This is an extremely difficult post for me to write. Joe, our crazy, crackpot, lunatic Jack Russell terrier, passed away two days ago.
He was suffering from pulmonary edema. We have no idea what caused it, we have no idea why, despite the very best of treatment, he went downhill so rapidly. All we really know is, we went shopping about six weeks ago and as we left home that morning, Joe was fit and healthy. When we got home, three hours later, we found him cowering under the radiator by the front windows. A visit to the vet revealed the first signs of fluid on his lungs. He was prescribed the standard range of medicines; a diuretic to drain the fluid, a bronchodilator to open up his airways, and an antibiotic to combat any potential infection that might have crept in.
From that point on, Joe began to deteriorate, and the medicines had little effect. Four weeks ago, two weeks after the initial incident, the vet took him in for chest X rays. Joe had pneumonia when we first picked him up from the rescue centre, as a result of which his left lung had always been a bit tricky. The X rays showed that lung almost completely white, indicating that the amount of fluid was rising.
The medication was increased, but still it was to no effect, and Joe was getting weaker and weaker. Over the last two weeks we’ve had several crises, and emergency dashes to the vet. Over the bank holiday weekend his muscles were getting so little oxygen that he struggled to get from his bed to his food and water just a few yards away. On occasion, he would rally, and we would manage a short, slow walk, but we often had to carry him back.
This was a dog with boundless reserves of energy, an absolute nutter whole lived his life at ultra-high speed. In Joe’s view, all that mattered was walkies, food, play, chasing pigeons in the garden, and barking at other dogs, the postman, etc., all of which he did with absolute gusto; a tremendous joie de vivre, which helped keep us young, too. He was now reduced to staggering a few steps at a time before his muscles gave way and he had to sit down. He was so weak that in the last few days we were having to hand-feed him.
On Tuesday morning, he was due back at the vet’s for further X rays. My wife got in the car and I lifted him onto her knee, whereupon he collapsed into a dead faint. At the same time, he moved his bowels and urinated all over her. It took several minutes to get cleaned up, throughout which time, Joe was unconscious. During the 15-minute journey to the surgery, his head came up now and then to see where we were and what we were up to.
Once at the vet’s, his breathing was so shallow that they rushed him into an oxygen tent. We signed the consent forms for them to carry out investigations and we left him with them while we did a little shopping in town. Less than half an hour later, Patrick, the senior vet, rang me to ask about Joe’s quality of life. I knew what was coming. Frankly, I had been expecting it for two weeks. But my wife and I couldn’t allow our personal feelings to compromise Joe’s well-being. He was suffering, and it would have been cruel to allow that to continue. I told Patrick the truth, and with my wife’s agreement, when Patrick recommended euthanasia, I gave permission. Joe was still under anaesthetic, and he would simply never wake up.
We were at that heart-breaking moment all dog-lovers dread. The moment when you have to put aside your pain and consider your best friend’s suffering. It’s not the first time we’ve had to make this decision. Twenty years ago it was our geriatric Yorkshire terrier, Sweep, who was so old, he had only a matter of days to live, and like Joe, he was suffering. There are no words to describe the agony of taking that decision. I grumble an awful lot about my general levels of arthritic pain, but those aching joints are nothing at the side of the torture of ordering the death of a wonderful friend like Joe or Sweep.
We returned to the vet’s a couple of hours later, to settle the bills, and arrange for him to be cremated so that his casket can join those of our other dogs in a display cabinet at home. While we were there, Patrick showed us the latest set of X rays. They showed a huge deterioration in Joe’s condition. Both lungs were a mass of white, full of fluid. For some reason, the drugs had been unable to combat the underlying problem, and neither we nor the vet could identify that problem. There was simply no rhyme nor reason for this healthy dog to develop such a destructive disease and succumb to it in less than two months.
Six years ago our beloved Westie, Max, died of a massive heart attack after suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease which is prevalent amongst West Highland Whites. Max never knew what hit him, but we did, and the trauma of losing him was what prompted us to seek out a rescue dog. That dog was Joe.
The dogs’ home told us he was about three years old. Our vet begged to differ. According to their estimates and Joe was closer to five or six, which means he was between eleven and twelve years old now.
We knew nothing about his previous life. He had been found wandering the streets and he was not microchipped. But when we first met him I recognised straight away the makings of a good and faithful companion, a grand dog who would bring a lot of pleasure into our lives, and all he needed in return was love, a safe, secure home, a lot of patience and understanding in the early days, and someone to take care of his feeding, grooming and health. When dogs come into the Robinson household all those requirements are arbitrarily met, and so it was with Joe.
Letting him go is one of the hardest, most painful decisions we’ve ever had to make, but we freed him from his pain. I have a range of videos of Joe, most of them taken when he was fit and healthy. For the vet’s benefit, I also took videos over the last few weeks when he was becoming a really ill. I will archive the later videos. I prefer to remember the real Joe, that cheerful lunatic who gave us so much.
Putting this lengthy post together has been traumatic, but I’m hoping it will also be cathartic. My wife and I are in the deepest throes of grief and depression. We’ve said ‘no more dogs’. We’re too old to go through it all again. We’re flying off to Majorca in less than two weeks for a much-needed break. Already, Carol is talking about another pet; another dog, maybe a cat, perhaps a budgie. It’s tempting, but I’m insisting that we make no decisions until we get back from Majorca towards the end of the month.
In the meantime, our thoughts are centred on the little pal we’ve just lost.
RlP, Joe. We love you and we miss you.