Sheru suddenly took ill. He refused food. We thought this was due to some gastric problem and he would get over it soon. But he didn’t. We took him to the vet who gave him gentamycin and vitamin B injections and told us that he would recover soon. We repeated the same course of treatment the next two days.
On September 1, 2010 his blood was sent for kidney and liver function tests, apart from other parameters. We were horrified to learn that his creatinine level stood at 10.7 mg/dl (normal: 0.5-1.5 mg/dl) and his Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) at 80 mg/dl (normal: 8-28 mg/dl). We were advised either hospitalizing Sheru or putting him on glucose to flush out the toxins. Since he was pushing 12 there was no chance of his undergoing dialysis.
We took him to the CUPA (Compassion Unlimited Plus Action) hospital for administering him glucose. Much to our surprise, Sheru behaved admirably and sat stock-still as he received the treatment. He was given an antibiotic to ward off infection, Perinorm to take care of his nausea, Rantac to contain his acidity, and B-Complex to help him get his appetite back. He sat there in vajrasana posture, his eyes fixed on me as I stood in front of him and Shukla and Priyanka sat on his either side.
We continued with the treatment the next day. In the evening, he was thrilled to see Prayag straight from the airport walking into the hospital room. He wagged his tail in delight (he rarely did when being administered medication intravenously) and kept cooing and whimpering through his tied mouth. In his own language, he was conveying his sense of joy to Prayag, whom he least expected. His day was indeed made; his family was by his nursing table!
We took him to CUPA everyday, morning and evening. But his appetite showed no signs of improvement. His eyes were wet, and were leaking tears. Slivers of tear-lines were by now clearly visible beneath his two beautiful eyes. I tried to wipe them off with wet cotton wool but they refused to go away. They stayed.
On Sunday evening as Sheru received his treatment I saw another dog, a Labrador, receiving similar treatment. I went over what appeared a father-son combine sitting on either side of the dog. They told me their dog, Roxy’s, was a case of renal damage. Her creatinine level had gone up to 22 mg/dl. She had a renal problem since a year.
On the way back Sheru was restive, refusing to sit quietly on the rear seat. He threw up. He was still restive. I was at the wheel and he kept tugging at my left shoulder as though desperately trying to convey something. Shukla thought he wasn’t happy to sit amid his puke. The moment I pulled over in front of our house he quickly jumped over Shukla and leapt out of the car and ran down to the lawn to urinate. We then realized what he had desperately been trying to convey to us the last twenty-odd minutes!
On Monday, the 6th September, we took Sheru to the CUPA hospital for treatment. It had been 4 days since he had been on IV fluids and it was time his blood was tested again. Sheru had a bit of vanilla ice-cream on two separate occasions the last two days and had refused any other food. Apart from the normal injectibles he took, today the vet gave him Prednisolone – a steroid shot to make him feel good. His activity level seemed to have improved and he looked better. We were hopeful the blood test would show an improvement in his kidney function.
Evening, when we got back to CUPA we learnt that Sheru’s creatinine values had gone up from 10.7 mg/dl to 17.6 mg/dl and the BUN from 80 mg/dl to 107 mg/dl. It was as though lightning had struck us. The doctor told us politely that there wasn’t any hope of Sheru’s recovery. Age was against him. Which is why despite the intensive treatment, his kidneys seemed to be getting worse. Since we had already got him to the hospital we thought we could continue with the treatment. Priyanka was absolutely shattered and broke down as Sheru sat on the table receiving his treatment. I pulled Priyanka away from Sheru to one of the chairs placed at the entrance.
The thought of losing Sheru soon was difficult to accept. Frankly, it hadn’t ever crossed our minds despite his age and illness. I had no words to console Priyanka. Both of us shed copious tears and then mustered the courage to go back to Sheru and join Shukla. Since Sheru understood our every emotion and mood, we decided to put up a brave front before him.
Sheru was happy to see us back, wagging his tail and irradiating redoubled happiness. We stood beside him petting him and looking at him with extra indulgent eyes. Our minds, in a funk, refused to believe that this dog with all his responses alive and mentally alert to every possible stimulus could be so ill that we were going to lose him in a few days time. It felt surreal. It hurt, it pained.
I spoke with the vet once more. “Was there no chance of him getting better?” I found it hard to control my emotions. My voice was shaking. He patiently explained me the implication of keeping him alive. “He’s up and about now thanks to the nutrition given him intravenously. Yet his condition has deteriorated. It’s only going to get worse from now on. I know it’s a very hard decision for you all; the family is so fond of him.”
