Exploring Oregon 2009

Exploring Oregon 2009

Sunday, August 28, 2011


This is not a warm, fuzzy post.  It is not witty or fun or light hearted, but is coming from my devastated and grieving heart.  It is my attempt to console myself by pouring my thoughts and feelings out in hope that it lightens this burden on my soul.  This is me, doing what I can to cope with the unpleasantries of life.

One week ago yesterday Jason and I had to put our beloved Cameo down.  She was a difficult dog, but there wasn't an unloving or disloyal bone in her old, frail body.  She loved my husband almost to a fault, as it would drive him crazy at times when she would get up to follow him around the house when he was only walking from the couch to the refrigerator and back to refill a glass of water.  Or when he would be laying on the couch watching a movie, and she would sit on the floor next to him, staring at him and panting with that unbelievable foul breath of hers.  Don't get me wrong, my husband loved this dog and did more for her than most would tolerate, but she was a rescue dog with a past that made her fairly neurotic and generally uneasy.

Jason and I came to Bend, Oregon in the summer of 2006.  Jason had just graduated and had a job offer with a very promising company working in renewable energy.  I had one year of grad school remaining and had managed to land an internship with an architecture firm for the summer.  Other than the handful of interviews that Jason had come over for, neither or us had much knowledge of Bend, but from what I had read, it seemed like a wonderful, up-and-coming place.  We ended up renting a house in what we would come to learn was the armpit of town.  The location was sketchy at best and was only about a block and a half away from where the train tracks crossed a very busy road.  Nothing like being awoken at 2am to the sound of the crossing arms coming down across the road, "Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!" followed by the sound of the train's whistle blasting "WHOOOOOOO-WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" and finally the screeching metal and clanging of the train barreling down the tracks.  And yet, even in this less than ideal living situation, we fell in love with Bend, Oregon.  We were there for less than 2 months when we realized this is where we wanted to be and we started searching for a home of our own (away from the tracks).

We put an offer in just before I was headed back to school for the fall, which was accepted.  The closing process was quick and painless and Jason got the keys to our new home at the end of September.  He moved in with his two friends, Ricky and Jordan, who planned to live with him and help with the mortgage until I moved back out to Bend for good in May.  Jason was barely in the house for a month when I got the news that he had adopted a dog.  At first I was a little angry that he had made the decision to get a dog without consulting with me.  Not that I would have objected to a dog as I love them, but just that he got one without me, that he didn't wait until I had finished school and moved in so that we could get one together.  He was so happy to have a dog, that I couldn't be mad for long.  I knew he had been wanting one for some time, but being in school just wasn't conducive to caring for a dog.

He told me her name was Cameo and that she was found roaming in a field somewhere and was brought to a rescue organization.  She was a red heeler and they were guessing that she was around 2 years old.  She wasn't fond of strangers or other dogs and she spooked at loud noises and fast movements.  Her complexes could only be summed up to the result of years of abuse.  It broke my heart to see how she would cower and run when I picked up a broom to sweep.  She loved treats but never really took to chewing on raw hide or bones.  She was really good on a leash, but didn't understand the concept of playing such as fetching a ball or tugging on a rope.  Despite our best efforts to socialize her and teach her to play, she was most content just walking with Jason or simply being by his side.

It became apparent after a couple years that the original estimation of her being 2 years old when Jason got her was off by a few years.  We used to take her hiking and backpacking with us, but we started to notice her slowing down, and on one particular three mile hike to a lake, she would actually stop altogether when she found some shade to lie in and would simply refuse to move until she regained her energy.  From then on we limited her exercise to daily walks in the park down the street from our house.

A year or so later while Jason was out of town for work, I was taking Cameo for one of her walks in the park when she started stumbling and not quite picking up her feet.  She looked like what I would imagine a drunk dog would look like walking home after a Friday night bender.  She began panting and collapsed at one point.  I didn't know what was going on, but I sat with her in the park until she had the energy to get up and make our way home.  She stumbled her way back to the house and ran into the gate before I could open it, like she didn't even see it there.  I knew something pretty serious was wrong at this point.

After about 5 minutes of her stumbling and pacing through the house, she laid down and passed out for a good while.  When she awoke, she was back to her normal self.  The next day I was nervous walking her, and saw signs of her starting to stumble again, so immediately cut the walk short and we went home.  Again she paced around the house in her clumsy way, often walking right into a corner, or trying to walk under a chair before she would change direction.  After 10 minutes she again fell asleep and woke up fine.  The following day, we cut her walk short and she was fine.  At this point, I thought that perhaps something was sprayed at the far side of the park for weeds that was causing her to have these mini seizures as she only seemed to have them when we walked to that part of the park.

