Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nothing gold can stay

For the first few days after Stella's death, Rocky was confused with her absence. It wasn't until five or six days later that he perhaps realized she wasn't coming back and this manifested itself in some behavioural changes. The most obvious one was that he didn't want to leave my side. He was like a lost child, like when I first brought him home, following me where ever I went, from living room to kitchen to den to backyard, even to the washroom. It was much harder for him this time round, though, with his bad hips and having to heave himself up whenever I got up. I tried to make him stay put. "Don't get up. I'll be right back," I'd say but he did not believe me.

I wouldn't go so far as to say Rocky mourned Stella but he did miss having her around. She was his big sister in a lot of the more thrilling things they did around the house. Rocky's hearing and eyesight were not the greatest anymore so Stella was his ears and eyes. She would initiate and be his signal for barking and chasing all trespassing critters in the backyard or for greeting someone knocking at the door or for anticipating the approach of another dog. Things are more quiet around here now that Rocky has lost his partner in crime.

I'd been feeling a little guilty that I hadn't been spending as much time with Rocky the last few weeks. Rocky's world was becoming smaller. He was going from his inside bed to his outside bed to the patch of artificial grass and there were a few short walks around the neighbourhood thrown in.

At eleven or twelve, he's getting old for a Doberman. He's got multiple lumps and bumps and a few small ulcers and cysts. He's got chronic hepatitis and his hips and hind legs are getting weaker. A couple of times, he exerted himself so hard trying to get up out of bed, he pushed out a hard, round turd. He's stoic, though. He puts his head down and soldiers on.

Here's something strange. Rocky picked up some habits Stella used to have. For example, whenever I came inside from the backyard before Stella felt ready to come in, she'd sit on the patch of artificial grass half way down the yard and bark once or twice at me to go back out and join her. She'd bark and then stare at the sliding patio door, hoping I'd do as she wished. This was her thing, not Rocky's. He never barked at me but now I find him lying on the grassy patch, staring at the sliding patio door, and uttering a bark and waiting - for me or for Stella, I'm not sure.

Rocky's also started staring at flies, like Stella used to stare at bees. Last night, he stared at a fly crawling on the floor in front of his feet and then he got up when the fly took off and he snapped at it. First time he's ever done that, at least that I've seen.

With Stella gone, I've tried to do some rearranging in the house. I moved Rocky's eating station to where Stella's used to be. He didn't like that. The first few meals, he didn't want to eat the food. He had no problems stealing Stella's food when she was around but now that she's gone ... I don't know what it is. I don't know why he won't eat where she used to eat. It's like he's keeping her seat at the table, doesn't want to displace it in case she comes back. Is this respect, guilt, honour? Are these reasons even possible or is it just over anthropomorphizing on my part?

Regardless, I know that in his own way he feels her loss, as do I.

Stella was a big presence around the house. Big personality but big physically as well. At 130 pounds, losing her was like losing a person. The night after her death, Elizabeth caught a glimpse of the large tan coloured doggy bed out of the corner of her eye and it made her jump because she thought it was Stella come back.

I started washing Stella's laundry a few days later and with each piece of bedding or clothing I threw in the washer, it felt like I was losing a bit more of her. When I washed out her dog food bowl, it felt like I was losing her. When I put away her toys, it felt like I was losing her. Her leash and collar, I haven't put away yet, nor her favorite hole covered (care of Rocky) blanket which she used to suckle on to soothe herself. And there is a small clear plastic sandwich bag with a tuft of her fur in it. I asked the vet to snip some off that last night.

I'll always regret having her euthanized at the emergency clinic. I wanted to have it done at home but her heart went into a relentless arrhythmic tachychardia on Saturday night and she could not catch her breath with the fluid building up in her lungs. The drugs no longer helped her and I couldn't force her to suffer through the weekend on the slim chance of a traveling vet doing a home euth on Monday.

Stella was so scared at the clinic. They had taken her away to examine her and when they brought her back into the room, after the vet had explained the situation and after we decided to end her suffering, after we knew what we were about to do, they brought her back into the room and as soon as she saw me she wagged her tail and relief and joy lit up her face.

I told myself then as I tell myself now, that what we were about to do was for the best. I didn't want to wait until Stella was choking and gasping and turning blue. Still, I wish I could have given her a better death, one not so full of trauma, being poked and prodded by strangers in a sterile metal room on a cold hard floor. I felt like I was betraying her, as she would never have betrayed me, and I felt I was giving up on her, as she would never have given up on me. She was so happy to see me, hoping that maybe we could go home now, even as the vet pushed in the syringe. And then in her eyes, I could see it, a sudden change, an absolute realization that something was wrong that something terrible was engulfing her, and I know she would have raged against it if she could but she could not and I held her as she died and I knelt over her and wept because I could not save her, because she trusted me and I could not save her.

