Last week, my kids experienced their first real loss with the death of their dog Katie Bell. Our pets our important parts of our family and Katie’s death was very unexpected and hit us hard.

If you follow my blog, you might recall a little over two years ago I wrote about our new puppy, a Cocker Spaniel, which we named Katie Bell. She was a little black ball of fluff who bounced around like her legs were on springs. Unlike our other Cocker Spaniel, Sadie Rose, Katie Bell was very vocal. She barked and growled. And while she may have been smaller than Sadie Rose, she was the clear alpha dog. She had to be first at everything – the first to eat, the first to pick a bone to chew and the first to go upstairs. It was this very desire to be first that caused her downfall.

Every morning the dogs race up the stairs to enjoy some time in our bedroom. One Sunday, Katie Bell rounded the corner on the stairs, sliding as she did so. She yelped in pain. We thought at the time that she might have pulled a muscle. She wasn’t limping but clearly in pain. We gave her a little aspirin (later we found out we shouldn’t have done this especially on an empty stomach.) She spent the day resting downstairs. But later when she got up, her gait was off and she yelped in pain.

Lexie and Katie Bell

The next morning, she wouldn’t eat and wasn’t walking correctly, so I called and immediately got an appointment with the veterinarian. He too noticed that she seemed to be favoring her back left leg and suggested an x-ray. The diagnosis what that she had some compression in her spine. There was an area between the vertebrae that was narrower than it should be indicating she had injured her spine. He had also tested her reflexes and her back legs were not responding as quickly as they should. His recommendation was to have her on bed rest and pain medication for the next two weeks.  They couldn’t give her anti-inflammatory medicine because we had given her the aspirin.

At this time she was still walking (albeit in that off-gait type way). As I carried her out of the vet’s office, there were dogs in the waiting room. Katie Bell went crazy and squirmed in my arms. I couldn’t set her down as I didn’t have her collar and leash on her. I don’t know if this incident had any factor on what happened later. Actually, there are lots of things I wonder if we could have handled differently and had the outcome change.

If we hadn’t given her the aspirin and they gave her anti-inflammatory medication, would it have helped? What if we had taken her to a veterinarian emergency room on Sunday when we thought it was just a pulled muscle? What if she hadn’t struggled in my arms as we left the vet’s office? What if we had taken her in when we first noticed she was losing the use of her legs? So many questions that I don’t think we can ever answer but I am jumping ahead of the story.

By 4 p.m., she was reluctant to walk. A few hours later, she couldn’t walk at all. We called the veterinarian the next morning and he had us take her to a critical care specialist. After some tests, they diagnosed a spinal cord injury. They would need to do an MRI to see if a disc was pressing on it or had merely hit and damaged it. If the disc was still pressing on it, they could do surgery, but there would only be a 50% chance of her getting feeling/motion back in her back legs. If surgery wasn’t an option, the chances of her walking again would be even lower.

We thought about our happy, energetic, bouncy puppy and knew that she would never be the same again. Even if by some remote chance that she did walk again, another injury could happen at any time. We truly didn’t believe she would be happy without being able to run or jump. She had been in pain all day Sunday and this morning she looked so upset about the loss of feeling in her back legs. We chose compassionate euthanasia.

We were both there, giving her loving as they administered the drugs. As hard as this decision was we knew it was the right thing to do. But of course, the hardest thing would come next – telling our children. My husband was scheduled for a meeting after work and wouldn’t be home until 9 p.m. He suggested waiting until he got home to tell them, but I would have had to answer the kids questions about where Katie Bell was when the arrived home. I decided not to hold off telling them.

I told Lexie first. I think she expected bad news. The hardest things for her were that she didn’t get to say good-bye and that it was so unfair that this happened to Katie Bell who was only 2 1/2 years old.

We picked Jase up from school and even though Lexie and I were somber, Jase didn’t pick up on our sadness like Lexie had picked up on mine when I picked her up from school. He was still bouncing around when I had to tell him. He didn’t believe me at first. To say it was a shock is an understatement. As far as he knew, Katie Bell was supposed to be on rest and the doctor thought she would get better. And here I was telling him that her injuries were too severe.

As the kids asked questions, I answered as truthfully as I could. (I had visited a few sites on pet death and kids to prepare myself.) I did tell them that we had her euthanized because they asked. I gave them space as they needed it and held them while they cried. I still feel utterly horrible that I had to take my son’s good day and crush it with devastating news. I feel I didn’t handle telling him as well as telling Lexie.

As the days have gone by, we are all sad at different times. It is hard to walk into the kitchen and not see Katie Bell’s bouncy presence or to have her lying next to me on the bed at the end of the day. But things are getting better. And talk has turned to getting another puppy so that our older Cocker Spaniel, Sadie Rose, won’t be alone. A bundle of puppy cuteness can certainly make us all feel better but will certainly never replace our Katie Bell.

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