When the critical care doctor brought Rigby to me last Wednesday for our final goodbye, my heart broke apart seeing his sedated body wrapped in a blanket. I couldn’t bare to look directly into his adorable face but I held his head in my hands as the doctor first flushed the catheter and then administered the overdose of anesthesia that would still his heart forever. It took only a few minutes, but they were excruciating because a piece of my heart went with him and I still hurt today, over a week later, in a way that I never would have dreamt possible.
I hurt because it was painful seeing Rigby so vulnerable. And I hurt because I now realize that when he’d frequently stop in his tracks during our walks the last few months, he wasn’t being stubborn Rigby. Something was happening in his lungs and he needed to regroup.
His lungs were in good shape in April, when we had them x-rayed. It was the mitral valve in his heart that had lost some function, a fairly common genetic condition in Norfolk Terriers. The cardiologist didn’t think Rigby needed any kind of treatment yet. When Rigby became sluggish last Monday, and wasn’t anxiously racing to get to his bowl of food, I became worried, thinking his heart had taken a turn for the worse.
We went to the hospital on Tuesday, but the X-rays showed that Rigby’s lungs, not his heart, were under stress. They needed to find out why and get him into an oxygen tent to help him breathe more comfortably. They also started him on antibiotics In case had had pneumonia or some other infection.
Rigby stayed at the hospital overnight, and things were looking up the next day. It appeared the medication and oxygen therapy were working, but they still wanted to learn what was up in his lungs. He’d be in the hospital at least another day, the doctor told me, but if he continued to progress he’d be able to come home in a day.
We never found out what was wrong. The doctor called me at 7 last Wednesday evening to tell me Rigby had taken a turn for the worse. She was starting him on new medications, but if he didn’t improve during the next half hour, she didn’t want to hook him up to a device so he could breathe.
Although Rigby is no longer here with me, I still feel his “presence.” I think of him lying in the small bathroom to keep cool, while I worked in the living room. I think of him in his round corduroy bed on the floor in my bedroom, where he’d curl up when we retired upstairs each night. I think of him eyeing every morsel of food I ate, waiting for me to share it with him. I think of him when I was getting ready to go out and he’d look at me with soulful eyes because he knew he wasn’t joining me.
Rigby wasn’t a cuddly, affectionate dog, but he didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and he’d wag his little tail even when he must have been in distress.
We brought Rigby home with us when he was five months old, and his heart stopped beating when he was almost 12. I understand now how most people feel when a pet is gone. I knew a woman who had three cats, but when she developed allergies she “got rid” of the cats without a moment’s hesitation or sadness. They were better off without her.