On what would have been Bernice’s 10th birthday I felt it was finally time to write a little more about what happened to our precious pooch. I want to write a proper goodbye to her and I also hope this post helps even one other dog parent who may see the mysterious symptoms we saw in Bernice’s last two months (I included her necropsy below in case someone comes across this and wants to compare details).
First a little about Bernice
If you met Bernice you know that she was probably the happiest dog in the world. She played hard and slept hard. I’ve never seen a dog who liked playing more than her. I’ve had a lot of dogs in my short life so far, but Bernice was special. I know lots of people may say that about their dog, but I can honestly say this dog was a great mix of fun and cuddling (she slept under the covers in bed with you). She was there to comfort you when you needed it, to cheer you up after a bad day. Did she bark (sometimes a lot when people came to the door)? Sure, but I would take her personality over any dog any day. Her happiness was just infectious. You didn’t want to throw her toy? She’d stare you down until she won you over. If you’ve never had a dog and don’t think dogs should be considered like someone’s kid, someone’s family, then you may not understand my love for this dog. It was the love of a mother. Even with kids now, I can say that. Of course, my kids are different. There is no denying that, but that doesn’t mean that Bernice wasn’t a part of my family and like a child to me, as well. That is why this story is so painful for me to tell. Bernice took a piece of me with her and I will never forget her or her spirit.
In November 2013, Bernice had a bladder infection. Suddenly she was peeing a lot, drinking tons of water, she even had some accidents in the house (which hadn’t happened since she was a puppy). We took her to Hudson Animal Hospital and they did a bunch of tests and determined she didn’t have a bladder infection. At that time though there were some strange things that turned up in her blood test. Mainly that she has a muscle enzyme that was elevated to abnormally high levels. We were told this was something they normally saw in dogs with a traumatic injury, dogs with seizures or dogs that couldn’t walk. Bernice had no injury, no seizures and was walking fine…so herein the mystery began. We left with Clavamox and a prayer that this would clear things up.
Skip to a couple weeks later. My 4-month-old got a urinary tract infection (I didn’t think of the irony of that until I just wrote it, wow). Anyway we were in the Pediatric ICU around the clock with her for a couple of days. While the hubby was on overnight duty at the hospital I got up at 6am to relieve him, but first I went to walk Bernice. All of the sudden on this walk something changed. She didn’t want to walk and started walking almost sideways. It was odd. I rushed to the hospital and told my husband he had to take her back to the vet ASAP. Were those muscle tests foreshadowing this?
Back at Hudson Animal Hospital the Doctors were still baffled. They still had no idea what was wrong with her and were now referring us to a specialist at BluePearl Veterinary Partners.
I was hoping that Bernice would be back to normal, but she was still walking funny so we went to see the specialist. The first Doctor we saw at BluePearl on December 5th was an internist (Dr. Eriksson). He did some muscle & nerve tests on Bernice and something called a Neospora Titer. He also did an abdominal ultrasound. The results to all those tests? Still a mystery. We were told everything seems normal so we sent across the hall to a neurologist. Since we checked everything else the theory was that maybe it was something in her brain.
On December 19th with no change, better or worse, to Bernice’s condition we went to see the neurologist (Dr. Levitin). During this first visit he just looked at her and did a basic consult. The funny thing is inside you could barely tell she was walking funny. We had to go outside into freezing temps to see that her gait was off. While Dr. Levitin didn’t know what was wrong he pre-emptively put her on steroids (Prednisone). He also advised us about optional tests we could do going forward, if her condition didn’t improve.
With no improvement (or decline) in Bernice’s walk we took her in for a battery of tests on January 9th. She had to be put under for these tests, which made me super nervous, but we felt we had to do the tests to know what was wrong. This was a dog who loved to play, LIVED to play and she hadn’t been playing since she started walking funny. It was like she lost the will to walk and run. Was she in pain? It didn’t seem like it, but she was pained knowing she wanted to, but couldn’t, play. So we got her an MRI, a Spinal Tap, you name it, we had it done. $3625 later we still had few answers. We were again told that most tests appeared normal and that their best guess at that point was a bulging disc (a minor one). It still didn’t make a lot of sense, but in a way we were relieved. There wasn’t a tumor, there wasn’t cancer, so maybe, just maybe, this “condition” would go away on its own. We were actually given Gabapentin (another drug) that the Doctors hoped might help. If she was still walking funny after the meds ran out, BluePearl recommended we maybe go to an acupuncturist.
