Before you go any further, just realize this is probably going to be one of the longest blog posts I have ever written about something and as you know, I am already a very wordy person who tends to drone on and on about nothing. Except this time it is about something. If you are a dog lover, this will be a good read for you, but if you are mildly interested in dogs you might think I am a crazy dog lady–sort of like the crazy cat ladies that keep 49 cats in their home and can’t understand why animal control is there raiding the place–well I am not a crazy dog lady but I am an animal lover.
So, print this out, read it on the subway, read it if you need to fall asleep and can’t, read it on the toilet–just realize your computer battery is only good for probably about an hour before it decides to crap out on you. You have been warned. Oh and these pictures aren’t cut off–I cropped them like this on purpose…hard to explain but sometimes all I want to see is a smile or a nose. They were taken one week before he passed away.
When I jetted home from San Diego a few weeks ago it was right after the last mini session and my future sister in law Kelly flew up with me. My brother in law, “Uncle Dave” was already at our house hanging out with my husband and children. Our flight was way late and we didn’t walk into my house until 12:30 am Sunday morning. Bob mentioned to me that Riley threw up the night before and hadn’t been eating. In fact, he was lethargic and sleeping on the stoop of my office all day. My office has a nice round step in front of it and it perfectly held my dog for hanging out when he wanted to be out of the house but not necessarily inside my office. He was next to me, he knew I was there and he listened to the outdoor sounds and enjoyed his shade and solitude. When he was ready to come into my office he would scratch the door with a single sweep of his paw and I would let him in where he would proceed to fall asleep near my chair or in his dog bed I kept nearby.
I managed to get Riley to eat when I came home and he held it down with no incident and seemed pretty good after that. Wednesday came and he wasn’t hungry and seemed off. He had trouble getting up quickly and when we were walking my youngest to school that morning he barely kept up with me. Sure sign there was something wrong. This is a dog that is a step ahead of me usually and I am correcting him all the time to get back to my side and heel like he is supposed to. I noticed his breathing was off too. Deep in the back of my mind and heart I suspected something was wrong. Not just wrong. I had a strong feeling he might have cancer. He was 9–he was getting up there in age and both his parents suffered and succumbed to cancer at the ages 8 and 9. Brought him in and they x-rayed. The vet came back and told me he had a swollen heart sack—fluid causing it to swell—and fluid in his chest and abdomen. Usually that is a sign of cancer. My heart sank. I called his breeder, Laura who immediately came down to the vet to hang out with me and hear the rest. Laura is a kind, wonderful person—you have seen her puppies featured on my blog—I have known her for a long time and trust her knowledge and experience raising, breeding and caring for dogs. Our last Golden, Paddy had spleen cancer and I remember 4 years ago all too well. Ultrasound came next. Riley’s spleen and lungs were fine. His heart however wasn’t. They located a cancer tumor on his heart. My world came crashing down. I knew he was going to leave me—but no one knows how long they stick around.
So, the vet drained the fluid around his heart. I am thinking it’s called a pericardial tap or something, but they also drained the other fluids from his system. Remarkably he was better again and eating and acting like himself the next day. He continued to act like his old self for the next 9 days. We played, he ate well, and we walked Dante to school and picked him up from school. We went to the Halloween parade at school and he was a darling Dorothy. I had my baby back and felt like I might have him for at least a few months.
On Friday the 7th of November I was scheduled to do all day mini sessions at Blue Sky in San Francisco. I woke up around 5 am and smelled something odd. I got out of bed and usually when I step down there is a curled up dog at my feet that I step on as his bed is next to my side of the bed. It was empty and I knew something was wrong since he doesn’t get up from sleep unless he has to go out and then he’s poking me and panting with a happy “heh heh heh”.
I walked into our living room and in the semi darkness I could see Riley lying on the floor near the area rug that separates our two facing couches. Thump, thump, thump his tail wagged on the floor when he saw me walk in. He didn’t move though. Here comes the TMI… All over the area rug was more poop than I ever care to see again in my lifetime. Ugh–so much and not normal for what a dog eliminates. I knew instantly he had experienced a seizure based on the volumes, consistency and horrific odor. He pretty much had hit all parts of this 6 foot plus long rug. No amount of Resolve carpet cleaner or any carpet cleaner for that matter could fix the amount damage that was done. It was ruined. And this is the funniest part ( yeah, it gets funny despite this tragic moment when I realize this day is the day) which I think Riley had a part in this destruction of the rug. Why? Because I absolutely hate the frickin’ rug. I always have. I hope my husband’s grandmother isn’t reading this (she doesn’t do the internet so I doubt she will) because she’s a generous, loving, kind, 90 year old woman but I was glad if he was going to mess up something it was that rug. It’s unattractive and doesn’t really go with our style, but she gave it to us when we put hardwood down in the house. My dog has a sense of humor—he could have picked anywhere in the house to have his seizure and shit fest—so many easy floors to clean up from with the exception of the dining room area which has brand new carpeting—he loses control on the area rug. In my heart I know he was doing me a service and helping me get rid of something I really didn’t like and didn’t want in the first place between my couches. I assume some other Biasotti family member will read this and know the truth so please don’t tell Mae that I have always hated her rug she gave us and that my dog thought of me in his time of crisis.
