Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Queeny's Story

This is a long post, but this story is what prompted me to launch a blog. I hope you’ll read through it for Queeny’s sake.

I haven’t written about “Queeny” in this blog because she crept through my life before I launched. But Fred’s post today on “One Bark at a Time” http://onebarkatatime.blogspot.com/ struck me and I want to make sure Queeny is never forgotten.

The Queensland Heelers and Australian Cattle Dogs who arrive at our Shelter rarely fare well. Bred as Thinkers, these dogs seem to sense the horrific end that could be theirs. Many react to the chaos of the Shelter by withdrawing into themselves—slumping in the back of the kennel, their ears at half-cock, their eyes full of reproach.

Queeny (our Shelter lacks imagination when assigning dogs a name, but at least a name is generally bestowed), a little Queensland Heeler mix, was like that. I didn’t see her at first—she was nearly invisible in her grief. When I took her out of the kennel, she slouched toward the door, quietly desperate. Already in the Shelter for three weeks, she came into my view too late. This was right before Valentine’s Day in 2009.

Not that I didn’t try to save her. I took her to an Off-Site event, which, when I am in charge is like a Day Out for the Dogs—with brushings, collars and kerchiefs, a spritz of doggie perfume, good treats, and walks and head pats and time to sit between my knees while I ruffle ears and massage shoulders. But Queen didn’t care. She looked at me with eyes that asked one question: “Who betrayed me?” And I couldn’t give her an answer.

So I tried to tempt her, but nothing worked. She was thin and coughing—I figured it was Kennel Cough, which vexed the Shelter animals all winter. I opened a can of dog food (bought inside the PetsMart where we had set up). She sniffed, licked, and then gave up on it. By the end of the afternoon, she was sliding downhill and I was determined.

Back at the Shelter, it was too late to find a staff member to give her medicine. It would have to wait until Friday morning. So Queeny came home with me, along with another foster (Sweetheart, the hound mix I’ve written about several times). I made them scrambled eggs, mixed it with kibble. She ate the offering and her mood picked up, but only a little.

I kept Queeny and Sweetheart at my house after the Off-Sites through the weekend. I gave her meds for Upper Respiratory Infection and good food. But my husband didn’t want me fostering—he was cranky about the dog hair, the size of the dogs, the crates in the main room, the occasional bark. Plus, he said he didn’t want stinky Shelter dogs in his vehicle, and my old Soccer-Mom van had to go the shop Monday for transmission work.

So I had to take both dogs back on Sunday night. It was 9:00 p.m. at the Shelter. There is nothing worse than the Shelter after hours. When we unlock the dark kennels, and flip on the lights, the dogs wake up and bark in confusion. The barking sounds harsher at night. Shadows pool, even with the lights on. The Shelter is Hell after hours.

Queeny gave me a stoic look—“You, too, have betrayed me.” Exhausted from four-days straight of Off-Sites (it was a special promotion), I wept. I wept all the way home because I knew Queeny was right. I didn’t stand up to my husband. I wasn’t willing to take responsibility for the relationship I’d started with Queeny. I told myself: “The Staff will continue her meds. It’s just a mild URI. She’s eating again. She’ll be fine.”

By the time I had my car back, it was Thursday. I went straight to the Shelter. The Vet Tech told me she was glad I was finally here because “your dog, the Heeler” hasn’t eaten since Monday.” Queeny was in the Surgery kennel because she had faded too much to remain in the chaos of the Adoption Room kennel. She didn’t stand, but lifted her head when she saw me.

I went into the kennel, crouched and cried in her fur. A Staff person brought me a can of dog food and asked me to see if I could get her to eat. She ate for me, then slowly rose, wobbled forward, drank water, then peed by the door of her kennel. I put on her harness and led her out. She wasn’t coming back. I didn’t care what my husband said.

The Shelter Director gave her injections of meds, gave me syringes and tablets, and a tube of Nutra-Cal. I put Queeny in my van and took her home, prepared a soft bed and put the crate in the main room of our house. Queeny stayed with me from February 19th until February 25th.

You know the story—injections (my husband, who was shamed into helping gave the injections while I held Queeny), liquids, tablets, a dozen combinations of taste-tempting tidbits, hand-feeding, finger-feeding, cajoling, slow walks in the grass, stroking and petting, begging and pleading, calling in favors from my best friend who is a Vet Tech, and even a donation from her employer who came out to the Van in front of her office to administer a power punch of injections: “It might work.”

I couldn’t save Queeny. On Ash Wednesday, February 25th, when I crouched by her crate, I could tell she had given up the fight. She was done. I lifted her in my arms and made her a bed on our couch. Weeping, I called a girlfriend, who came over and drove us in my van to the Shelter. I held Queeny on my lap. She wasn’t a big dog, but she had lost so much weight. Her eyes were smoky with Death but she was still breathing.

At the Shelter, there was the normal chaos. We arranged Queeny in the back of my van and my girlfriend stayed with her while I waded through the bureaucratic mud. No, I didn’t want to leave Queeny in a kennel where someone “would take care of it.” Yes, I could wait for the Shelter Director to finish a call. I had to break another promise I had made to Queeny: I had told her she would never go inside the Shelter again. But it is against the rules to perform the final deed in the parking lot.

My girlfriend waited with Queeny until things were ready, then I carried Queeny inside the Shelter to do the final thing. The Shelter Director had a cubbie for an office. We closed the door, and laid Queeny on a clean towel. The pads of her feet were thick: Distemper. We stroked Queeny. I told her how sorry I was.

They left me with Queeny, who I had planned to keep if she had lived, who I had renamed Sasha. She didn’t help or resist when I pulled her into my lap and wept into the brittle fur on her neck. I kissed her between her fox ears. The Vet Tech came for her.

Our Shelter doesn’t use the two-injection method for euthanization. Too expensive is the excuse. The Vet Tech did what she could, including holding Queeny (which is against the policy for some asinine reason) while the injection was made. On Ash Wednesday, February 25th, Queeny’s suffering ended.

I went to church afterwards, at noon. I needed to hear about ashes, dust and bones as brittle as potsherds. I needed to know my part in Queeny’s downfall would be absolved, and that through repentance (which is to turn around) I could do better. Queeny is not the first Shelter dog I’ve lost to death, as there have been others over the years, but she is the one who shouldn’t have died.

I will always remember Queeny, who is now Sasha.


  1. My heeler looked the same when she came home... dead eyed, skinny and withdrawn. 2 years later, she's happy, but anxiety ridden...always afraid I am going to leave her. I wish Sasha's story had ended differently and you both could have known and loved each other for a long long time.

    So many people get dogs for the wrong reason, without researching breeds or talking to someone who could steer them in a better direction. Dogs with the intensity of heelers, JRT's and so many others will never fit everyone's life style. Their cute factor makes them very vulnerable.

  2. Oh, my.
    My old red dog was a heeler mix. Such brilliant dogs, you are so right, they are thinkers.

    To Sasha, and your kindness in giving her a gentle end.

  3. Heelers are definitely thinkers. I am sorry she met such an end. You did what you could.

    To Sasha.


Please leave a pawprint! I appreciate comments.