Teaka's Story

There's something about writing things down that feels therapeutic and all too real at the same time.

I've been wanting to talk about the deaths of our beloved dog, Teaka, and cat, Cheese, but I think confronting the reality of losing them has been a struggle. I've stayed so incredibly busy with work, keeping the house clean, dealing with my annoyingly still broken foot, tending our other furry kids, and cheering Corey on in Mario Kart 7 that writing hasn't even felt like an option. But, I think now is the time to start processing, and sharing, everything that has been happening in our little family.

We'll start with Teaka.
I adopted Teaka 8 years ago in August of 2009 down in Springfield, Missouri. I remember the first time I saw her, she slowly walked up and laid her big ol' head in my lap, staring up at me with her beautify Cleopatra eyes. it was definitely a love at first sight situation. I'd always wanted a big dog, one you could really snuggle with, and she absolutely fit the bill. Although relatively thin when I first got her, she plumped up pretty quickly under my care.

When I moved to Warrensburg, Missouri and transferred to a new university, Teaka came with me. I knew I couldn't start this new adventure without her! We lived in a loft apartment and she'd sleep in my bed all day (and all night too). I remember one time I came home and she had managed to snuggle herself into the covers and was laying in bed perfectly tucked in when I opened the door. It was absolutely adorable.

One of my favorite memories was the first time Corey met Teaka. I was living in that same loft apartment and Corey was coming by for the first time. I'd mentioned to him that I had a dog but I guess he wasn't expecting a dog quite like her. As I opened the door Teaka came barreling down the hallway, 100 lbs of pure love, excitement, and uncoordinated. I'm pretty sure Corey jumped, he was apparently expecting something under 10 lbs, and immediately said "OH, so you have like a DOG." All I could do was laugh and watch as Teaka slid to a stop and started begging for pets.
Corey and I moved to a house in Warrensburg and Rodney, Corey's cat, was able to join us. Teaka and Rodney became best friends and spent a lot of time booping each other, snuggling, and bonding over their love of food. At this house, we had a fenced in back yard. On more than one occasion, Teaka would make a great escape out the back gate of the yard somehow (we're still not sure) and run full speed down the sidewalk that ran behind our house to get a taste of the wide open spaces. I remember one particular time where I'd thought she'd made a break for it because I didn't see her anywhere in the yard. I threw on shoes, grabbed my phone, and started hauling out the back door only to discover she'd dug a trench to lay in up next to the foundation of the house. I laughed so hard, the trench was the absolute perfect shape and size for her, and she just looked up at me wondering why I was in such a hurry to get into the back yard.
Digging all kinds of holes was one of Teaka's favorite past-times. We always said that if we could just get her to dig on command, we could probably start an excavation company as a side hustle. She had a Teaka-trench in every backyard we had. And we just let her do it because it obviously made her so happy.

When we first started going to the dog park, Teaka would never stray too far. Finn would be off like a shot the second we opened the gate but honestly, Teaka was just there for the pets. She'd occasionally wander up to other people at the park and everyone would always comment on how sweet and mild-mannered she was. After going to the dog park became more of a regular routine, we'd get home and Teaka and Finn would flail around in excitement begging us to go. I'm pretty sure Teaka liked the act of going someplace just as much as the actually-being-there part. Slowly but surely, Teaka started to wander a little further from us each time we went to the dog park. Her favorite thing to do was to just wander around and sniff things. We'd call it "grazing" because it made her look like a cow out in the pasture eating grass. Occasionally she'd decide that she wanted to play BUT she only ever wanted to play with Finn. He's always the life of the party out there so she'd have to sneak up behind him and sneak attack him to really get his attention! It was the absolute funniest thing to watch (she would always go right for his legs). One time, Corey found a tennis ball at the park and somehow enticed Teaka into playing fetch. I had literally never seen her fetch before and was absolutely giddy over her new-found hobby. I remember we stayed at the park till dark that night.
It's incredible how much a dog can become a part of your family. Isn't it wild to think we have these furry creatures living in hour houses, sharing our beds, eating beside us, loving us, and we can't even communicate to each other. It's that kind of comfortable silence most friendships can only dream of being. I probably spent more time with Teaka for the time she was in my life her than I did with anyone. Her presence was always so strongly felt - she wasn't overbearing, but she was never far away. She was comforting even from a distance. Getting to see her little nub of a tail wag like crazy when we got home always made my day. The second I would sit down, there her head would be wanting ear rubs or just some sort of attention. Every night Teaka would slept next to my side of the bed and it always made me feel so safe. She was my protector and my best friend. I miss her terribly.
Something started going on with Teaka's eye sometime in June. Practically overnight we noticed that her eye had become incredibly bloodshot. Finn had just gotten over doggie pink eye so we didn't think too much of it and started giving her eye drops we had from the vet. It still hadn't gone away about a week later so we decided to go back to the vet. They looked at her, did some tests, but didn't find anything too unusual going on. We got sent home with more eye drops and some cream they said should clear it right up. Another week went by with no change. I felt like her eye was starting to look worse by the day and her other eye was starting to look swollen and red as well. Fearing for her vision, we went back to the vet again and got referred to a specialist. I was a nervous wreck.

