This past week was tough week in the Meakin home; we lost our beloved pet Nestle to degenerative arthritis, heart disease, liver disease, and other complications. I think every animal lover has a pet soul mate, and Nestle was mine. I have always loved Chesapeake Bay retrievers – they are labs on steroids – always-high energy, dedicated, strong willed, and protective – everything I love in a dog. Approximately 8 years ago, Linda had received word from the Clermont Humane Society that there was an adult Chesapeake Bay retriever needing a home. Secretly, the staff of All Creatures tried to hide her in our kennels until Christmas day. Naturally, I found her and began questioning whom she belonged to and commenting what a great dog she was. I took her out and played with her and she immediately respected me as a Chessy lover. I even tried reaching the fictitious owner to see who bred this dog, as I was looking for one. Vague replies from an employees spouse never alerted me of the scheme to surprise me. She was delivered to me on Christmas Eve in a crate in my garage and we even bonded more. The first morning I let her lose on the property and said as a joke – “Nestle go get the paper”, which she promptly did! After a few days I didn’t even have to ask her to retrieve it. For the first few years I wondered if she ever slept because no matter what time I went outside she was awake ready to play, hike, run, or go check on the farm animals. She always ignored our other pets and only paid attention to people, and most of all me. If someone else walked her she was looking for me, she never wanted to leave my side. She was quick to protect the farm from people she did not recognize, but if she had met you before she affectionately greeted you with a stick or tennis ball. When tennis balls were not available, she greeted you with a rock or lump of dirt. If you threw the rock or object, she would find the exact same one no matter where you threw it, sometimes-diving head first under water to retrieve the exact same stone. Her appetite was always excessive; she cleaned up all our family’s leftovers and also savored pig and goat feces, chicken feed, birdseed, cat poop, and horse feed. So whenever she stopped eating, we knew she was sick and would take her to All Creatures.As always, X-rays would reveal the small driveway rocks she could not pass in her stomach and she would have surgery and be fine. After three surgeries, we paved our driveway but still have a small collection of the rocks she had found irresistible. We built her a pond to swim in and year round it was impossible to keep her out of it. Literally everyday, even after surgery, or in winter blizzards she swam in that pond. For 7 years, she was built tough – nothing stopped her or slowed her down.
This last summer she had started to show her age, since we always guessed she was bout 3 when we got her, was probably about 10 hard dog years. She had degenerating arthritis in her spine, hips, and knees and was rising slower and having trouble jumping in and out of the lake. She was still game for pet therapy at the nursing home, or walks in the Amelia or St Patrick’s Day parade but she slept more and I even was able to get in the garage without her standing at the door. However, my car could not come down the driveway without her greeting me with a stick, rock or tennis ball, as she loved to do everyday when I came home.
We have operated a pet hospice at our home for other family members and now Nestle was being admitted. At first she responded to medications for pain, but the effects wore off. I wanted to learn more about helping animals in pain so I visited the Colorado pain clinic this spring and discussed Nestle witha classmate and friend Dr Jamie Gaynor – national expert on animal pain. We changed some things and watched an improvement for a period then, she started with some side effects and with the help of Dr Harris and Dr Rogers, we diagnosed her with liver disease. Medications were increasing – and I really came to appreciate what owners have to do to medicate their pets. Nestle has become resistant to swallowing her pills, and much time every day was needed to care for her. Her monthly bathes became weekly and she often needed help getting up in the morning then would stand all day as her most painful time was getting up and down. Because her will was so strong, she continued to try and retrieve rocks from the pond and probably made herself worse by overdoing her joints daily. She followed us to the creek and would struggle trying to get up and down the embankment, so we would end our hikes early.
For 2-3 months we nursed her at home changing meds and taking her into All Creatures – twice weekly. Then one day she would not get up. She was anemic, and her heart was failing her. Her response to treatment was only temporary and she said her goodbyes to her five siblings and 2 parents and we ended her suffering.
You would think all those years of veterinary school and now 18 years of veterinary practice would prepare me to handle almost any kind of situation with any animal. However, these years of practical experience are only useful when dealing with client’s animals, the truth is many veterinarians admittedly have trouble making medical and objective decisions regarding their own pets. All pet owners struggle with when is the best time for elective euthanasia at one point. I think veterinarians become better veterinarians from facing these issues in their own homes, with their own pets. Nestle did not want to leave her family, if for no other reason than she was worried and concerned for us, and especially me. I am certain her last thoughts were not on her own suffering but who would care for us, who would retrieve our paper, and protect our home. She will be missed but never forgotten.
A Dog’s Plea
“And my friend, when I am old and no longer enjoy good health and sight, do not make heroic efforts to keep me going, I am not having fun. Please see that my trusting life is taken gently. I shall leave this earth knowing with the last breath I draw that my fate was always safest in your hands.”