It didn’t feel right to try and move on with my regular content without properly acknowledging the loss of a life that meant so much to me. For those who missed my post, I had to say goodbye to my sweet Honey this past Friday. She was a fixture in my photos, a light in my dark days, and without a doubt my very best friend in the world. Some people have human soul mates, but I had Honey – she was my “person”, and as I struggle to figure out what my future looks like without her I can’t help but feel like I need to release the past before I can look forward.
Caring for a terminally sick pet alone through my pregnancy was a kind of hard I never could have dreamt of, and though I published Honey updates here and there over the past 9 months I never really got into what we were going through because it was just too raw and too tender to put into words. But now she’s gone, and with all of those months of struggle swirling around in my head, writing and sharing seems like the only thing to do.
So here’s her story, our story.
I always had at least one dog in my family home growing up, so when I moved across the country from Vancouver to Toronto on my own at age 18 it seemed like a no-brainer I’d adopt a furry friend of my own. Turns out student housing isn’t so keen on that idea, and the shelters thought I was insane for wanting to take on caring for a dog as a student with a part time job, so I held off for a couple years, filling the void with a kitten (thank you Coconut for playing fetch with me in those early days and continuing to fill my life with fluff and cuddles even now, over ten years later.)
In the Spring of 2012 I was 22, graduating my university program, and had just moved in with my partner across from Trinity Bellwoods Park. I started to get that tugging feeling in my heart, the one I always listen to no matter how insane the idea seems, and this time it was insisting now was the moment to open my life up to a dog. But my partner was unsure – though we were totally head over heels, we’d only been together for a matter of months before moving in together, and he’d never had a pet in his entire life, so didn’t feel the same attachment to the idea. He wanted things to settle a bit before we took any more big steps, but life had other ideas.
In early March a friend send me a Reddit thread about a woman in Oakville who was rescuing beagles and other unwanted hounds from high kill shelters in Kentucky. She had put out a desperate plea for foster parents – a large number of pups were scheduled to be euthanized at a shelter in just a few short days, and without a Canadian address to come to she wouldn’t be able to organize saving them in time. Without a second thought I sent in an application, and I think I even wrote in my email “we will take as MANY dogs as you need us to.” It was totally illogical and my partner was not overly pleased I hadn’t checked in before hitting send, but it just felt like something I needed to do.
A couple days later on March 6 2012, the wonderfully passionate Dolores Doherty of A Dog’s Dream Rescue pulled up outside our building with a crate in the back of her truck. We had only seen one picture of Honey, then known as “Destiny”, and she was terrified in the corner of a wire and cement cell, abandoned at a shelter somewhere in Kentucky. She had been seized from a hoarder’s home with 40 other dogs and had to await the trial for six months in the shelter before being officially put up for adoption. But of all the dogs from the hoarder’s pack, she was the only one who had not been adopted, and so she was put on doggy “death row” before Dolores stepped in. We knew nothing about her and hadn’t really thought to ask – we opened up our home to a dog in need, any dog, and she’s what we got.
From the moment she happily trotted into our apartment and immediately made herself comfy on the couch we knew there would be no furever home for her other than ours. She was truly a perfect angel from day one, so kind and gentle, dripping with sweetness that we could barely comprehend. We quickly sent an email to the rescue organization saying we’d like her taken off the website under adoptable dogs and added to the happy tales list – our girl had found her family, and from now on, true to her ever-so-sweet nature she’d be called “Honey”.
The years flew by, and together we went on all sorts of adventures. Cottages, long car rides, picnics in the park and so many sleepy afternoons cuddled up on the couch. Honey inspired us to help other pups, taking in other foster dogs whenever we were able to, and watching the good influence Honey was on each of them, helping them feel safe in their new temporary surroundings. She had a particular love for watermelon and cheese, and a knack for always finding the comfiest, sunniest place in any house (usually this involved piling pillows and blankets into a mountain before settling in). She was genuinely kind and gentle to every soul, save for squirrels who she couldn’t help but chase at the dog park, and never made a sound or seemed to want for anything. Everyone we met couldn’t believe how lucky we’d gotten with a rescue, but I knew it was anything but luck – some sort of magic pull had gotten me to email Dolores that day, to offer a safe landing spot for Honey. If I hadn’t hit send and no other fosters had come forward, our perfect girl would never have made it out of that shelter alive. I have never stopped being thankful for that impulsive email application.
