It’s been a while since I have sat down to write and in part, the reason has been that I was digesting the news that my dearly beloved companion of 12 years, Hector, who has long played a lead role in our merry band, was diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks ago. Since then, my culinary endeavors have been devoted to getting him to eat.
As a big, handsome English Labrador, he never met a bowl of food he didn’t like. In fact, once, upon finding the lid off his kibble container, he decided to dive right in and inhale as much of it as he could before he was discovered. I found him outside with a blue tongue, choking and unable to breathe because he had stuffed so much in his mouth! He quickly recovered.
It has been very hard to witness his decline and increasingly fussy appetite. Throughout his life, I had a strict rule about no people food. I also regulated his diet so he wouldn’t end up overweight like so many Labs, never letting friends or family feed him from the table – much to their (and his) chagrin.
He had great table manners. He would go lie on his bed and never begged when we were eating. Yet when it was time for his meals, he would prance and careen around the house like a horse, so excited for his favorite hour of the day. He stopped doing this just a few weeks ago, which is when I started to think something was up. That, and the fact I noticed he didn’t finish his meal for a couple of days in a row. These were completely ‘did hell freeze over?’ type of events. Kibble would typically remain in his bowl for precisely 15 seconds.
Over the course of a few days we made repeated visits to the vet and learned that he had tumors on his spleen and cysts on his kidneys. The prognosis was poor and his decline shockingly rapid, although we don’t know how long he had had the cancer before we discovered it.
Devastated, I was determined to make his last days comfortable and ensure that he felt loved by us. We spent the first few nights camping out in the sitting room with him, but soon realized that none of us were getting much sleep that way, although I think it lifted his spirits. Labradors always want to be with their people.
The hardest thing was that he didn’t want to eat much, if anything at all. He immediately turned his nose up (or rather, away) from anything that resembled dog food. My ‘no people food’ rule flew out the window. Bowls were no longer for him. Being hand-fed, by me alone, became the only acceptable food delivery mechanism. I didn’t care what he ate, or how he ate it. I knew as long as I could get him to eat a few hundred calories a day he would have enough strength to keep wagging his tail and bark at the mailman – key indicators that he still wanted to be with us.
We tried prescription-only high calorie dog food from the vet. I heated up hot dogs to release the aromas, bought expensive roast beef, deli ham, turkey, baby food and roasted chicken. It soon became transparently clear that Hector was on a mission: to eat only people food, and to sample as wide a variety as he possibly could.
One day he would LOVE ham, so I’d rush out and buy as much of it as I could lay my hands on, only to find the next day he’d give it a disdainful sniff and turn his head away. This went on for a few days until he had exhausted all the options I had to offer. Then I cottoned on to the fact that he was only interested in what we were actually eating, no Hormel luncheon meat for him. We started to bring home leftovers: burritos, pizza crusts, calamari. In fact, I started to order things I never eat, just to tempt his palate.
For a couple of weeks it worked and each time he accepted an offering I would feel irrationally happy. He ate just enough to stay alert and get outside to the yard a couple of times a day. But all too soon he decided that he had sampled all he wanted from my ‘all you can eat buffet’ and it was time to lay down his head for the last time. We were there at the end, and my heart is broken. But I know we gave him the best of everything, including people food.
Hector left us on August 1, 2013. He will be forever in my heart as my most faithful, enduring love.
What an extraordinary story about the lovely Hector. May the pain of your loss be gently replaced with loving memories.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate your kind words.
Nicole Rinehart says
So sorry to hear about your baby. He had the best human. Know he took that love with him.
RIP hector…i don’t know what to say since nothing can take away the pain of losing a pet family member..
Marguerite Sommers says
I was so touched by your story…it hits very close to my heart, We have a Tzu we rescued a little over a year ago. We have been struggling with the exact same issue for the past couple of months. It started with a decrease in appetite & not finishing his bowl of food. Then one day he just stopped eating alltogether. He lost weight but started to eat again a few days later. We thought he just had a stomach ache or something. Things went well for a few weeks but he wasn’t eating as much or as often as before. Again he stopped eating…this time for 6 days…then he started to eat some food again…but only little amounts and he too would eat something once or twice & then not again. Turning his nose up to something he ate just the day before became normal to us. We bought dog food, people food & baby food. We gave him whatever he would eat & tried to come up with new things every day. He would only eat a few bites of something each day. As of today he has not touched anything in 3 days. He is very thin and we feel nothing but bones from his head to his toes. He sleeps 22 hrs out of the day. He drinks water a couple of times a day. He goes out to relieve himself & until 4 days ago was out for a little walk every day. We too have been to the vet…but we all agreed that his appetite is key. We can spend all the money in the world to find the problem…but if he won’t eat we can’t medicate him. He has been in kidney failure since he came to us so medication has always been minimal. Your story has given us some sense of understanding. He could very well be in the same situation as Hector. We are now facing the difficult & painful decision to end his suffering. We know there is nothing we can do for him at this point and it would be completely selfish of us to let him waste away. Our thoughts are with you during this difficult time. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It is clear how much you loved him & he you.
*hugs* Sorry! I think you did a great job in his final days, and he passed on a happy dog! Take care!
Cindy Jen says
I am so sorry for your loss. I cooked and hand fed my 11 year old lab mix the last 6 months of his life, knowing he was getting weaker, and the few hundred calories a day was not going to hold him with us forever. It’s been five months since his passing, I am bawling my eyes out reading your posting. Dogs are the best and I am sure your Hector is looking down on you from doggie heaven, healthy and happy that you took such good care of him. Take care!
What a beautiful, tender love story of you and Hector!!
He’ll be watching you always from his heavenly dog-spot, I just KNOW it!
I am so so sorry for your loss and I can feel for you. I had to send my 18 year old cat to rainbow bridge a few months ago. I also hand fed him and held his water for him. It’s so hard to lose a much loved animal.
Deb N says
I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my own best friend Black Lab/Golden Retriever about 4 years ago.. She was almost 17..We got her when she was 5 1/2 weeks old. It was the hardest thing I had done in my life..I understand what you have dealt with. Hugs to you 🙂
Marie L. Hilson says
I’m so sorry for your loss. I just went thru the exact same thing with my Nikita (14 yrs old) although it only took a week for me to lose him on Oct 11th. Reading your story was like reading mine, the spleen tumors and kidney cyst, just the same. I gave him anything he would eat, liver, liverwurst (for iron) etc and when he wouldn’t eat anything I knew it was time. I was there at the end and my heart is still broken, I know people always say my dog was special but Niki was I’ve had a lot of dogs in my life because I foster and I honestly have never met one like him. He is missed by a large circle. I hope you are starting to be able to think of him without crying, I’m not there yet.