Life is one big circle. We know this in our hearts, but we move forward as if what we have today will be what we always have. More than anything else, having a pet teaches us that beginnings will always have an end, that the top of the circle also has a lower point.
This post is not about sadness, although right now I feel sad. This post is about life and love and how having a pet is one of the best ways to experience both. But this post is also about loss and grief and how having a pet means you will experience both.
In March of 2020 our Westie finally passed after 17 years and 3 months of a boundless, wonderful life. We saw that train approaching from far off, and in fact the post I wrote previously in 2018 when he was 15 spoke about our 'best days' attitude about his life.
He did live out his best days and when finally his little body could not keep up with his stubborn, relentless, joyful spirit, we set that spirit free. We were sad, all of us, the two humans, the Border Collie and the cats. We cried a lot, but we were also in a strange way relieved that he no longer had to endure the relentless loss that very old age brings. He was a good boy and he lived a wonderful life.
That was March, now it is June.
Our Border Collie, just 9 years old, had been having some subtle but worrying symptoms. Lack of appetite and a change in her bowel habits. But hey, she had been eating a lot of cucumbers she personally picked off the vine from our garden. Goodness knows that will upset your stomach if you have too many of those.
She was also listless, lacking in energy, seemingly tired. But we had just suffered grief. We thought she might be depressed about the loss of her brother. We decided that what she needed was lots of attention and maybe a puppy.
Then while brushing and combing her we felt a lump in her abdominal area.
Our regular vet did an Xray and blood work. We were sent to the specialists. They did an ultrasound.
The horrible news is that she has advanced cancer with multiple tumors and a couple of those are in the liver. No surgery will help. Chemotherapy is not a good option either. There are just a couple of herbal supplements to help ease her discomfort and maybe give us a little more time. Just a little more time to say goodbye.
It has been less than a week. We are in a sort of free fall. Crying is just part of daily life. It comes in waves then ebbs.
She is very tired and lying down most of the time. She does not want to eat much and certainly nothing before noon. She does not appreciate taking 8 pills a day.
But, she is not in pain. Maybe she feels discomfort. Her abdominal area is swelling. She probably feels nauseated. After all, taking a bunch of herbal supplements on essentially an empty stomach can do that.
However, and this is the most important part. In the afternoons she brightens up. She will vigorously eat something, as long as it is 'good food'. Good food is not dog food. Good food has been canned salmon, lamb steaks, new york strip steak, hot dogs, and chicken thighs. Then she decided those were not 'good'. So we tried baked salmon, sliced ham, barbacoa, sliced roast beef, sliced turkey, cat food. Right now, only sliced ham and cat food remain 'good food' and only if fed by hand.
You might think 'that is not a balanced diet' and you would be right. At most it is a keto diet which is entirely appropriate for slowing the growth of cancer cells which feed off of glucose most of all. We could also say a restricted calorie diet also slows the growth of cancer cells. But that is not why we are feeding her this way. Having her consume anything is a victory. Having her enjoy any food and eat with vigor is a celebration.
She is leaving us. Nothing can stop that. We look daily for any sign that the herbal treatment is having any effect. We get excited and show each other any dog dropping that looks more 'normal'.
"I found a poop that looks almost normal," my husband said to me just this morning. And I dropped what I was doing and we went together to admire it and it raised our hope just a little. Maybe the herbal stuff is easing back the accelerator just a little bit.
All of our lives are whittled down to a moment by moment focus. Assessment. Minor hopes. Un-waivering reality.
We must determine the quality of her existence, but not by our standards. We must fathom what she would find to be quality. There will be no quantity. So what is a life worthy for her to live.
We are very focused on not being selfish. We want to find that balance of keeping her with us as long as she is having a quality of life that is fitting. As soon as the balance tips into suffering we are not willing to let her continue. How do you determine what is quality to a non-verbal being?
I created a list, trying to focus on what things she still enjoyed. I focused on what caused her to show certain signs. Tail wags. Head and tail raised. Smiling face. Interested and focused walking about. Energy. Vigor.
- Kiddie Pool - she loves to plop in and lounge, letting her back legs and belly float.
- Back Yard - she loves to patrol the garden and sniff things.
- Barking - at the neighbors dogs especially.
- Car Rides - as long as not to the vet.
- Bed Sitting - she loves to lounge on my bed.
- Getting Petted - ear rubs and belly rubs especially.
- Being Near Us - she prefers if we are both in sight but will accept one at a time.
- Rat Patrol - this is hilarious. She goes out after dark with her dad and they rattle the tomato cages and he takes a rake to the hedges. If anything rustles she bounds after it with excited yips (no rats have been harmed in this play and truth be told, it was just one little rat a couple of weeks ago).
- Walk in the Park - since she does not like other dogs and is suspicious of people, these have been few, but there will be more.
- Brush and Comb - especially when mom and dad team up together.
- Cleaning the Kitty ears - she washes the cats ears and faces for as long as they tolerate it.
These things produce all the signs of enjoyment. If she can have these things in her life then I think she would tell us that life is worth living. This list is our guide. When these things no longer are possible or she does not want them anymore, we know the quality is ebbing and she needs to be set free.
Right now the circle is balanced.
... and then we reached the bottom.
RIP Trudy 6/21/2010 - 6/20/2020
Sadly she has left us, but without pain. We held her in our arms in the comfort of home and let her sweet spirit slip away. We are sad but we are happy to have loved her.