By Rusty Goe
On Sunday evening January 31, 2010, at 9:45, Mikey, Marie's and my beloved Teacup Yorkshire Terrier, died of heart failure while choking on a piece of food. Mikey’s brother, Sonny, passed four months earlier (in October 2009) after other dogs attacked him at a Reno pet care center. Mikey and Sonny were born on March 25, 1999 in Las Vegas, NV. The deaths of these two Yorkie brothers have understandably brought much grief to Marie and me.
Little Mikey remained “puppy” size his whole life, never weighing more than 3 ¾ pounds. Even at 10 years old—he died two months shy of his 11th birthday—people thought he was a baby. His size had something to do with his breeding, although his brother Sonny weighed almost five pounds. It also stemmed from a near-fatal health issue he suffered when he was 2 ½ months old.
One night, around Memorial Day in 1999, I arrived home from work to find Mikey lying limply in a corner of the room he shared with his brother and our female Yorkie-Poodle named Gracie. I rushed Mikey to an emergency pet hospital in Las Vegas. After examining him for 45 minutes, the vet told me that Mikey’s blood-sugar level had fallen below 10 mg/dl. She said Mikey had neuroglycopenia, a condition that could cause permanent brain damage. She said in humans, unless corrected immediately, this extreme case of low blood sugar usually results in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). In other words, the person becomes devoid of mental and physical abilities. When Marie arrived at the pet hospital, the vet told her she wanted to observe Mikey for ten days.
Vet workers stuck IV needles in the poor little guy’s legs and watched him around the clock. The vet told us Mikey had less than a 50/50 chance to survive and have a normal life. Ten days later, the vet released Mikey to us and strictly instructed us to surveil him constantly.
For the first two weeks after coming home, Mikey stayed in a baby’s crib next to Marie’s side of the bed. A bright lamp pointed at him through the night ensured his body temperature remained normal. Every 90 minutes, Marie injected some syrup-like medicine into his mouth. We took Mikey to our coin shop during the day to tend to his needs.
Almost four weeks after I’d found him comatose, the vet declared Mikey had survived the worst of his experience. She told us he could stay home during the weekdays with Sonny and Gracie, but we should keep him in a playpen in the pups’ room, and make sure he had enough food and water at all times.
Mikey gradually recovered though not to what we would describe as a normal state. When he moved across a room, for instance, he walked with his side touching a wall. He couldn’t jump up on a couch or a bed, like Sonny and Gracie; instead, he needed stairs to climb onto them. And he didn’t bark like the other dogs. In fact, he didn’t make much noise at all.
One night, Sonny, Gracie and Mikey were lying on a bed when suddenly, Gracie barked loudly at Mikey. At first, Marie and I thought Gracie wanted to hurt Mikey. Then we saw she had a plan. It worked, too, because within two or three minutes, Mikey barked back at Gracie. He kept his bark until the day he died. Gracie knew instinctually that a dog couldn’t survive without barking.
In 2001, Marie, I, Gracie, Sonny and Mikey moved from Vegas to Reno. Now the pups had a new environment in which to adapt. They traded the blistering heat of southern Nevada for the mild to cold climate of northern Nevada, with lots of snow to traipse around in during winters.
All three pups adapted well to Reno. Mikey loved to run around in his big, new yard. The people who met him always thought he was much younger than his real age. Yet no one but Marie and I recognized that he didn’t act like Gracie and Sonny did. We knew Mikey’s history and that his little brain never developed fully after his bout with low blood sugar.
His new vet in Reno, Dr. Bill Davenport, told us Mikey suffered also from a contracted trachea. This interfered with Mikey’s breathing and at times caused him to hack and wheeze. Dr. Davenport prescribed several drugs to help Mikey cope with his disabilities. One, Clindamycin, an oral antibiotic, got Mikey through teeth cleaning at the vet’s office. One drug helped relax Mikey’s windpipe so he could breathe easier, and another, nose drops, relieved his constant congestion.
Through it all, Mikey lived life on his own terms. He rarely played with his brother and Gracie, and his first reaction to new people was to bark at them (thanks Gracie!). He didn’t know quite how to send a warning signal about strange noises he heard outside, so in his own inimitable style, Mikey would bark while turning in four directions. Marie and I called it his “barking to the east, to the west, to the north, and to the south.” He feared laying on his back even for a belly rub. Marie and I attributed this trauma to having IV tubes stuck in his legs when supine on a pet hospital table.
