Farewell to Lil Weezy, our sweet senior Dallas rescue pug
We were not ready for that 3 a.m. phone call.
It was the emergency vet’s office calling to inform of us of some “developments” in Lil Weezy’s condition. He had suffered a seizure and stopped breathing. They were forced to intubate and inject him with epinephrine to get his heart beating again. The intubation also revealed blood in his lungs. It wasn’t looking good. We needed to get there fast. It might be time to say goodbye to the 15-pound pug with big, loving eyes that melted our hearts even as they failed to help him find his path.
Just a few hours earlier, last Sunday night, we had taken the little guy to the nearest overnight emergency vet out of growing concern because he was losing his balance and struggling at times to catch his breath. His condition had rapidly deteriorated since we first started noticing problems days earlier. At first, we thought he was experiencing side effects of his new anti-seizure medication. But medical screening suggested a more dire cause.
Besides his obvious scoliosis, x-rays showed masses on one of his lungs and blood work indicated his white blood cell count was double the norm, indicating his body was fighting an infection. He was in need of overnight treatment, but we felt there were reasons for optimism. He was still eating, drinking and going to the bathroom outside. When they put him in a hospital crate for treatment, he barked up a storm. We could hear his little yelp from the next room. When a vet center employee asked us to authorize CPR or other life-saving measures, we were assured it was strictly routine and unlikely to come into play.
We were not ready for that 3 a.m. phone call.
The story of Lil Weezy aka Lil Man aka Lil Baby Man starts for me in the summer of 2011 on an online dating website. When I spotted the cute blonde woman who graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans before moving to New York City and then back home to Dallas, my initial assessment was that she was out of my league. I was expecting a non-response to a friendly inquiry. But when I read her profile I knew I was IN. She had two adopted pugs from Dallas-Fort Worth Pug Rescue, just like me.
“You had me at two pugs,” I wrote to her. I got a first date and, somehow, even a second and a third.
So it was even before I was formally introduced to Lil Weezy and his biological brother, Bun B, that he had played a key role in helping me win the attention of the love of my life. Meeting him a few weeks later was merely a formality. As I fell in love with my girlfriend in the ensuing months, I also fell in love with Lil Man and Bun B.
I loved him for the way he slowly shuffled his paws across the floor, his weaker hind legs dragging behind just a bit. I loved him because he needed for us to lift him up on the furniture, but he refused to help and in fact seemed to slump like a small sack of taters as we reached down to grab him. I loved him because he insisted on being held like a baby at almost all times and he did NOT like it when we tried to do anything — read a book, work on a computer, send a Tweet — while holding him like a baby. I loved him because some of his whiskers extended from his top lip over his mouth and because his pug face rolls were thick and tight, just as they should be.
I loved him because even as he got older and it got harder for him to make it outside to go to the bathroom, he still jumped off the bed in the middle of the night and started the long journey downstairs for the doggy door. And even when he didn’t make it quite there, I could never, ever be angry because he had made such an admirable effort. I loved him because he sneezed and coughed and snorted and spit and hacked and sometimes, just sometimes, a little poop nugget accidentally plopped out as he did so. I loved him because he didn’t exactly have teeth, just a few nubbins, and he nibbled my fingers when I fed him by hand. I loved him because he was mostly deaf and therefore didn’t always wake right up when I came home, even as our other three pugs went nuts. I loved him because he was also largely blind and sometimes l’d find him lounging outside by himself just gazing around as he lay in the grass. He wouldn’t notice me until I came within six inches of his face.
I loved him because, while his breath was stinky, it wasn’t nearly as stinky as that of his brother Bun. I loved him because his kisses were rare and therefore slightly more satisfying to receive. I loved him because as much as he grew to love me, he never took his eyes off his mama (smart man).
It was because I loved him so much that I also worried about him the most. He was the littlest one and he was also the one whose age was most showing. At about 12 years old, he was gradually slowing down. Nevertheless, he appeared to be comfortable and happy. At the dog park, while his three siblings played, he would lounge at his mom’s feet. At home, he regularly strolled over to his water bowl for a drink or slowly through the doggy door — one paw at a time — to relieve himself outside. Sometimes he’d even pick up the pace and run upstairs or across a room. That’s when we’d shout that he was going, “so fast! So fast!”
