oh my auggie

The State of Auggie

It started the day after his 10th birthday with one cough.
Tuesday he coughed twice. I got my phone out to try and record it so I could show the vet what was happening, but it happened quickly and then it stopped just as quickly.
Wednesday he coughed three times, and I called the cardiologist. The cardiologist had graded Auggie’s heart murmur as a 6 (on a scale of 1-6, 6 is the loudest) earlier in the year and told me to follow up with my regular vet for x-rays, and depending on what the x-rays showed, we would go from there. The x-rays in March showed his heart was only just slightly enlarged, and Auggie was completely asymptomatic of any heart disease (outside of an incredibly loud murmur,) so we put him on a hearty dose of salmon oil and chose no other treatment at that time.
The earliest the cardiologist could get us in was in a week and a half. I took it.

Thursday he was coughing a bit more. My mom ended up with the day off work and came over while my dad worked on a few things, so she sat with Auggie for the entire afternoon. I came home from work and put Auggie’s food bowl down, then walked out of the room to change to go to the gym. I turned around, and Auggie was standing behind me.
We went back into the kitchen, and his food bowl was full.
I can’t remember a time in Auggie’s life he hasn’t eaten his food. Ever. I picked up the phone and called my mom to ask her how Auggie had been that afternoon. She said he was fine, although he had coughed a few times.
I put Auggie’s food bowl down again. He looked it over a bit, then decided to go ahead and eat.
I called his breeder. Am I being crazy, or should I be taking my dog to the emergency vet? I am not the sort of person who rushes to the vet over every little thing, but all of my alarm bells were going off. As I stood and looked at Auggie, he looked to me like he was laboring to breathe. His sides were heaving, and I couldn’t remember Auggie ever breathing so visibly like that.
Yes, emergency vet. I called my mom back and she came to pick us up.

In the car Auggie started coughing, violently, non-stop. I pet him and told him “Don’t worry. Mama will fix it. I’ll fix it.”
Suddenly he went quiet. I put my hand on his side and I couldn’t feel it heaving anymore.
If you had asked me before then how to give CPR to a dog, I would have told you I had no idea. I acted instinctually. How do I get air into my dog? I grabbed his face, turned his nose towards me, and blew into his nose.
He snorted, and then he started to cough again.
My legs were shaking.
I jumped out of the car at the emergency vet while my mom parked and rushed to the door, Auggie in my arms. They let us in and the man was asking questions I was only partially hearing but I know I answered them.
The vet came into the room and asked a few questions, then said she wanted to put Auggie in the oxygen tank right away as he was obviously struggling to breathe. Once he was able to breathe better, she would take x-rays and then bring him back in for a more thorough exam.

She brought my dog and x-rays back into the room fifteen minutes later and placed the x-rays up. His lungs were full of fluid and his heart was very enlarged, so enlarged it was actually putting pressure on the trachea. I asked her to tell me honestly how bad it was.
“I’ve seen worse,” she said, “but it’s pretty bad.”
I started to crying with my hands locked in Auggie’s fur. “Okay. Continue. I’m listening to you.”
Auggie needed to stay overnight, probably spend some more time in the oxygen tank. They would give him injectable Lasix which would help get the fluid out, and he would need to be started on heart meds.
At one point she told me we probably had a year left.

I waited until we got back to the car before I sobbed “A year? That’s not fair.”

I left my best dog at the vet. I went home and got Payton and a few things, then went to stay with my parents. The vet called to tell me Auggie’s blood work had come back and his kidney levels were very, very slightly elevated, but everything else looked good. “He’s already starting to feel better,” she told me.
“That must mean he’s being naughty,” I thought, but didn’t say it. I didn’t have much to say.

The following morning I arrived to get my dog so he could be transferred to my regular vet for further monitoring. The vet brought Auggie out to me and he was wearing a cone, and had two shaved legs. “So… he ripped out his IV the first time.”
I laughed. “Is that when you said he was feeling better?”
“Yeah, as soon as he started to feel better he reached down with his teeth and pulled the IV out of his leg.”
That’s my Auggie.
“So we had to put it back in the other leg and that’s why he’s got the cone.”
I have never been so happy to hold my dog in my arms. He was quiet and obviously tired – so was I – but he wasn’t coughing and his breathing was back to normal. I took him to my normal vet and I told them “By the way – that cone isn’t likely to stop him for very long.” They all laughed. Yes, they knew Auggie, and no, that cone wasn’t likely to stop him if he wasn’t monitored pretty closely. Thankfully, they were going to keep a very good eye on him, so the cone should do the job until they were done with the IV and took it out.

My regular vet called me a few hours later. “What happened to your little guy?” he asked me.
“I don’t even know. It just happened so suddenly.”

Apparently, it’s not uncommon for dogs to be asymptomatic for so long and then rapidly deteriorate. That was small comfort to know we weren’t alone. But Auggie had responded well to treatment. I left work early and took him home, along with a handful of new meds to start.
That night we slept in our bed together, back where we belonged.

Monday we were back at the vet to follow up on his blood work and do another x-ray. The fluid had left his lungs, leaving us with a much clearer picture of his heart (the view now unobstructed by fluid.) It was indeed quite enlarged.

Multiple people told me not to listen to any timelines anybody told me. They have no idea. There’s no way at all to know. Lots of dogs live a very long time once controlled with meds.

Thankfully, we already had a cardiologist appointment for the following Monday. Once there, the vet did an echocardiogram of the heart. The news was the best possible considering the situation: Auggie just had leaky valves. No holes in his heart, no major deformities, just each valve was a little bit leaky. He had responded well to the meds and the cardiologist was optimistic. Our biggest task was to monitor his kidney values, as the diuretics taxed the kidneys; at a certain point it might turn into a balancing game, but for now, we treat his heart and carry on.

Then he gave me the best news: Auggie could be as active as he wants.

I asked to be sure. “You mean he can herd sheep?”

“Yes,” the cardiologist said. “I want him to do anything he feels like doing. I want to see him chasing sheep and jumping over fences.”

I started to cry again. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but he’s a working dog, and even though he’s already retired from agility, I just didn’t want to think of my dog unable to do anything he was bred to do and meant to do ever again. I promised him I wouldn’t ask him to go over any jumps anymore, but all I want to do is let him herd sheep again.”

Taken at the e-vet while waiting. Before they took him back to put him in the oxygen tank.

Back with my Auggie in the morning. Conehead for ripping out his IV.

Home with me later that day, back where we belong. Together.

On Auggie’s tenth birthday, I knew our time left together on this earth was limited. I had no idea it might be so severely limited. I thought we had years. The cardiologist told me his goal is to try and get everybody at least a year. I have made a deal with Auggie. He cannot leave me before he’s 11. I was promised a year, and I will be very, very unhappy if I don’t get what I’ve been promised.
After 11, we can talk. And maybe, if we’re blessed, he’ll stick around for a lot longer than that.

But as of right now, every day with Auggie is a gift.

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