I still remember the day many years ago when my sister’s dog suddenly fell ill out of the blue. He was vomiting a little, refused to eat, and was utterly depressed. On the second day, we took him to the vet, who said he was mildly rehydrated and immediately put him on IV fluids. He also did a blood test, and the results absolutely shocked us — our five-year old dog had acute renal failure, and no one knew how this happened. Just a month before that, his bloodwork was completely normal.
Just hearing the word “failure” is enough to shake you down, but it was worse seeing Neptune slumped in the cage in the animal hospital. He refused to eat and didn’t seem to notice our presence on his second day of hospitalization. On the third day, he seemed to be slightly more lucid, but his BUN and creatinine remained at absurdly high levels — 10 times higher than the normal, to be precise. On the fourth day, I saw a little spark in his eyes when I checked him out, and he definitely had a smile for my sister and nieces. On the fifth day, without any improvement in his numbers, we made the sad decision to take him home. We knew he was fading, and the last thing we wanted was for him to go without us by his side.
Before we left the clinic, Neptune’s vets offered their sympathies and apologies for not being able to do much to reverse his condition. They said that he probably had a week or two left, and they agreed that he should be with his family on his last days on earth. Neptune was sent home with his IV line and fluids and my sister took him home.
The next day, Neptune had enough energy to chew out his IV line at 3 in the morning. My sister had no choice but to pull out the line. In the morning, we asked the vet if he could be off the IV fluids for a short time, and the vet agreed.
Over the next few days, he drank water and peed regularly. Although he had zero appetite and had to be force fed, he seemed to be regaining some interest in life. For instance, his ears perked up when there was a cat nearby, stood up when he saw people eating, and actually seemed to want some food.
They say that 50% of dogs with acute renal failure die, but those that cross the 5-day mark somehow have bigger chances of making it through. When we hit the 10-day mark, we were hopeful that things would permanently look up.
But that was not the case. He continued to need subcutaneous fluids to help keep him hydrated. His bloodwork also suffered. Although his creatinine levels have drastically dropped (but still at high levels), his liver values were up. This caused him to have this certain stench that seemed to tell us how sick he was.
Almost three weeks since his diagnosis with acute renal failure, and three weeks of refusing food, our courageous dog shocked us by finally eating a bowlful of dog food — not his!! The day before that, he ate two big morsels of chicken — a total surprise.
For us, this was almost a miracle. Two vets have told us to manage our expectations, telling us that he had a 50-50 chance, or probably less, of making it. But we remained hopeful.
The thing about kidney failure is that it could play with your emotions. There were good days and bad days. Sometimes, especially after his subcutaneous fluids were administered, he seemed happy. On certain days, we were resigned to losing him, and all we really wanted was for him to be comfortable and to feel loved during the last days of his life. Other days, our hopes were high.
Eventually, the disease got the better of him and we saw how the disease had taken its toll on him. Despite all our interventions, he was skin and bones, and his mouth was filled with sores. We could tell he was exhausted and suffering, and looking back, we were emotionally exhausted too. But he was loving and sweet and cuddling my sister to the very end, as if telling her how he loved and how thankful he was for all that we were doing for him.
There are many things we have learned from Neptune, foremost of which is to remain grateful despite life’s adversities. We also learned that one can find joy even in the darkest days. We also learned to hope and to trust in God, even as we learned about acceptance and letting go.
It has been years since Neptune left us, but the void he left continues to gnaw at us. Nonetheless, we feel blessed that God chose to let this loyal, beautiful soul live with us for a few years. One day, we look forward to meeting him again. Until then, our memories of him will sustain us.