In the last few weeks of Stella's life, for a few minutes every night just before sleep, we used to stand on the patio looking into the dark of the backyard, Stella beside me on one side and Rocky on the other. Rocky with his old hips would usually leave first to go back inside to fall into the comfort of his bed leaving Stella and I alone to contemplate our respective thoughts.

I recently read a quote by some famous author who wrote that pets bring death into one's home. As I stood beside Stella, I remembered her as she once was, young and vital, and now, so suddenly it seemed, gray muzzled and fragile, her heart tired, and I understood that the author of the quote was right. My pets would bring death into my home. Staring into the darkness of the backyard, I saw the wide open maw of insatiable nothingness and I knew I wasn't going to be able to avoid it this time. Stella, beside me, her breath heavy even though it was a cool night - she would bring death into my home, and as she peered into the same darkness, I wondered if there was there an awareness of that on her own part, of her own life dwindling.

Our pets bring death into our homes and that is their final gift to us. As we spend more and more time in an infinite and ever expanding, disassociated virtual world, our pets bring back an understanding of our corporeal selves. I see my mortality because of the mortality of my pets. They will end. I will end. All life ends. If we are smart about it, at least as smart as our canine companions, death will be an exclamation mark at the end of our lives to say, Look, our lives were precious and amazing and worth every moment. Certainly, Stella's life was precious to me and amazing to me and having her in my life was worth every moment.

Every night, standing on the patio, peering into the darkness, Stella leaned into me and I put my hand on her head and tried to seal the memory of that touch into my palm. We stared into the darkness, then turning away from the darkness, we walked back into the light of our home.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

July 2002 - June 26, 2010


pibble said...

Never punish yourself for ending Stella's suffering. I often wish we could do that for the humans we love, and not just the animals.

You were able to give Stella the best death possible. Maybe it wasn't in the setting or at the time you desired, but it was when it had to be. We can't control everything, but you did have the ability to stop the pain. I know she loved you for that. How could she not?

I'm looking forward to your return. I miss your beautiful words and photography. I hope that in time, you'll be back in full force!

YesBiscuit! said...

I got a different impression from your description of Stella's last moments - she died with hope and in the arms of one she loved. I think you mistook the drug induced look in the eyes for awareness of what was happening. May we all be so fortunate as to avoid prolonged suffering and feel happy at the end.

Anonymous said...

Rest in peace, beautiful Stella.

Ian said...

I hope you`ll write a book some day Fred.
I`ll be watching.
I think you probably have lots of wonderful stories to tell.

Take care and I hope your pain eases.

Lynda said...

Fred, as you know - your Stella reminds me of my Jill. And your stories could be mine. Female danes are wonderful, but like you said - losing her was like losing a person.

I have shed many tears for your Stella, and being a little selfish, a few of those were for my Jill and what is to come some day in the future. Your writings have made me appreciate Jill more. Thank you for that. And of course - I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm also sorry Rocky is getting up there in age. Thanks for sharing Stella's life with me.

I'm glad you're back and I hope you're here to stay.

Carol H said...

Beautiful beautiful tribute to a friend well loved. Thank you for sharing with us Fred

Social Mange said...

Beautifully said, Fred. I lost my "bestest buddy" cat last week, and cried reading this post because you felt everything I did. Did we betray them, betray their trust? Are we punishing ourselves because we couldn't make them live forever?

I, too, wish I'd had some happy last days with my little guy and not had to have him euthanized in a strange place with strange smells. I'm very angry about what happened, but that's a long story.

There was great confusion among the horde at the house when I came home without my little guy and kept's passing, they're adjusting, but they definitely miss the king of the house.

As I do.
And always will.


I have a wonderful vision of all my passed animals...happy and whole, sitting together in the sun on a grassy hill, with a breeze blowing tantalizing scents their way....just waiting for me to join them.

The exclamation mark is very important. Every animal gets one automatically. We must work and be worthy of ours.

Joanne said...

Fred....this is one of the most poignant and beautiful testaments about the loss of a "friend" that I have ever read. It is not soppy and sentimental...just true and painful. Who says that the loss of an animal affects us any less than the loss of a child or family member that we love dearly. Love doesn't differentiate between species, quantify or qualify. It is not limited with only a certain amount available for each beloved in our lives. Right now I am just watching and waiting while cancer ravages my favourite cat....when his time comes, I will do my best to have him leave this world at home, with his buddies and me holding him. It is the very least I can do for him. I tell him every day life is not fair and I am so sorry about the hand it has dealt him and I wish I had known more or better and could have prevented it but I will not desert him, I will stay with him and carry him over into the unknown and will carry him forever after in my heart. I guess this pain in the price we pay for all the joy they bring us...after all everything has a price...this is just a stiff one to pay. I think I know you a little bit and I believe that you will carry on helping animals in Stella's, she would be so proud of you.