When Honey’s dad and I split up she became a bridge that kept us kind to one another, and to this day he’s still one of the most cherished people in my life. We became co-parents of sorts, and he got his own wonderful rescue pup too, so our pack became even bigger. As more years passed I can’t tell you how many times I cried into Honey’s fur over my heartbreaks, over bad dates and lost friendships. She was the one steady presence in my life as I struggled to learn how to get by on my own, and there were so many times where I’m sure my depression would have swallowed me whole had she not been there with her tale wagging, pacing back and forth at the front door for a walk. For years and years we went everywhere together – I brought her with me to parties, to the beach, to photoshoots, even on dates if I could convince the suitor to meet me at the dog park (always a good way to weed out the bad ones). My days were spent telling her stories and asking for her advice, and my nights were spent with her as the perfect little spoon (she was the right side of the bed, I was the left).
I had saved her from her fate at the shelter, but she saved me 100 times over in the next seven years.
When I decided to become a mother on my own last Christmas I knew Honey would be the best sidekick a new mom could ask for. I pictured the three of us cuddling in bed and going for long walks in the park together – she always loved children and babies so much and never failed to be so very gentle. It was her signature move to ignore other dogs at the park and poke her nose into strollers instead. The very thought of her helping take care of our little family’s new addition brought happy tears to my eyes.
I had just signed the lease on my dream apartment, a massive two-level right by High Park that was way too big for me, when a friend sent me a link to a cute husky boy puppy that needed a new home via Instagram. I felt that familiar pang in my heart that I had felt way back when I adopted Honey, and unable to ignore it I sent a message. A few days later, we welcomed Mylk to the pack too. They were fast friends, and though I knew two dogs and a cat would be a lot on my own with a new baby, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My life was overflowing with love, and I had never felt more sure I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
But around the time we moved to High Park Honey started to pee blood, so I took her to the vet and we started a long journey of tests. At first they thought it was just a bad UTI, something she had struggled with in the past, and antibiotics seemed to temporarily solve the problem, but this time the symptoms came back almost immediately after every course. After months of x-rays, ultrasounds, blood tests, and constant checkups the vet still didn’t have a final answer, and though it looked like cancerous tumours were forming in Honey’s bladder on the ultrasound results, the only way to confirm was through a very costly and intense bladder surgery. The hope was the surgeon could remove the masses regardless of what they were, and then biopsy them to confirm if we needed to treat for cancer, or if they were benign growths. I emptied most of my savings and we put the surgery on the books for early June. Just a couple of days later I peed on a stick and found out I was pregnant.
From there, everything went from bad to worse. Honey came out of surgery her happy, unfazed self, but the vet was unable to safely remove any of the growths, and a few weeks later the biopsy came back positive for Transitional Cell Carcinoma, a very aggressive type of cancer that often leaves dogs with only a few months left to live. I was told it wasn’t safe for me to handle the chemotherapy drugs pregnant, so she had limited options for treatment unless I wanted to bring her in for IV treatments every two weeks until it was no longer helping, 3-4 months tops.
The summer was a blur of mixed emotions – so much happiness as I felt the new life grow inside of me, but so much heartbreak as I watched the life of my best friend fade away. I can’t even begin to count the tears. We started her on one of the less aggressive anti-inflammatory cancer drugs because I didn’t want her spending her last days in the vet sick from endless IV chemo treatments, and she responded really well. An equipment mishap during her surgery had left her with terrible burns all down her back, and so everywhere we went people asked what had happened to her, and I constantly had to recount her sickness and what she was going through. I started to just snap “she’s dying”, thinking the more matter of fact I could be, the less it would hurt with time. But right up until the very end, that blow never softened.
My birthday came and went, and as the weather started to get colder Honey developed a really bad cough. The x-rays started again, and it was suggested the cancer was spreading into her lungs. Many different drugs were prescribed, some of which helped but only for a couple weeks at best. I developed a habit of waking up every morning and reaching over to feel she was still breathing, flooded with worry until my hand touched her fur. We finally made the scary choice to switch the cancer drug she was on, which had been working fairly well, to a steroid drug, and prayed it would help and not hinder. It did, instantly, and the cough got a lot better for a couple of months. The problem is steroid treatment comes with it’s own set of downfalls – she was constantly panting, and felt endlessly hungry and thirsty no matter how much food and water I gave her. She started to have a lot more accidents in the house and waking up in the middle of the night for pee breaks in the freezing cold became routine. I continued to take her to the park every couple of days, but long walks were no longer an option, and even the temptation of a fat squirrel running past us didn’t make her change pace. All of that said, nothing extreme or obvious was wrong – she was still my happy girl, just a lot more slow, so we pressed on together and made the best of the situation.
In those final few months, my whole life revolved around Honey. She couldn’t be left for more than an hour or two without having an accident in the house, so I limited all of my plans to be home with her. I had always included her in as much as possible, but now I wouldn’t consider going somewhere unless she could come along. Meal time became more complex than the meals I make for myself, determined to give her the very best supplements and food money could buy, and despite warnings from concerned friends I continued to carry her when she couldn’t find the strength to carry herself, no matter how hard it got with the baby weight.
