Great Dane in the Morning

The End?

Lotte lying downLotte grew more perfect with each passing year, settling into her advancing age with quiet dignity. Our walks became more leisurely and one of her greatest pleasures became lying in the sun on the deck – baking her bones, I called it. She barked rarely, unless it was called for, and greeted visitors to our home and people on the street with an unchanging friendly comportment. She even let a neighbor girl’s kisses cover her face and much of her body (more than I would do in spite of my love for the dog). I frequently told her she was “the best dog,” thinking it made up for her aborted show dog career and telling myself that the words did not represent disloyalty to her eight predecessors. Truth be told, this was the dog that received more of our time and attention, and while she never became a cuddler like some of the others, she did seem to enjoy being in our presence.

When she was eight years old, a lump began forming on her back between her shoulder blades. A biopsy indicated it was benign. “Forget it,” the vet said. But the lump continued to grow and I kept returning to question it. “If you want to do something that would have an effect on her overall health, then have her teeth cleaned,” she said. Lotte tolerated the anesthesia and came through the teeth cleaning but still the lump continued to grow. “Your dog is turning into a camel,” fellow dog walkers would say good-naturedly, once I’d assured them the lump was not cancerous.

But the lump continued to worry us. Would it eventually interfere with her walking? Having seen how well she did with the teeth cleaning procedure, we convinced ourselves that delaying removal of the lump would only make surgery harder the older she became. We consulted a surgeon at an animal specialty hospital and scheduled surgery.  The operation itself went well but almost immediately she developed heart arrhythmia, requiring intravenous medications and constant monitoring over several days. We were finally able to take her home but now she was under the care of a cardiologist. Like the places we’d seen in New York and New Jersey, this specialty facility boasted veterinarians in every discipline, and in time Lotte visited many of them. The lump was gone but had we opened Pandora’s Box?

When Ed was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, we fell into shock and disbelief (“What? Acting as it we would live forever wasn’t going to make it so?”) Lotte seemed to know. Frequently, when he was sitting in a favorite chair staring at nothing, she’d stand in front of Ed and place her big head in his lap. “I know, I know,” she seemed to be saying. “It stinks.”

And then one day she became very ill, vomiting and coughing up a clot of blood. I rushed her to the vet who suggested I leave her for x-rays. When I returned, I was shown the pictures: Lotte had lung cancer, just like Ed!

We returned to the specialty hospital, this time to consult with a canine oncologist who told us it is not unusual for a pet to develop the same illness as the owner.  He said the cancer probably started elsewhere and moved up to her lungs, meaning it was already advanced. Most of the medications he might suggest would be dangerous for her heart or exorbitantly expensive in the dosage her size required. Plus, he pointed out, her hips and back legs were beginning to weaken and said, “She’s a nine-year-old Great Dane and will probably die of something other than cancer.” He seemed to be suggesting we let her live out her remaining time without more tests and procedures, and we agreed.

So now Lotte and Ed entered into their real symbiotic relationship. Since becoming so ill with her cancer diagnosis, the dog had been on a diet of chicken, rice and cottage cheese. As I began to wean her back to dog food, Ed said, “No! She likes that food. Let her stay on it.” If I mentioned that she was eating a lot but still seemed to be losing weight, he’d say, “Just like me.” And both of them were becoming more unsteady on their feet. Lotte could maneuver the carpeted stairs inside the house but not the wood steps of the deck, so I’d take her out on the street for bathroom purposes. But that’s all she’d do. My formerly compliant dog refused to take more than a step or two before planting her feet and refusing to move.

I wondered whether physical therapy would help her regain some strength so back we went to the specialty hospital where a veterinarian who was also a physical therapist gave me exercises I could do at home and suggested supplements I could add to her food. When I saw the treatment was helping the dog, I asked Ed’s oncologist about physical therapy for him. So now both husband and dog were doing exercises at home in between their various doctor visits.

