Monday, June 13, 2011

On Immortality

I am in denial that my dog is dying.

Yes, if you want to get all philosophical you can say "Oh but we're all dying".  And then I'd be forced to punch you in the throat.

My dog -- Lola -- who has been under my care for 10 of her 11 years is obviously not well.

I noticed an egg-sized lump under her right shoulder blade a few weeks ago, and then another on her teats, but was afraid to take her to the vet for fear of any bad news.  Now, I look at my dog's short breaths, swollen abdomen, and tired eyes and I know.  The end is near.

While I admire and applaud those who have the resources to spend seemingly-infinite amounts of money on their animals with chemotherapy and the best doctors, that's just not a reality for us (remember us? the ones with the daughter about to turn 3 who spent about a million dollar's worth of time in the NICU, followed by 2 surgeries, genetic testing and so forth? Yeah, us).

I remember what seems like a very recent time in our lives when I couldn't imagine loving anything more than I love that dog.  We went for walks at least 4 times a day (I'd come home for lunch just to walk her).  I arranged college classes around taking her outside and making sure she had fresh air.  Lately, it seems like the words we say most are not "You're such a good dog", but "Lola! Dangit, you're always under foot."

I can't help but feel responsible for the cancer growing in her small frame.  As if the shift from Prized Firstborn to small annoyance was just too much weight for her to bear, and she swallowed her sadness and it just .. grew.

And now it stares me in the face while she sits next to me on the sofa (so rare, something that used to be expected) and when she barks at me to go outside, or looks at me longing to go to the park with me and the kids.

I haven't been a bad dog mom.  I rescued her from who knows what situation when she was (at best guess) a year old.  She's had her teeth cleaned (though not as recently as she should have), and been vaccinated against all sorts of dog maladies.  She's been groomed, been on long walks on the beach, and hours at the dog parks.

So why do I feel so guilty?

I tell myself it's just too much hassle to walk a dog.  I have to get the stroller out of the trunk.  And then put the 2nd seat on it.  And then corral the kids.  And then get the dog.  And the treats.  And the cheese sticks for the kids.  And I think about all the stuff I "need" and I just can't do it.

And she sits on the sofa, and she has short breaths, and I wonder if Geoff's inadvertently sharp comment that "This might be the last time we take you on a walk, Lola" last Saturday will ring true.

I want to know we did right by her, even while she lives.  We try to be more gentle.  We don't get as annoyed when she barks at us to get her invite onto the bed (she can still jump up there, God bless her!).  We let her eat the kids' food (they feed her -- they love it).  I admonish Jack (repeatedly) to use gentle hands with the doggie.

He says her name.  "Oooh-waah".  And I wonder if he'll remember the dog that was such a major fixture during a really meaningful decade of my life.  A decade full of amazing changes.  We shared them.  She comforted me and kept my feet warm, and dragged me out of bed in the morning when she needed to be walked.

I know that people outlive their dogs.  I have always known that.  The day I brought her home (when I was 22 years old), I thought "Someday, I will have to bury my dog."  And I cried just imagining it.  Now that it seems to be near, I look at her and think "I hope I have done right by you".  I rub her belly a little longer before going to sleep.

I don't imagine getting any other dogs again.  Who would be as great?

For now, she lives and breathes (and shits on my carpet.  God bless that dog, but she will shamelessly shit on my carpet until the very end.  I am sure of that much.) and I want to try to take her on more walks.  To make the effort.  I don't want them to be so few and far between.  Even as she limps.  Even as she struggles for her breaths.

She is still happy to see her leash. 

Still happy to sit next to me on the couch. 

Still a very good dog.

2 comments:

grerp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grerp said...

I found it terribly hard to say good-bye to my dog Rosie three years ago. She had been there all through my infertility and had lost weight with me. She thought I was the most wonderful person ever; she had one favorite, and I was that. I leaned on her pretty hard in times of stress, and she always came through.

I mourned actively for at least 6 months after she was gone. It was a terrible decision to put her down, but she was in awful shape. Poor girl. She'd become a husk of her former self. I'd become her late-life nursing staff of one.

Dogs live in the moment. They don't remember our small failings and our impatience. She had your love throughout; you gave her a good life. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings with her as she already has and love her up now.

I was glad I had gotten puppy Milo when Rosie passed because he was/is a good companion, but even though he is probably the objectively better dog, he loves everyone. I am not his sun or moon. Rosie will always have pride of place as the first dog of my very own and ego stroker extraordinaire.

God bless and take care. I was touched by your writing.