Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Coop Black Dog Posse - For the Love of a Dog

This morning, Easter Sunday 2017, dawned gray and cool and matched what is in my heart. Yesterday, I had to face a hard truth.

One of my dogs is dying.

Not sick. Not frail. Not failing. Not fading. One of my dogs is dying.

Rocket Man
As of the time I'm writing this, Rocky hasn't eaten in three days and can no longer hold down water. I know about the food because I found where he'd been sick and a special treat I'd given everyone on Thursday was there, undigested. His organs and systems have been shutting down and now there is no disguising or ignoring it. Last night he started having small seizures.

I'm keeping a bowl of water by his head. He laps at it and then it comes back up. That's okay. As long as it gives him some comfort and satisfies his needs.

But it's more than just the outward signs. I can tell he is letting go.

And it's the other dogs. They are shunning him and I now realize that the squabbling I've been seeing for the last week is both their stress at losing one of their pack-mates and them resettling the pack order. A pack that no longer includes Rocky. If this was happening out in the wild, he would have found himself a quiet den and waited it out. No Disney soundtrack with this reality.

The old cliche of "they'll tell you" and "you'll know when" don't always hold true, but if you're willing to listen, the signs are usually there.

I don't know what happened. I don't know if it's a toxin or an infection or just some genetic switch flipped. There won't be heroic measures and attempts to diagnose. It's a holiday and where I live there are no emergency 24-hour facilities. If he hasn't crossed the bridge by tomorrow, I'll do my last duty as leader of this posse. It's my responsibility.

Yesterday I had to look into my options and decide what I could afford. I thought about a resting place in one of my flower beds, but an hour with a shovel told me that between my bad shoulder and the brick hard clay, that wasn't happening. I also hold no affinity for this land and know that I'll be leaving it some day. I'll take his paw prints in clay and on paper and then take him to a cremation service in Kansas City. Somehow, doing that research hurt me more than listening to his labored breathing and sounds of being sick. It made it real.

His spirit will be free. His body will be no more than a worn out suit that he no longer needs.

Because with Rocky, it's his spirit that matters.

Rocky is so busted. 
Rocky, AKA Rocket Man, The Rock, and DROP IT, is a magnificent stubborn loveable lunkhead of a DOG.

He's not a pet. He's not a "companion animal." He's not an accessory or a decorative accent. He is a crazy, goofy, free-spirited beast who still had a bit of the wild in him that never met a corner he didn't like to chew, a vertical surface that he didn't like to pee on, and a door he wouldn't bolt through. You left anything on the floor at your own risk.

If there was something nasty and smelly to roll in, he was the first on the scene. Only a month ago, I took a foul utterly dead mouse away from him. I had to scrub him (twice,) wipe him down with antibacterial wipes, AND powder him before I could stand to be in the same room with him.

And he made me laugh. Because that's what dogs do.

He came to Noah and me about 11 years ago. He'd been in a situation where he wasn't treated right. There was no intent, they just had no business with a puppy. It left him untrained, unsocialized, unsure of himself, and with serious trust issues. Noah carried him around inside his shirt for the first two weeks. After a month or two, this little quivering blob of black jelly found himself and has been going 90 miles an hour ever since.

Rocky scoffs at your "morning." 
He never learned any tricks and his relationship with house-breaking was always tenuous. But, he was always the first of the dogs to figure out a new doggy door arrangement or other challenges. What he lacked in brains he made up for in instinct and heart.

Because of his first year, he always had trouble with social cues, distrusted women, and could really be obnoxious. He wasn't sweet and adorable like Scruffy, a dog who never knew anything but love from the micro-second he was born. He lacked Charlie's dignity and Foxy's sheer beauty, but when you gained his trust, he was bonded to you for life.

He was Noah's dog - heart and soul. When Noah passed, Rocky was really lost for a few months. Then one day, that internal switch flipped and he transferred all of his fierce love and devotion to me. It was pretty wondrous. Even when I was at my wit's end with him, I understood the value of what he has given me.

I didn't grow up with dogs. My dad lost his beloved Jerry many years before I was born and never wanted another animal. We had a few strays that stayed with us here and there, but mostly we moved around too much to ever have pets. Not long after Noah and I got married, he started badgering me for a dog with the will and enthusiasm of a 6-year-old ("I'll take care of him, I SWEAR!") That led to Charlie and then to her pup Scruffy, to The Rock, and then finally Foxy.

I can honestly say there are days when I wish I didn't have 4 dogs. But my heart is nowhere near ready for not having 4 dogs. Charlie is almost 17. She is slowing down and softening around the edges. There are some early signs of kidney problems. Scruffy is almost 15 and fighting arthritis. Foxy, despite her dainty appearance, is a rough and tumble little tomboy at 8. I had to have all of her silky fur shaved last year when she found some tree sap to roll in and turn herself into a giant piece of taffy. They are all, in their own way, dogs. Each with spirit and personality. They live with me, not for me.

Emperor Rocky
I never thought it would be Rocky. Last night he came and sat by the bed. He couldn't jump up like he always did, so I picked him up and put him in his regular spot. He sighed and rested his head on my foot. At that moment, my heart was simultaneously full and empty.

Right now, he has rolled himself into one of the blankets I keep in the living room for the posse. I call this arrangement a "Chihuahua Puff." He could just be cold and wanting to be alone, or his instincts to hide as the final time arrives could be kicking in. I'll check him in an hour.

I'm doing my best to keep my grief and stress in check for his sake. I know he doesn't want to hurt me or make me sad.

I'll also give him his dignity.

He's not a china doll. He's a dog. And in the end, that is a magnificent thing.

EDITED To Add: On the night of Easter Sunday, Rocky came into the bedroom and sat in his place until I lifted him to his favorite spot to sleep at my feet. That was probably his last conscious act. By morning he was in a coma. I took his paw prints and was ready to go talk to the vet about the final solution. The other dogs barked and whined and I went to check. Rocky had slipped away. That gives me a lot of peace. He was afraid of the vet's office. Too busy, too many animals, and too many strange smells. Instead, he did what he loved best, he saw an open door and slipped through it. Like everything else he ever did, he crossed the bridge on his own terms. And my late husband has his bestest buddy back at his side. Thank you for all the kind words and messages. We should all be so lucky to pass in our favorite spot, surrounded by our pack.  



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