Wednesday, July 21, 2010

So that is pretty much the end of this blog. I've some other projects on the horizon, probably still a few months away, which I'll link to from here when they're up and ready.

Once again, thank you all for reading and especially thank you all for caring and helping find homes for abandoned animals. You are all they have.

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