Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Pet Owner's Blindspot

This is likely going to be lengthy.  There's so much on my mind, and none of it is easy or comfortable.  For those of you that I've sent this link and want the TL: DR version, scroll to the bottom - I'll put it there for you.

As it is, a little bit of explanation of what is bringing this post on.  A couple weeks ago, I had noticed Doctor was acting peculiar.  She was picking at her face, to the point that the fur was being rubbed off.  My first thought was that it was mites, since those are fairly common with mice from what I've read and researched.

So, the next day we took her, Rose, and Kethry to a vet.  Not being sure what was wrong, he prescribed an antibiotic for her, figuring it might be an infection causing the itching and scratching.  For nearly two weeks we fought with her, forcing her to take her medication.  She was getting stronger, but then another symptom became a problem - her tail was becoming rough and ringed.

After a second visit to the vet, and one shot later, we brought her home and moved her into a quarantine tank, with the vet guessing mites are the culprit of the unended itching (as her face had worsened, not improved) and the tail.

Today she was due for a second round of shots for mites.  It isn't going to happen.  I had noticed a few days ago that her tail was getting worse, rather then improving, but we figured we'd bring it up when we brought her in for her shot. Yesterday proved that decision was fucking terrible.  Because her tail was decaying - and to not go into too much detail, we'll just say things weren't looking good, so we dropped everything and raced to get her back to the vet.

As it is, doctors deserve days off.  So the one vet they have that is experienced with mice was out, with only one being there that had knowledge but little to no experience.  So instead, they insisted we take her to a clinic only a short drive away, which we did.

Once they got us in, the vet there weighed Doctor, checked over her tail, felt her all over - and had to leave to do some research.  Even before getting there both of us had realized that her chances weren't looking good, that it was starting to look grim.

The vet came back, and besides the tail being a vascular issue (which is known as ring tail in some places), from what she could feel it felt like Doctor had a tumor, likely the cause of the ring tail to start with.  So we had to make a difficult and terrible choice.

I think it's fairly obviously the choice we made.  We sent her to be with her step-siblings on the other side of the bridge.  And I feel like a terrible wretch.

Right before the second visit, I had done a little research into the tail issue.  I had found online reports about ring tail, with photographs to show the symptoms, and explanations for how it can occur.  While the reason behind it I couldn't understand, the fact the symptoms matched made it seem reasonable to assume that was it.  When we went in for the second visit, however, I never mentioned it, due to the fact that after the tail was pointed out, the vet thought it was mites.  My feeling was to tell him, or at least ask about the possibility, but I ignored it to try to hold some confidence in the vet.

I didn't think it was mites anymore.  We quarantined her and hoped for the best.  And I saw her tail darkening, and knew something was wrong, but waited, hoping that maybe I was just imagining it.  And then yesterday, and my heart broke.  She had just been sitting in her wheel, breathing heavy.  The house was hot, so I had assumed that was the culprit.  I was going to just turn on the AC and leave on my business, but that little voice told me that was the wrong move.  I had to check on her.  And I did, and realized the horrible truth of the situation, and I dropped my medicaid paperwork and our broken frame and any ideas of what to get for the retreat this weekend or the garage sale or anything else, and we went.  And went.  And went.

And I feel so much guilt.  I still can't believe she is gone, that she won't be in the cage, or in the tank with Rose and Kethry.  When I realized it was the end of the road, that had I just listened to that tiny "voice" that said the vet was wrong she might not have had to go more then a week in probably pain and suffering.

That decision, I wasn't prepared for.  When we had decided to adopt Rose and Doctor, then Oreo, then Kethry and Muffin, and finally Stormy, I did a lot of research.  Mouse care, cat care.  Vets in the area, if any.  What is good food, what is bad food.  Any toys they should or shouldn't have?  If I make fake friends, what is material that is bad for mice that I should avoid?  If I give Stormy a little of the extra food from a meal being made, what can he have without making him ill?

Even when I thought I'd thoroughly researched, the one thing I neglected was end-of-life care.  More specifically, the ending of the life.  What euthanize methods are there?  How do they differ?   When it is time? - How do I make that choice?

Even though I adopted all of them, with the knowledge that I was in charge of their life and their care, it never dawned on me that also entailed having their literal life in my words and hands.  That two or three words could take that life away forever.  That at the end of that day, it was no one's choice but mine and Ron's whether they come home alive or "asleep."

It was hard losing Oreo and Muffin the way we did, so suddenly, traumatically, and ambiguously.  This one was different though - Doctor was one of our first mice.  Doctor and Rose were Ron's and my first move toward creating our own little family, even if the 'children' have fur.  And instead of this one being quick, unexpected, and unchangeable, this one was known.  We could have had her tail amputated and brought her home.  Instead, the decision to let her finally rest was made instead, as treating a symptom does nothing for the disease.

And I know I did the right thing.  The vet confirmed her diagnosis after the fact, so I know had I gone the other route, it would not have been long either way, and Doctor would have suffered because of my cowardice and avoidance.  It was in her best interests to do what we did.  But it was so hard - and I don't understand.  I have lived through three amazing dogs being put to sleep, and will likely live through many more.  Yet even so, even seeing the pain it caused my grandparents when they made that choice, having to make it myself put me at a loss.

Someone so small, so fragile, and we had to make the most difficult choice a pet owner has to make for her.  And I hurt, and I'm sad, and feel shattered and angry.  And I worry for Rose, and for the Kethry, that they'll suffer the same fate.  I worry for Stormy, whether he'll be ok as well, even though I know they are fine.

I feel like something changed yesterday.  Like I can never look at our little loves the same way again, like there isn't enough ways to show that we love them unconditionally.  That even when Rose and Kethry pee on me when I take them out of their tank for some exploration and play, that it's gross but ok because I love them.  That even when Stormy scratches my arm when I harass and wrestle him, that's ok too because I love him.  That when they misbehave, bite out of fear, get into something they shouldn't, that I can be angry, but still love them.

I miss Doctor.  I wish she had been able to be with Rose and Kethry before it happened, but it was for the best she was separate, for her and their well being.  I just hope that from this day forward, I can better appreciate their short yet meaningful lives, and not take for granted that a single day can change everything.

And as I promised, here's the TL; DR: We had to put Doctor to Sleep yesterday, and it isn't sitting well with me.  It's hard, and I'm unhappy, but we'll be fine.  I just need a few days to grieve.

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