My Mina Girl
All growing up, I can never remember a time when we didn’t have a dog. When Daniel and I got married, I immediately started talking about wanting to get a dog. He was not in agreement and wouldn’t really engage in much conversation about it. I interpreted this behavior as secretly planning to get me a dog for Christmas. Christmas came and went, and instead of opening up a package containing a shih-tzu puppy like I had imagined, he got me a jacket from the Gap. I continued pressing the issue until he finally explained that he is a big guy and would feel ridiculous owning a tiny dog. He worked at a bank at that time, and one day he mentioned seeing a lady in an SUV drive through with 2 great danes sitting in the back seat like humans. He made a few comments about these big dogs, so I latched onto it.
I had never had a big dog, and the thought had never really crossed my mind. But if a big dog was what he would be more agreeable to, I was willing to compromise. I started researching great danes, because I knew nothing about them and had never even seen one in person. I filled out an application on a Great Dane Rescue site. A lady came to our house and interviewed us. There were several criteria she was going to require us to change before she would approve us (like fencing in our backyard), but we had identified a merle female that we were interested in (grey with black spots.) Shortly afterwards, the lady called me back and said that a lump had appeared on the dog and that it was cancer, so they were not going to leave her up for adoption at that time.
We ended up moving to a new house the next year, and I continued searching for our dog. In the classified ads of our online newspaper, there was only one great dane listed for sale. I showed Daniel the ad, and he agreed to just go and look at the dog to humor me. It was a fawn (tan) female. She was 11 months old and weighed 135 lbs. We arrived at her little garden home to find her playing ball with her owner in the backyard. He would throw the ball and she would eagerly gallop after it and retrieve it. She started bringing it back to me, still holding it tightly in her teeth, with drool covering it and flying everywhere. I would take my thumb and index finger like tweezers and tentatively try to pull it out of her teeth, with no success. The owner pointed out that I needed to be much more assertive with her and command her to drop the ball. I quietly and gently asked her to “Drop it?” as if I were asking her a question. The owner was not amused.
We told him we would discuss what we wanted to do, and then we left. We got in the car and Daniel asked me what I thought, and I said I wanted her. We called the owner and arranged to pick her up that Friday after work. We did not even own a vehicle large enough to transport her at that time, so we had to borrow Daniel’s mom’s SUV to go pick Mina up. When we got there that night, Daniel and the owner went out to the car to talk and set things up while they left me inside the garden home with Mina. She could sense that something was happening and began to pace and whine. I didn’t quite know what to do about it or how to calm her down, and I started getting nervous no knowing what this big dog might do if she were scared. I also noticed a HUGE human-sized hole dug in the sheetrock to the left of their front door in the living room. Apparently, Mina would become anxious when they left, stand up on her hind legs and try to claw through the wall to go and find them.
The 2 men got her loaded into the back of the SUV, and we started the 40 minute drive home. She was whining loudly and moving all around. Daniel was driving, and I was looking straight ahead wondering what we had gotten into. He kept asking me to turn around and see what was going on, but I kept whispering, “Be quiet! I’m scared of her!”
He was flabbergasted.
We got her home, and that first night, she stood up the whole night and paced around the house. She had never walked on hardwoods before and was very scared to put her paws on them. It looked like she was trying to learn to ice skate. She had also never walked on a leash. I was in my late 20’s at the time and had not started CrossFit. I was not at all physically equipped to handle such a large, energetic animal. I would take her out to potty, and she would buck up in the air with her front legs like a horse. At one point, we were on a slope and the grass was wet, and she threw me up in the air and I landed backwards on my neck. I think I still have neck issues to this day because of that.
But very quickly, she learned her new routine. We took her to a “puppy” training class, and she was very obedient and eager to please. The other puppy owners would stare at us and pull their little dogs a bit closer, as if wondering why we had brought such a giant to the class. Mina was oblivious of her size and was terrified of Yorkshire terriers. She was also extremely afraid of thunderstorms and would hide her head under our bed, with the remainder of her body sticking out. I think she though the thunder monster couldn’t see her while she was so well hidden.
Our friends and family who came to visit were amazed at how well behaved Mina was. Even though she was tall enough to put her face up on our kitchen countertops, she wouldn’t dare steal any “human food.” We kept her water bowl out on the patio. She would take her nose and “knock” on the doorknob when she wanted to go out. After she drank her water, she would wait at the door and not dare come back in until I had taken a napkin and wiped the drool off her mouth on both sides.
She quickly became my best buddy. She followed me around every step I took, “helping me” do laundry, get ready in the mornings, she was always ready to go on a walk, loved sunbathing on the back porch and resting beside me on the floor while I read a magazine or watched a TV show. I had never experienced a dog who was so “human-like.” I created a mantra that I would repeat to her while I petted her:
Mina’s a good girl
Mina’s a pretty girl
Mina’s a smart girl
And we loooove this Mina girl
Yes we do!
