The days that led up to Shayna’s journey to Heaven

March 29, 2014 | By | Add a Comment


In our last update, on February 27, I described the following:

  • Shayna’s belly had become a bit bloated again.
  • Dr. Paling, our cardiologist, confirmed through the use of ultrasound imaging (a) the presence of fluid in Shayna’s chest and abdomen, and (b) the tumor at the base of her heart had grown so large that it was pressing up against the right side of her heart, causing this fluid retention, and her periodic difficulty in breathing, particularly at night.
  • Dr. Paling extracted the fluid, thus “resetting the clock,” so to speak, but explained that it was a much shorter clock.  She also prescribed a diuretic, to fight the fluid buildup.

Here are some before-and-after pics:

23Feb14 Belly 2

Feb. 23: Belly beginning to bloat again.

2014-02-23 12.57.17

Feb. 23: You can really see it when she’s laying down.

Feb. 27: After all the fluid was surgically removed from Shayna's chest and abdomen.

Feb. 27: After all the fluid was surgically removed from Shayna’s chest and abdomen, the day before.

March 12: Our follow-up appointment with Dr. Paling showed Shayna was doing great – no fluid in either her chest or abdomen, and she was her typical spritely, happy self.

March 16: I noted that Shayna’s belly was appearing to bloat out a bit again:


March 16: It is almost imperceptible, but her belly was beginning to bloat out a bit again. You couldn’t really see it until she laid down, particularly on her side.

Thinking we were going to need to facilitate her journey to Heaven the next day or soon after, we had steak that night, and quite a bit of her favorite treat – seedless watermelon. By the next day, however, her belly seemed to be receding a bit.

Note that during all this time, her activity never really decreased – still 3-5 toy training sessions per day, visits to the Senior Center, medium to long walks in the woods, etc.  Here’s one of our toy training sessions, from March 8:

And from March 15:

And here’s one in HD, from March 19:

March 14: “Nail Nirvana” at the Senior Center

We’ve done a lot of visits to the nearby Senior Center since Shayna got sick.  But in this video, from March 14, Shayna was in absolute nirvana as Jennifer, the Senior Center’s Program Director, digs her long nails into her lower back and hips. I comment, interpreting the look I see on Shayna’s face, “Where have you BEEN all my life?!”

March 20 visit to Charlottesville Rehabilitation Center

Although Shayna’s belly didn’t return to its normal, tight state, she seemed to be holding her own as the days ticked off. We went ahead with an event on Thursday, March 20, that had been scheduled about a month earlier: our first visit to, and trick demo, at Charlottesville Rehabilitation Center.

I don’t think the patients have much access to dogs, but after they began to feel Shayna’s glow, they began asking questions prior to our starting the trick demo, and one by one, several of them began to sense that she is a very, very special girl. This video (taken on my phone) starts just after our initial Q&A was over, and cut off very abruptly because a call came in (grrrr!). But you get the idea. After the training demo, the patients were really amazed, and asked quite a few more questions. (*Note: Per policy, none of the patients’ faces were shown, for obvious reasons.)

These are some seriously ill folks, and it was such an honor to be able to brighten their day, with the miracle dog that has brightened every one of the nearly 4,300 days that we’ve been together. Special thanks to Tiffany, the Activities Director, for arranging our visit.

March 22-23: The fluid began to really build up in Shayna’s abdomen and chest, again; emergence of respiratory difficulty at night

It became clear that her bloating was gradually increasing. She also had more difficulty falling asleep, and I could see her respiratory rate was pretty high, when she laid on her side, on her bed, in front of the sofa on which I’ve slept since she got sick.

March 24, 2014: You can sort of see Shayna's belly starting to bloat out again.

March 24, 2014: You can clearly see Shayna’s belly starting to really bloat out again.

In the middle of the night, Shayna was getting more agitated and frustrated, sometimes standing up and wanting to go outside, then just stand there, looking at me as if she were trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t understand.  (I captured a few pictures of earlier looks like that, here and here.)  Or, she would curl up on the patio, in the very cold weather. By day, however, she was still very active, with our 3-5 play sessions, walks, etc.

My efforts to convey to Shayna that she would soon be making her journey to Heaven

I began wondering, given all Shayna had been able to learn through my verbal commands and hand gestures, if I could figure out a way to convey to her that she was going to soon be making her journey to Heaven, but that even though we’d be separated, we will always be together.

As the hours ticked off, I began working on this, and as you’ll read below, I finally found a way to convey this message to her – and was richly rewarded by her.

March 24: Shayna’s bloating became much more pronounced, but her spirit and activity level remained very high

I spoke with Heather, the cardiology tech first thing in the morning, about Shayna’s condition.  She spent quite a bit of time with me on the phone, discussing the technical aspects of what’s happening to Shayna, and really going out of her way to be informative and compassionate.  Heather was so wonderful, in fact, that I dedicated this video, of our walk in the woods that day, to her.  As is evident in the video, it is undeniable how much Shayna’s stomach was bloating.  It became far more apparent when she laid on her side, though.

Later, we got about 6 inches of snow, so we didn’t have much outside activity, but played quite a bit indoors.