Let me first say I had no idea that there were eye doctors for dogs. I seriously felt ridiculous making the appointment because taking my dog to an veterinary ophthalmologist seemed kind of extra (even for me).  But I just couldn't shake this gnawing feeling that something really was wrong.

My sister's boyfriend, Mead, volunteered to take to the appointment since I couldn't drive. We were quite the pair - he had just had foot surgery and had a boot on his left foot while I was rocking the same boot on my right foot. We got to the vet and Teaka acted pretty normal, she was so excited to get attention from people and seemed to be able to see enough to get around. I probably got my hopes up a bit too much that things were fine. We went back to start the examination and the vet immediately found that that Teaka had secondary glaucoma. The pressure in her eyes was astronomically high, 11x what it should be. The vet wasn't sure what could have caused it - it came on so fast and didn't seem to be presenting like normal age-related glaucoma would. The vet prescribed us more medications, including some oral steroids, to reduce the swelling and pressure and we went home. We made an appointment to check in a couple of weeks later and really felt like we were on the right track.

The next evening, Corey and I were at home with the dogs having a pretty normal Friday night. Teaka had been acting okay and we'd even figured out the best way to give her pills - sneaking it into a hard boiled egg (her favorite food)! I was sitting on the couch and Corey had gone into the kitchen when I noticed Teaka starting to drool and kind of smack her mouth. Her head started twisting around and it almost sounded like she was choking. Foam poured out of her mouth. I immediately screamed for Corey to come help because I had no idea what was going on. It seemed like she needed to throw up but couldn't. After 45 seconds or so it stopped and Teaka acted like nothing was wrong - she'd been laying down during the entire episode.

Corey and I knew something wasn't right.

Our first thought was that she was allergic to the medication she'd started the day before. The veterinary ophthalmologist had a phone number we could call in case of an emergency any time day or night. Since it was about 10:30 pm at this point, we decided to give them a call. After talking to a nurse, she decided to call the vet on call. When she called back she said what we didn't want to hear - Teaka had probably had a seizure. I think Corey and I knew what her episode probably was before we were told, we were just in denial. The nurse said that we should take her to the emergency vet so we got all loaded up and went on a nighttime car ride to the vet.

After an examination and taking her vitals, we talked to the vet at the clinic and he confirmed that she probably had a seizure. He let us make the decision to leave her at the clinic for observation or take her home to observe her. We thought it might have just been a one-off thing and decided to take her home that night. They said to just come back if anything else happened. We hoped nothing would.

The next evening there was a family wedding but between my broken foot and Teaka's new health issues, I decided someone needed to be home. Since I couldn't drive I made sure that Lucie and Mead were on call just in case something happened with Teaka. Around 8:15 pm I noticed that same smacking/choking sound Teaka had been making the day before and saw her standing by the front door, foaming at the mouth. She stayed standing the whole time but her teeth were chomping together and her head kept pulling really hard to one side. I was absolutely horrified and so scared. All I could do was keep my hand on her back and make sure she didn't fall. I didn't want to make things worse but I wanted to make sure she knew I was right there. Finn seemed scared too, he was right there with both of us trying to figure out what was happening.

Once the seizure passed, I called Lucie and Mead who immediately jumped in the car to come and get us. I called Corey and let him know what was going on, I felt so bad making him worry while he wasn't there. We got to the emergency vet and decided to have Teaka admitted so she could be kept under observation. They started her on anti-seizure medications and said they would call if anything else happened. She didn't have any other seizures the rest of the weekend so we went and picked her up, new anti-seizure medication in tow.

Monday I called the veterinary ophthalmologist back and made another appointment so that we were able to touch base after the seizure episodes from the weekend. The pressure still hadn't gone down in her eyes and they decided to increase some of her medications. The vet also gently suggested that there could be something more systemic, and even more serious, going on than what we'd initially suspected.

The rest of the week was kind of a blur. Lucie and Mead were over at our house nearly every day while Corey and I were at work so Teaka never needed to be alone. On Friday, Lucie called me and let me know that Teaka seemed to be breathing really hard. We'd noticed this symptom since she'd started the steroid pills so it wasn't that unusual but I knew Lucie wouldn't call me at work unless she was really worried. She came and picked me up from work and we headed back to the emergency vet.