In recent months, there were growing signs of concern. At night, Lil Weezy would wake up panting and head for the water bowl. No amount of water, it seemed, could relieve him. The seizures that previously struck every few weeks had started hitting almost every night. Each one seemed more intense. One recent weekend morning, Samantha held him in her arms in our bed as he had a seizure and his entire body went limp, his eyes wide open.
“Little man!? Little man!?” she shouted to him, the fear rising in her voice.
I reached over and felt his little chest. There was a heartbeat. He gasped and appeared to regain consciousness. Even before the seizures became more frequent, we typically only let Lil Weezy and not the other dogs sleep in the bed at night because we worried so much about him. The more frequent seizures meant I almost never slept through the night. The slightest movement caused me to shoot out of the bed like a canon.
“IS HE OKAY!?” I’d shout to Samantha, to which she’d almost always say, “Yes, he’s fine.”
“ARE YOU OKAY!?” I’d say breathlessly, to which she’d almost always say, “Yes, I’m fine,” with only a slight hint of annoyance in her tone.
It was time to treat these recurring and increasingly violent seizures. Our vet started him on a seizure medication and the seizures stopped almost entirely in recent weeks. The downside of the medication was the potential side effects. Lil was markedly more drowsy and he seemed less steady on his feet. I’d long planned to buy a wearable dog carrier to use for Lil Man and his recent health problems prompted me to finally do it. The least we could do was keep him comfortable by keeping him off his feet and close to our chest even as we walked around the house.
There was only so much we could do. By the beginning of the weekend, he appeared to be losing his balance. On Sunday night, he couldn’t walk without stumbling over. His pug brothers and sister appeared to understand he was suffering. They all gently kissed and sniffed him at one point. We decided to take him to the local emergency vet center.
Following the medical screening and the news that we would need to leave him there overnight, we went to the back area to see the little fella. He was in a cage and he was not happy about it. We popped opened the door to visit with him and he immediately tried to walk out. We hugged and kissed him, told him we loved him and that we’d see him soon. Samantha lingered with him a little longer and I thought she was being overdramatic. I realize now it was her motherly instinct.
A few hours later, after I hung up with the vet who made the 3 a.m. phone call, Samantha insisted that I tell her exactly what was going on. I struggled to find the words. We need to go be with him, I told her, he might not make it. She rushed out of bed and we both got dressed. I could hear her weeping in the bathroom. We weren’t ready for this.
When we arrived at the emergency vet, we were told that Lil was doing a little better. Back in the treatment area, we held him. If he needed to go, we told him, that would be OK. It was nearly 4 a.m. and we wanted to stay with him for the four hours until our regular vet’s office would open and we could take him there for further evaluation, but we were told that wasn’t practical. We needed to make a decision on whether we wanted them to take life-saving measures should he need them again. The decision was clear and the answer was no. We said another difficult goodbye and headed home to try to get some sleep. I couldn’t sleep at all, as I was in constant fear that my phone would ring again. It did not.
Shortly after 7 a.m. on Monday, we were back at the emergency vet for the third time in about eight hours. Lil had slept for a few hours and he was still stable. Samantha took him in her arms, his chin resting against her chest. We headed to our vet’s office across town, where we left him again for a few hours for further tests. Our vet assured us that he would get him back to us to take home as soon as possible. He delivered as promised and by early afternoon Monday, we were back to pick him up. I was optimistic that things were improving. The look on a vet tech’s face as she carried him out to us led me to believe otherwise.
Our vet gave it to us straight. His little heart was failing, perhaps from cancer, and he had about a 20 percent chance of pulling through. We’d probably know very quickly, he said, and if he suffered another seizure that would likely be the end. We were given several different medications and told to try to get him to eat within the next 24 hours. His time on earth was probably limited, but we wanted to make the most of it.
So back at our Dallas townhouse, we ate pizza and mostly hung out in bed with the little guy and his pug siblings. He was very thirsty and found his way to the water bowl almost entirely on his own. We fed him soft food by hand and we couldn’t get it in his mouth fast enough. He scarfed it down with his teeth nubbins and bit our fingers several times in the process. As the sun set, coughing spells began to hit. We could hear the sounds of fluid clogging his lungs. His eyes were turning more red.
But then the coughing would subside. Lil Weezy would sleep — on our chests, in our arms, at our feet. We’d kiss his head. We’d whisper in his soft little ears how much we loved him. The coughing would start again. Every time he’d start coughing, he’d also try to get up and walk around. It was as if he was trying to walk it off. It wasn’t helping. But again, late in the evening, the coughing subsided and we settled in bed with him to try to get some sleep.