For a time, we stopped walking there and she was fine, until we were visiting Jason's parents and she started stumbling down the road while we were out for a walk.  We realized then that there was something wrong with her, and it wasn't any sort of pesticide that was causing this.  Jason took her to the vet, and after a series of tests and blood work, it was determined that she was hypoglycemic, meaning that her blood sugar would drop, causing the seizures.  We changed her diet, so that she was being fed high quality, special food throughout the day to keep her blood sugar even, and we reduced her exercise to a couple small walks per day.  This worked for a while, until she decided to stop eating.  We tried changing her food, mixing cookies into it and other treats, as well as canned food.  She would be interested in the change in food briefly, but would soon be over it and wanted nothing to do with it.  This brought on more seizures.  Jason talked to the vet again, and they put her on medication for her condition.  This increased her appetite and stopped the seizures.  It was a miraculous drug.

Everything seemed to be going well for some time, until she suddenly, and out of nowhere had a Grand Mal seizure.  This was scary, as she was on the ground kicking, twitching and snapping while foaming at the mouth.  It lasted for a couple minutes before she snapped out of it and would do her pace around the house routine before laying down and sleeping it all off.  Over the years, this started happening more and more frequently as her general health, hearing and sight degraded and we came to the conclusion that yet again, she was probably a lot older than we were previously assuming.

The vet was at a loss as to why she was having these Grand Mal seizures and said that more testing would need to be done until they could find a the cause, at which point, surgery would probably be needed.  Being at the age and health that she was, we knew we could not put Cameo through surgery, and since she seemed to be fine and happy and only having the seizures once every 4-8 weeks, we turned down the additional testing.

Every so often, Cameo would go through some hard times where she would have multiple seizures in a day, and I would think, "How on earth is this dog surviving this?"  But she would bounce back every time and be fine again for weeks, falling right back into her regular routine of eating, sleeping, licking her paws (and the carpet) and following Jason around like his shadow. 

Watching her health degrade so much over such a short period of time was devastating.  When Jason first got her, we thought we would have a good ten years with her, but we knew in this last year that our time was running out.  We were aware that she wasn't going to be around much longer, and every time she had a seizure I would think "This is it.  Her little heart is just going to give out,"  but it never did.  She was a fighter and it was clear that she wasn't ready to be done with life.  No sooner would I think that she was close to the end, would her health improve and I'd be left thinking that she was just gonna plod along this way for years to come.

Last Friday night was one of those tough nights in that she had one of her seizures as we were getting ready for bed.  She had been doing so well for so long, that the seizure kind of took me by surprise.  Again she fought through it, and quickly nodded off to sleep for the night.  The next morning, we were cleaning the house in anticipation of the BBQ we were hosting that evening when Jason told me that Cameo had another seizure.  When I came over, she was out of her thrashing stage, but was in the twitching stage, where she wasn't quite conscious yet.  She usually would thrash for about a minute, then lay there breathing heavily and twitching for another minute before she would snap out of it and regain consciousness.  This time she stayed in the twitching stage for what seemed forever before she ended up going backwards back into the violent thrashing.  This was devastating to watch, and Jason and I sat for a long time watching her go back and forth between thrashing and twitching, hoping that she would snap out of it soon.  After some time, it became clear that she was not coming out of this on her own, so Jason carried her out to the car and took her to the emergency animal clinic in hopes that they could give her something to help.  After being there for around 30 or 40 minutes, I got the call that I needed to come down.

I somehow knew what was coming, from the moment I saw her go from twitching back to thrashing at the house, I had this voice in the back of my head saying 'This is it,' but I never fully gave up hope.  She had proven me wrong so many times before and she was such a fighter.  When I came, she was on a blanket in the back pumped full of drugs to stop the seizures, but she was still not conscious or aware of her surroundings.  Jason's face was puffy, red and covered in streams of tears when he explained to me that they thought she had a brain tumor, and that the only thing we could do would be to take her to Portland for an MRI, and if they confirmed the tumor, they would need to operate.  We both knew that brain surgery was not an option for this poor old dog, and we knew what had to be done.  Knowing what needed to be done didn't make it any easier when the doctor came and asked what we wanted to do.  We didn't WANT to put her down, even though we knew we had to.  Saying the words was next to impossible.  Our dog was a fighter, and I always thought that one day her little heart would just give out and that would be it.  Being the one to actually END her fight seemed wrong and unfair, but it was clear that she was not coming out of this seizure, and it was cruel to let her suffer anymore. 

