Tail wagging, ears up, smile? Yeah, that's about right.
Meet my Darlin Clementine. I was matched with her as a foster dog on December 11, 2014 from Stray Rescue of St Louis. I figured I could foster dogs as a way to be trendy in the city since we have a fenced in yard and a playful puppy looking for a buddy. Little did I know, Darlin Clementine would crawl into my heart, and make me the happiest (and saddest) I’ve been in a long time.
Clementine and I crash after a long walk in Forest Park
Okay, I guess I should start at the beginning. Consider yourself warned, if you do not have a box of tissues, love for dogs/pets, or some time to read, you might as well skip this post.
Clementine came in to my life at a very busy time; two weeks before Christmas. She had to endure a house party for Christmas and New Years’, my family Christmas, meeting dozens of friends and family members and dealing with the chaos of other dogs, loud music, big crowds, and late nights. Throughout those two weeks, she not only figured out how to fit into the new environment, but she stole the hearts of everyone she met. She gave everyone a big smile, most likely a couple marble-tongue licks, a vigorous tail wagging and usually a head tilt or two.
Kevin and Clementine play
It was like she knew she was rescued and wanted nothing more in life than to thank me for it. She followed me EVERYWHERE, even to the point of waiting outside the bathroom door in anticipation for me to finish brushing my teeth every morning and night. When I left the house, she would sit and wait patiently at the door. Never a barker or a chewer. She even let our puppy jump all over her every day. I still attribute Maggie’s final ascent into full potty-trained capacity to her obsession with doing everything like her foster mama, Clementine.
After falling in love with her, I knew I couldn’t let go, even to the best of adopters. At the cost of being a “foster failure”, I adopted Clementine on January 2, 2014.
Welcome to the Family, C-tine!
The first week in January, if you remember, was unusually warm and beautiful. Clementine happened to also be a skilled marathon trainer, and was an expert at helping me keep perfect pace on our outside runs. She loved being outside, running or just playing, and thankfully that beautifully weather-ed week gave us so much time to do both.
Clementine and Maggie walk together!
Thursday, January 5, I took Clementine to the vet for a check-up and to register her with a regular vet. She passed the exam with flying colors, of course, and I gladly paid a small fortune for heart worm and flea preventatives for the next 6 months. After that, we went to Treats Unleashed, an awesome St. Louis-owned store for pets, and ordered a personalized doggie tag for her. They have a professional engraving service that mails your tags to you in about 7 business days, so I didn’t get the tag right then and there, but the sales associate promised me it would be a higher quality and last longer than the instant laser printed tags. Seven days? No big deal.
Clementine with her Stray Rescue tag
Okay, here is where the story gets sad. Normally, I wouldn’t dwell on events leading to anyone’s death, but the story is so strange and rare that I feel it necessary to explain. Just keep in mind this whole time I was not aware of the sad ending this story would have, I only knew I had a perfectly healthy, 2 year old, beautiful sweet dog that I loved dearly.
Saturday, January 7. Lazy day for everyone at the Plateau. Clementine mostly relaxed in her crate by my bed, getting up to go potty outside a couple times. I noticed she didn’t touch her food, but this actually didn’t phase me too much since food was never really top priority to her. By Saturday evening, Kevin and I noticed she had a slight cough and was growling any time Maggie came by to play. This was extremely abnormal, and we thought we better get her checked out by a vet. So we drove her to the Animal Emergency Clinic, thinking we were crazy and would be laughed out of the place.
Oh how I wish we were.
After waiting a few hours, (standard procedure at even animal emergency rooms, I guess) we were seen by the vet. Clementine had a 105.9 degree fever (normal for dogs is 101-102.5) and the vet recommended taking an x-ray to see her lungs.
Clementine's first x-ray
An hour later, the vet showed us the x-ray, describing it as “really scary”. Basically, the white in her lungs is not supposed to be there. Explained to us as fluid in the lungs, the vet guessed that Clementine either had a diaphragmatic hernia or a severe case of pneumonia. Either way, she would have to stay overnight for further testing and hopefully they would have a diagnosis and treatment by midnight.
At 1 AM on Sunday, Jan 7, the clinic called to say they believed it to be pneumonia and they would start antibiotics right away to help clear out the fluid. This was a best case scenario, and I slept soundly that night.
Sunday morning I went to the clinic to visit my girl, and heard from the vet that she was doing similarly to the previous night. She had started coughing up bloody matter, but this was probably just due to irritation in her throat, and whatever she was coughing up was “better out than in”. No progress was nothing to worry about, though, because the antibiotics could take up to 24 hours to take full effect, and an x-ray the next morning would tell us the progress she had made.
visiting Clementine at the animal emergency clinic on Sunday
I got a call Monday, Jan 8, at 11:30 AM from the clinic saying that Clementine’s second x-ray looked “remarkably worse” and that her condition had moved from “severe” to “dire”. The vet explained that they had exhausted all of their resources and recommended moving Clementine to a specialist as soon as possible. Devastated, I agreed to come in right away and help move her to Associated Veterinary Specialists in Bridgeton.
We arrived and met with an internal medicine specialist, Dr. Haus, who showed us what “remarkably worse” met.
Clementine had completely lost function in one of her lungs. Her body had not responded to the antibiotics for pneumonia, and nobody was really sure of the reason. Immediately, the vet team drew blood, ran tests, and sent a culture to a lab somewhere to see if whatever was wrong with her was viral or bacterial.
