Earlier this year, my Schnauzer Buzz passed away at the early age of nine and a half. Although he had myriad ongoing health issues, we weren’t prepared to lose him three days after he was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer.
On the Sunday leading up to his passing, we took him to the park for his daily run. We hadn’t been there very long when we noticed he suddenly seemed disoriented. He stood there, looked around a bit and looked up at us as though he didn’t know what to do next.
We picked him up and took him back to the car with us. We offered him some water, but he didn’t show any interest. We offered him one of his favorite treats, but he didn’t have any interest in that either. When he lay down to take a nap in the back seat of our SUV, we thought maybe he was just tired. So we went ahead and ran a few errands.
We arrived at Trader Joe’s and I sat with Buzz in the SUV with the air conditioning on, just how he liked it, while my wife went in to pick up a few things. After about 10 minutes, I noticed that Buzz was sitting up in the back seat, but his head was drooping downward. I talked to him and asked him if everything was OK, but he didn’t really respond. At that point, I knew something was wrong. My wife came back to the car and we drove home.
We called our vet en route, and she thought Buzz may have had a small stroke or seizure at the park. She suggested some things we should do for him and told us to call her back if he didn’t improve. When we arrived home, we did what she suggested and Buzz rested peacefully. He woke up in a couple of hours and we could tell that something was still wrong. So we called our vet back and she suggested that we take him to the emergency vet.
When we arrived, my wife filled out the paperwork while I sat in the SUV with Buzz. We didn’t want to stress him out by taking him inside before they were ready for him. Being a Sunday night, you wouldn’t have thought it would be very busy. But there were a few other pets waiting for treatment.
We arrived around 9:30 p.m., but the vet on duty couldn’t start evaluating Buzz until just after midnight. Her evaluation was interrupted when someone brought a Westie in to be stitched back up after he removed the stitches on his leg from a recent surgical procedure. Thankfully, before being called away, the vet did have a chance to draw some blood from Buzz. When the Westie’s stitches were back in place, she called us back into the room again and told us that the test results from Buzz’s blood work indicated that something was very wrong. There were three values in particular that all pointed to something along the lines of pancreatitis.
Upon hearing that diagnosis, we breathed a sigh of relief, because we knew that pancreatitis, if caught early enough, could be successfully treated. We remembered this from when one of our previous dogs had been diagnosed with pancreatitis and she lived a long and healthy life after it was cured.
Since it was almost 2:30 a.m. by the time we got Buzz’s diagnosis, we asked the vet if we could take him home with us. She really wanted to keep him there with her, but our vet’s office would open at 7:30 a.m., and we would need to take him there anyway for a full day’s treatment including an IV for fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication. So, we asked her to give him some fluids, pain medication, and an injection of antibiotics to hold him over, which she did.
On the drive to the vet’s the next day, we told Buzz that he would have to stay at the office, but that we’d be back to pick him up at the end of the day. None of us was excited about that arrangement, but we knew it was the best option.
A few hours after dropping off Buzz, our vet called. She said that she did some X-rays of his abdomen and the area looked suspect. She recommended Buzz have an ultrasound the next day, when the technician would be in. We agreed.
We waited anxiously for the results. We hoped for the best but knew he wasn’t himself and had stopped eating. Around 1 p.m., the vet called with bad news: There was cancer present in Buzz’s pancreas, and it had spread to his stomach, which had stopped working properly. She said it was too risky to operate because, in addition to his current state of health, he was diabetic and had Cushing’s. The only thing she could recommend was for us to let him go.
We were in shock. He had gone from running joyfully in the park on Sunday to being diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer on Tuesday. Amongst all of our tears and disbelief that he would no longer be with us, we decided to bring him home Tuesday night in order to have a little time with him before saying goodbye the following morning.
When we arrived, we asked if the vet technician could come to our house the next morning to assist in Buzz’s transition. We wanted his passing to be as peaceful as possible and to avoid any additional stress on him. Thankfully, she was available and would arrive at 10 a.m.
We spent the whole night with him. He was heavily medicated so that he didn’t have any pain. But he was still aware enough to wake up about every two hours to go potty or to drink water. When it came time for bed, we took him upstairs with us (as usual), but instead of putting him in his crate, we made a spot for him in between us on our bed. Neither of us slept much that night, of course. We wanted to make sure that if he woke up, we knew about it. Plus, we knew our time with him was reaching the end.
About 8 a.m. we went downstairs together. We watched the clock wind down, wishing that we had more time. At 9:30 a.m., we had to give him an injection that would sedate him a bit before the vet technician arrived at 10. When she called to tell us that she was running late and wouldn’t arrive until 10:30 a.m., we were thankful because it gave us an additional half hour with him. Just before she arrived, Buzz let us know that he wanted to go outside to potty. I carried him outside knowing that this would be the last time we would do this. It made me so sad, but I didn’t want him to see that. Throughout Buzz’s whole life, whenever we were sad he would do whatever he could to make us feel better.
I took a few deep breaths, held back the tears, and told him he was the best boy in the world. He finished his business and I carried him back inside to lie on the couch while we waited for the vet tech. When she arrived, I carried Buzz into the bedroom and gently laid him down on the bed. My wife and I said our goodbyes and held him while he made a very peaceful transition.
After about 30 minutes, I carried Buzz’s body out to the vet tech’s car and they drove away. My wife and I were still very numb from what had just happened, and at almost the same time, we noticed how quiet and empty it felt in the house. It certainly didn’t feel like home without him.
Many tears were shed over the next few weeks, and we knew that we had to get on with our lives. But the memories of Buzz and his incredible joy for life are alive and well within each of us, and in everyone who ever met him. As my vet once told me, “Enjoy every animal in your life for as long as you have them.” In Buzz’s case, we certainly did.