The vet we saw that Friday was so incredibly nice (honestly, all of the vets we worked with through this whole ordeal were absolutely wonderful). After they took Teaka back to get her vitals, the vet came out to get the big long vet-saga we'd been through. We talked about medications, side effects, possible diagnoses with her eye, and really just brainstormed on what to do next. I said that the breathing seemed to be our main concern so we talked about the pros and cons of doing chest x-rays. Initially we thought we'd just skip it, it really didn't seem like her lungs were the problem and if a lack of oxygen was causing the seizures, we would absolutely have known it. The more I thought about it, the more I thought we might as well just do the x-rays. I figured we were already there, it wasn't very expensive, and if nothing else it could help rule things out. Everyone agreed and they went back to get her x-rays done. Lucie and Mead went to go get food (poor Lu was on the verge of passing out) and I broke out the laptop to get some more work done.

The vet called me back to the consultation room.

I wondered if I should worry.

Once I got into the room, Teaka's x-rays appeared on the screen. They looked hazy, like a gauzy cloud was hanging over the screen.

The vet pointed out her lungs and her stomach. She started pointing to areas that should be black but were a milky white instead.

She explained that the cancer was everywhere. Literally, her entire abdomen was full of cancerous tissue. Her strong lungs, her tummy, and all the other stuff in between was just a big mess.

We started to talk about keeping her comfortable, treatment wasn't even on the table. I asked how long and she said it just depended. It could be a day, it could be a week. We had no idea how long she'd been sick or how aggressive and fast-moving the cancer was so it was anyone's guess.

I sobbed. I tried really hard not to but I ugly cried. Hard. All I could think about was her sweet eyes;  her solid, muscular body; how much she loved the snow. This was all just the last thing in the world I expected to happen. It'd been a matter of days since Teaka and Finn had been wrestling in the house.

And now we were talking about a matter of days that she had left with us.

I asked the vet to give me a minute. I called Corey, my mom, our friend Chad, and of course Tay. Everyone was shocked. Corey left work as quick as he could.

Lucie and Mead got back. I hated to tell them what was going on but they were so supportive and calm for me. The vet brought Teaka in and she was just happy as ever to see us. I sat on the floor and held her. Lucie rubbed her ears.

We sat in silence for a while.

Corey got there and we talked about what to expect and how to keep her as comfortable as possible. The vet recommended increasing her steroids to help with breathing and also prescribed all the cuddles, pizza, hamburgers, and hard boiled eggs she wanted.

We went home.

Lucie and Mead hardly left our house over the next three days which we appreciated. We made cozy blanket piles on the floor for maximum cuddle time, played video games, and just tried to act like normal. Mead went and got steak and eggs for Teaka to enjoy (and enjoy it she did). We had cinnamon rolls at the house and Teaka looked interested so I cut one up and fed it to her bite by bite. She drooled everywhere, my jeans were absolutely disgusting afterward, and she couldn't have been happier about it all. To Teaka, this was just a super awesome weekend. And I'm so thankful that's how we made it feel.
I talked to Tay about coming and taking pictures of us and on Monday evening she came by. I made Teaka a flower collar out of eucalyptus, carnations, and roses. She always loved when I would put clothes (seriously, the level of nub-wagging that would occur when we broke out her bee costume was insane) and she tolerated the collar perfectly. Tay was so patient and Lucie and Mead wrangled all the furry kids so that we didn't have to. The pictures captured all of us perfectly, Teaka's soulful eyes, Finn's manic happiness, Rodney's insistence on being right in front of everything, and Cheese's grouchy little face. Polly (our most shy cat) completely avoided the limelight which honestly was in character, we weren't going to even try to get them all in one shot.
We'd just gotten the pup's BarkBox that day and so we let Teaka and Finn open it up after that. Teaka was pretty done and tired at that point but Finn has a blast as usual. The theme was Alice in Wonderland and we put the top hat toy on Teaka. She looked adorable, of course.

The next day Corey and I went to work, Lucie and Mead hung out at the house keeping an eye on Teaka. We went by Target on the way home and bought the biggest, messiest bone we could find. Teaka absolutely loved it.

As the evening wore on, we noticed that Teaka was starting to kind of cough. It sounded like she was trying to get something out of her throat and we thought that she might have gotten part of the gristle from the bone caught in there. Lucie and Mead headed out around 9:00 pm. We went to give Teaka her dinner and she wasn't interested. We broke out a hard boiled egg and still nothing. And then things just started to go downhill. She sat down, then laid down, then wouldn't get up. We asked if she wanted to go outside, nothing. We tried to help her up, nothing.