Clementine was given an oxygen tube (which was accompanied with a cone to prevent her swatting the tube out of her nose) and an IV drip with her necessary fluids and a different antibiotic. The doctor explained that at this point it was a guessing game as to which antibiotic to give her until he received the results of the tests, which of course would be 3 to 5 days. Three to five days.
Dr. Haus suggested an alternate potential diagnosis: canine influenza. Dog flu. Only one other case to date has been reported in Missouri, and there wasn’t much form of treatment other than supportive care. All of her symptoms matched, though, and it would explain why the antibiotics weren’t successful so far in the treatment.
There was no reason to think the worst, Clementine was still energetic and high-spirited, smiling and wagging her tail anytime I was there. She seemed much more comfortable on the oxygen. The staff at AVS was incredible, with a nurse assigned specifically to her at all times.
She liked to look out and smile at everyone at AVS
Tuesday morning the vet called to inform me that Clementine wasn’t going to make it on her IV fluids alone if she didn’t eat in the next 24 hours. He scheduled Wednesday afternoon to introduce a feeding tube if Clementine wasn’t eating by then. Also, he recommended putting in a chest tube to extract the excess fluid around her lung. In order to keep her around to see the test results and get the right treatment, she needed the strength that only food could get her. He suggested I bring some sandwich meat to try to entice her to eat that day.
Naturally, I bought out Shop ‘n’ Save’s entire deli counter, including a rotisserie chicken. Despite my best efforts, Clementine was more interested in cuddling with me and resting in my lap than eating any of it. (Later, I found out that the meat did not go to waste and actually helped another dog who wasn’t eating find his appetite).
Meanwhile, at home, Maggie made a habit of walking into Clementine's crate every morning and whimpering, sometimes even laying down in protest to get her playmate back.
Wednesday morning, my mom and I sat on the floor outside Clementine’s cage with her for four hours waiting for the procedure. She wasn’t a good candidate for anesthesia (nobody with one working lung is), but this was her only shot at getting the strength to fight this battle. The longest hour and a half of my life passed like a decade, until the doctor came out to say the procedure was successful for both the feeding tube and the chest tube, and that Clementine was doing great recovering from the anesthesia. This was great news! Most likely she was able to get through the anesthesia because the antibiotics had progressed, but we would find out for sure Friday morning with the next x-ray.
Despite being "wired" on oxygen, Clementine was in the best of spirits.
Thursday my mom and I visited her to find that she was not only keeping down the water and fluids she was receiving through the feeding tube, but also all of the food! Her fever was also down to 101. This was great progress, showing that her body was still fighting and accepting nutrition voluntarily. As soon as she could breathe regularly without oxygen, she could go home. The nurse taught me how to feed her through the tube, explaining how often and what quantity would be necessary. She also explained how to check the chest tube, although she had already extracted most of the fluid (another good sign). Depending on the x-ray Friday morning, she might even be coming home that weekend. I can’t describe to you the amount of hope I had in my heart.
Thursday night, Kevin got home from work and we even debated not going back to visit her that night, since there was talk of her coming home as soon as the next day. The weather was horrendous and Kevin was tired from work and his four hour MBA class the past night, but something in us made us go.
She was so happy to see us. I remember her tail pounding relentlessly on the cage until we opened it, and she jumped out so fast she almost lost her oxygen right then and there. The nurse said she was due to go outside and let us take her out. She pranced out into the snow, sniffing and doing her thing just like nothing was wrong. We brought her back in and she settled down and started to doze off. Every time she would rest when I visited she would rest her whole head in the pillow I held in my hands and fall right asleep. I swear her head weighed 20 pounds, but I’d hold it til the end of time just to help her rest easy.
Me with my Darlin Clementine
We drove home that night, and I don’t remember a thing until the next morning.
At 6:38AM on Friday, January 13, I got a call from AVS saying Clementine had gone into cardiac arrest and wasn’t breathing despite CPR efforts. They asked if I wanted to induce extreme measures or if they should end her pain. In disbelief, I told them to end their suffering and quietly hung up the phone. Kevin hadn’t left for work yet, and for the next two hours we sat and cried.
The doctor called later that morning and asked if I would let him perform an autopsy for research. I allowed it, asking for the results. He called again afterwards reporting that the fluid had spread to almost all of her second lung, leaving a lobe half the size of a handful for her to use to breathe. Her body tried to fight it, keeping all of her other organs functioning normally, but the sickness (which is still not known) overtook her lungs without mercy.
If someone had asked me what was the worst thing that could happen in the worst way it could happen, I don’t think I could have even come up with this. The sheer medical fluke of what happened to Clementine was so unfair, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand why it had to happen. AVS sent samples to Cornell University to be tested for canine influenza (for which Clementine had been vaccinated, interestingly enough). We are still waiting to hear what the results were. I know it won’t bring her back, but I want to know what happened to my girl and why nothing could help her. I will update with a new post as soon as I hear more about it.
Clementine was truly a light in my life, and I believe she put a smile on the face of every person she met. I only had her for about a month, adopted for 11 days and home as my adopted dog for only 5 of those. In that time she met nearly everyone I cared about and made an impression on me that I will never forget or take for granted. I am grateful for every minute I spent with her, and encourage you to do the same with the pet(s) in your family.
I received Clementine’s dog tag on Tuesday, January 17.