This is the first day I haven’t really felt like writing my blog entry, but it’s not because something went wrong in dogland today; it’s more that nothing went wrong.
I had a light work day, so didn’t have to rush and could just let things happen in their own natural timing, which is something I really enjoy. I feel rejuvenated, after such a relaxed day.
The dogs had two particularly delicious meals today, and they all ate very eagerly. The first was baked chicken, with brown rice boiled with apple chunks, and the second was what I call a dairy dinner, with milk and eggs made into a custard, and baby cereal added for the grain.
Seeing with what relish they ate these meals made me recall something from a dog book I’d read once, about how dogs’ stomachs couldn’t handle sudden changes, and it was best to keep to the same food, day after day. This is complete drivel. I’m pleased with myself for never having bought into it. I did think, at one point (trying to be polite, I suppose), ‘Well, maybe the author hasn’t raised his dogs to a varied diet, and maybe, if you don’t get them used to it as puppies, their stomachs can’t handle the changes later.’ But, unless I’ve been having a very unusual experience all these years, even that is drivel. I’ve had only a couple of puppies, amongst all the dogs I’ve loved in the past twenty-five years. The rest were adults, and many of them were seniors, and all of them have thrived–more than thrived, even; glowed is a better word–on a varied diet including lots of people food. I always cringe inwardly when I hear someone brag, ‘Oh, we never give Fido people food–it’s so bad for them.’
As I’ve said, meals today were especially yummy, and Grace ate even more greedily, clearly asking for more. And all her pills went down nicely, too. She’s doing better and better, and I’m happy. I can’t wait to see her lying in the grass on the first warm, sunny day of spring. I can’t wait to see that day, period, even if Grace doesn’t want to lie in the grass! 😉
So my own dog family is peachy today (and the cats are, too), and, looking elsewhere in my personal dogland, I see on one hand Clarisse, who’s gained eleven pounds from Maureen’s good cooking and who now has a personal trainer; and on the other hand TA’s little dog, formerly Renard and now going through a naming process to arrive at the perfectly perfect name, doted on and shown off everywhere TA goes. And somewhere in there are Annie, to whom I gave every bit of help it was in my power to give (and that story is still ongoing), and my friend CE, who’s now in touch with two rescue groups specializing in herding breed mixes, one of which, I’m quite sure, will have the perfect dog for her.
Since everywhere I look in my small section of the world of dogs I see satisfaction, health, and happiness, this is a good day for me to write about something sad.
And it’s not so sad, really, when I think back on it.
I’ve told you how much I loved my Dingo, one of the Six Pack. He’s the darkest one in the picture, the one who’s kind of black and tan. I’ve written at length about him in, ‘The Six Pack; or, I Get My Feet Wet’.
Dingo and I had many years of peaceful love together. There were no bumps in our relationship, nothing that needed to be worked on, no issues. Just love. At the time, I didn’t realize how unusual that was. I was spoiled then, maybe, because, except for Brigadoon, who was a little challenging in certain ways (I wrote about that at the time, and I’ll transfer those writings to this blog someday soon), the Six Pack was just plain easy. The time when Tater and Dingo were struggling for…something…rank, maybe? was the only time I even needed to do anything like training. Maybe they were just five (or six–let’s give Brigadoon the benefit of the doubt here) of the easiest dogs in North America.
So, for a number of years, I had the privilege, and the luxury, of simply being with my dogs, and I learned so much during that time, and, together, we created and stored so much love in our home.
And it’s a good thing we had that love, because the years when they began to suffer from age-related conditions and illnesses were so hard, and not just because of circumstances relating to them.
The very best characteristic I have is my endurance, and I needed every bit of it then. Maybe someday I will write the whole story…
But for now I want to tell you about just one incident during those years, a miracle, in my estimation. For some reason which I really can’t fathom, it wasn’t until I began writing this blog that I realized just how…specific, I guess might be the right word, was this miracle.
One day Dingo went racing off after a squirrel, as he often did. But something different happened this time. He suddenly stopped running, and began coughing. By then I’d had two Chihuahuas with heart disease, and I took him to the vet hoping they’d tell me he had kennel cough, or even heartworm. But I knew they wouldn’t, and they didn’t. He had a heart murmur, and then he had two, and they worsened rapidly, and the Lasix wasn’t doing the trick as it had with other dogs, and even the Enalapril didn’t help enough.
I remember one day, an ugly day of mixed snow and muddy mush. We had an appointment with a heart specialist vet late in the afternoon, and I expected to hear that we were out of options. I took the dogs to the park, pushing Dingo in his pet stroller through the muck, because all but the shortest walk was too much for him. Some of the other dogs were free, although I’d heard rumors that the police had been patrolling lately and writing tickets for people who allowed their dogs off leash. I had all I could do to manage the stroller and hold Baby’s and Jumper’s leashes, which they needed because their vision was poor.
The reason we were walking at all, that very unattractive day, was because I felt there was a very real chance that it would be Dingo’s last walk in his beloved park, and his last walk anywhere, maybe, because I had decided that I didn’t want him to experience any fear before he died, and if they told me that he was struggling to breathe, I was going to try to be brave enough to have him put to sleep at our appointment.
So I struggled with his stroller through the ruts and dirty snow, crying and trying to hide it from them, trying to talk in a cheerful voice so that they weren’t worried. No one else was walking dogs that day; it was really about as ugly as a day gets, here. And then I raised my head to watch where Briggy was running, and there were two mounted policemen, just visible through the fog and drizzle.