We always wondered if Mikey ever had a happy day in his life, if he ever enjoyed a day free of fear. He always had a grim look, and no matter how much love and affection we showed him, he never returned it. He wouldn’t even look us in the face, even when we baby-talked to him.
Still, in his own way, he displayed his appreciation for neck rubs. And boy did he get excited over treats.
In February 2008, Marie stopped taking Mikey to our dog groomer, Donna. He panicked and almost seized the last time Marie took him. Dr. Davenport examined Mikey after that incident and told Marie Mikey’s heart was weak. Moreover, because of his weak heart and his ever-more contracting trachea, Dr. Davenport said Mikey might have only a month or two to live.
We tried to prepare ourselves for Mikey’s passing. Since we lost Gracie in 2006, we worried what effect Mikey’s death would have on his brother, Sonny. We didn’t want Sonny to suffer loneliness if Mikey died. So in late March 2008, I brought home Lillie, a cute little Yorkie-Poodle, an Easter gift to Marie and a companion for Sonny.
Meanwhile, Mikey outlasted everybody’s expectations. Marie served him daily doses of medications, groomed him at home, and we tried to make his life as comfortable as possible. He made it through 2008 and 2009. He even survived the disruptive kitchen remodel we underwent in fall 2009, which indirectly resulted in Sonny’s death.
Marie and I welcomed two baby female Yorkies into our home in October 2009. Now three girl pups, Lillie, Maggie, and Rosie surrounded Mikey. He kept his distance, although the trio affectionately tried to lick his face and play with him.
As we entered January 2010, Marie and I noticed Mikey needed more sleep. And to a lesser extent, he did not climb up and down the small sets of doggie stairs that led to our sofas and beds. Still, he always enjoyed food and treats, and he always went outside to go potty, although with more reluctance when it snowed or rained. He occasionally even showed signs of spunk when he would sound a growl-like hacking noise to ward off the licking tongues of his adopted sisters.
By January 31, 2010, Mikey had already outlived the vet’s February 2008 prognosis by at least 22 months. Marie and I knew his death was imminent, and while we hoped he would continue to defy the odds for years to come, we wondered every day if it would be his last.
Marie gave Mikey a bath on Sunday January 31 and trimmed the hair around his eyes. She sprayed him with the sweet scent of his favorite fragrance and let him lay down next to a heating vent to warm his body. I told her he looked like he was ready for her to enter him in show-dog competition.
Later in the evening, after I brought Mikey inside from his final potty, I gave him his usual treats. Within minutes, he started hacking and choking. I had seen him do this many times, so I encouraged him to cough out whatever hampered his breathing. All of a sudden, he stared at me with terror in his eyes, turned away, walked two steps across my bed, and collapsed. I ran to get Marie, screaming, “I think Mikey is dead!” Marie gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Mikey twitched one last time, let out a hacking noise, and went to sleep, this time for good.
Marie held his lifeless body for 45 minutes as we reminisced about all the good memories we had of our “little lad.” We wrapped him in his little yellow baby blanket and put him in a shoebox. Knowing it would be an agonizing night for us, we tried to go to sleep, with tears gushing out of our eyes.
The next morning, Monday, February 1, Marie and I hoped he now was in Heaven, with his brother Sonny, his surrogate mother Gracie, and our other Yorkie named Rocky whom we lost in 1999. We hope life in the next world heals Mikey of every affliction that troubled him during his 10 years and 10 months on earth: No more brain damage, no more contracted trachea, no more congestion in his nose, no more sore gums, no more arthritis, and no more fear.
If Marie and I ever make it to Heaven, our first question will be, “Where are Rocky, Gracie, Sonny, and Mikey?” If these four beloved pets aren’t there, we will tell God, “Thanks, but no thanks. We don’t want to be here either.”
Mikey, you showed Marie and me what it is like for parents to have a child with disabilities, and how, despite these disabilities, the parents can love that child with all their hearts. We loved you Mikey, and although you might not have always comprehended our love, we hope from where you are now, you can.
Goodbye little prince, we look forward to seeing you again someday.
With fondest memories,
Rusty and Marie