Confused, I got back once again to Sheru and petted him to my heart’s content. He was visibly happy. We talked things over huddled around Sheru. How could we let him go just on the basis of one blood report? No, we won’t give in, we decided unanimously. We’ll continue with the treatment and two days down the line get his blood tested in two different labs. Then we could take a call.
We got him back to CUPA again the next morning. We spoke with Dr. Gowda, the senior-most veterinarian in the hospital. We told him our plans. He endorsed our idea and said that if his condition didn’t get worse he could live for six months to a year on renal diet. This cheered us up. I told him Sheru was plucking grass and chewing on it imagining he had had a case of indigestion and he could cure himself by throwing up and cleansing his gastro-intestinal track. How wrong poor Sheru was! Dr. Gowda told us to try force feed him small quantities of beaten curd every two hours and continue with intravenous administration of fluids once-a-day. On that day the vet administered an extra dose of 100 ml dextrose for energy. Sheru was up and about but his tears refused to staunch. He refused to touch food. We force-fed him some 30 ml of beaten curd through a syringe. He used all his energy to fend us off and was left short of breath after the ordeal.
On September 8, 2010, we took him to CUPA early morning. He was reluctant to go. As he sat on the table receiving the injectibles I saw Mr. Kurup. I asked him after Roxy. He moved away with wet eyes, unable to say a word. They had got Roxy over to put her to sleep. I walked over to Mr. Kurup and his son standing at the entrance, crying. Words failed me. Helpless, I put my arms around Mr. Kurup.
Roxy was just eight. A vegetarian, she was on renal diet the past one year. Lately her condition had gotten worse. The blood sample had revealed her creatinine value at 22 mg/dl. On the advice of doctors they had decided to put her out of misery. “Roxy got up shivering at 4 today,” said Mr. Kurup. “But before we headed for the hospital she was moving about normally.” It was a hard call for the Kurups.
When I got back to Sheru still tethered to the intravenous line, my thoughts were ominous. He wagged his tail, his eyes glinting, and asking me accusingly why I’d stayed away from him for such a long while. I petted him calling out by his sundry loving names I always called him by to reassure him.
On the drive back home he sat with Shukla in the rear seat keenly surveying the bustling Bangalore traffic. Back home he wasn’t too well and was clearly restless. This, despite a shot of steroid and an extra 100 ml of dextrose. By the time I got home for lunch he wagged his tail but the zing was missing. His look was woebegone, as though telling me with his eyes that he was in pain. In the evening I laid the carpet on the living room and spread a bed-sheet to sit with Sheru and cuddle and pet him as he lay on us.
For Sheru, the carpet and the sheet were off limits. Now, even in pain, he couldn’t get over this. I cajoled him to come over and sit with me. Shukla and Priyanka too joined us. We cuddled Sheru and conveyed him how much we loved him.
Late evening before he went to sleep we tried to force feed him some beaten curd like the evening before. But he protested. We let him be. We decided to take him to CUPA the next morning like other days but we already were no-hopers.
When we got up the next morning, September 9, 2010, we were unanimous there was no point in taking Sheru to the hospital. He looked wan and drained of energy. He looked at me and Shukla beseechingly, almost imploring us to put an end to his misery. I sensed the kidney damage was now affecting his other vital organs. His face wore a pained look. “He’d come happily to us and he must leave us happily too,” Shukla said. We agreed with her in silence, tears streaking down our eyes. Today or tomorrow was the question. Priyanka wanted it the next day. We agreed.
That day we spent our entire time sitting by Sheru, reminiscing the good times, and the unconditional love and unwaveringly loyalty he had given us. We dialed back and telescoped time when Sheru, the stray pup, had won Shukla over with his beautiful deer-eyes, resting his head on the kitchen’s window-sill of our Pune house. A chapatti or a piece of chicken was enough for this never-snatching, well-behaved, all-patience frisky pup. Soon he had won our hearts over. And in no time he had adopted us as his family. Our home was his too. That was 11 years ago.
When we shifted base we got him to Bangalore. We weren’t sure how he’d adjust. But he did admirably, maturing over time. The last few years he was the elder statesman of the family, tearfully worried when I was admitted in hospital for surgery and always keeping a benevolent, pigeon eye on activities at home. Never demanding of anything, forever giving and loving, he aged gracefully.
Now he lay helpless – in pain. We took a few photos though his face was pinched and his eyes shed tears. My mind, at times, was also elsewhere, the practical side, to tie things up for the morrow. I called up Dr. Gowda and had it fixed at 9 the next morning. I made arrangements for his burial. All this as I whispered love into Sheru’s ears and eyes, lulling him into a false complacence of giving my best for his recovery, and allowing him not a shred of a chance to imagine that I was conspiring his doomsday! That’s life, more aptly a dog’s life in modern times, I consoled myself. We’re making arrangements for his mercy killing! Euthanasia was legal.
