Being a little devil, January 2011.
Battling his first urinary issues, at the vet in February 2011.
Getting to lick an (empty) beer bottle in March 2011 – he had good taste!
Cuddling with Dixie in June 2011, his #1 cuddle buddy, always.
Harles enjoying the sunroom when we moved into my in-law’s temporarily, in September of 2011.
Opening Christmas gifts in December 2011.
Comforting Dixie after her surgery in January 2012.
Annoying uncle Jeremy on the ride while we moved to FLORIDA! I am so glad he didn’t have to deal with snow for the last two years of his life.
He also got to enjoy me working from home for the end of his time with us. Lots of lounging in my office, like here in July 2012.
After having his tail shut in a door (his doing!) in November 2012- sitting on Dixie, as always.
With his pal Dixie, in a tie again, for our 2012 Christmas photos.
Sitting with Aunt Rosie on Christmas Day, 2012.
Taking bump pictures with me, May 2013.
Our first picture as a family of six, October 2013.
Harley’s only solo photo with Effie, November 2013. He was putting her to sleep with his boring old man stories!
It’s so fun, but also so hard, to look at him over the years. He got grayer, and skinnier, but he never ever lost his spirit. On the day he left us, he got a piece of bacon, half a banana, and was so happy. When we opened the door to take him to the car, he tried so hard to walk and was so excited. It breaks my heart, but I also think somehow he knew his pain was over. We hoped to never have to make this decision for him, but we were glad to give him relief.
We loved you, Harles J. Montague Hage, Esq. You brought so much joy and humor into our lives, and we’ll never forget you.