Losing a Pet After a Golden Summer

Saying goodbye to a beloved golden girl, Millie

Posted in , Sep 10, 2015

Edward Grinnan and his beloved golden retriever, Millie.

The heart breaks slowly sometimes. I guess mine started to last April sitting with Millie in our vet’s office. Millie had had her spleen removed the week before, and Dr. Maddie needed to check out how the incision was healing. She also had the results from the biopsy.

I was tapping my foot nervously. Millie was wagging her tail. She liked going to the vet.

“She’s healing nicely but I’m afraid the biopsy results were not good. It’s cancer.”

Hemangiosarcoma, to be exact, all too common in Goldens and deadly. And not very treatable.

“How long?” It sounded like somebody else’s voice asking the question, someone in another room, not me. 

“Three to six months typically. I’m so sorry.”

And she was. She’d put her own beloved Lab down not long ago. It’s no easier for a vet. It’s not easy for anyone.

Julee and I opted to put Millie on an herbal regimen, a peptide derived from an Asian mushroom that was in clinical trials at the University of Pennsylvania. I started ordering the stuff like crazy. And I asked all of you for prayers. Your response was phenomenal. Throughout the summer you prayed, and Millie stayed strong. We hiked all over the Berkshires and sat outside at night.  

Edward Grinnan and his golden retriever, Millie.All summer Julee stayed up at the house with Millie while I took the train up from Manhattan for long weekends. One evening a couple weeks ago Julee called me at work.

“Millie’s outside lying in the grass. She won’t come in. She wouldn’t eat. I think she wants to die. You’ve got to come. I know she’s waiting for you.”

I rushed to Penn Station. I had been planning to come up the next day anyway so I switched my ticket and barely caught the last train out. All the way up I stared out the window at the Hudson River, a rolling ghost in the night, praying for Millie to hang on.

I took a cab from the Hudson station so Julee wouldn’t have to leave Millie to pick me up. Fifty-five minutes later, a bit past one in the morning, I was in our driveway. A second after that I heard one of the sweetest sounds I know. A bark from the dark. Not her usual big bark that echoed off the hills like a cannon shot. It was soft and welcoming.

I ran up and found her in her favorite spot where she had a good view of her surroundings. She stood and came to me. Happy as always to see me but happy in a different way, I sensed. Relieved more than joyous.

Julee and I dug out some herbal anti-bleeding medication we used when her spleen was rupturing from the tumor and gave Millie a double dose. We all slept together on the first floor so Millie wouldn’t have to deal with the steps. In the morning she was much better. She wolfed down her breakfast. Her bark was like a cannon announcing the new day to the hills. The medicine had worked. And that wasn’t good news. Almost certainly a new tumor had formed.

We went through the motions at the vet’s: X-ray, ultrasound. With Dr. June this time. She put the images up on the light box. She didn’t even have to show me. I saw an egg-sized shadow in Millie’s stomach, like an incubating demon, and I felt anger—no, hate—rear up within me. I wanted to smash my fist through the light box.

At that moment I hated cancer more than anything I had ever hated. Instead, I took Julee’s hand and dropped my head in despair and defeat. We had done everything for this dog since the time she was a puppy. For eight blessed years we had loved her as much as any dog had ever been loved. But we couldn’t save her.   

The medicine would work for a while, but probably not long. Dr. June apologized for not being able to be any more specific. But she was clear there was nothing left to do except the kindest—and hardest—thing when the time came.

It came quickly. I was back up at the house the following Thursday night, Labor Day weekend. Millie was peppy, practically bratty. In the morning we hiked her favorite part of the Appalachian Trail. I talked to her the whole time. Told her what a blessing she had been to us. I told her it was all right if she was ready. She didn’t have to hang on for us. Dogs will do that, you know. I pulled her to my chest and promised her we would be all right.     

That night she wouldn’t eat. She was weak, this big strong girl. She was bleeding internally, slowly. Nothing was going to stop it. She went down to the end of the yard and lay in the grass. I followed and lay down next to her. We stayed that way for a long time.

I stared up at the deep sapphire sky. The moon was waning but the starlight was absolutely lucid, light poking through from heaven. I planned to just sleep out there all night but eventually Millie rallied, and we walked slowly back up the hill to the house.

In the morning Dr. Maddie came out. We laid a blanket on the grass at Millie’s spot, where she always waited for me, where she waited for me that night a week before. She was very tired. Julee and I lay by her head. It was a beautiful, God-given morning.

We said we were ready though really we would never be. Dr. Maddie gave her the shot. Millie’s eyes half closed, and she took one final gentle breath. Yes, the heart breaks slowly.

I want to thank you all so very much for your love and your prayers. I believe you gave us these extra blessed months with our Golden girl. Millie will always live on in my heart. But I know that somewhere there is another dog who lives to be loved.

Photo at right: The day after Millie passed, Edward set afloat a clipping of her fur on her favorite mountain stream. "Immediately it took the shape of angel wings," he says.

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