Thursday, February 17, 2011

"And death shall have no dominion" - a tribute for Etta

How can such a small creature who I only knew for three months make such an impact on so many lives?

Etta bug, as we called her, died in my arms on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - just two days shy of her three month birthday. Etta began having health problems from an early age when, at only four weeks old, she went into acute respiratory distress.

Etta at four weeks of age, right before she ended up in the hospital

She was diagnosed with aspirate pneumonia and, after intubation, x-rays, oxygen and a fight for her life overnight in the hospital, she was sent home on a course of antibiotics. She refused to eat at first, but I patiently fed her formula from a medicine dropper. And, after awhile, she gained strength and blossomed. She was happy and everyone in the house loved Etta.....even Lucy, our other "runt" who we nursed through a traumatic puppy-hood.

Sophie and Etta

Etta and Lucy

Chris developed a very special bond with Etta. He is always very warm, and through the rough winter we've had this year, Etta was fond of perching on top of him, probably in an effort to keep warm.

Etta was spoiled too. We often slept with her. She had quite a personality.

She scurried around her brothers like a little bug, thwarting their best efforts to tackle her with grace.

Etta thwarting her brothers, Coltrane and Miles

Through the holidays, we thought she was doing well. Our vet remarked about what a fighter she was. She had breathing episodes that went unexplained though - breathing episodes that turned her tongue blue and left her ribs retracting in a fierce struggle for air.

It was definitely concerning.

And slowly, she began to grow extremely thin. She coughed, and often regurgitated food. We searched in vain to find answers as to why she was so frail and sickly.

This photo shows her resting in my bed about a week before her death.

She began sleeping a lot, and looked emaciated. At the same time, her brothers, Brubeck and Thelonious, began showing the same symptoms, as well as Dinah, her sister who now lives with my friend and fellow musher, Audrey. Several hundred dollars in vet bills later, we still searched for reasons why.

On Tuesday, I came home from work to the excitement of puppies greeting me. Etta learned quickly that with excitement came a breathing episode that sent her gasping for air. Before long, she collapsed under the dining room table. I picked her up and tried doing CPR on her. I worked on her for ten minutes, but it was futile.

I watched her beautiful blue eyes dilate and freeze in a vacant stare that I now cannot get out of my head. I felt so helpless. I wailed.

It has taken me nearly a week to even write about Etta's death. Somehow writing this feels like saying good bye. I wasn't ready to say good bye, until now.

I called my vet to report her passing. Chris pulled in the driveway to find me standing with her limp body. I agreed immediately to have a necropsy done by my vet to see if we could find the answers we needed to save the other puppies' lives.

At the time of this writing, I am still waiting for the necropsy report. But my vet confirmed the diagnosis of megaesophagus, as well as a "thickened" pancreas, and suspicious areas on her lungs - probably more pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a common "side effect" of megaesophagus because the food does not digest; rather, it sits in the esophagus, and any activity or excitement almost immediately causes expulsion of the food, which can then become aspirated.

Etta brought so much joy to us in her short life. Her blue eyes and beautiful white coat made her look like a small lamb rather than a puppy.

I do not know if dogs can feel "love" as we can, but I'd like to believe Etta did love us. She greeted us every morning, as she greeted the day: with excitement, optimism and enthusiasm.

Though I only shared three months with you, Etta bug, I will never forget you. I think about you every day, and love you more than I can express. The pain of losing a dog is one many can relate to. The pain of losing such a fearless and affectionate baby, though, is a pain I don't want to repeat any time soon.

We love you very much, Etta bug.

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