They had me. There was no way I could have argued my way out of a ticket, or three tickets, if that was how they did it (to my amazement, I never did get a ticket all those years, but just one warning, so I never found out whether they’d have written each dog a separate ticket). And suddenly I was mad. I can’t remember my exact words, but when one of them said, ‘Ma’am, is that your dog?’, or some such opener, I really let ’em have it. The gist of what I said was that I didn’t bloody care if they gave me a ticket, because this was my dog’s last day on earth, most likely, and I was going to let him say good bye to his park whether they wrote me a ticket or not, and I had only so many hands for the stroller and the leashes. Whatever I said, it seemed to convince them, and they wrote no ticket and simply wished me good luck and then rode away, leaving me, strangely, in a stronger frame of mind, more ready to face our appointment.
And the day got even better, because the wonderful heart specialist, visiting from the great Cornell University, discovered that the reason the heart meds weren’t giving Dingo a good quality of life was that his lung function was seriously comprised, too.
The prescription? Viagra, believe it or not. Viagra treats pulmonary hypertension, in humans and dogs, and in dogs it does not have an effect on erectile function. 🙂 So began almost two years of buying and begging Viagra wherever I could get it. I was, and am, unless this has changed, disgusted to learn that Viagra for humans was covered by insurance for use in erectile dysfunction but not in the treatment of pulmonary hypertension. Absurd.
I took such care of Dingo, and he knew. That’s really all there is to say. There is nothing at which I look back with regret, and I can’t really express how grateful I was, and am, for that.
And gradually, his heart grew weaker, and I began to prepare us for the end. I opted out of my orchestra’s annual residence at a music festival in Vail, because I had a feeling that Dingo’s time would be nearing then (and so it proved). And all that time, I found myself saying something to him which was really not in my usual repertoire of pet patter.
‘Don’t you worry, baby Dingo’, I said, day after day, almost without noticing I was doing it, ‘don’t you be afraid, because you’ll either be with Mommy or with God. You will go right from Mommy to God, and both of us know how to take good care of you.’
At first I said this just to have something to say which was a vehicle for the very soothing tone of voice in which I said it. I mean, I was just babbling to him in a comforting way, and that was the point of it. But after a few weeks, it occurred to me that I might actually want to pray it, although I had no real belief in the power of traditional prayers.
There is one form of prayer I have real trust in. When I pray for patience for myself, or wisdom, or strength to endure, I expect that it will help, and it does. This is because these things are under my control (or so I believe), and focusing my mind on improving them will, in fact, improve them. But to pray for Dingo’s gentle passing was something else entirely.
And yet I found myself doing it. I prayed for Dingo to know no fear and as little suffering as possible. I slept with my hand touching him, all night, so that I would wake when he did, so that he would never be alone and afraid. And when we woke, I prayed, without even thinking about it. I’m sure it was a comfort to both of us, to hear the familiar words.
And always I watched him for the small changes which I knew would tell me. Day by day, he began to set his own limits on his activity, seeming to know exactly how many steps he could take before it was time for me to carry him in his baby Snugli, or settle him in his stroller. His last full day, I took them all to the park. It was a beautiful sunny day in high summer, and although he did not want to walk at all that day, I carried him to the creek and let him feel the water push gently against his legs, before I put him back into the sun-warmed stroller.
I’d been coaxing his appetite with all kinds of low-sodium delicacies and feeding him by hand for many weeks by then, and he’d eaten at every mealtime. The morning after I’d held him in the water, though, he wouldn’t eat, and I felt he looked at me with something different in his eyes. He was wondering if I could help him more. I settled him on my shoulder and took him with me to call the vet. They needed to put me on hold, and I carried him out onto the front porch, and walked up and down as you do with a baby, in the morning sunshine. I babbled to him as I waited, saying the same basic thing each time, with as many words as I could think of to stretch it out, so that the sound of my voice went on and on…because that, I knew, was his favorite sound.
‘Don’t you worry, Dingo, because you will go right from Mommy to God, and Mommy loves you and…’, and as I said the word, ‘loves’, I felt his head suddenly slump against my shoulder, and although he looked just the same as he had a second before, I knew. And I kept talking, although I was choking on tears, and then his bladder and bowels relaxed, and I knew for sure that he was gone, all in the space of less than a minute, and then I could stop my litany and just weep. I don’t know how long I stayed there in the sun, cradling his body, so lonely. It wasn’t until a little later that I would be grateful for his easy passing, and remember that he had died with the sound of, ‘love’, in his ears, something he’d heard so many thousands of times before. But once I did notice, oh, I was so grateful. And I realized, with half-disbelieving awe, that my prayers for his gentle death had been answered. And I knew that this could not possibly have been something under my control, not even a little bit.
But it wasn’t until I began to write this blog that I realized that it wasn’t simply that my prayers for Dingo’s easy passing had been answered. My specific words had been answered. His death hadn’t been only easy. He had gone, literally, straight from me to God (provided, of course, that one believes there’s a God to go to, a God who takes in not just people, but all living things). I was actually holding him, cradling him against my body, talking to him, really with him in every way it was possible to be with someone, and then he was gone, gone to God, with not even a bump in his journey, not even a loss of consciousness.
It was all I could ask for in a miracle.