A few months ago on Twitter (or maybe it was only weeks?) I remember reading about Neil Gaiman losing his beloved dog. A few days ago, JC Hutchins spoke of the death of Lap Kitteh. I haven’t lost a pet in many years, but when my first horse died in 2003 the anguish was crippling, and I still have to blink back tears when I think of that horrible horrible night.
This morning Kyle, who got up before me, came flying in to wake me, saying something was wrong with Leah.
Leah is a pitt bull – catahoula hound dog mix. She is my best friend of 13 years. This dog saw me through my dissertation. She was beside my bed through a broken off engagement, 1 serious relationship’s beginning, middle & ending, and a 2nd serious relationship complete with marriage . She has been along for the ride on 3 cross-country moves, and has dealt with the boxes that came with 6 changes of address. She has caught frisbees and balls. She has nabbed blue jays out of the air (and they were wet angry and unharmed when I took them from her). She has caught snakes in the grass (it was, err, harmed when I took it from her… but it slithered away). She has caught minnows in the water (and eaten them whole). She barks to keep me safe (or because she’s bored). And she’ll curl up in bed with me if I’m alone to keep me warm (but hop down with a sad whine/snort if a man comes into the bedroom).
Leah has been there. For all the parts of my adult life that matter, she has been there.
She turned 13 on Valentine’s day.
And this morning Kyle woke me up because something was wrong. She kept falling over. She was shaking. I feared it was a stroke (but her strength was even in both sides – she just had no balance). The vet thinks it is her inner ear – an old dog problem that makes their eyes twitch, and makes them feel like the world is spinning. There is medicine. She may get well. She is somewhat better tonight… but she is broken. She can’t stand without help. She can’t go up the stairs. Her brain is there. If you ask her to “high five” she knows she can’t lift her paw, so she rolls to paw up while laying on her back. She is alert. She is just… broken.
It is a lesson in morality – What do I do to provide the right hospice care? At what point do I say no more? That question wasn’t asked today, but I know it is coming. I had hoped that she might pass quietly, asleep on the patio watching the ground hog. She loves it there, wind bringing her the smells and the sun warming her fur. I can still have that hope. But today at least… she can’t get there alone. The dog door is too hard. The stairs to the grass – those three small stairs – are too much to do without help. The second story of our house… it is gone to her, at least today. I can hope she’ll heal. I can hope she will follow me up the stairs the next time she decides my lunch needs to be shared.
But tonight I am on the sofa, my best friend at my side. She is asleep on her bed in the living room, and when I’m done with my work I will sleep at her side. She has always been there for me, and I will always be there for her.
UPDATE (5/16/2013): Leah, my 13 year old mutt, is starting to do better. We still have her wearing a harness that allows us to help her up and down the stairs, but she’s able to go out and bask in a sunbeam on our porch at her leisure.
The diagnosis was vestibular disease. If you want to learn more so you can help your old guy or gal when they are in need, read up about the problem here.