We’ve had a lot of dogs over the years.  They were “dogs of the world,” who spent their time going around to hearings all over, and living in Delaware and Minnesota.    In the last seven years, we’ve lost four German Shepherds, who died of old age, one quickly with liver failure, the others slow decline over years.

Dogs don’t live nearly long enough.  That’s pretty tough to handle, but death, well, it’s life, and that short dog’s life comes with dogs.  Unexpected accidents and trauma is much harder to handle.  And that happens too often with dogs.

Not long after we moved to the “new” house, and met our neighbor and her dog Stella.  Stella got out into the world a lot, an escape artist, and that’s how she met Alan.  One day he was out working at the bench in the yard, and Stella escaped, and came over and introduced herself.  They became fast friends:

We’d always say hello when she was in the hard, and Alan would often climb up into her yard to make it personal.  When she was being boarded, Alan went to visit her and walk her.  When she’d get loose and we’d hear her name across the back yards, he’d run out and help round her up.  She was an escape artist, and it happened pretty often.  Sometimes it took a while, and she’d come in and visit until her mom got home from work.  I’ve given her a couple of baths because she’d get into doggy perfume up there on the bluff, and clean, she’d be the most welcome house guest.  By us, that is — Sadie wasn’t exactly thrilled!

We’re dogsitting Stella while our neighbor is on vacation, a much deserved trip to Europe. Stella was our friend, and we wanted to take care of her rather than have her sent to doggy jail with the other two dogs.  We got her stuff, got her rabies and vet info, our neighbor’s contact info in Europe (contact might be sketchy), and we were off.  We took her with to Isanti to pick up yet another boat motor, and she got to meet a HUGE friendly shep:

On Tuesday, I took Stella on a day long road trip down to Albert Lea to visit with clients, where we made a couple of stops and she checked out life in the middle of a wind turbine project.  Wednesday, we were home all day, entertained by a housecleaner who was helping on a major kitchen cleaning.  When I went to feed Stella afterwards, I opened the door to the mudroom, where the food is, the outside door was open a crack, and Stella flew past, ran to the door, opened it, and was on her way (she’d gotten loose before with us, even removed her gentle leader from the dog rope!).  I ran out, called for Alan, and we were both out calling for her, as we’ve done so often, and not more than two or three minutes later, I heard a screech and then a dog yelp, and knew…

Alan had been in our neighbor’s back yard, where Stella usually goes after a grand adventure. I was in the side yard between our houses. We got there in seconds, and Stella was sitting on the far side of West.  She’d run out into the street (West has over 4,000 cars daily!), and was hit.  The woman who’d hit her had stopped, she was horrified and shaken, and she came running over, and her daughter came over too.  She called the police.  Stella was sitting quietly, looking “OK” but her back legs were not working.  After a quick assessment, I ran down to get the car, pulled up, and we got her in the back of the car.  The woman she’d run in front of was so concerned, and it wasn’t her fault, and I tried to reassure her, and her daughter, saying that it was all on me, that Stella got out on my watch, that was my fault. There was nothing she could have done differently, and she stopped, did what she could to help (and she was very good in an emergency, maybe it’s her being a mom, she was level and helpful, a take action kind of person).  We used her and her daughter’s phones to get to a local vet and get the number and directions to the emergency vet.  Then we gently moved Stella to the back seat so that Alan could be with her on the way.  I so appreciated her help and both her and her daughter’s calm concern.  After tearful hugs all around, I went back to our house, and we were on the way. (If you’re out there, THANK YOU!!!)

Stella never cried, other than the moment she was hit.  She was conscious, alert (oriented times three?  I didn’t dare ask her who the President was because she might bite!!), panting, not yelping or whining.  On the way to the emergency vet, she was laying on her side, head in Alan’s lap, frequently trying to get up, using her front legs, and Alan kept her calm on the way down to Rochester.

We got there, carefully carried her in, where she was examined, x-rayed, etc., back not broken, but spinal cord damage, she was paralyzed, with deep pain feeling only, there was some connection, but… it was grim.

We weren’t Stella’s owners, and she was on a boat in eastern Europe.  Right the outset, up front, we’d agreed to cover emergency costs, plunked a card down, but they had to check with the manager before they agree to treatment without owner authorization.  WHAT?  This is an emergency!

They did agree to treat her.  She spent the night at the vet, recognized us when we were allowed back to say good night, and she tried to get up. We spent some time with her and then went back home, to return to pick her up at 7:30, when she’d be discharged to our vet.  In the morning, she came out on a gurney, with catheter and IV port, conscious, quietly wanting to get up, raised head, looking around.  We got her in the car and again she rode with Alan calming her, Stella snuggled up against him, contact all the way over to Kenyon.  We definitely wanted a second assessment and opinion from someone we trusted to have the animal’s interest at heart.

Should we have said we were her owners?  Her owner was on the other side of the planet, and could not change the horrible situation, there was nothing she could do.  I had what I think was a good sense of what Stella’s owner would want for treatment, and having worked on so many Living Wills, having had so many old dogs, and dealing with my parents in hospice, I was prepared to make decisions, but had no authority, and we’d not discussed any of this expressly.  We should have.

Sooooooooo, the moral to the story.  Vets don’t want to/can’t treat or euthanize an animal without consent from the owner. If you’re boarding your dog, or if you’re dogsitting, discuss everything about that dog’s care as if you were writing a Living Will, and write it up, include this with your pet’s luggage.  If there’s any chance it will be difficult to reach the owner, like a BWCA trip, or a march along the Great China Wall, consider a power of attorney to make decisions about emergency care for the animal (mindful that animals are regarded as property), with specifications about what situations you’d authorize someone to act, what situations you’d want to be called for, notified about, what if you can’t be reached when an immediate decision must be made, and what you’d rather wait to know about until you got back.  We were able to get through to Stella’s owner fairly easily considering we had to call a German boat in Budapest, who contacted them on a bus on a day trip!  Or maybe the phone/text message did get through or email worked.  Probably all of the above.

For consideration to modify for your pets:

The Minnesota Health Care Directive

Power of Attorney Short Form – Minnesota Attorney General

The realities of life, and of death, really suck sometimes, but it’s important to acknowledge it and deal with it.  I hadn’t really considered the full range of possibilities and responsibilities that come with caring for someone else’s animal, or having someone else care for mine, despite these many years of living with companion animals and taking care of others’ animals.  DOH!  Disaster happened on my watch… with some planning, it would have been a little easier to handle.  And if I’d noticed that the back door was open just a tiny crack… If I’d kept Stella in the kitchen… sigh…

And then there’s the stories about my brother’s dogs, and his birthday… for another day.

One Response to “Dogsitting… responsibility… and loss…”

  1. Alan Muller Says:

    Thanks, Carol, for this writeup….

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