Right before Christmas, things took a turn for the worst. Honey tried to jump onto my bed to settle into her usual spot, but her legs seemed to fail her and she fell down hard. She spent the whole night shaking and struggling to breath, and I just held onto her, crying and praying. At the animal hospital the next day we were told it was possible the tumours had grown into her spine, but our incredible vet Dr. Bainbridge suggested we try her on a daily pain medication cocktail before giving up entirely. “She’s surprised us so many times before” he said, “maybe she can do it again.”
The pain medication worked, and though Honey never fully bounced back after that fall we got to spend Christmas together as a family – me, her, Mylk, Coconut, and the baby bump. It was the most special holiday season I’ve had my entire life, and I’ll always be thankful for that precious time.
The new year brought on new challenges – Honey kept getting infections, and it seemed for every ailment we were able to treat three more would appear. She gave up on stairs and jumping into the car or onto furniture entirely, and every single night I carried her up to her spot on the bed, balancing her over my 8 month pregnant belly. Every single morning I hurried to check her chest was still rising. Sleeping through the night without coughing fits and pee breaks was a thing of the past, and I was pretty much constantly crying. Things were getting harder every day, but I knew I had been so lucky to have her with me so much longer than anyone had bargained for, and as my due date crept closer and the idea of her actually getting to meet baby before she passed became a reality, I couldn’t help but build up hope she’d make it.
On January 18th 2019, two weeks before my due date, Honey’s dad and I took her into the vet for the last time.
Something was different, I could feel it – the sparkle was gone from her eyes, and even small walks on the front lawn suddenly seemed to be too much for her. She was leaking blood even without peeing, and when I woke up that Friday to more blood all over my bedsheets than ever before I knew she needed to go into the vet immediately. I was convinced I was over exaggerating, that she just needed another round of antibiotics and she’d bounce back yet again, but as the vet checked her over and asked more and more concerned questions my heart started to sink.
She told us Honey was in a great deal of pain and probably had been for a long time, she was just so strong it wasn’t that obvious until it had become too much. It looked like the cancer had spread everywhere, and even breathing appeared to be a constant struggle. She offered to try another round of medications, which would have brought her up to 8 pills per day, but assured us even if the symptoms went away Honey wouldn’t feel any better. We were out of temporary solutions, and there was no magical secret cure.
So we did the only thing we could do, what was best for her, even though she was so close to making it through to meet the baby, and even though I was pretty sure the whole process would actually kill me. I knew if I took her home for one more night I couldn’t bare to bring her back the next morning, so we decided it had to be done that night. Even 12 more hours was too much pain to put her through. We went to the grocery store to buy cheese and chicken and had a big final feast right there in the vet office. When her final moment came we cuddled with her on a pile of blankets on the floor and held her close until the vet told us she was gone. It was so peaceful and calm I refused to believe she wasn’t just sleeping. Leaving her there wrapped in blankets broke me in a way I didn’t know a person could break. I just kept repeating “I can’t leave her here.”
Putting down a pet is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do – no matter how much logic and good sense you tell yourself, the guilt and second guessing is unrelenting and heartbreaking. Even after I heard myself agree to what needed to be done, every bone in my body told me to grab our girl and run – just get her home safe and everything would be fine. I still want to go back and get her, every moment of every day, constantly worrying she’s cold or not comfy enough or misses me. When I wake up in the morning my hand searches for her furry chest beside me to make sure she’s still breathing, and when I find she isn’t there I completely fall apart. I don’t want to vacuum because I don’t want her precious little red hairs to disappear from my furniture. I can’t bring myself to throw out all of her medications because that means she doesn’t need them anymore. I carry her collar around with me when I’m home just to hear the familiar jingle of her brass name tag. I miss cleaning the puddles of pee off of the floor, and carrying her up and down the stairs on my belly, and crying into her soft fur asking the universe for just a few more weeks of time together. I miss all of the painful, difficult things that I didn’t know it was possible to miss. Most of all, I just miss her.
Maybe this is too much for this blog, where everything is so often bright, sparkly, colourful, and filled with hope, but this moment won’t seem to let me go on without being properly acknowledged. I am suspended in a moment between taking a life and bringing a new one into existence, and while my heart is so broken I know it’s about to swell and fill in ways I never knew it could. I like to think Honey hung on for as long as she did, against all odds, to take care of me through my pregnancy, and now that I’m so close she had to go take up her post as the baby’s guardian angel to help bring him or her safely earthside. In this darkness after the sunset before the sunrise, this space between life and death, I guess I have to just mourn and reflect, and know the light is coming. It has to be.
Heaven, you’ve got yourself the sweetest angel there could ever be. Rest in peace my dearest Honey. You may be gone, but you’ll never ever be forgotten.
Special thanks to Dundas West Animal Hospital and Dr. Bainbridge for all your love, kindness and support. Honey was lucky to call your team her team.