It is with a very heavy heart that I share the news of the passing of our 12½ year old dog Morgan.
People throw superlatives carelessly these days, “the world’s best dad”, “the best movie of the year”, etc., but if Morgan was not the World’s Best Dog she has to be considered a serious candidate. I want to write some memories of Morgan, but this is a blog entry I’ve dreaded writing for a long time. These feelings stem not from the expectation of the inevitable passing of an elderly pet, but rather from the fear that I will lack the words to adequately capture her spirit. Hopefully those who knew her will remember her better and those who didn’t will get a sense of who she was.
Everyone who met her not only liked her, but was compelled to comment on her cheery disposition. One example for you. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with a cancerous growth in her leg. We took her to the CSU Veterinary Oncology Clinic in Ft. Collins, which is the largest facility of its kind in the region. She received radiation treatment which was to be followed by surgery. We arranged to have the surgery done the day we were leaving on vacation, so following the procedure she could spend time at a boarding and rehabilitation facility near the hospital. When the day of surgery and our departure arrived, we received a call from the surgeon. The radiation treatment had been so successful that surgery was no longer needed. The surgeon did have one request, however. He knew we were going out of town, but rather than sending her to the boarding facility he wondered if we would let Morgan spend the week hanging out with him and his staff in the clinic while we were gone. No charge. So for the next week, Morgan got to help the techs track down lost pipettes and cheer up other patients with tug-of-war.
Her spirit was indomitable, only yielding to her Marine-like discipline. She would play fetch until she was at the point of collapse. If we were out hiking, she would (no exaggeration) rip branches off trees and drop them at our feet in the hopes of a game of fetch.
But at any time, with a simply spoken “all done”, she would immediately drop her toy and find something else to do. She loved company, and was known to jump our 6 foot fence just to be with us in the front yard. She could have jumped it any time of day, but the thought of running away never occurred to her. More than once, she jumped the fence thinking we were out front, and we returned home only to find her napping on the front porch.
She was also smart; scary smart. I recall one day in particular involving Tasha, our older dog at the time.
Tasha had lost much of her hearing by that point and would look to Morgan for cues of when someone was at the door, when we were home, when dinner was ready, etc. One day, Tasha was asleep on the only dog bed in the living room. It was clear that Morgan wanted to lie on it, and kept pacing back and forth, staring at Tasha. After about 5-10 minutes, Morgan suddenly stopped and ran barking to the front door . Tasha snapped awake, and leapt into action to join Morgan in the hallway. As soon as Tasha had reached the front door, Morgan immediately turned around, trotted to the now vacant dog bed, curled up and fell asleep. I kept an extra wary eye on Morgan after that.
She loved activity when she was younger. She loved to swim, and she loved to run. A few years ago, when Julie was training for a marathon, she would run up to 12 miles some days. On one day, when Julie was attacking an 18 mile training run, she dropped Morgan back at home at the halfway point thinking 18 miles might be too much for her. You’d think Morgan was being left at an orphanage from her reaction.
As Morgan aged, she began to develop severe arthritis. Her drive for playing needed to be managed more carefully for she would play until she couldn’t walk if left to her own devices. Gradually, she learned to appreciate the slower aspects of life. Tummy rubs, something she chalked up as a waste of valuable playing time as a youth, became much more favored. Fetch turned to hide-and-seek, and she would trot all over the house searching for a particular toy we might have hidden.
She was a loving older sister to our younger dog Maggie, and showed great patience when Maggie was at her puppiest. She taught Maggie how to be a dog; how to use the dog door, how to open a food bin with your nose and how to take a corner on hardwood floors at maximum speed.
About eighteen months ago, however, the skin on her irradiated forelimb started to break down. It had become significantly weakened, and even a slight bump could open a sore that would take months to heal. She spent much of the last two summers at the vet’s every other day to have her wounds cleaned and have her bandages changed. Throughout almost all of this, however, she was still as happy as ever.
In the last two months, though, the constant medical handling seemed to take its toll. She started to hide when it came time to drive to the vet. Her walking became worse, and her pain level increased. The last two weeks brought an intermittent lack of mobility and an almost total loss of appetite. We changed her arthritis medication, and that seemed to bring some relief, but we knew we could not let her suffer for much longer. Finally, after a life of surviving her original cancer, horrible arthritis and one week with a MRSA (one of those resistant superbugs that caused her to spend a week in quarantine), she was diagnosed with a hemagiosarcoma, a very aggressive cancer that is tragically common in dogs. She was at the vet on Tuesday for her routine bandage change, when the techs noticed that she was having a very difficult time breathing. A quick blood test revealed she was critically anemic, which led to her final diagnosis. These types of cancers grow largely undetected until the dog shows clinical signs of distress as was the case with Morgan. By that time, however, they are almost untreatable. We had two options:1) authorize her to be admitted to the ICU for a blood transfusion and surgery to remove the suspected tumor with very little hope of saving her, or 2) decide to end her pain and put her to sleep. We decided for option 2.
I left work and picked Morgan up from the vet for the last time. She passed away at home surrounded by her parents, her younger sister Maggie and the triplets. Maggie slept through most of the procedure, just as Morgan had done when Tasha passed, and she seems to have taken it well. Meanwhile, Madison chit-chatted with the vet, Chloe tried to do summersaults off the couch and Noah became obsessed with grabbing my glasses. Morgan died in the same environment in which she lived.
We’ll miss Morgan tremendously, and we are thankful for every moment we had with her. Her spirit lifted ours when we needed cheering, and thanks to her prolific shedding she will be with us forever. Thanks to our friends and family who supported us throughout and helped transport Morgan back and forth to the hospital when the challenges of triplets took priority. Special thanks also to the staff at VCA Alameda East Animal Hospital, who showed unexpected care for what could have been just another patient. There was not a weekend, evening or holiday when Dr. Allevato was not available to see Morgan, and we’d like to thank her in particular.