I tried to get Riley up. His tail wagged a bit still but he wouldn’t budge. Tried to get him to stand and he collapsed right back down. The tail wasn’t wagging anymore. I called out to Bob and told him what was going on. Bob got Riley to get up and walk through our kitchen into the garage where we had his food, water and a big pillow he sometimes slept on when we were not at home. He made it down the step and just dropped to the floor. I retrieved his dog bed from my bedroom and put him on that instead of just laying on the cold garage floor. I quickly cleaned up the mess in the living room and removed the area rug. So I hated the rug but a few flashbacks entered my mind about that horrible ugly rug. Many a morning I would wake up and sit on the floor on top of that ugly rug with my back against the couch, rubbing my eyes to wake up and just think about the day coming up. Riley would come trotting in when he knew I was up and trot forcefully into my face where I would be expected to pet him, scratch his ears and love him up until he had to turn around and plunk himself down next to me. Always had to sit as close to me as he could. That rug also was the scene where we would play and roughhouse. We had a game where I would pat his face with each hand on the sides and he would turn and pretend to nip them. I don’t know how to explain it—his mouth would be open and I would keep moving my hands and alternating them on each side and he would turn and try and catch them but he wasn’t biting me but you would think he was if you were the average person walking by. Sometimes I would let him catch my hand in his mouth and he would hold it gently between his teeth as if I was his captured toy. He NEVER bit me or tried to bite me—he knew it was a game and played along and I even would say something like “gentle” to him and he would immediately lick the hand or release it. He didn’t play this with anyone else that I know of except maybe Kyle tried this game with him and I am sure he did the same thing with Kyle. Kyle would wrestle with Riley there too. Damn rug. So ugly yet used for so many Riley moments.
So here I had a full day of mini sessions ahead of me in San Francisco. I felt like the world’s worst pet owner in the world as I left my house. I told Bob to keep the poor boy comfortable while I headed to the city. I must have talked to several people while I waited to get on to the Bay Bridge and finally was convinced by everyone I spoke with that it’s okay to cancel and reschedule. I contacted all my afternoon clients and did that. I got through the morning in a daze and tried contacting a visiting vet who would come to your home and take care of the inevitable. Ironically the one I contacted was booked solid that day. So I called my own vet and made an appointment to bring Riley in that afternoon. It was something I didn’t want to do—not because I couldn’t make the choice to euthanize but because I hate having my dog have to go through the process of getting in the car to never return home and see some sterile unfamiliar place as he shuts his eyes for the last time. I called Bob several times and kept asking how he was doing and he told me the same. Wouldn’t take water that Bob tried to squirt into his mouth with a medicine dropper. I even went as far as to ask Bob if he was still alive and if he was just saying things to not make me feel bad that I had already lost him. Bob insisted he was telling me the truth and I told him to keep him comfortable until I got home to be with him.
I must have made it home around noon. I popped up the garage door as I was coming home and parked in the driveway. With the garage door up I ran up to him and he was still there, off the bed I tried to get him to lay in. He wiggled around enough to change his positions and didn’t seem to want anything but the cold floor to lie on. I hugged him and cried. I had over an hour and half to just be with him until I would have to drive him to the vet. When Bob would open the door and come in every few minutes to check him, Riley’s eyes would look up at him. Around 12:40 pm I started talking to him and put my face next to his. I had no idea if he could really see or hear me but I just talked. I sat up and watched his irregular, labored breathing and took his left paw in my hand and held it. With the other hand I stroked his ears and said over and over “It’s okay. It’s okay.” At the time I didn’t realize it but I had just given him a release word. “Okay” is something said when waiting for food, ending a stay, waiting to jump up on to something. I would put food down and tell him “wait”. He would wait. I would say “okay” and he would then eat. So, after saying over and over “It’s okay, it’s okay” my Riley maybe moaned once and slowed down his breathing and basically died around 12:45 pm. I am glad I was with him during his last moments.
It’s still very surreal to me to have lost him. I still expect to find him on the floor of my office at my feet while I work on the computer. I still expect to wake up in the morning and put my feet on the floor to get up and gently brush past his sleeping body as I get up for the day. I still expect to see him get all excited and crazy when it’s time to walk to school to drop off or pick up Dante. I miss practicing our obedience exercises—his heeling by my side, the recalls, the sits and downs without breaking. I never completed the process to put a CD on him in the obedience ring. We never finished our agility training or entered agility competitions. We never completed even getting a CGC so that he could do therapy work. I put a lot of these things off and yet he was the greatest comfort I could ever ask for in a dog. I miss him stealing food off the dining room table and the kitchen counter. I even miss his stupid gas. Well. Maybe not but I miss the dog passing the stupid gas.
So, the dog photographer is without a dog right now. First time in 16 years my house has no animals. I know someday we will have another dog in our house but not anytime soon. I will just have to enjoy all the other dogs out there that belong to everyone else.
To all my friends and family that have reached out to comfort me during this time of sadness I thank you for your support and understanding. People have been so kind and have reached out and expressed their sympathy.
Late in the afternoon of Riley’s death, Bob and I took our sons for a drive in the Oakland Hills because I wanted to check out a location I was shooting at for the upcoming weekend. It would be a time to just get out of the house, away from the home Riley lived his life for 9 short years and the home where he died. I think we were coming down Skyline Blvd. as the sun was setting for the day. The San Francisco Bay was clear and calm. You could see forever across the bay and you could see the Peninsula, Marin, the bridges and understand why we live in such a beautiful part of the country. It was a gorgeous sunset and I noticed it right off.
That sunset the night of his death—that beautiful reddish orange sky overlooking the San Francisco Bay—I know that was him leaving this earth with beauty and grace.