It’s been two years since Amina passed away and it’s taken me this long to write an entry about her. And even with all that time, writing a little bit here and there as it felt right, the post was still a tough one to put together.
In the fall of 2004, Amina was found wandering on a highway near Lynchburg, VA and brought to a nearby shelter. No owners claimed her. Her time was almost up when, on November 4th, a woman who did dog rescue in the area saved Amina from being euthanized. At that point, she was named Wanderer and spent time bouncing between boarding and foster homes. At some point she may have been given the name Traveller. That Christmas, she had her picture taken with Santa.
March 26th of the following year, Friends of Homeless Animals, a local no-kill shelter, brought her in, renaming her Treasure. In late April, my wife and I visited FOHA to meet some dogs. We didn’t click with any of them, so we came back on May 1st to meet some more. That was when we took Amina for a walk on the FOHA grounds.
She was stubborn on the leash, but walked at a leisurely pace, sniffing everything with her long hound nose. We took her into the play area to toss a ball for her and let her run off-leash a bit. We laughed as she showed absolutely no interest in any toys and simply kept sniffing around.
As we brought her back from her walk, she tried stealing an entire pan of brownies off of a table (why anyone would have chocolate brownies where there are dozens of dogs around, I’m not quite sure). My wife and I talked it over a bit and decided we loved Amina’s demeanor and wanted to bring her into the family. We wouldn’t be able to bring her home for another week because we had a trip planned, but we decided to start the process.
Before we left for the day, we went into the kennel area and knelt down in front of her cage. Other dogs were barking and going berserk, but she just sat there, looking at us expectantly. “Do you want to come home with us?” I asked her and, in response, she put her paw up on the cage door. We knew she was the one.
We traveled to New York that week, but upon return, we picked her up and brought her home on May 7, 2005, renaming her Amina, an Arabic name meaning “peaceful” or “secure.”
The first few weeks with Amina were a bit rougher than we expected. She was recovering from a mild case of heartworm and still had some treatment left. Unfortunately, she reacted badly to the treatment and went several days without eating or drinking. My grandmother passed away the week after we brought Amina home and because Amina was sick, we made the tough decision that my wife would stay home with her while I drove to my grandmother’s funeral.
Thankfully, Amina started feeling better while I was away and with those first couple of weeks behind us, we were able to relax and get to know one another a little better.
All About Amina
Amina was probably a hunting dog (she had a small buckshot under the skin on one of her hind legs) and was likely bred, as she’d had a litter of puppies. We always hypothesized that she was a bad hunting dog because she got along so well with other animals and never showed any prey drive. Plus, contrary to Blueticks’ tendency for loud and frequent barking, Amina barked less than ten times in the five years she was with us. Many hunting dogs that aren’t “useful” will be shot. Fortunately, Amina either ran off or was let go to fend for herself.
Amina was a calm spirit, but when she first came home with us, she clearly had some anxieties. On walks, she would jump anytime a car drove by, surely a result of wandering on her own along a highway. The first time she met my dad, she growled at him (something she’d never do again with him or anyone else). With time, she learned to trust people and not be anxious around cars.
And though Amina was calm, she also had a sneaky streak in her. Not long after we’d brought her home, Huyen and I were upstairs when we heard a crashing sound downstairs. I ran down and found Amina standing there with an entire baguette in her mouth, bumping it into the table as she turned her head trying to get past.
As sweet as Amina was, she was also notoriously stubborn. There would be times when I’d try to get her to stand up so we could go out for a short walk before bed, and she was absolutely not interested. It would take lots of convincing some nights, prompting her with treats and embarrassing voices. On walks, Amina would have a very set plan in mind about where she wanted to go. More accurately, she had it set in her head where she didn’t want to go. More than once she stood there, feet planted firmly on the ground, unwilling to move in the direction I wanted to move. So, I’d try going another direction, figuring she had a specific route in mind. She didn’t budge. I tried all four directions and she wasn’t interested in going in any of them. She just wanted to stand there until she was good and ready to move. I’m pretty sure she would have made Cesar Milan throw his hands up in frustration.
My favorite “stubborn Amina” story comes from a time we dropped Amina off at my parents’ house when we took a trip to New York. My mom took Amina out for a walk, but by the time they got to the end of the driveway, the skies opened up and it started pouring rain. It was at this point Amina decided to plant it and not move. My mom stood there, getting completely drenched, urging Amina back to the house, without success. My dad still laughs when he describes my mom coming back in the house soaking wet and scowling at Amina for choosing that moment to display her stubborn nature.
Though Amina was likely a hunting dog, clearly we never had her out hunting. She really didn’t have much of a hunting instinct, anyway. We used to petsit a friend’s rabbit for a month each year and Amina showed little more than mild curiosity about the houseguest. However, Amina did like to use her hound nose, so we would challenge her by hiding treats in between sofa cushions, perched on shelves, and behind table legs. We’d come in from our last walk of the night and say, “Where is it?” and she would tear around the room looking for her treats, sometimes burying her face nose-deep into couch cushions or other common hiding places she remembered.
Another personality trait of Amina’s that I’ll never forget was her passive-aggressiveness. If you think a dog is incapable of this type of behavior, allow me to share a common occurrence:
Most nights, Amina slept in bed with us. Usually she’d curl up at the bottom of the bed before I even got under the covers. Sometimes, she’d spread out and I’d have to contort myself in order to find a place to sleep. But every so often, I’d get into bed first and she’d lay on the floor. A few hours later, I’d wake up, open my eyes, and find myself face-to-face with Amina. She would sit there quietly—and kind of creepily—staring at me, waiting for me to move so she could get into bed. Huyen told me that sometimes she’d hear Amina very subtlely whine, just loudly enough to wake me up, but not loudly enough that I’d take notice of it upon waking.