They put us in a private room with her so we could spend some time with her and say our goodbyes.  The doctor came in and gave us some paperwork to fill out in order for them to perform the euthanization.  We filled everything out, handed it back and sat with Cameo, petting her while she remained awake but unconscious.  After some time, her medication started wearing off and she started to thrash again.  It was heartbreaking to see, but was a good reaffirmation that she was not going to pull through this one on her own.  In the middle of her seizing, the doctor came to perform the euthanization.  When she saw Cameo seizing again, she hurried over to get started.

It was strange.  Part of me thought that she would wait for her to stop seizing to do it.  I'm not sure why I thought this, but I also hoped for it as well.  Even though she was not truly conscious in-between the seizures, I felt she was there more than she was when she was actually seizing, and part of me wanted her to know that we were there with her, holding her paw so to speak at her last moments.  Watching them inject the pink fluid into her I.V. all I could think was "No, no, no, I'm not ready yet!"  At the same time, I knew we needed to take her out of the suffering she was going through with the seizure.  Performing the euthanization during her seizure also made it painfully clear when her time ended, as she suddenly just stopped moving.  I knew I wanted to be there for her, but it was a horrid thing to watch, and it took only a moment to know that the deed was done.  I wanted to scream out.  How could our little fighter of a dog be gone?  No matter how prepared I thought I was for that moment, my mind, heart and soul shattered watching her go still.

We sat with her for a good long time working through our emotions and realizations that she was not coming home with us.  We prepared to leave on a couple different occasions, but would inevitably break into more sobs at the idea of walking out the door without her.  For some reason, that was the hardest part.  We knew she was already gone, hopefully to a better place, yet the idea of walking away from her body was gut-wrenching.

In the days to follow, I went through some hard times.  Jason was gone on a bike ride most of Sunday, and I was home alone for a good part of the day.  My mind had a hard time accepting that Cameo was gone.  I would see movement out of the corner of my eye and would look over, fully expecting to see Cameo, but it was one of the cats, or a shadow or something.  It broke my heart over and over, each time I realized that it would never be Cameo that I would look over and see again.

Watching my husband mourn was devastating.  As much as I loved that dog, she was his first pet all of his own, of whom he was responsible for, and he loved her immensely.  Holding him while he sobbed in my arms was possibly the most helpless feeling in the world.  What could I say or do to make this better?  There is no 'making this better.'  I could only assure him that he was good to her and was a very loving father, but it was hard when his guilt took over for being annoyed or aggravated with her from time to time.  I assured him that it was normal to be frustrated once in a while, and that it didn't make him a bad person, and it didn't make her love him any less.

Then came my own feelings of guilt.  I knew for some time that she was approaching the end of her life and when Jason would make a comment about how much it was going to cost, or how hard it would be on Cameo to have to board her for ten days while we go on vacation in October, a part of me would think that it was very possible that she just may not live that long.  Then there were the dark thoughts that would somehow crawl their way into my head that had me thinking, 'maybe it would be easier if she did just pass on before we went on that trip so we wouldn't have to worry about her.'  I cannot say how ashamed I felt to think those thoughts, or how much that thought makes my stomach turn now that she is gone.  What a heartless thing to think, as I would trade all the trouble and worry to have her around now that she is gone.

There is a hole in my heart, one I wasn't truly expecting to have.  She was always Jason's dog, though I loved her and I'm sure she cared very much for me, but it was always him she was excited to see.  I didn't expect to feel such a void with her gone.  I finally got my own dog back in May, and it was so nice for a while that we each had a dog.  We would walk them together at night, whereas before, I rarely accompanied Jason on his walks with Cameo.  Now we are back to having one dog, and it pains me every time we go to take our nightly walk, as I know Jason is missing his regular walking buddy.  Jason had fallen into such a routine with her, that it is a hard pill to swallow knowing that everything has changed.  It's a strange sensation, as we knew her time was coming to an end, and yet at the same time, it feels like someone pulled a rug out from under us.  We knew she wouldn't be around forever, but we never really imagined how much it would change our lives once she was gone.