Shayna excelled in her flash card training

After dinner, we did something we hadn’t done in a long time – practice with her flash cards, which consist of pictures of some of her toys, which she must “read” in order to figure out which one I want her to go get. As you can see below, she absolutely nailed most of her toys on the first try, and I cheer this.  However, you can now clearly see her belly distending. And at the end of the video, when she goes to get a drink of water, you can hear the cough that had become much more pronounced in recent days… and me silently weeping, upon hearing this:

That night, her breathing difficulties were becoming more apparent, but she eventually got to sleep.

March 25: Our 12th anniversary, and the day before Shayna’s journey to Heaven

Shayna at about 14 weeks.  The face, and aura, that stole my heart - and ended up giving me back my life.

Shayna at about 14 weeks. The face, and aura, that stole my heart – and ended up giving me back my life.

This was the twelfth anniversary of the first day that Shayna and I ever laid eyes on each other, back when she was a baby.  See her baby pictures here, and the first two videos of her here and here.  Read the excerpt of my book that describes my long, magical journey to find her, here.

The day started, though, with her refusing to take her medicine (twelve capsules and tablets, which I wrap in little balls of white rice, chicken breast and beef paste; pic). This was very unusual. Amidst my growing sadness at the realization of what was happening, and there would be no more miracle recoveries, I was very grateful for having reached this point, and to see Shayna was smiling so brightly, and so active in our play sessions as we celebrated throughout the day.

I spoke by phone to Heather, the cardiology tech, and indicated that I think our time has come. She walked me through what would happen, and affirmed that it is the most loving thing I could do for Shayna.

That afternoon, I finally figured out an approach to explaining her upcoming journey to Heaven, and it worked (read my letter to her for details).

That night, however, as I tried to sleep, I heard little “squeaks,” almost imperceptible, over the soft music playing. Going to her, I saw that although she looked like she was sleeping (on her side), her eyes were open, and she was looking at me with great frustration, and a what I sensed was fear.  As if she were trying to tell me, “Daddy, I don’t know what’s going on inside me, but it is getting a lot worse…”

Twice that night in the wee hours, I put on my clothes and tried to coax her outside, so I could put her in my truck and drive several blocks to the emergency vet, to facilitate her journey to Heaven. She would not come with me, and it was for the best. The snow on the lawn had frozen over into solid ice, and it would have been very difficult to get her into the truck safely, without making things worse. So I gave her some more pain medicine, and by about 3:30am, she was able to get to sleep.

March 26: I had no rational choice but to facilitate Shayna’s journey to Heaven

Shayna again refused to take her medicine, but otherwise seemed calm. I called Heather and described the situation, and ask for appointment options. She said that Dr. Paling had an appointment available at 3:30pm, and that would be the last one for the day, nothing following us, so we wouldn’t be rushed. I took it, and we discussed what was going to transpire.

I finally was able to convey to Shayna that she was going to make the journey to Heaven

Right after that call, I sat in front of her on the ground, and again conveyed to her, re my hand signals and verbally, that she was going to be making her journey to Heaven soon. This time, however, after acknowledging the significance of what I said, she reached out and kissed me – something she hadn’t done without request for a very long time (as I say in my book, she is not a lapdog, and doesn’t show overt affection much).

Shayna’s choice: “Let’s go have fun today, Daddy!”

Shayna then did something that blew me away even more: she conveyed to me that she wanted to go have fun, and do the things we used to do, but which she found so difficult of late. I decided it was my obligation to give her as much leash, so to speak, to have her fun – and to be a mirror for that attitude, to reflect her joy, and to not let my crushing grief undermine her jubilant attitude.

So, between 8:00am and 3:30pm, we:

  • We had four play sessions, all of which had her smiling; she even pounced on the first of her toys as she identified and retrieved them.
  • We took a long walk around the University of Virginia lawn and Rotunda, where my odyssey in Charlottesville, and to find Shayna, began.

  • We visited the Senior Center, where she put smiles on the faces of all those she encountered, as she always did.

    At the Senior Center, about 12:30pm, March 26.

    At the Senior Center, about 12:30pm, March 26.

  • We took a long walk around Barracks Road Shopping Center, where we’ve spent more time than anywhere else in our twelve years together, making people smile wherever she went.

Zero hour: Shayna’s journey to Heaven was facilitated, around 4:00pm

My first question for Dr. Paling, upon arriving at the clinic, was if she could assure me that I am doing the right thing. After listening to Shayna’s chest and heart, and feeling her abdomen, Dr. Paling assured me that there was no alternative but to force her to endure another night like the previous one, and worse ones to follow.

One of my guardian angels, Dr. Dani McVety of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, also affirmed by phone that from everything I’d told her and that she’d observed in Shayna’s videos, the time had come, and that this was going to be the last demonstration of my love for her.

So, at around 4:00pm, Shayna made her journey to Heaven, in the presence of me, Dr. Paling and Heather.

I cradled her head, and sang her favorite song into her ear, my adaptation of “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning!,” which I’d turned into “Oh, What A Beautiful Shayna!” (video of me singing this here, at about 4:30, and here), and told her over and over again her how much I love her, and how thankful I am to her for helping to save me, my life, and my spirit, after 9/11.

The aftermath: Agony, and beautiful magic

To read what happened after Shayna’s journey to Heaven – including an amazingly beautiful event, the significance of which you’ll have to judge for yourself – go here.





Filed in: Life with Shayna, Uncategorized

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