Amazing Alice

Amazing Alice
Alice enjoying life in her final days

What a girl. I don't know how to talk about Alice without using superlatives. She was the greatest example I've ever known of simply embracing life and diving into every single day enthusiastically and fearlessly. Her death yesterday (December 29, 2023) was sudden and unexpected, but she lived longer than the average Samoyed and her life was full of joy and excitement.

I've put together this post as a remembrance and to let her friends know a few more details about her final days. It probably seems weird to put so many details in a post about a dog's death, but Alice had a huge following of people who have loved and appreciated her for many years. I know many of them will want to know the details, and this way I only have to go through those details once.

Alice's final days

Alice had been slowing down this fall, but was still enjoying her life as matriarch of Nancy and Isaac's pack. She took on that role after Jamie passed away 16 months ago, and it was fun to see how she embraced it. She spent her final year as a homebody, no longer the recklessly wild and adventurous girl she had once been, but every day she would boss the younger dogs around and play vigorously. That continued in recent weeks, but there were signs something was bothering her at times.

I assumed it was joint pain that caused her to back off sometimes. For example, on Thursday evening she was out in the backyard and I was standing on the deck watching her. She came over to the stairs to come up to me, and Alice has always bounded up the first few stairs whenever she starts up them. It's something I've enjoyed watching in recent months, because it seemed evidence that she was still feeling good. But this time, she started to bound up the first two stairs and then stumbled, with her back legs collapsing under her. She got up right away, then walked slowly up the stairs to me.

Alice slept on my pillow every night for most of her life, and she usually leaps on the bed without hesitation, but lately there were a few times when she needed help. It happened again Thursday night – her last night with us. She pawed at me around 2AM to let me know she wanted on the bed, and I got up and lifted her onto her pillow.

And then Friday morning, she didn't bark for breakfast. If you know Alice, you know how unusual that was. That concerned me, and I decided we should have her checked out to make sure we knew what was going on. Megan was out of town in the UK, and I figured we could take Alice in to the vet some time next week for a checkup.

Then after breakfast on Friday, she was back to her usual self, barking wildly and chasing Nancy and Isaac around the living room.

I did some chores around the house, and late morning Alice barked at me to let her out. We went out front and she peed in the yard. She was moving slowly and didn't want to go far, but that's been her routine lately.

We went back inside, and I took Nancy and Isaac downstairs to go out in the backyard for a few minutes. Alice was laying in her usual spot in front of the pantry sink when we went downstairs, but when we came back up the stairs she was standing in the kitchen, shaking uncontrollably and drooling. At first I thought she might have heard a gunshot or something that I had missed, but when I kneeled down and hugged her it was clear this was more extreme than her usual reaction to loud noises. She seemed disoriented and couldn't stop shaking, and her heart was racing.

I called our usual vet, but they were busy and couldn't get her in right away so I decided to drive her to the pet trauma and emergency services vet in Bozeman, about an hour away. While I was locking the doors and getting ready to leave, she threw up in the parlor and continued shaking.

I carried her to the truck and left Nancy and Isaac with marrow bones. They knew something was wrong with Alice and were barking non-stop, but I decided I needed to leave them home so that Alice wouldn't have to deal with them on the ride to Bozeman. Alice sat right behind me in the back seat, leaning on my shoulder at times, continuing to shake and drool. I talked to Aaron on the phone, and he offered to meet us at the vet to be there for Alice. And for me, of course – I was very worried.

Alice didn't want to get out of the truck at the vet, so I lifted her out. She peed, then walked in under her own power. Aaron arrived just after we got there, and we had a bit of a wait because they were sewing up an injured dog. Alice still seemed uncomfortable, but wasn't shaking as hard.

In the initial physical examination, the vet said her abdomen muscles were very tight and it was clear she had abdominal pain. We decided to do X-rays to see what was going on.

The X-rays provided immediate – and devastating – information. Alice had a large growth on her spleen. (Most likely a malignant tumor, although it would take a biopsy to confirm that.) She also had abnormal spots on her liver and lungs, which could indicate cancer was spreading, and there was some fluid in her abdomen, perhaps bleeding from the tumor.

After Jamie's death from lung issues last year, we had Alice X-rayed to make sure she didn't have anything similar, and at that time the vet said her lungs and chest looked great for her age. So that tells us that this situation developed in recent months, which in hindsight fits with the way she had started to seem uncomfortable at times recently.

The vet's theory was that Alice had been feeling discomfort from the growing tumor, but was able to manage the discomfort and work around it until yesterday when it started bleeding and the pain got much worse.

Bleeding could indicate that it was getting close to a catastrophic rupture, and it was unlikely that surgery could do any good, especially at Alice's age. At first I was tempted to try to figure out how to get Alice through the next 48 hours so that Megan could get home from the UK and see her. But as we talked through it, it was clear that wasn't a good idea – Alice was at risk of a painful death if that happened. I can't thank Aaron enough for being there with me for the hardest decision I've ever had to make: it was time to say goodbye to Alice.

They drugged her up so she was feeling no pain, and she lay on a pillow with us for a while. The nurse brought us some chocolate fudge and asked if Alice would like some. I assured her that Alice wouldn't eat it, because Alice only eats meat and cheese. Alice took a piece and spit it out, then decided to go ahead and eat it after all. Her first chocolate ever. You only live once, right Alice?

We held her and comforted her while they gave her fentanyl, and soon her eyes closed and her heart stopped.

Nancy and Issac

I drove home through the mountains in the darkness, and expected to have Isaac barking out the window at me when I pulled into the alley.

To my surprise, Isaac and Nancy were both in the window and were just staring in silence at me. It felt like they were watching for Alice to get out of the truck, but it was just me.

I parked the truck in the yard and let Nancy and Isaac out, and I showed them Alice's harness. They sniffed it for a long time. A little later, I made contact with Megan in the UK at 5AM her time when she got up, and let her know the news. It had changed so quickly – I told her yesterday afternoon that Alice seemed to be doing well after breakfast, then Megan went to bed, and when she got up Alice was gone.

The house has been eerily quiet in the 12 hours since then. We took a late walk, but there wasn't the usual barking and commotion. Isaac sniffed at the last place Alice had peed in the front yard, just like he sniffed at where Jamie last peed out by the sidewalk. They both slept on the bed with me, and we didn't get a lot of sleep but we hung out until 7AM. Nobody barked for breakfast until it was served, then they played vigorously for a few minutes, and now they've been laying quietly in the parlor for the last two hours.

This will be a big adjustment for them. Jamie's death was sad, but didn't affect Nancy and Isaac's day to day routine very much. I took Jamie on lots of outings in his final months, and Nancy and Isaac were home with Alice at those times. But now Alice's absence changes the tone of Nancy and Isaac's life all day long. They've never hung out in the parlor without her right here or nearby, and they’ve never spent a night in our bedroom without Alice there in her spot on my pillow.

We'll get through it, and dogs always bounce back more quickly than humans, but it will take a while. Alice's final gift to Nancy and Isaac will be that they are going to start getting a lot more hikes and outings than they had in the last year. We no longer have to think about whether to leave Alice home alone, which means we can spontaneously do things we couldn't do before.

I don't know how to wrap this up, so I guess I'll just stop there. What a girl. Thank you all for loving her and appreciating her as I know you did.