Around 11, as we planned to retire, Shukla and Priyanka were keeping Sheru’s company. “Just look at Sheru. He’s looking so much the better.” Shukla paused. “Tell me, are we really doing the right thing?” I gulped midway and took a close look at Sheru. Yes, it was true, his face had brightened up and his eyes shone. But I put out all thoughts of outsized optimism from my mind. I remembered what Mr. Kurup had told me about Roxy hours before they put her to sleep.
Sheru slept in my bedroom. I woke up around 1.40 A.M. He had moved over from his original place close to my bed, midway to the door leading to the stairways. I woke up again at 5.25 A.M. This time he was sleeping at the doorway. He was restless. Within minutes I found Shukla and Priyanka sitting beside him and petting him. I got up and went over to the bathroom. When I got back to the room he wagged his tail as was his wont. The three of us sat beside him. In our individual minds without anyone saying so, the countdown had begun. We didn’t want to miss a moment of it. Nine o’clock was less than three hours away.
Soon, as we sat with him, we noticed his laboured breathing. He was clearly in some discomfort. At 6.45 A.M. he mustered whatever remained of his waning strength, circumambulated the dining table to walk out of the house and onto the lawn. He was straining to throw up which he did in two bouts. He staggered back, his hind legs weakened with age and lack of nutrition the past twenty days, screeching on the sit-outs’ floor now and being dragged forward by his front legs. He sat down this time in the dining room pushing himself against the wall. He hadn’t had any intravenous fluids and medicines the past 48 hours. The nausea rising in the pit of his stomach was getting back at him. We sat around him caressing him lovingly, his final hours.
But he was in distress. His eyes though were alert and observed our every movement. He was back to breathing with considerable labour and looked in some pain. The peristaltic movement that heaved his whole frame and drew him forward almost every minute told us unmistakably that living was getting difficult for him by the minute. Suddenly after about an hour he pulled himself away from us and rushed out to the lawn to throw up yet again. Every effort he made to retch appeared as though his last ounce of his flagging strength was been expended. It was a sight we wished we had never seen.
After a while he moved over to the living room and plonked himself next to the pouf I use as leg-rest when I sit on the sofa. This was one of Sheru’s favourite spots. It was nearing 9. It was a strange feeling – to see that Sheru is put out of misery and yet we dreaded as we closed in on the time for the vet’s arrival. Prayag had also joined us as we crowded around Sheru and took a few more pictures, desperately clutching on to the few precious moments slipping away so rapidly.
He got up this time and walked over to his “dining table” placed betwixt the living and dining rooms – ostensibly to drink water. He was too weak to walk those six eight steps, and sat down. With considerable hesitation, almost apprehension, he slurped water from his bowl. It was now well past 9 and my heart was thumping. I withdrew and sat down on a chair, few feet away from him. There was still the glint in his eyes as he stared at me, his gaze steady, unflinching, and piercing.
The vet called to say he was caught up in an emergency and had asked another vet to come over and the latter will make it around 11. Sheru was already experiencing spasms of pain with repeated retch and appeared in the throes of another.
The vet materialized around half past eleven. “Please ensure it’s painless,” I told him.
“I’ll first sedate him and then put him to sleep.”
“Do you need to sedate him?” I asked, my voice choking and my mind confused.
“I’ll just put him at ease,” he replied. “And then put him to sleep.”
Priyanka and I cuddled Sheru one final time and kissed him. “Till we meet again, my son, my Babula, my Pua, my Sheru sahib, my Sherunu,” I whispered. We bid him a tearful adieu and walked out of the house – to the lawn.
In the lawn we stood with our hearts pounding and tears streaking down our eyes. Is the end going to be peaceful? Or, is Sheru going to suffer as life is snuffed out of his mortal frame? I was consoling Priyanka holding her tight in my arms when we heard a commotion and saw Sheru rushing out of the house to the lawn where we stood. We were stupefied. I asked if he had been given the lethal shot. The vet had given an intramuscular shot of sedative after Sheru’s mouth had been tied and shortly after that he wanted to throw up. He struggled to remove the cord tied on his mouth and rushed out to vomit. He retched and then fell to the ground – too weak and too sedated to realize we were yet again bidding him farewell, before rushing this time into the house.
Sheru was put to sleep at 11.45 A.M. on September 10, 2010. An era had ended for our family. Life will never be the same again. Time can't heal this loss; at best, it can only cure. There can’t be another Sheru. The void will remain unfilled - forever.