A nagging worry at the back of my mind had been how to manage both of these patients if their illnesses became debilitating here in this two-story house with the bedrooms below ground. I’d already seen how expertly paramedics were able to get Ed up the stairs and into an ambulance during an earlier healthcare episode. But what about the 130-pound dog? What if she became incapacitated? We were no longer able to lift her ourselves to take her somewhere for help. So from our vet we obtained the name of a veterinarian who would perform euthanasia in the home and also a pet crematorium that would pick up the body. I was prepared now for that eventuality.

We’d been noticing Lotte’s abdomen becoming swollen and wondered if it was the result of all that chicken and rice she was consuming or some other problem. We knew it wasn’t bloat, having long experience with those symptoms. And then one day in the e-mail came an article from the animal specialty hospital – part of their ongoing educational outreach –  about a condition I’d never heard of: splenic hemangiosarcoma, “a highly invasive variety of cancer which most commonly forms a mass on the spleen…an aggressive cancer of the blood vessels, most commonly diagnosed in middle-to-older-aged large breed dogs…(that) typically presents itself as an emergency when the mass ruptures and the patient starts to bleed into the abdomen…”

Holy smoke! That sure sounds like what Lotte has, I thought, and researched further. Almost all the symptoms listed matched hers. The thought of massive hemorrhage and collapse leading to a painful death convinced us that we had to spare her while she was, we hope, still relatively pain-free.

We put in a call to the veterinarian who does in-home euthanasia, intending to ask if she could recommend someone to come to the home to test for this suspected condition. But before long I was asking about the end-of-life scenario and made a snap decision. Lotte could not end her days in that way. I made an appointment for a few days hence, and when I hung up the phone, Ed agreed it was the right thing to do. The crematorium was also alerted.

Our Los Angeles daughter came by to drink a lot of wine with us the night before, and again the night after, and we decided it was best to wait until after the fact to tell our New York daughter. “Sad news,” our message read and began, “Your father and I are fine. Please call when you can.” She was on the phone immediately and said she knew right away what we were calling about. Both of our daughters lived their lives with Great Danes as companions and experienced with us every sad good-bye through the years.

It was our first experience with in-home euthanasia, and it was as compassionate and peaceful as you could expect. “Is this just a California thing?” I asked. “No,” the vet replied, “All over the world people are realizing that this is the kindest way – for the animal as well as the owners.”

I keep urging Ed not to internalize Lotte’s situation with his. His cancer is being treated and thus held at bay because that’s what he opted for. We couldn’t know what Lotte would have chosen but I suspect she would have decided, “Enough with the tests and the scans and the x-rays.” And I hope she would have added, “It’s been a good life but now it’s time to rest.”

People keep asking if we’ll get another dog. “No,” is my quick reply. “Certainly not another Great Dane. Lotte was our last.”

And yet…never say never.

Lotte's face

24 comments on “Great Dane in the Morning

  1. Margo L. Smith says:

    Wow! How many of your wonderful dogs I remember. But, I han’t known of all their adventures, illnesses, and how many had to be euthanized. This was like the canine version of a Greek epic. And the expense — without your considerable layout for various doggie needs, their healthcare, and occasional recompense to bitees — you could have flown first-class to ever so many exotic places. But, all the love, joy, and delight that they brought to your many households made it all worthwhile. What a wonderful walk through so much Nieder history. Thanks for including me. While I didn’t get to know all of your Danes, the ones I did were, indeed, great.

    • patnieder says:

      Thanks, Margo. While that could have been your late lamented glove in Dagmar’s mouth, it wasn’t; we were too horrified at the time to take a picture. As for all the exotic trips we’ve missed, I always say to people who ask about the expense of these dogs, “Well, we don’t own a boat.” And I guess seeing all the euthanizations in one place might seem like a lot, but I’ve always felt an advantage animals with incurable and debilitating illness have over people is that animals’ suffering can be mercifully ended. Unless you are a person living in Oregon, Washington, Vermont or The Netherlands.

      • Margo L. smith says:

        And, best of all, is the warm wonderful stream of unconditional love that flows between you and Ed and your ever majestic and elegant canines. They have been and are truly members of your family.

  2. patnieder says:

    And that from a non-dog owner. Imagine!