Everyone has been very supportive, reassuring us that we did the right thing, and deep down, I know we did.  They say she is in a better place, and I really hope that she is.  Then I start over thinking things, as I'm known to do from time to time.  I always thought that animals also go to Heaven, and I when one of our pets died when I was growing up, my mom would comfort us by saying that our beloved pet had just rejoined some of our previous pets or family members that had passed on, and that they were being taken care of and loved.  When I think about Cameo, this pulls at my heart because there were no other pets that were her friends.  She didn't care about other dogs or cats or even other people...she just loved Jason, unconditionally, and he can't be up in Heaven with her.  So who is there for her?  How can she possibly be in a better place when her whole world revolved around Jason and nothing else, and they can no longer be together?  I know it's a horrible way to think, and I shouldn't do it to myself, but I can't help it.

My mind isn't right at the moment.  It's swirled full of emotions and memories.  I think that it isn't fair for a dog who was so sweet and trusting and loving with us, Jason especially, to have such a rough end to her life when she had to endure who knows what kind of abuse for the first years of her life.  In the end, we came to think that she had to be around 13 years old, and we only had 5 years with her.  That means that she spent around 7 years of her life, a good portion of it in an unhealthy situation before she was rescued.  I think about how it isn't fair.  She deserved better, she was a good dog.

Our last weekend with her, the Saturday previous to having to have her put down, we were all camping together at Newberry Crater.  It was a beautiful weekend and we sat out enjoying the sunset and then the starlight before calling it a night.  Once in the tent, Jason asked me to give Cameo her pill, which we wrap in some cheese or lunch meat for her.  I went to give it to her and the old dog bit me.  In her old age, she has lost most of her sight, so she began to start snapping when being fed a treat because she could no longer see it.  It also didn't help that she became more snappy when we got the other dog, as she was afraid that she might lose her treat to the younger dog if she wasn't fast enough.  While trying to give her her pill, she snapped out and caught my pinkie and chomped down.  She was not giving it up and I had to pry her teeth off my finger with my free hand, swearing throughout the process.  I had some indentations in my pinkie nail and she broke the skin just above the nail.  It hurt like hell and I was so mad at her for doing it.  Now I look at my pinkie and the little scab there, and I dread the day when the scab heals up and is gone.  I feel like it is my one little physical reminder that I keep with me always of our poor old dog who couldn't see and feared her treat being stolen.  If I could, I would keep the scab with me forever, but I know that the wound was not bad enough to scar, and that it will soon be gone.  The thought of that pains me.  Why should I dread the healing of a scab?  It is the strangest thing, but it feels like a small part of her is still here with me and I just don't want to let go.

For some reason, Cameo started to lose her hair in this last year, so we only put her collar on her when we were outside the house, as it was rubbing away all the hair around her neck.  When Jason rushed her off to the emergency clinic, we didn't think to grab her collar or leash as we just didn't need it since she couldn't even walk.  Both the collar and leash still sit in their normal spot in the top drawer by our patio doors, where we would grab it as we headed out to walk her.  I just don't have the heart to pull it out.  What am I to do with it?  I know we don't need it anymore, and there are better uses for that drawer, but I can't bring myself to even open the drawer and look at it.  I wonder if there will ever be a time when I can.  I can't fathom it at the moment - it's just too hard.

As I type now, I look up to see her photograph come up on our digital picture frame sitting in the office.  She looks happy in the photo, which is how I want to remember her.  I pray that she is in a better place and that she understands that we ended her fight out of love, and that we miss her and think of her often and fondly.  She is in our hearts, always.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about Cameo. We've been watching the steady decline in the health of our own dog and I completely relate to many of your feelings. I'm sitting here with tears streaming wishing I could give you a giant hug. Sending all my love to you and Jason!

  2. This breaks my heart. The only thing I can even come up with to say is that I think the holes that remain can never be filled but you can build up and around them. And when you are done building those grand memories it is then you can stand above them all and gaze upon a long lived life full of love that goes deeper than anything. I love you! And now I am going to see if you are hungry for enchiladas!

  3. Thank you Summer, for sharing Cameo's story. Not only was SHE a fighter, but you and Jason fought along side her to the end... ensuring she had the happiest doggie life possible, full of love and caring. She parted our world by leaving you a 'love bite' to remember her by.... -Rachel