I called Lucie and Mead and let them know that something was wrong. They asked if I wanted them to come over and I said yes.

Corey and I loaded Teaka onto a big, cozy comforter and carried her out to the front porch.

We sat there for a while, not really saying anything. I hoped the night air would perk her up, inspire her to go try to run down the sidewalk on an adventure like she would do so often in Warrensburg or go find a soft patch of dirt to dig up and lay in.

But she just laid there.

Corey and I didn't say much. We knew what was going on and we didn't want to have her suffer or struggle. Lucie and Mead got to our house and just sat on the porch with us. We took pictures. We rubbed her ears. We told her stories.

Then we went on a car ride.

We managed to hoist Teaka into the car via the comforter hammock style. She laid her head on my lap in the back seat. Lucie squashed in beside her.

I don't know why but I really thought that the car ride would perk her up. I rolled the window down and tried to make sure that she could feel the wind on her face. I wished that ride would have been longer and not all at the same time.

They took Teaka in on a gurney. This really set me off, I was so worried she was scared or confused. I couldn't stop thinking about another dog, a golden retriever, that Lucie and I had seen come into the same vet the week before. I remember feeling so brokenhearted for them and I was in disbelief that it was now our little family in that position.

Teaka was in the back getting her vitals taken and the four of us were in the waiting room. Honestly, we looked like a mess. I'd cried all of my makeup off by this point and of course had my lovely boot on, Lucie was inexplicably wearing Harry Potter pajamas (complete with knee-high socks), Mead had the matching left boot to my right one, and Corey just looked exhausted to be anywhere near this whole situation. The vet came out to see what was going on. We explained that we thought it was Teaka's time but wanted a second opinion. He agreed.

They called us back into a quiet room with a couch. The vet explained the process and a nurse brought Teaka in, still on the gurney. I could tell she her breathing was even harder now and knew that we were making the right decision. The vet told us to take our time and to just use the phone in the corner whenever we were ready. I tried so hard not to cry again. We took more pictures, I loosened the straps across her chest so she had a bit more room to move if she wanted. I remember specifically taking a picture of her little crooked bottom row of teeth - I always thought they were the cutest.

We called the vet back in and he gave her the first shot to put her under. It took effect so quickly and once she fell asleep you could just tell how much she had been struggling to breathe. I hadn't noticed how much noise her breaths were making, or how she had been stretching her neck to get a better breath. She laid her head down so sweetly and perfectly between her paws. He gave her the second shot and that was it. I thought it'd be a lot more horrifying but honestly she looked so incredibly peaceful that I felt like it'd be selfish to be upset. I cried, of course - I think we all did. But I was so thankful that she didn't have to suffer any more.

The vet told us to take all the time we needed. I tried to memorize everything about her - the way her ears felt softer than velvet, the way her "eyeliner" outlined her big brown eyes perfectly, how her paws were white and the white part came up her legs just a little bit to make it look like she was wearing spotted socks.
Teaka's presence is so sorely missed in our lives. It's obvious that Finn misses her too and it breaks my heart. After Teaka passed away, Tay had a big canvas printed with our favorite picture of her from that last family photo session. We have it hanging in the dining room close to where her food bowl used to be. It's so nice to be able to see her sweet face every day.
I think it's the little things that are the hardest, the change in routine. Remembering that we only have one pup to round up at the dog park, not needing to grab the healthy weight dog food at Target, carefully getting out of bed in the morning before remembering I don't have to avoid that spot where Boog always slept.

There were a lot of reasons why I wanted to write about Teaka and this entire experience. There is definitely a cathartic aspect to just spilling you guts and writing everything down. I'm a tend to have a hard time remembering and processing things, good and bad, so documenting situations in some way helps me gain perspective. It also helps me down the road whenever I want to go back and reexamine or unpack the situation.
I also really wanted to share this experience because I think that death, especially the death of a pet, isn't something that's talked about in very much detail. I didn't really know what to expect or what the process when Teaka got a terminal diagnosis so I hope that by going into the detail I did, I can help someone else in similar circumstances.
Lastly, when a being makes such an impact on your life, there's tremendous value in documenting their story. Writing all of this helped me remember all of the happy memories and also helped me reflect on the sad ones. I definitely cried but I feel like this is one step closer toward closure and acceptance. I hope in the future I can look back on this and remember that we did everything we could for Teaka her whole life up to keep her happy and comfortable even in those final days. I know we made the right decisions, I know we did everything we could, and I know Teaka always felt loved. That's all I could ever hope for.

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