And she would gaze up at me like she knew what I was saying.
When Mina was 5 years old, we noticed a knot that appeared on her side. We took her to the vet, and they said it was cancer. Before we adopted her, we had lots of people give us their (unsolicited) opinions about why it wasn’t a good idea to have a great dane. One of which was their tendencies to have health problems and shortened lifespans. When I researched all of this, I found that the average life expectancy of a great dane is 6-8 years, with only 17% living to age 10. I also read that the oldest recorded great dane was 15 years old, so that immediately became my minimum goal for Mina. We had that cancer removed, and she had many healthy years afterwards.
We loved on her, and I treated her like my little baby. We would dress her up for every holiday and take photos of her on our porch next to our potted plants. I made a scrap book for her. We moved to a new house, and one of our neighbors jokingly yelled at me one day, “You guys really need some kids!”
Eventually we adopted Jian, and Mina adjusted to everything well. The first time Jian met Mina, she was terrified of her. She started climbing up my body like a tree, doing the splits and bringing her legs up to my shoulders so that Mina couldn’t reach them. By the end of the first day, they had made friends, though.
Then, around the time that Faith came home, Mina began to have more stiffness and soreness in her hips. She stopped wanting to jump out of my SUV when I took her places. One time when this happened at the vet, they told me that it was probably time to put her on an anti-inflammatory medication. Not knowing any better, I agreed to do what I thought would help her feel better. I gave her the medicine, and for about 4 days, she seemed like a puppy again. The next morning, I went downstairs to let her potty, and something was different. I didn’t hear her anywhere, and she didn’t run to greet me when she heard me coming down like usual. I looked all around and found her stretched out on her side, seizing violently on the floor. I started screaming her name and running around, unable to slow my mind down or think clearly. She stopped seizing and heard me yelling her name and jumped to her feet. I quickly realized that she wasn’t able to see. She started running around, disoriented, bumping into everything, getting tangled up behind our exercise equipment, trying to run up the stairs, but then falling down backward. I also noticed that her nose was running and bleeding, but only out of her left nostril.
I got her calm and called the vet, still somewhat hysterical. I told them I didn’t know if she’d had a stroke or what, and described what I had just seen. They said that they didn’t do house calls and that she probably just had a seizure, in a voice that didn’t sound like a big deal. They said if she gained strength later that I could bring her in. A few hours later I was able to get her loaded into the car and take her. The vet “broke the news to me” that she was old, that great danes don’t normally live this long, that she probably had a tumor, and we could monitor her and decide what we wanted to do.
I was furious! Clearly, she was just fine besides having sore hips until I gave her the new medicine, which caused these seizures. For some reason, I felt hesitant to pray for her because she wasn’t a human. Then I started thinking about what the scriptures had to say about this:
1. By speaking a word, God created animals and said that it was good (Genesis 1:25)
2. God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:26-29)
3. We are told to cast all of our cares on him (1 Pet 5:7) and not be anxious about anything but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6-7)
So I poured my heart out to Him. I wept and I told him that I was not prepared for this. That I was not ready to let her go. And I begged Him to help her. I stopped the medicine and replaced it with joint supplements, and the seizures stopped after a couple of days.
Several more months passed, and I received a reminder that it was time to bring Mina in for her annual vaccinations. Looking back, I made the worst decision that I’ve probably ever made in my life. I took her in just like they recommended. Her hips were arthritic and she still had the runny nose out of her left nostril. Nevertheless, they gave her all of her vaccinations. The next morning, she woke up and tried to go outside to potty, but her back legs wouldn’t work. She was paralyzed.
Again, I went into fury/panic mode. She was fine before the vaccinations, and now she was paralyzed! Daniel and I worked together to physically lift her hips and help her get outside. I was wracking my brain about how to help her. I told Daniel that clearly these senior dogs’ systems are unable to tolerate these medications and chemicals and there needed to be a specialist who understood alternative treatments. In random conversations that same day, 2 different people told me about “Dr. Natalie” who is a holistic vet in Birmingham. They said that she is the only one in the area and that people from Nashville and beyond come to see her. We got an appointment with her a couple of days later. We did a detox and flooded Mina’s system with supplements to build her immune system. We did a few acupuncture treatments for her pain and mobility issues. At home, about every 2 hours, we would insist on Mina getting up. We did a two-man lift and brought high energy and insisted on her taking steps. I corrected her gait when she dragged her back left foot. I did range of motion exercises on her back hips each day. Little by little, she started building her strength. She started being able to walk around the block again, but still had weakness and was unable to go up stairs or go from standing to sitting or sitting to standing without assistance.
