My little Maltese, Stitch R.I.P. 4/47/2015 at 5:01 p.m. EST

Always good at commandeering a warm spot: whether a bed or a blanket
Always good at commandeering a warm spot: whether a bed or a blanket

I guess it’s fair that since I carried you into the house, I would have to be the one to carry you out. I really thought you were coming home last Monday – you had survived so much longer than all the dogs we knew (either born the same year or brought home in the first half of 2004) and I hadn’t prepared for anything other than that. I know you hated the vet’s office but I was *so* worried you were unable to convey the pain that you were feeling, whereas in the past, you had always been capable of making your intentions and feelings known. Even though your farts were really pungent for at least 3 nights and your old man snoring becoming more deafening, I snapped out of my sleep because I picked up the uncanny silence. You were panting hard and it sounded like it was coming from the inside of my own chest. I scrambled to look for you and you were hiding behind my glider – something you have never done. I tried to coax you out and you weren’t willing to comply, which was another red flag, since you had never refused morning scratches and hugs in all your 11 years.

After some time, I was able to maneuver you into a wide enough space so that I could look you over, I saw poop squished against your tail and some hairs around your butt. You were snarl-and-biting angry if I touched your distended belly, and I panicked from the thought that your bowels could be impacted from not being able to defecate. I first tried giving you a bath to remove the poopy hair, thinking you just needed to release gas but the entire time you paced around the tub and wouldn’t let me pick you up to dry you off even when I was done and you wanted out. Once I bundled you into the towels and set you on the floor, that’s when I noticed you were walking with your left hip off to the side, like a broken capital “L”, and you kept slipping face forward/falling onto your chest. You weren’t whimpering or crying out from pain, but you also weren’t letting mom or I pet you. The panting hadn’t ceased the way it normally did – it took nearly three to get you calm enough so that you could settle down and breathe easier. I put ice packs near you and it seemed to help. I then dozed off because I didn’t fall asleep until after sunrise that day.

I was jolted out of sleep by the quickened pace of your breathing.  I found you once more hiding behind the glider, but this time you let out a whimper for help. I’ve read and heard it said that animals know when they’re dying so they often wander off to find a secluded area or burrow under something to die. I raced to prepare you and me for the ride to the vet in hopes of stopping that from happening. It always broke my heart to see your fear of the vet and it’s always been a last resource because it can take almost a full day and night to calm you down when we returned home. I can’t forget the look on your face as I had to let the vet tech take you away for x-rays and sedation: the desperation against separation. One of the most endearing and satisfying qualities of the Maltese breed is the loyalty and need the Maltese has to be part of the pack – to always be part of its human family and to always be near at least one member night and day. It’s amazing how well you’ve fought off medical sedation every time it’s been needed (which is to say, every time you saw the vet) and the sheer amount of the medication required just to stop you from biting (and your bites hurt like a bigger dog’s would: always bruising, always drawing blood and often spraining fingers).

After two hours, I was finally able to see the X-rays showing not a bowel obstruction, but a large mass shadowing your lung and pressing on your trachea from the left side. Your vet didn’t want to give up on you even though you were already 11 years old, 77 in canine years and was requesting that I sign release papers to send you to their larger and better equipped hospital about 10 minutes away because there were very little options other than incubating you while running further analysis on what exactly the mass was made of and seeing if it could be removed. I stepped outside for a moment to call the alpha you were most loyal to: mom. I wasn’t out there for all of two minutes when the vet came rushing out and I knew it couldn’t be good. Your temperature spiked and your heart was giving out; I blame myself for stepping away and making you think I left so you stopped fighting against the inevitable. Mercy is a funny thing when it comes to those you love; one act may only serve to transfer suffering to another. You were suffering and trying a last ditch effort of surgery for the insertion of a tracheal stent would have been more cruel. There was a big chance the surgery wouldn’t work; the vets were very honest that often times they see the stent move or travel, causing more pain or puncturing organs. The pet languishes in recovery that can take three weeks or more depending on potential infections in the stitches or other factors. Your vet wanted as much as we that you should live, but not like that and we did not either. I didn’t want your last moments to involve staying in a place you feared, being away from those you loved and who ferociously loved you back, cut open without comfort, bleeding and dying without knowing where we were, perhaps even thinking you were abandoned to die. I hope you know you were the bright spot in our family and the “glue” holding it together as Jade and I transitioned onto another chapter of our lives while our parents tried to adjust to an empty nest: there was no chance in hell that you would ever be ditched anywhere all alone! Oh God, I really thought you would make it to 20 years old; however, I also promised you a life free from pain and want – on Monday, I was called upon to keep that promise. It was absolutely soul crushing to make the decision anyway – I would have given a lung or kidney to ensure you continued to live and live in absolute comfort.

Thank you for holding on as long as you did so that Jade and Mom had the chance to love on you and say goodbye. It was absolutely amazing, knowing that you were still cognizant of your surroundings even with all that dope in your system. If my heart hadn’t been in the process of being ripped apart by hot pliers in the slowest manner possible, it would have burst with pride seeing the same strong independence, vitality and determination you have exhibited all your life: your way or no way. It’s no wonder everyone who‘s ever encountered you has entreated in some manner to befriend you, love on you. Like a little boy stuck in a dog’s body (or sometimes a cat stuck in one with the way you detested the rain OR a bath), everyone recognized your uniqueness and your beauty. If a Rainbow Bridge truly does exist, I hope Hercules keeps you company until we meet again. I miss you. I miss the way you smelled, the weight and warmth of your little body in my arms, I miss your playfulness and even your barking (to this day, people comment on how deep and strong it was; unlike other toy breeds, you didn’t yap, you *barked* and if you were sight unseen, strangers always thought you were at least the size of a collie or bigger). You’ve always been too smart for your own good with your ability to follow a conversation in English or Chinese so I’m relying on that same intelligence to hear and understand all the words I haven’t and could not have said: all the aches in my heart attached to happier feelings. I love you, my little man, please forgive me for signing on that dotted line because I can’t do it for me. You were one of the most precious treasures I’ve ever had the fortune to hold and keep.