  3. Betty Dana says:

    I can’t believe how many dogs we’ve enjoyed with you. Our friendship all began with Bismarck who was magnificent and we are still enjoying Lotte when we visit. I remember our daughter dog sitting with a high school friend. When I phoned to see how they were doing they said all was well, they were watching movies with the dogs in their laps. It was good that the phone was right there as she claimed they were pretty much happily weighted down by the dogs on the couch. Our grandchildren thought they were like “Clifford, the Big Red Dog.”

    A grand story of your life with these majestic Danes.

  4. Linda Adoff-Valdez says:

    I am only half way finished and so sad about how you lost dogs so early, it breaks my heart.
    I also am touched by the love between you and your husband and how well you worked together.
    I really feel like going to your house and giving Lotte a big hug. To say the least I am really enjoying and moved by your story.

    • patnieder says:

      Oh my! Thanks so much. But don’t be sad. We loved and enjoyed each of these wonderful dogs for the time they were with us. And they continue in our memories and apparently now with people like you who read about them. I’ll give Lotte a hug and tell her it’s from you.

  5. Mary Cervantez says:

    Loved the article & have had the priveledge of living with your Lotte, as her sitter for short periods, a number of times. Thanks.

  6. Herta says:

    Really great stories, enjoyed very much reading it and also meeting you at Ingrid’s!

  7. patnieder says:

    Thanks so much! Hope to see you again and to talk dogs some more.

  8. Carol Neis says:

    Loved the synopsis on the Danes..I remember meeting two of them when you were living in Montclair…I am anxious to read the full story…

    • patnieder says:

      Thanks for reading, Carol. Yes, we’ve frequently had two at a time. We’ve gotten a little smarter in our old age and realize one is plenty. And you know, Lotte is so perfect because we have been able to lavish all our attention, such as it is, on her.

  9. Pat; I hope this is not an inappropriate response. This is Linda, the owner of Buster, not Lotte’s favorite. I heard Lotte had passed away and David and I are so sorry to hear that news. Lotte was the first dog I met in Mt Washington and she was just so sweet and when we visited your home, she was a great hostess. I will miss her and wanted to give you my condolences.

    • patnieder says:

      Not inappropriate at all. Thank you. Did you read about her in the final chapter of my unpublished book, Great Dane in the Morning on this site? She was special. But I guess all dog owners think that about their dogs.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Pat; My husband David and I and our dog Buster moved to Vancouver about 6 months ago. We knew you and Lottie, I heard that Lottie had passed away and just wanted to let you know that as far as I am concerned Lottie was a one of a kind gal. I always just thought she had so much class. One day you invited us in to see your house and have a glass of wine on the deck. Lottie was the perfect hostess and all around great dog. Please accept my condolences.
    I hope one day when your heart heals you will find another wonderful companion.

    Linda, David and Buster (Lottie never really cared for Buster)

    • patnieder says:

      Thank you, Linda, for these lovely words. I’m sorry to be so late in acknowledging this. Lotte died in April, and in July my husband Ed also died. As I plan to write in my Christmas letter, “Not a banner year here.” But right now I plan to post something about Lotte and Halloween. Watch for it.

  11. Thomas Tamburin says:

    Greetings Pat! I’ve just come to learn about Ed’s passing and I wanted to reach out and pay my condolences. I guess I’m still on “snail mail” mode in that had I known earlier I would have reached out sooner. If you’re ever back on the East coast let me know and maybe we can coordinate an MSU reunion. If there’s ever a need for a dog-sitter, I’d still jump at the opportunity! Fondly, Thomas

    • patnieder says:

      Thank you, Thomas. Nice to hear from you. Would that I did still need a dog sitter. I think Lotte closed the chapter on that part of my life. But they were wonderful dogs, weren’t they?
      Pat

  12. Anonymous says:

    Just re-reading your wonderful stories of your dogs and I saw the post saying the Ed had died. I wanted to send my very late condolences. I only met your husband once, but he, like Lotte was very kind and it seemed a gentle person.

    • patnieder says:

      Thank you. Yes, Ed and Lotte were both kind and gentle, and I miss them terribly. That fact and a lot of other unanticipated occurrences are the reasons for my inactivity on this blog. But I will get back to it, I promise. Pat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s