Seven long weeks later, Daniel and I attended an annual dinner/fundraiser with our adoption agency. We heard a preacher from Uganda for the first time talk about the work he does with children there who are deaf. We felt convicted and decided to do whatever we could to help his ministry. We got back home that night, late and tired. When I turned the doorknob to walk into the basement, guess who had stood up by herself and was waiting to greet us! That was the most joy and relief I had felt in a long time.
Life went on, we moved AGAIN, this time to a house without a basement, which allowed Mina to stay on the main level with the whole family every day. She did not have to go up and down any stairs to go outside. For the past year and a half we have lived there and had a nice routine. I would get the girls off to school, then the dogs would be ready to go on their daily walk. Everything was good until about a month ago. I took Mina on her walk, and as she was standing up on all 4’s, she fell over on her side like a statue. After a few seconds, she jumped up, but clearly something was wrong. A week later, I noticed that her eyes were red and droopy. She also started eating much less food than what was typical and was avoiding chewing on her left side. Jian and I had to leave to go to Baltimore, so Daniel worked with her daily, making sure she was still going outside regularly to the bathroom and feeding her lots of good soft, canned foods to encourage her to eat more. When Jian and I got home from Baltimore last Sunday evening, Mina did not jump up and greet me. I knew something was wrong. I bent down to look in her eyes and pet her head and noticed a golf ball sized knot above her left eye brow. I showed Daniel and told him it had to either be some type of infection or a tumor. I sent a few brief details to a friend who is a part time vet, and she wondered if it might be a tooth abscess. I grabbed onto that and reasoned that if her tooth hurt, that’s why she didn’t want to eat, which is why she had lost a LOT of weight in those 2 weeks and had become weaker.
We got up at 5am the next morning, got ready and loaded her into the car. Both of us were at the vet (a different traditional vet who could do the dental work) when it opened. I had the explanation and solution ready for them: She has a tooth abscess, she needs to have it fixed. Then she will eat more, then she will gain weight, then she will gain strength, then she will have a few more good years.
The vet sorrowfully told us that she was sure this was a mean, aggressive tumor that wouldn’t get any better. She gave us some steroids and pain medicine to try for the next week. As we were leaving, it was apparent that Mina had lost her vision as she was trying to get back to the car. I suspect that her vision had been declining for a few weeks, but that she was able to manage getting around inside of our home. When I noticed the blindness, something inside of me changed. I couldn’t bear to watch her go on like that. I called the vet that afternoon (Monday) and scheduled euthanasia for Wednesday. I bought every kind of fresh food and treat that I thought she might like, including a whole bag of Rachel Ray meatballs for each day. Tuesday and Wednesday Mina was “acting like a normal dog” according to Jian. She got up by herself, went outside to potty regularly, nudged my hand to keep petting her when I stopped just like she did when she was a puppy. She was eating huge portions of everything I put in front of her, including the entire bag of meatballs at once. I cancelled the appointment with the vet. Mina had memorized a path to get to her bed, to go outside, and to her dog bowl. I decided that if she could go on like that several more months and seemed to still feel ok, that would be great.
Thursday she was weaker, had to be forced to eat, and basically laid on the rug sleeping all day. I noticed that the tumor had grown and had now crossed midline and was growing toward her right eye. She also started panting a lot, which I knew meant she was anxious and in pain. I scheduled the euthanasia again for Friday. Friday she was struggling even worse. We were able to help her out to empty her bladder that morning, and just before her vet appointment, I got her to eat a few more meatballs and some gravy from her bed.
I sat for a couple more hours petting her and repeating her mantra that began so many years ago:
Mina’s a good girl.
And Mina’s a pretty girl.
And Mina’s a smart girl.
And we loooove this Mina girl.
Yes we do, yes we do.
Earlier in the week I was taken so off guard and I wasn’t sure if it was the right time. She was able to have a couple more good days, and then I had the confirmation that it was the right time when I saw her feeling so terribly at the end of the week. It was a peaceful process for her, but my heart still feels a huge void.
The previous details were the events as I have always understood them. However, looking back in hindsight, I wonder if this might be a more accurate way that her story actually happened:
Mina was 11 years old. She had already lived longer than 90% of great danes. Both of our girls had come home, and it was time to shift our attention to them. Mina developed a nasty tumor, as evidenced by the runny nose only on one side, which caused her to seize and lose her vision. I called on the Lord, and He heard my pleas, had mercy on me and granted me 2 more years with my precious friend.
For thirteen years and 3 months this sweet girl spread joy and smiles to everyone who met her. All of those years were a treasure, especially the last two. Mina Girl, you are so loved and missed.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father… James 1:17