Valentine for an Old Dog

It's not Thursday but I'm feeling the love.

This morning as my husband was heading out the door, he found himself surrounded by all four of our pets. It was such a funny sight--like Dr. Dolittle in the middle of the of our foyer. He laughed and he said, "Boy, the people who live here must really like pets!"

Our eyes met and I laughed.

Yup. That would be us.

I loved that moment because we were in such perfect accord. We were laughing at ourselves for all of this chaos we've added to our lives, but also that we just wouldn't have it any other way. When Edward went missing and I was so distraught, I said to my husband, "I'm such an IDIOT. Why do I set myself up like this when we know that it will end in heartbreak? Why do we even HAVE pets?" And my spouse, who can usually cut to the chase, said, "Because they make us laugh."

Such a good man, my husband. There is definitely enough love there for four pets and two kids and one crazy marriage and the neighbors' pets and their kids and cycling and the outdoors and some knitting and a few mango saplings and life itself. Whatever we run short of--patience, money, paper towels --there is no shortage of love in this house. This is how I always pictured family life. This was always my dream.

I'm living my dream. And it is pretty freaking awesome.

So, our amazing Dr. Wyatt came to take a look at Sydney today, after Syd's episode last Friday. We think Syd had a stroke and that might have triggered this Old Dog Vestibular Disease she's got. She is about 70% recovered from that, I would say, maybe more. Dr. Wyatt examined her for a long time and listened for a long time to Syd's old heart. And we talked about immediate treatment--Syd's staph infection is in full bloom again with raw, red lesions under her arms. (Wait, do dogs have arms? Her forelegs.) And she's not eating very much, which concerned Dr. Wyatt very much. (While we were sitting there, Dr. Wyatt fed Syd an entire bag of these treats and left me another for later. Have I mentioned how much I love my vet?)

Anyway, it turns out that Syd has a pretty significant heart murmur that the good doctor didn't hear the last time she saw Syd. She spoke to me about Syd in terms of not only her immediate care but also about beginning to think about what we wanted to do as Sydney gets closer to the end of her life.

In other words, it's coming.

I knew that it was coming --I've just had an instinctive feeling about that since the beginning of the summer. I wrote about it. I thought and thought about it.

But really, until Friday, I couldn't find a way to articulate my philosophy about it. In fact, even today, I was struggling for words. Because the stationary vet said that we should think about doing a CT scan to see if she has a brain tumor and my response was, "What would we do differently with that information?" If she indeed has a brain tumor, we won't operate on her. I wouldn't put her through that. It's not a cost factor --honest--it's that I really think we are called to not prolong this life of hers if it's her time to go.

Here's what it boils down to for me: Sydney has been my dog for almost 14 years --she was just under one year old when I got her. She has had a wonderful life since she and I met. She has been in every way a first rate, kick-butt dog. So many of my best memories are tied up in her. (Like how I knew my husband was in it for the long haul when, long before we were married, he took Sydney to the vet for the first time and changed her last name to Cooper.) I can't turn her into a pin cushion now to give myself more time to get used to the idea of losing her or to have some more time with her because then the whole thing becomes about ME. I want this to be about Sydney, and easing her on with grace and heartbreak when it's her time.

Because, see, I think we are entrusted with these animals. Syd has lived life very fully and she has had a happy life. I feel a responsibility to let her go with dignity and strength when the time comes, as a first rate dog and not some surrogate child or parent or what have you. I am resolved to have the strength to know when it's time to let her go. She deserves that.

Having said that, I'm in no hurry. Dr. Wyatt gave me some strategies for getting Syd to eat because she said that once dogs stop eating in this last phase of their lives, the decline becomes very rapid. So, if it's canned food or rotisserie chicken or ham and cheese sandwiches, so be it. (Might be sort of refreshing to have someone eat something I cook, I don't know.)

After Dr. Wyatt left, I sat down with my old friend and rubbed her belly and told her that when the time comes, I'll let her go. And I whispered to her all the things she'd get to do again once she is free of that old body. Things like chasing squirrels (she caught one once and was so surprised she let it go) and chasing the water stream out of the hose and going on long runs around the Lake and trying to sneak acorns into the house in her mouth. Things like jumping up on the new couch once everyone has gone to bed and racing full out on the beach after seagulls.

And I told her that I will always remember her and always love her and that she's been the best dog I've ever known.


DK said…
Well said, my friend. Well said.
Barb Matijevich said…
You know, I'm really actually at peace. I'm not crying and I'm not walking into doors and stuff. I'm okay. My heart's a little sore. But mostly I feel like I've done right by her and she's been an awesome dog and every day we have left is a gift.

The vet did tell me that if we are planning on taking her to the beach, this weekend would be a good time. I'm not sure we can move that fast but I got the message.

Rub that Maggie's belly for me, okay? Put your nose on her's and tell her Syd says hi. From one first-rate dog to another.
I don't know if you've read the Little House on the Prairie books to your girls, but in On the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura says good-bye to her old dog Jack in the most heartbreaking fashion. Somewhere in the first few chapters. I'm always bawling when I'm reading it aloud to one of the children. (And I'm not really a person who is that close to animals, though growing up I did have a wonderful dachsund/beagle mix named Farfel.) You should read it - it would be very cathartic.

And it's odd - I think my husband and I keep having kids because they make us laugh. When they're not making us tear our hair out, that is.
Barb Matijevich said…
You know, I would have had more kids but I did 20 weeks of bed rest with Jane and the chances of us having to do that again were 75%. Plus the whole c-section thing (I don't dilate. I'm VERY stubborn that way) is just a b-word to recover from. (I've been drinking wine, you might have to do the grammar there.) And also, my husband sort of started wanting a t-shirt that said, "Number Three Without Me!"

I read all the Little House books again a few years ago. The Long Winter almost did me in.

Aren't kids the funniest? I feel so goofy about how much I like mine. Just now I told Jane she could watch an episode of Jonny Quest if she...blah, blah, blah and she said, "Woohoo! Woohoo! Let's give it up for Jonny Quest!"

Now where did she learn that?
hokgardner said…
We have an old dog and will be facing these sorts of decisions sooner rather than later. I hope I can deal with Mollie-dog as gracefully as you have with Syd.
Anonymous said…
I'm full-on crying now....sitting at my desk. I'm getting looks. I've had 2 pets that meant as much to me as Syd means to you. In both cases I had true heart to hearts with both of them. When was a little alcohol induced when I was fresh out of high-school (!!) and the 2nd, 10 years ago, when my old cat came to me in the middle of the night. She was too tired and old to jump up on the bed so I got down on the floor, she crawled into my lap and we said goodbye to each other. She gave it up a few days later. I'm feeling the love today too....for you buddy.
Kerry said…
When our old pup was dying we faced so much criticism for not having her put down. It was right after Thanksgiving and she could barely stand so the kids fed her little pieces of turkey over the course of a few days. My husband took her out to pee one night and she died in his arms.

We don't have any regrets, but it's been almost two years and we don't have anymore pets either.

I think it's nice knowing and being present when someone or some animal is at the end of it's life.