So, I’d groan a bit and say, “OK, girl, hop up,” and pat the bed, making room for her at the bottom. But Amina wouldn’t hop up. She’d just keep staring at me. Eventually, I learned, she was waiting for me to get up and go to the bathroom so she could hop into bed and steal my spot. I guess she figured if she started the night on the floor, I was supposed to finish it there.
I also can’t go without mentioning that she was super patient and very tolerant when our daughter was born. There were no issues with introducting a new member to “the pack” at all.
After Amina had been with us for about 3 1/2 years, she started throwing up some mornings. At first, it was about once a month, but then gradually increased to once every few weeks. Initially we thought it was because she was hungry, so we fed her a small snack first thing in the morning, but that didn’t have much effect. We took her to the vet because this was unusual for Amina. They were dismissive about it, telling us, “Oh, she probably snuck some food and was just throwing it back up.”
But the throwing up progressed and became much more frequent. It started happening every two weeks. Then every week. Then every few days. We tried diet changes. We tried various short-term medicines. We went to a holistic vet and had accupuncture done. No one could give us any real, definitive answers. For months, we were making vet appointments, begging them to help us find what was really wrong with Amina. It got to the point where she was throwing up multiple times a day. Several times we had to take her to the emergency vet for dehydration, once after having thrown up eight times in a single day. Amina stopped eating almost everything.
It wasn’t until a year after the first time we brought her in because of her vomiting that a different vet in the practice suggested we get an ultrasound and endoscopy done to help get a more accurate picture of what was going on inside.
So, we did. Amina was losing weight and though we hated to put her through an invasive procedure that would keep her at the emergency vet overnight, we did it. The doctor that did the procedure told us that the lining of Amina’s stomach, which was supposed to appear smooth, looked “cobblestone-like.” It was completely bumpy and that was why she couldn’t keep any food down.
They took a biopsy to test for cancer. We were relieved when the test came back negative and the doctor diagnosed Amina with the somewhat catch-all diagnosis of “inflammatory bowel disease” (which, it should be noted, is different from “irritable bowel syndrome”). She presented IBD as a harsh and lifelong disease, but that the symptoms would ultimately be treatable. Initially the medications would be somewhat heavy. But that was necessary, she told us, in order to treat the damage that had already been done. After a month or so, she assured us, Amina’s meds could be cut back to a more theraputic dose, once she started eating better, gaining weight, and showing overall improvement.
Amina was put on metocloprimide, Pepcid, a limited ingredient food, metronidizole, and prednisone. Over the next couple of months, the cocktail was adjusted slightly, but those were the typical meds she took. And she didn’t like them. While we were initially able to give her meds in peanut butter, she eventually took a dislike to peanut butter and we had to try every other nut butter in existence just to get her to take her pills.
While we were relieved at the diagnosis and very pleased that the mediciations were keeping her from vomiting (in fact, she didn’t vomit again once she went on her meds), about a month later we started seeing some problematic things. For one, Amina’s appetite was still not great, even with an occasional appetite stimulant. Secondly, and more disturbingly, we noticed she was starting to lose strength in her legs. She was keeping our walks short, stepping tentatively up the stairs onto the porch, and tripping wjem trying to go up to the second floor. We talked to the doctor about this, and she said this was a normal side effect of the prednisone (something she’d never told us to expect). She gave us some recommendations on how to keep Amina’s muscles from atrophying.
Unfortunately, over the next several weeks, it got so bad that we had to help Amina stand and that her legs would completely give out on her. Sure, she wasn’t vomiting anymore, but she was miserable and couldn’t even stand up on her own. It took a lot of pressure, but the doctor finally reduced the dose of prednisone and was going to start transitioning Amina to a replacement.
For our part, we continued the exercises, got her to a physical therapy appointment, and even took her for some water therapy (the first time we ever saw her swim!). In early June, she was still not doing very well, but we had a little bit of hope that we’d be able to turn the corner, get her muscle strength built back up, and get things a little closer to normal again. I had a conference in Las Vegas and it crushed me to leave the family with things in such a precarious state with Amina, but I did. Before heading out the door, I gave Amina a hug and told her, “Start feeling better, OK, girl?”
Two days later, June 11, 2010, after the first session of the conference, I got a call from Huyen. Amina was gone.
Huyen had gone out for the morning with Rasine and was going to go from their first appointment to a playdate at a friend’s house. But Huyen realized she’d left something at home, so stopped by the house to pick it up and decided to take Amina out for a quick pee before she left (the medicine had Amina peeing 10-12 times a day). As they walked through the front yard, Amina collapsed. She couldn’t get up. Huyen knew this was beyond the stumbles Amina had taken before, so she picked Amina up, put her in the back seat of the car, and called the emergency vet to let them know she was on the way. During the five minute trip to the hospital, Amina died.
To say we were crushed and heartbroken would be an understatement. We’d try so hard to help Amina, did our best to get her through her illness and make her comfortable during the treatment… and it was all over, just like that. We were sad, of course, but also angry. We were angry at the vets who blew off our initial concerns. We were angry at the emergency vet who often made us feel like we were doing something wrong with Amina’s treatment or that we were wasting her time. We were angry that we never really found out why Amina was sick.
Even two years after the fact, it’s something that’s hard to talk about. I suspect the wounds will always be there. But, fortunately, we were able to spend five great years with Amina. We have thousands of pictures and even more memories. And I know that as difficult as the last few months were for her, Amina loved us and knew we were doing our best to help her.
We miss you, girl.