Amy said...

What an eloquent, poignant tribute to your sweet Stella. She was such a regal girl. You have been in my thoughts and prayers over the last month. Its so unbelievably hard losing a companion, and it makes my hurt heart to think of what you have been feeling over the past month. When I lost my Millie last year, my cat wandered around the house for 3 weeks meowing, looking for her, waiting at the front door for her to come through. It broke my heart.

Please don't beat yourself up for the way that Stella's life ended. It may not be what you had wanted, but you did what was best for HER and that is what matters. You loved her enough to not let her suffer, and that is something we should all be so lucky to have at the end. You were there for her. You held her and comforted her, and the last voice she heard and face she saw was yours. That is what matters most.

I will truly miss reading your blog. You are a very talented writer, and I hope that the future projects you speak of in the next blog post involve writing in some way. In the meantime, you will be missed.

hopy said...

They bring life into our homes, too. And more love than we usually deserve.

Anonymous said...

Now you need to be there to help Rocky heal.

siouxee said...

It is very difficult for me.. to write this. I feel your pain, and it shows in the tears going down my cheeks right now. My doberman Blitz suffered from cancer, beat it once, but not the second time around when he was much older. Hip problems as well, the fact that he became so overprotective of me, not even allowing my brother to come near me. He was in so much pain, we made a decision, my mother and I. It was extemely painful to take him to the vet, we even postponed his euth twice. I still feel so guilty, and I think I always will, that I could not do it. My mother took him in. And it kills me to the date, that as he walked away from our home, with his limping and all, he wagged his tail because he was 'going for a car ride'. And I wasn't there. And my mother came back home without him, and in tears with his collar and leash in hand. And it hurts me. And I feel like a bad person. But my mother soothes that feeling when she reminds me of the many places Blitz went with me, of the many hours he spent with me and how much love and care I gave him. Yes, even if I needed to go somewhere closeby, he went with me. And yes, I feel better.. but it will always hurt. And this time around with my rescued pittie Taz, I cannot avoid it. I need to do this myself - when his time may come. I dread it. But I owe it to Taz, as much as I owe it to Blitzy. Do not be so harsh on yourself, Fred. You loved her, she loved you. In fact, love doesn't end. Life does. But we all get there at some point, some earlier than others. You eased her pain and suffering, no matter the circumstances. Please be well. Lots of love and hugs.


Anonymous said...

Fred I have followed your blog for a number of years. You have always looked at both sides of an issue and tried to get passed sheer emotion.You always listen to opposing opinions with the chance that something new could be learned. I hope you return soon. I have had to part with a number of dogs over my 60+ years and have always ask did I move too soon or did I wait too long. All I can say is I tried my best. One thing I always did was very quickly got a new dog. There are so many needy dogs that I felt my feeling were secondary to giving a deserving dog a good home. I hope you continue walking the dogs at the TAS. It is obvious to me that Stella and Rocky who could smell these dogs on your clothes had given their approval. We need more people like you in the animal movement. Please stay around the animals need you. Robert Garnett.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Robert, the best thing is to get another dog. You can't replace the one you've lost but nothing compares with the feeling you get from giving a dog in need a good home!

In January last year, exactly a week after unexpectedly losing my sister, my 12 year old GSD died. Two weeks later I adopted another boy who had been in a shelter for over 6 months. He was such a ray of sunshine in my life and helped me through a very difficult time. His kisses were amazing!!

Unfortunately, I only got to share his life for a short 8 months. He developed severe spinal problems and couldn't stand or walk. I knew he was in a lot of pain so I had no alternative but to have him euthanized while he still had his dignity. It was a very difficult decision but I did not want him to suffer any more. I never once regretted that I had adopted him. In fact, I was very glad that I had otherwise he would have ended his days in a shelter environment.

In November I adopted yet another GSD. This one had been at THS for over a year then taken into rescue, adopted out and returned to the rescue! He had separation anxiety and was very stressed when I got him. Seven months later, with some patience and TLC, he has become a wonderful companion!

Even so, I still think about my other boys and the time we shared. They will always have a special place in my heart. :o)


Unknown said...

Oh you made me cry...Stella will always be beautiful.