Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Tiniest Steps and the Biggest Hurdles. Savannah's End Of Life Story

I have been talking about Savannah for a long time. She is my 18 year old beagle mix who has been struggling with the affects and burdens of aging for the last few years. I have chronicled her slow decline through a few blogs. For those of you who need a summary; She was a very active, stubborn, food driven, obsessive, loyal, and devoted girl since the day I adopted her from a college student who wasn't allowed to (for very good reasons) have a dog, 17 and three-quarters years ago..

I found her tied behind a small apartment on a make shift leash all by herself at 8 weeks old. The moment I saw her I knew she was ours. She was a very fuzzy beagle looking girl who never talked much but always had deep inquisitive thoughts. She loved being in the country, going on walks in the woods, sleeping on the furniture, and came everywhere with us.

About three years ago she had three strokes over about a 48 hour period. When they happened I was thinking the the writing was on the wall and our days with her were numbered. For about a week she couldn't stand or walk in a straight line. She also had a terrible bought of horizontal nystagmus. Nystagmus is when your eyes move in a rhythmic motion. For Savannah her eyes shuttled back and forth from left to right. It is very concerning to see and makes ambulating incredibly difficult.

After about a week all of the side effects of her strokes went away, except for the head tilt. She to this day keeps her head tilted to the left. So when she walks she circles to the left. It is much like steering a horse. If you pull the bridle to the left the horse turns left. Savannah thinks that she thinks she is walking straight ahead but from the birds eye view she spins like a top and always to the left. Because of her inability to walk in a determined direction she is not allowed anywhere near steps.

Over the past months she has gotten more and more tired. In part it is because she is losing muscle mass and in part because her once voracious appetite is waning. For a beagle (or my pig, I know that this implies the writing on the wall is getting bigger).

I keep her on a leash all the time. She has escorted bathroom breaks. When she wakes up its time to go out. If you don't get to her fast enough you will have to clean up. Her world has shrunk to a small contained easy to clean up area lined with pee pads, free from obstacles, areas to get stuck in, and the puppies to bother her. It is also lined with a baseboard heater so her area is the warmest in the house.

She wants to go outside and she tries to wait long enough for you to show up and carry her, but her ability to know its time to go out is about a minute before she has any ability to do anything about it.

I remind my clients that there is a very good reason they make adult diapers. Someday if you are lucky enough to live long enough to see the day you will be perusing the shopping center aisle finding your own diaper size. Savannah at 18 is about 100 for us. I know none of us want to think about it, but aging is the process of adapting to the things your body can't do any more.

Savannah has a hard time walking on almost all interior surfaces. To promote exercise, help her maintain her precious muscle mass and to keep her mentally stimulated I keep her outside as much as possible.

Feeding her has also gotten more difficult. She has to be on her bed, propped up and have her food right infront of her.

I spend every day offering a wide assortment of foods. These days it is about keeping her eating, moving, and stress free. This entails offering her anything, everything and hoping that I can offer something she will pick at. I rotate between hot dogs, hamburger, crackers, cat food, rice and veggies, dried chicken and/or  beef, pizza, and then whatever else I can think of. (I recommend to my clients any and all canned meats, baby food, whatever, and good luck).

The puppies wonder why she gets the good stuff, and they wait like vultures to clean up the food she spills.

When your time to leave this world grows near those little things we all take for granted everyday, like walking, daily activities, and our abilities shrink to a very small scale.

For Savannah the days are spent sleeping. She has beds everywhere. But where they used to be cushioned elevated dog beds they are now large opened sleeping bags. She can no longer get up into any sort of bed. Her shuffle has no ability to step up, or down.

I get up at least twice a night. It has been this way for months. I often have to get up to change her bed linens, run another load if laundry and give her a foot and butt bath. Its an hour long task most often at 2 am. I am tired. Like really really tired. And for as much as I look forward to that night that I can sleep for eight hours, I am bound to taking care of her at the time she needs me the most, and I am grateful for every last second of every last day (and night) that I have left.

Taking care of her at this stage in her life is a series of little tiny steps. Some of them are steps that we have lost. I will never see her run again. And I will never see her outwit me to sneak into the cats room to steal all of their food. As I look at her I am reminded of the girl she used to be, the companion I am slowly losing in tiny pieces and the inevitable turning of the tides.

But for today I am grateful that after the chicken, the rice, and the cat food that she turned away from, she sat and ate two hot dogs.

If you have any pet questions you can ask me, and a whole bunch of other pet lovers at, or find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice

More stories on Savannah;


  1. I know it's so hard to see your once young pup age and suffer the pain and limitations that it brings. Our dogs Sally & Becca we euthanized due to illness and pain of cancer. Tino was dying of old age, and knowing when it is right in that situation is the hardest. My thoughts are with you.

  2. Each of us who truly love and respect our pets feel the same as you are doing for Savannah. The precious time we have with them is magnified ten fold when the end is nearing. Keeping them comfortable and pain free as best we can, is all important, but letting them know we are still there for them is the deepest need for both of us. When we let them go, it is hard (even as I write this I have tears remembering all my cats, dogs, horses, and wildlife which has blessed my life) to adjust to their passing. The one thing which helps me is a statement I read a long time ago " It is not that they have died, it is that they have lived."

  3. Wow. 18 years old is amazing. I had to say goodbye to our 15 year Beagle this past Spring. It was so hard but for the best. So much of what you described here with Savannah sounds familiar of what we dealt with, except for being picky about eating, he never turned away from any food.

  4. (((Hugs))) to you for your devotion to your precious Savannah. I have walked that particular path several times in the past and find myself, once again, on the first leg of that journey with my precious Shelby.

    I treasure every moment spent with my seniors, and take great pleasure at the little things I can do to keep them happy and comfortable. They have given so much to me over their life and I dread the day that we reach their Journey's end.

    Hugs, kisses & belly rubs to Savannah from my pack.