January 21, 2014
13 days after those battery of tests we had no idea what this day would bring. We were able to take our 3-year-old to gym class, but my husband, Mike, went out to walk Bernice first. She seemed fine that day. Woke up cuddling, as she did every day of her life. Ate in the morning like normal. Still walking funny, but no other change….until that 4pm walk. It is a time/day I’ll never forget. It was about 25 degrees out and snowing like crazy. Mike stepped out with Bernice. He walked in 5 minutes later with her and B was completely out of it. He said she all of a sudden started acting strange outside and fell on the sidewalk. I took one look at her and knew something was really wrong. She had such powerful energy and it was gone. I told him run, don’t walk to BluePearl. It was just two blocks down and one avenue over for us. Since she couldn’t walk we put her in the bottom of our snap and go stroller and off my husband went. I called the vet and told them they were on the way and that it was an emergency. I then looked out the window and could see my husband down the street frantically pushing the stroller through the snowstorm and though I was 7 floors up I think I could see his panic. What I would later find out is that when he got her outside in the stroller he could see the life draining from her. He told me at the Northwest corner of 57th Street and 11th Avenue, Bernice collapsed in the stroller, and started bleeding out of her nose and mouth. He rushed her into BluePearl and he says a team of Doctors all sprung right into action, but it was too late. They did CPR and whatever they could, but she was dead. When the phone rang, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here I was at home alone with my 3-year-old and my 6-month-old and I just wanted to collapse.
The vet sent Bernice’s remains up to Cornell Animal Hospital for a necropsy and paid for the necropsy. We are thankful they did this for us, certainly for the kind gesture of paying the bill, but more so because we wanted closure. I think they also wanted to know what went wrong. Did they miss something? We hoped the post-mortem would give us some answers.
It’s still mostly a mystery. The necropsy found there was a tracheal collapse, severe acute gas distension and issues with heart valves, but the doctors still say it doesn’t add up. They still insist her symptoms (peeing/drinking a lot and gait change) don’t indicate any reasons for her sudden death. What the heck was wrong with her? It is something we’ll never really know. I’m including the necropsy results below though in hopes that maybe a Veterinary researcher somewhere, someday comes across this and reads the necropsy and some sort of bell goes off and maybe some other dog with the same symptoms gets diagnosed with whatever this is and maybe, just maybe, they survive and it would be in Bernice’s memory.
Three months later I still tear up almost daily thinking about Bernice. She was such a healthy dog for so long and so energetic that Mike and I used to say she would probably live to be the oldest dog ever in existence. I can’t believe she didn’t even come close. Was there anything I could have done? I don’t think so. Like I said I got every test done that we could have possibly done. I did everything doctors recommended, and most of all, I loved her with all my heart. I am not a religious person, but boy do I hope that she is in some version of Doggy Heaven right now playing with her older sister Serena, who died just a little more than two years earlier. What has made things even harder is that Alexia asked everyday for about two months when Bernice was coming back. She loved her so much. Finally, after a conversation with a fellow mom who recently lost her dog, I had to tell Alexia in no uncertain terms that Bernice wasn’t coming back. That she went to Doggy Heaven and there was no coming back from there. When Alexia sees Bernice’s picture or just something that reminds her of Bernice, she still lights up and mentions her with love. And that tells me through Alexia, Bernice’s memory will outlive us. Bernice is all over Alexia’s baby pictures and video. Thanks to these digital memories, and those that will remain forever in my heart, hopefully even Alexia’s children and grandchildren will get to see Bernice in action and get to know a little bit about a special spirit that was taken from us, way too soon.