Shortly after midnight, the coughing picked up again. This time was far worse than all the others. He was making a terrible high-pitched, bark-like sound and it was clear he was in pain. Nothing we did was helping. At one point, I took him in my arms and walked around upstairs as I told him, in no uncertain terms, it was OK for him to let go.
“You can go, my sweet guy,” I said. “I love you so much.”
Maybe it’s because he’s deaf or maybe it’s because he had some things he still wanted to take care of in his little pug life, but he wasn’t listening to me. So almost 24 hours after that awful 3 a.m. phone call, I called the same emergency vet center again. I choked up as I inquired with the vet tech about coming in to put him to sleep. She said we needed to be completely sure that that was what we wanted to do. I wasn’t sure.
As we drove the short trip to the emergency vet center for the fourth time in the past 30 hours, Samantha and I discussed this most horrible decision. We were exhausted and short-tempered and it didn’t feel like we were on the same page, though we knew the right thing was to let him go, to free him from his pain.
Inside the center, we were greeted by now familiar and compassionate employees. They rushed Lil Man to a tiny doggy oxygen chamber and we followed close behind. As I stood by the chamber, my hand to the glass, the on-duty veterinarian explained that he was showing all the typical signs of congestive heart failure. The coughing after brief periods of sleeping, the pacing, the fluid build-up in his lungs. We could treat him with oxygen and see whether that helped for the time being, but it appeared we were going to have to make that most awful decision.
As we discussed our options, we opened a little door on the oxygen chamber and reached our hands in to pet our boy, who was standing, looking at us and barking. It was almost as if he was trying to help us make our decision, voicing his opinion on the matter.
And then, almost in slow motion, he tumbled over on his side and began violently seizing. The vet and two vet techs sprung into action, popping open the door of the chamber and placing his little body on a medical table. They had all the tools ready to try to bring him back. They looked to us for direction. No, we said, do not try to bring him back.
As they monitored his pulse, we moved closer. I put my hand on his soft, wrinkly face while his body continued to twist and jerk. His heart rate was slowing but it didn’t immediately stop. I asked the vet for reassurance that we were doing the right thing. As she monitored his pulse, she said it was time, that bringing him back would just continue a vicious cycle. They injected him with a dose of anesthesia to help him relax and within seconds there was no detectable pulse.
The staff brought us a box of tissues and told us to take as long as we needed. There, in the back of the emergency animal clinic, we held each other and our littlest man for the last time. We told him we loved him and that he was such a good boy as our tears dripped onto his frail, perfectly still body.
The first few days without him have not been easy. It seems as though the other pugs, especially his biological brother, notice something is amiss. Bun B generally has a signature look of fear and anxiety, but he just doesn’t seem right lying alone in his dog bed without his smaller sidekick cuddled up next to him. He walks through the doggy door to the backyard and stares.
It’s tough for us too. I gathered Lil Weezy’s many medicine bottles and eye drops and hid them away as fast as I could. When Samantha grabbed treats to give the pugs on her way out to work the morning after his death, she counted four out of habit. It’s amazing how empty the house feels even though we still have three pugs. He required so much extra attention because of his needs as a senior man.
For me, this isn’t just the loss of a pet. This is one of the first of what will inevitably be many challenging and painful moments I’ll share in my future with Samantha. It’s also a time of reflection on the immense love we shared with one of the greatest joys of either of our lives. We have so many photos, videos and memories that include our littlest pug. He’s seen in his Halloween pimp hat and tie. He’s standing in front of a friend’s young daughter, who confidently declared that he must be our girl pug’s mom. He’s in my father’s arms with his paw and chin against Dad’s shoulder.
I’ll never understand how his former owners could have surrendered him and his brother at age 10 to the Dallas-Fort Worth Pug Rescue. But we are so grateful they did. Somewhere, Lil Weezy is running so fast without tripping, wheezing or having any accidents. His eyes, ears and hind legs all work like they should. We’ll miss him always and we’re better, more compassionate and loving people thanks to him.
Special thank you to Dr. Paul Carroll and the great staff of Midway Hollow Pet Clinic. Thanks also to Dr. Welch, Dr. French, Gray and Sina at the eClinic emergency animal hospital in Uptown.